In 1989, an American Honda dealer named Gary Duncan won a trip to Japan and the Tokyo Motor Show. It was there that he first saw the delightful, retro Nissan Figaro, and started an obsession that has lasted for decades and created the greatest and most surprising car collection in the country.
(Welcome to Car vs. America: The Lost Tapes. We used to have a TV show on Fusion, but while our show was good, our corporate overlords decided to do something else with the network entirely. We managed to obtain all of the raw footage from the show, however, and there was tons of good stuff in there that never made it in. So we decided to put it all together for y’all to enjoy.)
America is burdened by a strange law dubbed the 25 Year Rule: Foreign cars that don’t comply to the U.S.’s specific crash and emissions tests aren’t allowed into the country until they’re 25 years old or older. In 1989, Gary Duncan, a Honda dealer in Virginia, met one such car, the Nissan Figaro. It was one of Nissan’s Pike cars, retro vehicles built off of normal economy car platforms, with intentionally limited production. They were a huge hit in Japan, instant classics. Gary loved the Figaro, too, and he knew that Americans would eat these things up, as he explained to our our coworker Jason Torchinsky last year:
Gary Duncan explained his Figaro obsession pretty simply to me: He was at the 1989 Tokyo Auto Show when Nissan unveiled the Figaro. He was smitten, and asked the Nissan reps when he could get one. He was told, sorry, never is when, because these are not going to be sold in America.
Indeed, Nissan never sold any of the Pike cars outside of Japan. The Japanese economy was booming back then, and the market easily swallowed up all the Pike cars that Nissan wanted to build. Any American wanting a Figaro would have to wait 25 years to get one.
So Gary waited.
And now, a bit more than 25 years on, he has amassed over 120 of these cars. He keeps them in an unassuming warehouse in little Christiansburg, Virginia. A couple months after Jason made his way there, my other coworker Mike Ballaban and I made the pilgrimage ourselves to shoot part of an episode of Car vs America, in a segment that never made it to air. We knew what was waiting for us, but I can tell you with certainty that we were not prepared for what we saw.
Gary is a dealer at heart. He doesn’t just want these cars for himself. He believed genuinely in 1989 that America would want to buy Figaros, and he keeps these cars for sale. You can go to Duncan Imports right now and buy one yourself.
When we met Gary, he was still relatively unknown, but now he’s made it to Bill Gates. And also not long after this was shot, Jason ended up buying a different Pike car from Gary, a wee adventure car called the Nissan Pao.
Everywhere he goes in it, people wave at him, like he is bringing a little bit of joy along for the drive. Part of that joy radiates out of Gary, from his obsession turned positive.