In the late 1980s to early 1990s, Japan's swelling economy bore some odd automotive fruit. Some, such as the Nissan Skyline GT-R, were just to the world's taste while others—like the Mitsubishi Chariot Resort Runner GT—were too bitter to be commercially successful. Nissan's tiny S-Cargo van fell into the latter category for reasons obvious, but the reasons that made it unsellable during its short production run are the ones that make it a wheeled treasure today.
One of the car world's first manifestations of neoclassicism, the S-Cargo was Nissan's nod to light-duty Citroën 2CV delivery vans, which were recognizable for their vaguely snail-like silhouettes. 2CV "fourgonettes" and S-Cargos shared roughly similar roles (that of a small cargo van), but the latter was an obvious riff on the former; it was both a caricature of the 2CV's already gastropodous styling, and its name, a play thereon, referencing the famous French delicacy of escargot. Nissan wasn't coy about what it had made, either, as it hid snail motifs on both the mud flaps and hubcaps.
With a footprint about the size of the Fiat 500, the S-Cargo was on the small side for a utility vehicle, even with its rear seats folded (it ostensibly sat up to four people). Its cargo area might fit a smaller home appliance, like an oven or washing machine, but a refrigerator is out of the question. That's probably why the S-Cargo oozed its way to an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 sales across its entire production run that lasted just three years (1989-1991).
Despite its minimal curb weight of between 2,097 and 2,141 pounds, the S-Cargo's powertrain meant that it would also have to creep down the road. Its single-cam, twin-carb, 1.5-liter four-cylinder made just 84 horsepower, some of which traveled to the front wheels through a three-speed automatic transmission. Odds are nobody ever told that joke about the snail buying a sports car with the S-Cargo as its subject, though if the S-Cargo had sold better, one can't help imagining a Nismo variant with the turbocharged, 113-horsepower E15ET (and a fittingly huge turbo).
S-Cargos are rarities no matter where you are in the world, and if one came up for sale in good condition, its price would almost be irrelevant. Fortunately, the one that just surfaced for sale in California is listed for under $9,000, so if a car that looks like a snail and is as slow as one appeals to you, don a snail costume like Remi Gaillard and ooze your way across America for a test drive.
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