The Nissan Exa isn’t fondly remembered as one of the great and affordable sport coupes. Certainly, the first-generation (N12) that lobbed on our shores in 1983, with its breathless 1.5-litre turbo four making an asthmatic 77kW at a screaming 6500rpm didn't exactly ooze sporting prowess. And its angular wedge-shape, although in keeping with the time, was notable for its distinct lack of curves. It looked pointy, sharp, but not in a good way.
But, the second-generation was an altogether more resolved proposition, ditching the breathless turbo-four, and gaining some curves as well as two extra seats. In Australia, the new-generation Exa arrived in 1987, remaining on sale until 1991.
Initially powered by a naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, it quickly gave way to a more powerful and altogether superior 1.8-litre atmo four in 1988. That engine featured four valves per cylinder and double overhead camshafts. Outputs were rated at 93kW and 156Nm.
There was also electronic fuel injection and computerised engine management, keeping fuel consumption down and performance up. A five-speed manual gearbox sent drive to the front wheels.
A huge selling point of the second-gen NC13 Exa was its removable targa roof, the detachable panels turning the humble little coupe into an open-topped cruiser.
But, sadly, Australia missed out on some options available in other markets, options that turned the Exa into, well, anything you wanted it to be – a coupe, a targa, a cabriolet or even a wagon-style shooting brake.
It’s that last iteration that has stood the test of time, turning what was an otherwise run-of-the-mill affordable coupe into an attractive, practical and increasingly rare wagon.
Marketed as the Sportbak, the – optional – removable rear hatch designs transformed the Exa. Marketing material of the day proclaimed, “It’s a sports car when you want one. A sport wagon when you need one. A convertible with lift out T-top when the sun’s shining”.
Three cars in one, then.
But, despite the marketing gumpf spruiking the modular concept, the reality was very different. Owners complained the sheer weight of the coupe and Sportbak panels made swapping out a physically taxing exercise. And then there was the vexed question of where to store the removed panels when not in use.
Little wonder then, the idea didn’t catch on, other manufacturers not exactly rushing to produce similar concepts. The NC13 Exa was put to pasture in 1991, the modular concept having failed to catch on. Boo!
Finding one now is next to impossible, probably because all those removable panels and canopies ended up gathering dust in dark corners of garages, fading away quietly to eventually end up in landfill around the world. A quick scan of the internet found precious few N13 Exas for sale, scarcer still complete with the Sportbak canopy.
Which is a shame, as certainly on styling alone, the Nissan Exa Sportbak has stood the test of time. Perhaps Nissan should have offered a permanent Sportbak variant?
I’d definitely have one. How about you?
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