Two cars in one, the Nissan Vanette and its production in Barcelona

After the success of the Patrol, Nissan's subsidiary in Spain began manufacturing the Vanette as a versatile vehicle that could be a van as well as a minivan.

"This is, in essence, a car. In the same space Nissan vanette it puts everything it lacks. More seats, more spaciousness, more comfort and the finishes of a car. All for the same price. A car, a Vanette. What your car is missing.”

This was stated in the 1987 Spanish television advertisement for the Nissan Vanette Coach, one of the many variants in the range of this van of which almost 220.000 units were manufactured in Barcelona over ten years. Definitely, a commercial success which, in addition, has the characteristic of having introduced the minivan into national production.

And, as that television advertisement clearly proclaimed, topped with a “Nissan, there is only one way, to be the best” voiced by Constantino Romero, the Vanette could not only be a long-suffering industrial vehicle in its most spartan versions - as models such as the AZU assembled in Vigo - but also a familiar characterized by its modular cabin with up to seven comfortable seats.

In the light of time, a commercial bet most versatile for Nissan, which presented on the same platform a model capable of being the economic alternative to the Renault Espace -presented in 1984 with engines almost twice as powerful as well as greater safety- while providing continuity to the everlasting Ebro F-275 vans.


Although its manufacture in the Barcelona Free Trade Zone from 1985 to 1995 has made the Nissan Vanette an indisputable reference for Spanish national production, the truth is that the origins of this model are found in Japan 1978. Place and time in which it appeared as another step within the broad family of urban vehicles made in Japan.

And yes, in the crowded Japanese cities - surrounded by steep and sparsely populated rural areas - it made perfect sense to create models where the cabin will amplify your possibilities of space despite having the smallest possible base.

What's more, this approach - together with the use of low displacement engines in order to obtain tax benefits - was responsible for light up the so-called Kei Cars; extremely popular in Japan since the fifties and, to understand each other, something as if here in the West we had continued perfecting the commitment to microcar without taking into account the appearance of models such as the Fiat 600, the Renault R4 or the Citroën 2CV.


Transcending that tradition of Kei Cars - where we can find many extremely useful and ingenious Mini Vans - those responsible for Nissan Motors designed the Vanette as a vehicle capable of offering great habitability based on a compact passenger car. All this with credible engines for use on the road at a really reasonable price.

That said, it goes without saying how our protagonist became a commercial success, in a “global car”, From the first moment. A wildfire through which he ended up arriving in Spain in 1985; just three years after Nissan became a shareholder in Motor Ibérica SA with up to 55% of the shares.

Likewise, precisely at that time Europe was discovering the minivan segment. Announced by the fantastic Lancia Megagamma prototype - one of the most interesting concepts in the race of Giorgetto Giugiaro-, this was established in America by Lee Iacocca's Chrysler Voyager at the same time as in France Renault presented it with the Espace after intense work delegated to Matra. In short, the time had finally come to mass-produce vehicles where the comfort of a car went hand in hand with the interior space of a van.


Beyond its advertising content, the most remembered graphic material in relation to the manufacturing of the Nissan Vanette in Barcelona is a nice snapshot of Akihito and Michiko - heir princes of the Japanese throne - on the back of one of these vans inside the assembly line in Free Zone.

In short, one of the most graphic examples of the interest of the Japanese industry in the Spanish market; even more so when it was in full access to the European Economic Community. In fact, those of you who follow the history of peninsular motorcycling will know how from Yamaha to Honda Japanese brands were responsible for absorbing the remains of battered references such as Sanglas or Montesa.

A new fate of the times where, for better or worse, the appearance of transnational capital and the relocation of production would be here to stay. Something that also tells us the transition from Motor Ibérica to Nissan Motor Ibérica; the company founded decades ago by Ford itself to, already under Franco, be nationalized and later owned by the American company Massey Ferguson.


Without disregarding our not-so-veiled inclinations towards British and Italian motorsport, the truth is that it is impossible not to be deeply interested in the Japanese industrial tradition if one keeps an encyclopedic hobby in the field of motors. That said, its manufacturing methods - even sometimes excessively harsh towards the workforce - are the most refined and effective organization in relation to mass motorsport.

In this sense, there is the form and manner in which a team of Japanese consultants saved Porsche's accounting by redesigning its assembly lines. And that's not to mention the incredible growth experienced by Honda during its first two decades, going from manufacturing small bicycle engines to being the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world and even being present in F1.

With all this, it is not surprising how the entry of Nissan into the ownership of Motor Ibérica immediately brought very good results. Results reflected in the dealerships with the appearance of the Patrol, which turned out to be the natural heir for the jeep commando by combining excellent motor capabilities in Off-Road along with the comfort inherent to a well-equipped car.

Likewise, the offer was completed in 1985 with the Vanette; As we have seen, also a good example of mixing concepts.


With sliding doors and a generous tailgate, the Nissan Vanette offered easy and comfortable access to its cabin for both people and luggage. In fact - and this is the great point of difference with the Renault Espace - this vehicle could be either a van or a minivan. depending on the version chosen. One of them, by the way, with an elongated wheelbase to amplify its loading possibilities.

Now, with respect to the engines, we do have to indicate their modesty because, clearly, they do not have the generosity - nor the price - of those fitted in the French option. Focusing our attention on the launch range we see a gasoline engine with 1.488 cc and 70 HP completed in the diesel by another with 1.952 cc and around 65 HP.

In short, enough to move with vigor a vehicle that, given its size and few reinforcements, left the scale at about 865 kilos, speaking of the lightest units. Versions among which the 1987 Coach was not included because, after all, this one was the best equipped with up to three rows of really comfortable seats. Today, the best option for collectors eager to enjoy a Nissan Vanette in the company of friends or family.

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Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.

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