How do you turn a cute Japanese Nissan Cube into a badass modified urban prowler? With an infusion of malice, cool mods and a whole bunch of spray paint…
We owe a lot to cubes. Throughout the history of mankind, we’ve been awestruck in the thrall of the sphere’s sharp-cornered nemesis. If it’s got six square sides, it’s probably here to help us. From Pythagorean mathematics to 1960s Detroit’s obsession with the ‘ain’t no substitute for cubes’ ethos, through the 1980s fondness for the Rubik’s Cube, to whichever genius it was who came up with the idea of cutting cheese and pineapple into cubes and putting them on cocktail sticks for parties. Oh, yeah, the Nintendo GameCube was rubbish, but every universal constant has its anomaly.
Now, the Cubist art movement may not specifically have had anything to do with cubes as such, but it’s relevant to our automotive interests. Why? Ask Pablo Picasso. Well, you can’t, because he’s dead. But if he were still with us, you can be sure he’d be spitting feathers that the Citroën Xsara Picasso is the car that bears his name. It’s awful. It’s mostly symmetrical. The whole point of Cubism is to break the subject down and reconstruct it in abstract form, that’s why his portraits had both eyes on the same side. If Picasso were alive today, he’d definitely be driving a second- generation Nissan Cube. (Probably quite badly, as he’d be 135 years old.)
So it makes sense that the trend for modifying Cubes generally tends to edge toward the arty. They’re inherently arty cars, with their weird asymmetric windows and whatnot. And that’s basically why this one’s ended up like this.
“My first car was a Smart ForTwo,” says owner Leanne Speirs, clearly a fan of oddball little motors. “I quickly got bored of the semi-automatic gearbox though and moved onto a VW Fox. That received a few modifications – coilovers, alloys, and so on – although nothing too drastic. But at that point in my life I decided to take the plunge and become fully self-employed. And I needed a bigger car and that’s when the Cube came into the picture.”
Fans of wacky Japanese tin will no doubt be well-versed in the model’s history. But for the uninitiated, here it is in a nutshell: the first-generation Cube appeared in 1998, sharing the Micra’s platform along with its running gear. Yeah, it was basically just a slightly bigger Micra. But the second-gen was the game-changer. Again based on the Micra architecture, it came with bigger engines, the option of ‘e4WD’ (a sort of weird electric four-wheel drive system), 12 front grilles to choose from, and, best of all, it looked like a weird cartoon fridge on wheels. And it wasn’t symmetrical. Which is cool. The third-gen evolution, like Leanne’s, had even bigger engines – hers is a 1.6 – as well as LED accent lighting and a whole galaxy of fancy trim levels. The loopy manga refrigerator was all grown up.
But back to Leanne’s Cube: “I needed a bigger car to carry my work gear around, but I also wanted something that would stand out,” she says. “I’ve never been one for following in other people’s shadows!” With her heart set on a third-gen Cube, she found this one online and, having chewed it over with the garage and satisfied herself that it was good enough to commit to, it was simply a matter of Leanne and her partner Scott setting off at midnight to make the 450-mile trip to collect it and bring it home. Piece of cake.
“We arrived there at 9am for when the garage opened, then drove it back,” she says. “When we saw how many funny looks we were getting when driving it, we knew we had to do something outrageous with it!”
The Cube, as it turned out, was in pretty below-par condition for a 2010 car, aesthetically speaking at least. It had evidently served as somebody’s motorway cruiser for a fair while, as evidenced by the copious stonechips, scuffs and scratches – many of which appeared, bizarrely, to have been touched in with Tipp-Ex. However, before addressing all of that, Leanne had identified a more pressing issue…
“The ride was terrible,” she laughs. “The first thing I had to do was fit some coilovers!” This, interestingly, had the effect of making the thing too low to practically use as a work vehicle, necessitating the purchase of another daily driver. That worked out well, then. Still, Leanne was far too mixed up in the momentum of the project to think about stopping now.
“The next thing I wanted to tackle was trying to sort some subtle aero,” she says. “The difficult part is trying to source parts for a car that not many people really modify, so a little lateral thinking was required, and I started using parts from other cars.” The eagle-eyed may have spotted the Saab splitter, for example, or the Subaru rear spats – it all works very neatly as a package. Now, about that iffy paintwork…
“The paint was in pretty poor condition,” Leanne concedes. “It would have taken a full respray to get it anywhere near show quality. I thought that if any car was able to pull off a graffiti paintjob, the Cube is surely it.” And she’s got a fair point. It really does work. Sure, it’s not the sort of Cubist abstraction that’d tickle Picasso’s pickle. But that old dead dude doesn’t spend a lot of time at car shows these days, does he?
“People have mixed reactions. Some love it and some really don’t,” says Leanne in a sing-song voice, clearly not giving the slightest little elf crap about the haters. This is her ride, her way, and the outrageously gritty urban kaleidoscope of colours on the outside is complemented splendidly by the pure-class interior retrim, with its plush
quilted leatherette in black and purple. And what comes next?
“Ah, a car is never complete,” she smirks. And we have a feeling we know which way this story’s going. The home-made skirt extensions and drilled airbox suggest a keenness for DIY, the VIP-style curtains and Jimmy Up gearknob demonstrate an enthusiasm for JDM tuning, and the paintjob is a pure one-off.
As Picasso once said, “The purpose of art is to wash the dust of daily life from our souls”. So it’s safe to assume that this little cartoon fridge is far from done with.
OWNER: LEANNE SPEIRS
￼￼TECH SPEC: NISSAN CUBE
Custom graffiti paint; tinted headlights; fog lights; tail lights and side repeaters; aftermarket grilles; Thule roof rails with Streetwise roof rack; Saab front splitter; DIY side skirt extensions; Subaru rear spats; LED under-car lighting; rolled and flared arches; OEM wind deflectors.
HR16DE 1.6-litre; custom centre-exit exhaust; drilled airbox with K&N panel filter; 5-speed manual ’box.
9x17in ET25 Japan Racing JR15 wheels; 205/45 Nexen N8000 tyres; BC Racing coilovers.
Seats and doorcards re-upholstered in black and purple quilted leatherette; Jimmy Up flower gearknob; custom curtains; OEM door sill lights; gems around interior dash line.
I would like to thank my partner Scott and my friends for helping out. I would also like to thank MySofaArt. co.uk for the fantastic job of the interior upholstery.”