Blog : My latest British car… really

Keith Adams's Nissan Primera

I didn’t even bother to make a New Year’s resolution to cut down on buying cars. What’s the point? After all, me saying I won’t be buying any more cars would be like saying, ‘just one more bet,’ or ‘just one more drink’. I’m beyond help, I really am. But the good news is that my last few purchases have been all about saving perfectly good cars from a crusher-shaped fate – and, besides, this Nissan Primera has years of service ahead of it…

More than that, though, I have a real soft spot for these cars. You might have read my recent ramblings on the Nissan Primera, where I celebrated this British-built saloon for being something of a gamechanger. Imagine a well-built Peugeot 405 with Cavalier user-friendliness and Honda build quality and you’re there. In short, it was a class-leading, mid-sized saloon that the Nissan production line workers in Washington could be bloody proud of.

If you read our recent piece on Octav Botnar, you might have seen that the Primera’s sheen was soon lost on the back of a battle between Nissan and its UK importer – and, as a consequence, early sales were lost, just when it needed them most. Never mind – it was still a brilliant car, and one that Ford thought good enough to benchmark its new Mondeo against during the development of this vitally-important car.

And I guess that backstory is why I have one now. My mate, and partner in crime on my epic trip to Chernobyl back in 2006, Mike Duff dropped me a line to say his uncle was selling his two-owner from new Nissan Primera, and would I be interested. I guess Mike knew I’d be buying it, and in that he was correct. I love the Primera, and this one – a saloon – is the optimum version, powered by a revvy 2.0-litre engine to allow me to easily keep up with today’s aggressive SUV drivers.

He sent me some pictures of his uncle’s black-bumpered beauty and, after a few more days, we were on our way to pick up the handsome beast. Needless to say, after the deal was done and I’d handed over he readies, I turned it around to head home – and it covered the 100-or so miles without missing a beat. Come on, what did you expect, from this 53,000 miler?

I’m glad we made the effort because it really is a nice example of a near-extinct family car that was built to the highest standards right here in Britain.  I’m not yet sure what I am going to do with it, but I do know that it’s needing a deep-clean, a service and some brand-new tyres before I get it a fresh MoT and press it into service. The interior (below) might look mucky, but that’s just dust and it’s all in great shape – even the Fischer C-Box cassette holders work just like they did when they left the factory…

So, am I mad for caring? I hope not…

Nissan Primera interior

Keith Adams


  1. Since this is a British car website, this week two workmen repairing a neighbour’s house – dry rot, brickwork needing repointing, plastering, etc, etc – turned up in a very off-white Jag of not that old vintage. From off the back seat they took a well-used diamond toothed masonry cutting saw. Their van was off the road! Now had it been one of JLR’s more utiltarian vehicles I could have understood it.

  2. Well done Keith. It is annoying seeing smart and perfectly serviceable looking cars going to the scrapper. The world has shot itself in the foot of course by making cars with electronic bits that cost the earth to replace – if the failures were still mechanical and we could put some new shells and a cam in with the aid of Haines manual…….er, no that wouldn’t work because no one wants to get their hands dirty any more. There I go, being pre-historic again!

  3. Nice to see this car joining the Adams family. I remember the launch of the Primera in Oct 1990 so this one must be a ’92 model. The Primera took over from the Bluebird with more Euro aimed styling and I remember some nice trim versions such as an SRi (like Cavalier badging) and the 2.0e ZX / 2.0e GT.

    A mid-term facelift was okay in the looks department but the all new MK2 Primera that followed in 2002(?) was not as successful and was replaced by the now legendary Qashqai. From memory I think most Primera’s were 5-doors with a few Estate cars added later. I do like the saloon body personally.

    • Getting your primera mixed up, there were 3 mks, mk1 was the good looking ultra competitive but not as good as expected sales due to the ongoing AFG tussle, that Keith has just bought. The MK2 was a slightly flabbier version which looked bkand and less interesting but still good to drive. The Mk3 was the weird angular look, which was never adopted on any other Nissan and led to the Qashqi. Probably can blame the Qashqi for the ever growing number of fake suv we see on our roads today.

      • @dave h… I think what you call the MK2 is what I called the MK1 facelift. It was a similar bodyshell, but with a different front & rear end (flabbier & bland as you say!). Indeed the Qashqai launched the term “Crossover” and heralded the relentless march of those & SUV’s we see now.

        My friend has a 2009 Qashqai +2 MK1 and despite the odd age related repair and servicing, it still gives him good service.

        • Mk 1 was P10 in Nissan parlance, Mk 2 P11 which was different body and updated front and rear suspension using a modified p10 platform, which was facelifted in 1999 and the replaced with the nasty P12 – less said the better!

          Only problems I have heard from Qashqi owners is some rattly plastics and dodgy auto gearboxes. A friend had 3 replacement gearboxes, and even though she had these issues she lived it so much she replaced it with another! Couple of friends have the Renault Kadjar, essential on the same platform and are really happy with them.

          • My parents bought a Qashqai in 2012 & never had any problems, though they weren’t clocking up massive miles.

            My Mum is planning to replace it with a Toyota Yaris Hybrid as it’s a bit big for her.

          • I agree the first Primera was the most pleasant design of the three. Not many P12’s were seen on the road. I didn’t care for the centre placed instruments on the upper dashboard either.

            While working as a Video contractor for Nissan in the 80’s, I got to drive a Bluebird SLX & SGX which were actually nice cars and established Sunderland’s quality build reputation

          • I agree the MK1 Primera was the best looking of the three. The P12 was less seen on the roads and I didn’t like the centre placed instruments either.

