Junkyard Gem: 1986 Nissan Sentra two-door sedan

One of the very last of the Japanese-built first-generation Sentras to be sold in North America, now in a Denver junkyard

00 - 1986 Nissan Sentra in Colorado junkyard - Photo by Murilee Martin
00 - 1986 Nissan Sentra in Colorado junkyard - Photo by Murilee Martin
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It seems that the Sentra has always been with us, but in fact the very first Sentras didn't show up in North America until the 1982 model year. This gas-sipping econobox became an immediate sales smash hit over here, and the Japanese-built 1982-1986 cars elbowed aside many a Civic and Corolla in the battle for American sales. Sentras began rolling out of Nissan's new Tennessee factory in 1985, just before the debut of the second-gen version, and so today's Junkyard Gem in Denver is one of the very last of the Kanagawa-built Sentras sold in the United States.

I've documented a few first-gen Sentras in this series, but this one beats all of them for low mileage and best overall condition. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find any early Sentra as nice as this one. Just 77,391 original miles on the clock!

It doesn't have the luxurious automatic transmission, sure, but can you imagine air conditioning on a cheap imported econo-commuter in 1986?

Not many buyers of low-price two-door sedans cared about having a rear defroster, so this is another seldom-seen option.

Sealed-beam headlights were just beginning to be phased out in 1986, so information stickers had to be included on cars with replaceable bulbs.

The interior could use a good scrubbing, but I don't see any of the rips and gouges you get in most 34-year-old junkyard cars. The Colorado climate is especially rough on car interiors, so either this one came from elsewhere or it lived in a garage for most of its life.

I'm puzzled by the high-power, RV-grade power inverter screwed to the floor under the dash. Perhaps the original owner used an early laptop computer in this car.

With 69 horsepower from this 1.6-liter straight-four, the '86 Sentra didn't win many drag races. Fuel economy was excellent, though, and these cars proved to be quite reliable.

America's best-selling import, complete with lots of futuristic technology.

Nissan was working on hydrogen- and electricity-powered cars way back in 1984.

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