Celebrating 35 years of production at the Sunderland plant, Nissan has commissioned a very special conversion of the Nissan Bluebird – the first car off the factory’s production line in 1986.
Called ‘Newbird’, the one-off project car is powered by the 100 per cent electric drivetrain of a Nissan LEAF, the pioneering mass-market EV that kick-started the global trend towards electrification of mobility.
The ‘Newbird’ connects 35 years of manufacturing heritage at Sunderland, as Nissan accelerates towards an electrified future through Ambition 2030, the company’s long-term plan to empower mobility and beyond.
Alan Johnson, vice president for manufacturing, at the Nissan Sunderland plant, said: “The ‘Newbird’ represents all that is great about our plant – past present and future – as we celebrate 35 years of manufacturing in Sunderland.
“We have a rich heritage of building great cars, right from the original Bluebird model, and our fantastic team is now leading the way as we drive towards an exciting electrified, carbon neutral, future.”
The Nissan Bluebird was extensively modified to integrate the LEAF’s electric drivetrain.
The original petrol combustion engine and gearbox were removed and a LEAF motor, inverter and 40kWh battery pack installed, with the battery modules split between the engine bay and boot for optimised weight distribution.
Updates and modifications were made to the power steering, braking and heating systems to enable them to be electrically powered. A custom suspension was also installed to support the additional weight from the battery packs.
As a nod to the car’s electric updates, the original Nissan bonnet badge received a LED backlight (for when the vehicle is static).
The car is recharged through the original fuel flap, which provides access to the charging port.
The battery can be recharged at up to 6.6kW and the original driver instrument panel has been connected to the EV system to enable the fuel gauge to show the battery state of charge.
Although not homologated, the vehicle’s range from a single charge is estimated at around 130 miles (subject to environmental factors and driving style) with a 0-62mph (0-100kph) time of just under 15 seconds.
For the exterior of the vehicle, Nissan Design Europe, based in London, created a new graphic motif inspired by design cues of 1980s consumer technology, combined with a 21st century aesthetic.
The conversion was project-managed by Kinghorn Electric Vehicles, a family-run company based in Durham, North East England.
Kinghorn EV specialises in the conversion of classic cars to full electric using second-life Nissan LEAF motors, inverters and batteries.
George Kinghorn said; “Given our location so close to the Sunderland plant, working on this Bluebird conversion was a great project to be part of.
“When Nissan opened the Sunderland factory it gave the North East a big economic boost.
“The Bluebird was first off the line, so it represents the start of that optimism, progress and global industrial footprint that’s continued to this day.”
“Electric vehicles are not just the future, they’re the now.
“Converting older vehicles to electric gives you everyday use of these iconic vintage models, but they’re just as enjoyable to drive, they’re more reliable and importantly don’t produce harmful emissions when driving.
“With this project we think we’ve created a car that captures the soul of the Nissan Bluebird, with the heart of a Nissan LEAF.”
Sunderland Plant was officially opened in September 1986 and has been in operation ever since.
Total output from 1986 to the present day stands in excess of 10.5 million cars.
The number of staff employed at the Sunderland plant has grown from 430 in 1986 to 6,000 today.
There are 19 staff who started in 1986 still working today on Nissan LEAF.
The first car off the Sunderland production line in 1986, Bluebird Job 1, is the centrepiece of a local museum display commemorating the significance of that first vehicle.
Production of Bluebird totalled 187,178 units from 1986 to 1990.
When production ramped up it took over 22 hours for each Bluebird to be built.
Now, 35 years later, the outstanding improvement in manufacturing technology has reduced the production time to 10 hours for the Nissan LEAF and over 200,000 units have been manufactured.
Under Ambition 2030, Nissan aims to become a truly sustainable company, driving towards a cleaner, safer, and more inclusive world.
The vision supports Nissan’s goal to be carbon neutral across the lifecycle of its products by fiscal year 2050.
By the early 2030s every all-new Nissan vehicle offering in key markets will be electrified, as well as introducing innovations in electrification and manufacturing technology.