Is it a snail? Is it a toy? No, it’s Nissan’s tiny S-Cargo hatchback van!
Part of Nissan’s limited-run Pike Cars enterprise, the S-Cargo stands out as a truly bizarre miniature van that is now a cult classic.
Produced from 1989 to 1991, the S-Cargo was one of Nissan’s retro-styled affordable vehicles, launched under the Pike Cars brand. These vehicles were produced to capitalise on the growing demand for retro-style vehicles whilst simultaneously offering a practical and affordable mode of transport for the Japanese market. Many vehicles are either trendy and cool or affordable, not usually both.
Unlike the other Pike Cars models, the S-Cargo was designed as a van-like vehicle, with the name representing two things at the same time. The “S” stands for small, making the name “small cargo” and rather cleverly, the name “S-Cargo” also sounds like the French word “escargot” which means “snail” in English. This was the nickname given to the ever-popular Citroen 2CV which was the S-Cargo’s inspiration.
Pike Cars attracted a lot of attention due to their unique and strange aesthetic, with The New York Times calling them “the height of postmodernism” in a piece written in 2011 by Phil Patton. Many consider the S-Cargo as the most well-known example of this outlandish design ethos.
The silhouette consists of two incredibly simple circular arches, where it looks as if someone has drawn a pair of semicircles and made it into a car. The theme of the design is circles, with the headlights, door handle indents, wing mirrors, side indicator lights and speed gauge all being made up of the one-sided shape. Optional circular port windows were also available to be had on the side panels, not too dissimilar to what you would expect to see on a submarine.
The interior is incredibly barebones, which is to be expected in a car designed to be as cheap as possible. The seats are like metal deck chairs with extra padding, the mirrors are flimsy, the rear bench seat flops up and down with its own free will, the entire gauge cluster is simplified to one semicircle-shaped cluster with three dials and a few engine warning lights below.
Despite the utter lack of refinement in the S-Cargo and a design that can only be described today as dorky, this economical miniature toy-looking van successfully sold 8,000 units, each being reserved beforehand.
Not long after its inception, Pike Cars was disintegrated. Easily interpreted as a rather unfortunate tale, it would seem that Nissan was a tad ahead of the curve when it came to retro cars, as soon after Pike closed, retro cars such as Plymouth Prowler, VW Beetle (1998), Jaguar S-Type and the Morgan Aero 8 all found their successes. Even today, we have cars like the Fiat 500, Honda e and Hyundai Ioniq 5 all standing as examples of retro designs sold to the masses.
Alas, the wonderfully weird S-Cargo lives on as a very cult classic to a very niche audience, perhaps slightly overshadowed by its sportier and much more popular cousin, the Nissan Figaro.
Let us know if you already knew about the S-Cargo, in the comments.
For more articles like this, receive our weekly e-newsletter, including partner deals and all things motoring, register your email below.