As you may know, our very own Adrian Clarke went to a huge car show in his native Britain, something called like The King’s Royal Autoscramble Jumblepuppy of Motors or something like that. I think Paddington the bear and Harry Potter were there, possibly as a couple. Anyway, he got lots of great pictures, including this fantastic yellow Nissan Be-1, the car that started the whole Pike Factory experiment for Bubble-Era Nissan, which, in case you weren’t aware, is likely the best Nissan.
The Pike Factory wasn’t a literal factory, it was the name given to a group of Nissan designers, led by industrial designer Naoki Sakai. Sakai was a designer of things like cameras and electronics and artful teapots, not a car designer. But that’s what Nissan wanted; the goal was to take a page from the world of cutting-edge consumer electronics design and apply it to cars. The basis of pretty much all the Pike Cars was the humble but reliable Nissan Micra. What was underneath didn’t matter as much as the whole design of the package.
In 1985, at the Tokyo Motor Show, Sakai’s team showed the world the first Pike product, the Be-1.
As you can see in that picture, in proportion and overall shape the Be-1 clearly looked at cars like the famous Mini (or the Mini’s fancy sibling, the Riley Elf next to it in Adrian’s picture there) but the design vocabulary was completely modern and cutting-edge. Bright and friendly, the Be-1’s design was free of chrome or traditional ornamenting, instead having ribbed black rubber and clever use of rhythmic stamped shapes, like the flow-through air vents in the C-pillar or the stacked oblongs of the taillights.
The Pike Factory used the idea of “Nostalgic Modern” as a guiding principle, mining the past for forms and ideas that held positive feelings and nostalgia, but translating them to a modern design vocabulary. It’s funny, the Be-1 came in four colors – Pumpkin Yellow, Tomato Red, Hydrangea Blue and Onion White – but I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen it in yellow.
When the Be-1 was released in 1987, it was a hit, with Nissan needing a lottery to dole out the 10,000 cars built. It was enough of a hit to set up the Pike Factory to go on to build more cars, the Pao, S-Cargo, and Figaro.
Man, I miss that Nissan.