            While working as a video contractor for Nissan in 1980s, I got to drive a Bluebird SLX and SGX. Both nice cars that established Nissan Sunderland’s reputation for build quality

          • Nissan were in a strange place in the first half of the noughties. You had the ultra conservative second generation Almera alongside the radical 2003 Micra and the awkward looking P12 Primera that pleased no one and seemed less relIable than the P11. None of these cars were selling in great numbers and while the Almera was dependable enough and cheap to own, it offered nothing over its rivals, while some buyers were scared away by the radical looking new Micra. It wasn’t until the mini MPV Note and crossover Qashqai arrived that buyers came back to Nissan.

  4. Nice one. Only downside is the colour. Istr white and red were the only solid colours, but there were some nice metallics

  5. Nice to see some normality but what are the rules about travelling 100 miles to buy a used car?

    Or any car for that matter?

  6. The Primera was the taxi drivers’ favourite, like that other Japanese badged Brit, the Carina E, because it was just about unbreakable and proved we could produce a totally reliable car. Also the Primera is probably more British than the Cavalier, as most of the parts were sourced in the UK, while the Cavalier used an Opel drivetrain and a considerable number of imported ancillary parts.

    The last and least successful Primera didn’t sell particularly well as the styling was gawky and some used Renault engines that were less reliable than the Nissan engines.

    • @Glenn… yes, the early noughties were a bit bland as far as Nissan’s designs were concerned. I would say the 1980’s Bluebird and original P10 Primera were much better looking than the P12 Primera.

      The Almera was meant to be a Focus / Astra rival but sold in much lesser numbers. The 2003 Micra did eventually get a bit more popular in the North East (as it was built here?).

      Honda seem to be going through a similar situation with their designs now

      • @ Hilton D, Nissan probably weren’t in the state Honda is now, selling very overpriced cars that are too radical, but no one lusted after their products in the early to mid noughties, and the Almera and Primera faded into obscurity. I did own a 55 plate Almera as it was cheap used and was quite dependable, but it was a totally underwhelming car and at trade in time used values were on the floor.

        • @ Glenn… one of my ex colleagues had a MK2 Almera (the Sunderland built one) and it was decent enough. 1.8 engine I think. He wasn’t a big car fan so probably bought it at a keen price as you say.

          The Sunderland built MK2 Micra on the other hand was quite popular especially in its North East homeland. So was the Sunderland built radical MK3. I think the next Micra’s were built in India?

  7. I have fond memories of these mk1 Primeras – the first company I worked had 3 as pool cars – all 1.6 (I think) hatches, either in white or red. Really nice cars to drive – and I did some long distance trips in them – they got some abuse, but never missed a beat.

  8. They were nice cars, one of those that used to be relatively common but have disappeared. As with most Japanese cars were very popular in Irish republic.
    I once wrongly believed, given the Maverick-Terrano tie up, that the similar sized Mondeo was somehow related, though I read on AROnline years ago the only connection was that it was a comparison.
    As was the norm for 90s family cars, offered in saloon as well as practical hatch/estate varieties.
    The estates were not built in Sunderland though, were imports from Japan based on Avenir, presumably only available from Nissan GB?
    The mk1 and mk2 I think were both good looking cars. Mk2 had some success at BTCC, but like the MG6, this did not seem to help.
    Mk3 was based on the awful (in terms of reliability – at one point dealers stopped taking them as trade ins) mk2 Laguna, but unlike that car which at least had good looks the Primera looked like a stretched Micra. The futuristic looks suited the supermini better than the large car. Where Datsun started off on value for money sales, cheap PCP on premium saloons helped kill off the Primera too.
    I have to say though, their gamble on the Qashqai replacing this raised eyebrows at the time, but it has paid off in bucketloads as the market has flocked to high riding SUV style 2 box hatchbacks.

  9. I can’t comment on this car, but a mate of mine at technical college who worked at a nissan dealer said you ‘could tell the difference’, i.e. the Washington built cars were much poorer buildquality than the imported cars. The build deficit may have been made up eventually but in the early nineties, if you had the choice of buying a Nissan built in Japan or built in Britain, if you had any sense you’d buy the imported product…

  10. So why was it touted that UK built Nissans were as good if not better built than at the Japanese Oppama plant? From my involvement as a sub contractor to Nissan, they were very fastidious about quality control.

    • Nissan imported Sunderland built cars back to Japan because the quality was better, putting a Union Jack on on the side and back and charging a slight premium. Why would you do that if the quality was worse?

    • There were never any quality issues with British built Nissans and the local content of the cars was steadily increased as it was proven the Washington factory could build cars as well as Japan. I don’t know anyone who owned a Bluebird, Primera or second generation Micra that had a problem, although the more Renault based newer Nissans don’t seem as good.

  11. I remember every day in late afternoons, the Production Director and other line managers would take a random finished Bluebird from the line and inspect it closely in a bay. Any suspect faults or paint issues would be assessed and changes made on the production line.

    I know similar procedures will be made by other manufacturers though. Maybe the Renault aspect of current Nissan’s is sometimes criticised – but not being a Nissan owner I can’t comment on that.

    • I have read some surveys that don’t rate current Nissan models very highly, with transmission problems being mentioned several times and some issues with Renault diesel engines. I owned an Indian built Nissan Micra that while its engine was bulletproof and it was quite well screwed together, the clutch failed at 20,000 miles, which was unacceptable and only a row with the dealer resulted in it being fixed free of charge under warranty. ( Apparently this was a common fault with 2011 Micras that Nissan only belatedly acknowledged).

      • Glenn… I agree experiences like that can put you off a particular brand for life. By the law of averages there will be a few rotten apples in the box but with todays technologies, build quality & reliability should be much better than a couple of decades ago.

        With the prospect of many more all electric cars being built in the near future it occurs to me that there will need to be massive re-training of vehicle technicians in dealerships and garages who are more used to maintaining IC engines… thus it ever was.

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