Retro JDM: A Slammed Nissan Pao

The world needs more oddball cars – especially custom ones.

The first time I saw Elliot Norton’s Nissan Pao in person, I couldn’t help but smile. It looked like something straight out of a cartoon only infinitely cooler, and there I was grinning like an idiot while I took in all that this car is. Time stood still for the briefest of moments in the quiet of dawn as I heard the little inline-four putter around the corner and under the bridge to where we had arranged to meet.

2018 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Nissan Pao by Steven Berndsen-16

I like to think that I know a little about most cars, but when I stumbled upon Elliott’s new buy online I suddenly felt like I knew nothing. What was this unabashedly retro concoction of European and Japanese design elements that had somehow been mashed together to form this little bundle of ridiculous fun? And secondly, how could I get it behind my lens? Luckily thanks to the wonder of the interwebs I was only a few clicks away and quickly set about organizing a date for my shoot with Elliott and his 1990 Nissan Pao.

First announced at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1987, the Pao was built in a very limited run from 1989 to 1991 at Nissan’s Pike Factory in Yokosuka alongside the BE-1, Figaro and S-Cargo van. All 51,657 Pao units built were sold in three months by pre-order and never put back into production again.

2018 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Nissan Pao by Steven Berndsen-12

The little hatchback featured a modest 1.0-litre engine producing a whopping 50 or so horsepower with a 0-100km/h totally dependent on what you had for breakfast that day. Other factory options included the choice between a 3-speed automatic or 5-speed manual, and if you loved the idea of the wind blowing in your hair the sought after canvas ragtop was a must have.

2018 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Nissan Pao by Steven Berndsen-10

Elliott has owned his Pao for a little over a year now after taking delivery of it from Japan in January 2017. The car was originally owned by Masataka Hiramatsu and built by Ushio Automobile who specialize in cutting up cars and greeting them with a life closer to the pavement courtesy of air suspension. The original struts were replaced with custom air struts and a subtle yet functional air system that Elliott has added his own spin to by incorporating a Canadian-made Thirty3 Pneumatics valve block and Specialty Suspension seamless air tank.  Swapping the mundane automatic trans out for the more coveted manual has also increased drivability and overall satisfaction for Elliott when cruising the beautiful roads around Vancouver Island. An engine swap is in the pipeline for the future, but as of right now there’s no word on what it might be.

2018 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Nissan Pao by Steven Berndsen-07

The interior has been re-trimmed in a style that complements the originality of the car extremely well. The cream and deep red seats mesh perfectly with the factory cream fixtures against the backdrop of the Aqua Grey paint that coats the body inside and out. Colour-coded tartan door cards and novelty basketball hoop drink holders only serve to add to the personality that this car is so rich with already.

When I first sat inside with Elliott I couldn’t help but be transported back in time by a few decades to the ’50s. The color combo mixed with the almost childlike features bring to mind a time when Bakelite was the in thing and pastel colors were all the rage. It really is a mixed bag of styles, but they all work so well together in my opinion.

2018 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Nissan Pao by Steven Berndsen-09

Rolling attire comes in the form of a set of Japanese made i.force wheels which serve to give this retro JDM machine a modern touch. With just the right amount of tyre stretch they look right at home beneath the protruding fenders.

2018 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Nissan Pao by Steven Berndsen-19
2018 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Nissan Pao by Steven Berndsen-18

All in all, this Pao truly is a enthusiast’s car; one built for cruising through summer with the windows down, stereo up and breaking necks for all the right reasons wherever you go.

Steven Berndsen
Instagram: chance_photos

Elliot would like to thank Masataka Hiramatsu, BagBarn Air Suspension Company, Island Mobile Detailing, and Coombs Country Auto.

How To join the IATS program: We have always welcomed readers to contact us with examples of their work and believe that the best Speedhunter is always the person closest to the culture itself, right there on the street or local parking lot. If you think you have what it takes and would like to share your work with us then you should apply to become part of the IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER program. Read how to get involved here.



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goddamn that's a hot little number.

Matthew Dockery

So much yes.


