“Is that what I think it is?” I stuttered as I peeked into the thin slit that is the Nissan Pao’s door pocket. I had discovered the rare, junked car on the side of a road in Hong Kong, and decided to buy some parts off of it for my coworker Jason. This required climbing into the vehicle, which was overgrown with shrubs and, as I’d later find out, housing a critter straight out of my nightmares.
Every time I visit my brother Mike in Hong Kong, we rent bicycles and go car-spotting. Without fail, we find amazing stuff like that custom Nissan Pao pickup I wrote about recently or this neglected Lamborghini Diablo.
I’ll show more of those high-dollar, abandoned cars soon, but for now, I’ve gotta tell you about the Nissan Pao we found sitting on the side of a road just across from a dealership specialising in Nissan S-Cargos.
(And yes, I’m just going to gloss over the fact that there was a garage with four Nissan S-Cargos sitting out front).
The Nissan Pao is one of the quirkiest Japanese cars ever, which is why one is currently owned by the quirkiest car journalist ever, Jason Torchinsky, who described the significance of this weird little machine in a post back in December of 2017, shortly after taking ownership of his dream machine. Jason wrote:
The Pao is part of Nissan’s late-Japanese-bubble-era experiment known as the Pike Factory.
The goal of the Pike Factory was to build niche cars with as much design appeal as was available in other consumer products of the time—electronics, cameras, fashion, and so on. These were cars that were not designed to appeal to everyone, but would be cult classics for those that appreciated them.
Four Pike cars were built, all designed under the direction of Naoki Sakai: the Be-1, the S-Cargo, the Figaro, and the Pao.
Naturally, as soon as I saw the neglected Pao sitting under a tree, covered in brush, I texted Jason to ask if he needed parts, since finding components for such a rare Japanese-market car in the U.S. is damn near impossible. He told me he needed the driver’s side vent window (since his knob had broken off), a window crank, door handles, the centre vent on the dash, the rear hatch hinges, and a cupholder.
I talked with the S-Cargo mechanic, whose English was actually quite good, and he told me that he’d sell me those bits for a total of 1,500 Hong Kong Dollars, or roughly $280. After this initial offer, we exchanged WhatsApp numbers so I could return with tools and a figure that Jason was willing to pay.
I took the train and bus (it probably took about an hour and a half) a few days later after Warren, the mechanic, and I had agreed on $90 in exchange for the quarter window, window crank, and door latch handle. That’s not cheap by U.S. junkyard standards, but it’s a Pao, and this is almost certainly the only parts-Pao I’ll ever see in my lifetime.
With classical music playing on the radio as Warren, covered in oil, wrenched under the brown S-Cargo you see above in an effort to get it to pass inspection the following day, I said hi and walked over to the parts car across the street.
The Pao was covered in shrubs and sitting on a pile of garbage, making it difficult to open the driver’s-side door. I had to pull trash and sticks out from under and around the car, but eventually I was able to yank the door open far enough to begin removing the interior panel. After a few minutes undoing some screws and trim, I noticed something in the door pocket.
It was hard to see because of the narrowness of the slit, and even after I zoomed in a bit on my phone, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking at.
My initial thought was that some twigs and nuts from tree above had gotten into the pocket. But I also had a weird feeling, so I grabbed a stick, banged the door panel a few times, and then I noticed motion.
I then hovered my phone right over top of the pocket, and peeked at the screen. Terror shot through my veins as I glanced at shiny, beady eyes and enormous legs sprawling from a bulbous brown body. To get an idea of scale, look at the 750 mL bottle below the spider. I’d say this thing probably had a leg-span over four-inches, which is absurdly huge:
I realise how silly it is to be afraid of an animal weighing 1/10,000th as much as I do, especially this particular one—a Huntsman spider—because it’s really not that dangerous. Still, I mean, just look at that thing! Every instinct in my body told me to get the hell away from it, so that’s precisely what I did.
Just as I left the car, Warren walked up to help get the quarter window out of the Pao. I showed him the video of the spider, but he wasn’t even remotely interested; He jumped into the hatchback and had the door handle, window crank, and vent window out in no time:
There’s a bit more rust on the window than I’d hoped and part of me wanted to haggle with Warren a bit. But after the man braved the eight-legged beast and I’d floundered like the weak man that I am, I lost all of my bargaining power, so I just paid the $US60 ($89) and left.
A British guy had stopped by Warren’s shop while all of this was going down. He was a huge car enthusiast. We got along quite well and he was even kind enough to give me a ride to the train station in his Aston Martin Vantage. So I have to admit that, as traumatising as the wrenching ordeal was, I did get a ride in an aurally-incredible Aston Martin. So that’s good.
Of course, things did get complicated when I tried bringing the window onto the aeroplane back to the U.S. I didn’t want to check a bag in because I was skipping the last leg of my ridiculously cheap and layover-laden flight plan, and my airline had initially told me that if I had a check-in bag, it had to go to the final destination (this, I later learned, isn’t true). So I just shoved the window and door trim parts into my backpack, and threw it onto the security belt.
To be clear: This wasn’t just the glass quarter window, it was the whole assembly, which includes the long metal frame shown on the left in the image below:
The frame is probably over two-feet in length, and I had it oriented such that the triangular bit holding the glass was facing downward in my bag, and the long metal rod was sticking out of my backpack by probably eight-inches.
The security team at the airport was having none of it. They pulled my pack aside, took the window assembly out, and told me it was too long. I had to check it in, they told me, though they were adamant that I simply didn’t have enough time, as I’d arrived at the airport too late. “Your flight boards in ~20 minutes. You don’t have time to check this in,” the gentleman at the end of the security belt told me.
So I had no choice. I let security throw away the rare Nissan Pao vent window that I’d spent so much effort trying to acquire. He tossed it into a small metal, cylindrical trash bin, and I—feeling pretty bad about wasting such a hard-to-come-by part, especially since my coworker Jason wanted it—packed my things in silence. But just before I walked towards my gate, I glanced at the trash bin and, staring at the metal rod of a rare Nissan Pao vent window peeking out, I had an idea.
I flagged the security officer down, and asked him to take the window out of the bin, because I wanted to dismantle it. Hesitantly, he did, and I grabbed a small screwdriver I had in my bag, wedged it into the metal window channel, and twisted it with all my might. “Snap!” I heard as one of the rivets broke. “Snap!”—there went the second one.
“Be careful,” the Hong Kong security guard said, looking around nervously as if he were breaking the rules letting me wrench at the end of the security line. Then, with the rivets broken, I grabbed the long metal channel, and bent it back and forth, fatiguing the metal, sending rust flakes all over the desk. “Be careful!” he said, again swivelling his head. I snapped the channel off and said “OK, so now the window is by itself. Is this ok?”
The break I’d made was jagged and sharp, but that wasn’t an issue. The officer held the window up as if it were some sort of bludgeoning tool, and said “This is too dangerous. You could hit someone with it. It’s not ok.” This seemed a bit silly, so I stalled and asked him to repeat what was wrong. How is this any different than a dinner plate or a mug? After a minute of stalling, another guard stopped by to tell the offer to just let me be.
I eventually got the Pao quarter window back to the U.S. This weekend, Jason and I will be installing the thing, and replacing the window BELOW, which has no handle, and thus no way of being locked.
Hopefully it’s an easy job, because between the long bus and train ride to get to the Pao, the spider ordeal, and the whole airport security debacle that nearly doomed the part to the bottom of a trash heap, I think I’ve maxed out how much nonsense I’m willing to deal with for a triangular piece of glass.