The Nissan EXA Sportbak Is The 'Convertible' Shooting Brake You Forgot

The Pulsar NX/EXA had an unusual 'modular' design allowing one car to have multiple body styles, but the setup wasn't without its flaws

Remind me later
Nissan - The Nissan EXA Sportbak Is The 'Convertible' Shooting Brake You Forgot - Car History

‘Shooting brake’ is a term we hear a lot these days. Nine times out of ten, it’s a marketing buzzword applied to a new estate car with a swoopy roofline and a tailgate shape that makes loading anything big a complete pain in the arse. Few new cars stay true to the ‘proper’ definition of shooting brake - which is supposed to be reserved for two/three-door estate cars - and the only ones around right now are hellishly expensive.

We’re struggling to think of anything from the mainstream manufacturers other than the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso and a special version of the Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato, the latter car costing £500k special. Oh, and it’s already sold out.

So where are the shooting brakes for the people? Why can’t we have a modern-day BMW Z3 Coupe? The answer is simple: sports cars are already in low demand right now, so an affordable real shooting brake would just be too niche. Go back to the 1980s though, and you’ll find that Nissan had a crack at creating the most accessible shooting brake ever.

Pop-ups AND a shooting brake body style? Sign me up!
Pop-ups AND a shooting brake body style? Sign me up!

Making its debut in 1986, the ‘N13’ Nissan EXA (dubbed Pulsar NX in some markets) wasn’t mechanically remarkable. Far from it - the car was front-engined and front-wheel drive, and in its entry-level form made a paltry 70bhp from single-cam GA16i engine. Amodest 90bhp from the later 1.6-litre CA16DE N/A inline-four, and it was also available with a CA18DE 1.8 making a more reasonable 130bhp.

A low weight figure hovering around the one tonne mark helped the EXA’s cause, but a fast car it was not. But it did have one hell of a USP: that awesome wagon-like ‘Sportbak’ rear, effectively making the EXA shooting brake.

Nissan - The Nissan EXA Sportbak Is The 'Convertible' Shooting Brake You Forgot - Car History

But if you weren’t feeling in a wagon-y mood? What if you wanted your EXA/NX to be, say, a coupe? No problem - that quirky-looking ‘Canopy’ glasshouse can be easily detached and replaced with a smaller hatchback boot, giving the car a classic coupe silhouette. If you wanted, you could even (legally, we might add) Leave the boot-lid off entirely and run the car as kinda/sorta Ute. All you had to do was undo some nuts with the supplied 14mm spanner.

The final piece of the customisation concerns the roof - the EXA is a T-bar style convertible, with two removable panels that can be stored in the boot.

Nissan - The Nissan EXA Sportbak Is The 'Convertible' Shooting Brake You Forgot - Car History

It’s a great idea in principle, so you might be left wondering why it never caught on. Nothing quite like the EXA has been made since, and the car wasn’t exactly a smash hit in terms of sales.

It might be something to do with the rear-world practicality of removing a large chunk of bodywork. Where are you meant to put the damn thing? The coupe section isn’t exactly a small part to find a home for, either.

Nissan - The Nissan EXA Sportbak Is The 'Convertible' Shooting Brake You Forgot - Car History

An image posted on Reddit a few years ago features numerous replies from EXA owners, one noting that the sheer weight of the coupe and Sportbak panels meant swapping on a whim wasn’t really doable. The hatchback end also left owners with precious little boot space to play with. As cool as the modular concept was, perhaps the N13 would have worked better with two distinct

Production came to an end in 1990, with the EXA replaced by the considerably less interesting and cutely-styled ‘N14’ NX. Finding an N14 for sale isn’t particularly difficult, but tracking down an N13? You’ll find that quite a bit more arduous, and it’s harder still if you - rightly - want one with the Sportbak rear panel. But if you manage it, hold on to the thing. And we’ll try our best not to be jealous.