Cars Of A Lifetime: 1984 Nissan 720 4×4 Pickup -What Can Brown Do For Me?

So what is brown, smelly, rather small, and uncomfortable? Yes, it’s a Nissan 720 pickup! What could it do for me? Could it haul the whole family in comfort? No. Could it pull down the Eiffel tower? No. Was it stylish and sporty? No. So what exactly could it do?

Firstly however, I must say that writing about these Japanese pickups is always the toughest assignment. They don’t do anything exciting, don’t blow up or catch fire, don’t have weird quirks and generally just work when called on; how boring. But I needed an economical little pickup because I was making runs to the dump now and then, and needed a car to get to work in. Why not combine the two and get a small pickup?

In some regards, I was missing the efficient and utilitarian Toyota pickup I had owned before. But this time it had to be an extended cab. So I started searching for a little pickup, 4×4 of course. But I only had about a thousand bucks to spend. I knew that would never get me another Toyota. So maybe a Ford Ranger/Mazda 2300, or a Chevy LUV 4×4, or Dodge D50, or a Nissan 720? It turned out to be the Nissan 720 that came up for twelve hundred dollars.

It was located about twenty miles away in the middle of nowhere, and it was snowing, no less. My primary vehicle was indisposed in some way; I can’t quite remember why, and I had no transportation at all. So I called up my friend Chris who owns a clapped out old Cavalier. I asked him if he could take me to look at a truck, and he agreed.

The sun was going down and the snow and sleet were getting worse when we left.  I took the wheel, partly because I know I enjoy driving more than Chris, and secondly because I hate being a passenger. Now I should mention here that Chris, as I think we may have mentioned before, has an ongoing struggle with machines. It is Chris’ contention that machine should work worry free and require nothing from the user except initial purchase. Now, I can’t agree more with the theory, but Chris refuses to except the reality. The reality that some understanding of their function is still required even in the modern world in which we live. The reality that at least basic maintenance and checks are required to keep any, and especially an aging Cavalier, on the road. But such is not the case with Chris; the reality of owning an older car for Chris is really no fun at all, so it’s a reality best to just be avoided (as if that was possible).

There I was driving down the dark icy highway and I happened to glance at the oil pressure gauge. It was bouncing around five or ten PSI. I asked him if that was normal. Chris said ” well, every time it gets like that, I check the oil and it says it’s low, so I put more in and then it shoots up to like sixty or something, so I just keep it like that”.  I was speechless for awhile, calculating how far we would have to walk in the snow and ice to get back to civilization.

We were entering a small town as this conversation took place. Since I once lived there, I knew the back roads. As we turned unto one of my shortcut roads I could hear the lifters starve for oil and the gauge went to zero. I pointed out to Chris that we would not reach our destination like that, but of course he had no oil on board. Luckily his brother lived right by our route. I straightened the car out and the pressure came slowly back up. It was about three miles to his brother’s house, and when we pulled into the driveway I could hear every part of the engine crying out for oil like the Tin Man.

Chris’s brother gifted us with about four quarts of oil and we started the car. It ran just like it had never had a problem; oil pressure shot up to about sixty five. As we continued on, I explained the basics of oil starvation and pump cavitation. And Chris said: “oh, you see, I had that little gauge all wrong; now I get it.”

When we finally arrived it was freezing cold and the weather was only getting worse. We found the truck based on some vague directions. It was in front of a pitch black farm out in the yard. It was camouflage with a canopy and big tires. It looked pretty good. So I found my way to the door of the house. A man came to the door and told me that the owner actually lived up the road but that he would call him for me. We waited awhile in the car; oh, I forgot to mention that the Cavalier had no heat either. Chris carried a rag to wipe the windows off, a la VW Bug, and that was it; good times!

When the man finally came, he started it up and mentioned that it smoked a little (a bad start). So I took it for a test drive. It drove OK but the gas was very low and I could really hear the valves clattering. I asked him how I was supposed to drive it back with no gas and he said he had some in a can. I asked him when he had last adjusted the valves and he said never. So I popped the hood and looked at it while it was running, dying flashlight in hand. I pulled off the oil cap to check for blow-by, and boy was there ever blow-by.  It looked like a steam engine pulling out of the station with a load of ore.

I turned to the man and thanked him, barely. I told him it was just a little too much of a project for me right now. So we made our way back home in the terrible weather, in a terrible car, with no heat.

But a few days later I saw an ad for two more 720s. I went to look at one but it too was a project. I never started it; I just took one look under the hood, and asked about the title, and walked away. I went to see the next one, which was listed for eleven hundred dollars. It was on a farm about ten miles north of me. When I got there I had a good feeling. I looked it over: it was fecal brown with orange stripes and big 4X4 decals on the sides. It was rusty, but the cab was OK. Everything but the power steering worked. The man said it had never had power steering; I wondered about that. But it ran good. The cab floor was very wet though; he said it was because he left the window down. Everything checked out on it and the tires were almost new, so I bought it with no haggling.

The wet cab floor proved to a problem with rust around the fresh air intake under the cowl. It had rusted through at the welds and water was running into the heating fan and unto the floor. It was nearly impossible to see the intake and taking the cowl off was a bigger deal than I wanted it to be. So I wire brushed it as best I could, painted on some phosphoric acid treatment, and applied a bunch of silicone with my finger. It worked and it never leaked again.

The power steering pump was there, but empty. How long it had gone that way, I will never know. But I filled it up and it worked fine, although it did leak some. I had all of the fluids changed and cleaned the Weber carburetor filter, adjusted the valves, replaced the ignition components, and did a tune-up.

I drove the truck for awhile, but I got to really hating the gearing and the engine’s torque band. It had the ubiquitous NapZ motor which was never really designed for trucks. Plus the gearing was highway oriented, so one had to give it plenty of clutch and gas to get rolling. This was essentially the opposite of the way my Toyota had been set up and it reminded me of one of my old Bronco II’s. The gas mileage was the same as a Bronco II as well, nineteen mpg on the highway, fifteen or so around town. Not great for a small truck. Off-road, the limited axle articulation, high gearing, and independent front suspension limited it quite a bit.

During this time my friend Steve had bought my Land Rover Discovery and was making payments to me. He was up to around eleven hundred dollars when he lost his job. He told me he could not make any more payments until he found another job. So I offered him the Nissan truck in exchange for the Land Rover, along with no more payments. He liked the idea and I gave him the Nissan. As you know, I drove the Land Rover around for awhile and then sold it too. The 720 worked great for Steve, as he was living on a semi-communal farm in Eugene and he was tasked with dump runs and such.

Eventually Steve moved back to Salem and I was driving the Lexus ES250 at the time. I could see that the Nissan no longer suited his needs and I really felt out of place in the Lexus. So we traded again, Steve with the Lexus, which he loved, and I with the Nissan.

While Steve had owned it, he had had the power steering leak fixed, an alignment done, and had the head gasket replaced. When I got it the tires were worn down but it ran great as usual. Of course it was just as uncomfortable and the driving experience was still just as bad.

So I sold it and used the money for a family car which is coming up. I can’t say I miss it a bit. It was a tool, not a car, and the guy who bought it is going to use it on his farm to haul fire wood. So it will be back in it’s natural element doing what it was meant to do and I wish it a good life.