After documenting close to 3,000 vehicles in car graveyards over the last 16 years, I’ve learned to keep my eyes open for those with very high final numbers showing on their odometers. As of this writing, the most-traveled discarded Volvo I’ve found traversed 631,999 miles during its life, Honda is close behind with 626,476 miles, Mercedes-Benz is next with 601,173 miles, and Toyota is still in the Junkyard Odometer Top Ten with 413,344 miles. I’ve had a tougher time finding junkyard Nissans with galactically high total miles; prior to today’s Junkyard Gem, the top Yokohama machine was a 1987 Maxima with 341,176 miles on the odometer.
I found this car recently in a Northern California boneyard, and its final odometer reading is very impressive. In fact, this is just the third junked Nissan product I’ve found with better than 300k miles on the clock (after that ’87 Maxima and a 1986 200SX that reached 309,222 miles during its life). It’s possible that a 1989 Pathfinder I photographed in Colorado might have had better than 400,000 miles on its odometer, but the mechanism was so heavily damaged that I didn’t trust its reading (the same goes for the 1982 Volkswagen Rabbit convertible with a seemingly impossible 930,013 miles on its notoriously unreliable odometer).
The Maxima name has an interesting history, beginning its career as a trim level designation for the rear-wheel-drive Datsun 810 in the 1981 model year. This car became the Datsun Maxima by Nissan in the following year, then just the Nissan Maxima for 1984 (after the confusing “The Name Is Nissan” name-change campaign in North American finally wrapped up the process of terminating the Datsun name here).
The 810 (known as the Bluebird 910 in its homeland) was a close relative of the Z-Cars of the same era, but the Maxima moved over to a brand-new front-wheel-drive platform soon after its Bluebird siblings did so in Japan.
The first generation of the boxy front-drive Maxima was sold here for the 1985 through 1988 model years, when it competed for sales against the Toyota Cressida. The Maxima got bigger and curvier for 1989, and that generation stayed on sale here through 1994.
The last year for the Cressida here was 1992, and its Lexus LS400 replacement was too big and expensive to be a Maxima rival. Perhaps the Mazda 929 should be considered the main competition for this generation of Maxima in the United States.
This car appears to be a Maxima GXE equipped with the Luxury Package option group, giving it an MSRP of $24,794. That’s about $51,188 in 2023 dollars. The 1994 Mazda 929 listed at $30,500 ($62,969 today). The more realistic competition for this car (given the paltry sales of the 929) would have been Detroit machines such as the Buick LeSabre and Chrysler New Yorker.
The engine is a SOHC 3.0-liter V6 rated at 160 horsepower and 182 pound-feet. The hot-rod Maxima SE got 190 horsepower, while a DOHC version of this engine made 222 horses in the 1994 300ZX.
A five-speed manual transmission was available in the Maxima SE for 1994, but a four-speed automatic was mandatory for the GXE that year. The newest Maxima I’ve ever seen in a junkyard with three pedals was a 1996 model, though such cars were available (in theory) all the way through the 2006 model year.
While the electronic gadgetry for the Maxima of the 1990s wasn’t as wild as the stuff found in its predecessors, this car still has some futuristic touches.
We are now living in the final year for the Maxima, Nissan having announced late last year that 2023 would be the end of the road for the model (while leaving the option open that the name might be revived later on).
I usually have an ancient film camera with me when I visit car graveyards (in this case, a late-1930s AGFA Cadet B-2 loaded with Rollei Infrared film and equipped with a 760nm filter), and so I captured this shot of a fellow junkyarder with the Maxima.
With standard V6 and keyless entry!