This car has so much personality! What a great little ride. And fantastic photos Steven!


Thanks for the Kind words Mat. Glad you liked it as much as I did. Definitely something cool and out of the ordinary!

Nolan Christian Lohmann Bjorn

There is one that showed up at the Keeneland Concours last year. I was shocked to see one.

Nolan Christian Lohmann Bjorn

There was one that showed up at Keeneland Concours last year. I was shocked to see one.


The amount of yes is over 9000 for this car.


I still can't wipe the smile off my face every time I look at it!

Daniel P Huneault

love what he done with this car - bravo!


Love this car... nice touch with the netted cup holders on the doors.


Yes, more Canada!
Well done!


Cheers man! And yes! Canada definitely needs more of a presence on SpeedHunters. So many cool cars and awesome people with great stories to tell!


Yeeewww killed it Stevo!!


Cheers Bro!


The words don't exist to describe what this awesome little car is doing to my insides. I've known about the Pao for a while, thanks to Gran Turismo, and Elliot's done so very right by it.


Awesome. Both the car and the article.
Wish I had that same carefreeness (and time & space) to have an automobile like that for no other purpose than harmless fun.


I'm in love.


Thanks for the love guys! Feel free to follow on Instagram: bagged_pao



Absolutely love the car. When is the engine swap going to happen?


I'd run that neat lil car. Awesome stuff.


Nissan really knows how to make fun cars, hope they give us a bang in the near future.


Blame Canada, Good job Steve!


Cheers Man!


Beautiful. Who makes the roof rack and the basketball hoop cupholders?


That is one really cute car. I REALLY WANT ONE!


Absolutely fantastic.


Absolutely beautiful! Perfect.


"An engine swap is in the pipeline for the future, but as of right now there’s no word on what it might be."

I HOOOPE it's an LS...!!!


HAHA I would love to see you try and cram an LS into what they call the "engine bay' of a Pao! It's dimensions aren't that far off a milk crate I reckon!


I'm totally trying to be cute. The comment was intended for the fans... so much LS love.


Can't remember the last time I saw so much universal praise towards a car on here!

Lovely little thing


I was just thinking the same thing. I was bracing for the usual few comments of negativity but so far so good! Maybe we've found the cure! Pao's for everyone!


Bag Barn had a good showing at Driven last year, looking forward to seeing this nugget again.


Love this nugget, and Bag Barn always has a good showing, Ive been shooting their cars for years, and look forward to seeing them again at Driven soon.


Loved seeing this in person,


Utterly ridiculously badass!


Awesome work Steven! Really rad car too.


Thanks so much dude! I've admired your work on here for a long time and it's wicked to be able to share my stories alongside yourself and and the rest of the SH team. Cheers dude!


Not my cup of tea but this car has a shit load of character. I do like it. The interior is sick.


good moning every one.


This thing is so cool! And man, i'm surprised there aren't any negative comments about it. That's awesome too!


I have never really even given these things a second look but hot damn, this is sweet! Perfectly executed. A friend of mine imports these. Might have to see if the wife would ever want one..


Александр Трофименков

I feel like a 12 year old girl. The only thought I have when I see one of these is “aww, how cute”


What a cool little car!!!!


congratulation, u win cars and coffee for life


Agreed! Guaranteed to turn heads for many years to come!

Cohen Baggerly

This is hands down one of the coolest builds I have ever seen! Awesome job guys!


Nice Jeremy Clarkson line. “A 0-100km dependant on what you had for breakfast.”


I did enjoy channeling my inner "Clarkson" for this little tidbit lol


Great, great article Steven.....thanks for doing the piece......worth the read and the pictures are just stunning!!!! Do you know how I can connect with the owner? I’ve just picked up a 1990Pao myself and need to chat with him on some direction. Let me know. Thanks and have a great day! Warm Regards.

Steve Berndsen

Hey Don! Thanks for getting in touch, glad you love that article as much as I do. Sure was fun to put together. I'm sure if you messaged Elliott on Instagram he'd get back to you. His IG handle is @bagged_pao.