I believe it was a few months after I had sold the VW Kombi, and while I was content with the Jetta, I also really missed having a truck for hauling oddball things. I was perusing Craigslist when I came across the ad for this truck and I was instantly smitten. I loved the cheerful bright red color, the spec and mileage was perfect – exceptionally bare bones with something like 68,000 miles on the clock. It was also relatively rust-free for a Midwest Hardbody, this truck must’ve been used for dump runs only. The only downside, the seller had a very optimistic asking price on it but I pressed to arrange a time to see and test drive it anyway.
The seller had me meet him at a large parking lot of an auto auction site in an industrial part of town. There he had one or two other Hardbodies, a few Mercedes W123s and some other cars mixed in, he was an auction flipper apparently. Upon seeing the truck in person my heart sunk a little – it was very dirty inside and not as nice as pictured. A short test drive around the complex revealed almost all the warning lights were on and it was very easy to hide my enthusiasm for the truck. I still wanted it but knew I could use the truck’s many faults for leverage. I shot him a drastically low price – something like 50% off his ask citing the truck’s needs and he agreed to it. He rode the ~35 miles back home with me to drop off the truck at my house, get the check and I drove him back to Des Moines in the Jetta.
Getting this truck sorted and at my level of acceptability was a fun project and much more at my ability of wrenching it turned out. Most of the warning lights were simply a function of neglect and were easily remedied. The brake light was on due to low fluid in the reservoir and the check engine light was perhaps an O2 sensor or something easy like that. I went ahead and just did a full tune-up while I was at it. I removed the very rusty rear bumper and that helped appearances greatly. In its place, I installed an OEM roll pan which cleaned up the looks and was in line with the very minimal spec of the truck. I also installed some OEM rear mudflaps, which I always liked the looks of. A junkyard Hardbody gave up its less saggy headliner than the one I had and since the truck did not have AC, I grabbed the sliding rear window to install, too. Lastly, I painted the steel wheels in their original silver color again.
The Hardbody served its purpose amazingly well. The 4 cylinder, 5-speed combo returned good fuel mileage, though without cruise control, and the limited adjustability of the hot vinyl bench seat, the miles wore tediously on long summer trips. But as it was generally just me or one of my friends it didn’t matter much. Early that spring I recall we loaded up the truck three adult males deep and drove to the far eastern part of the state for a car show. Why we didn’t just take the Jetta was beyond me. I smartly packed a sleeping bag and on the return leg one of the guys went to the bed to stretch out. Other fun times included using the truck to pick up motorcycles off Craigslist with buddies. With two of friends in there we had a fun way to occasionally pass the time. I’d work the clutch and tell the second guy when to shift. The middle guy would work the brakes, shifter and accelerator and the third guy would lean over and steer – logical, right? It was goofy but fun at the time. The Hardbody never complained and returned fast, friendly and economical transport. So much so that by summer I sold the Jetta and the Hardbody became my primary transportation.
Towards the end of that first fall, though I still really loved the truck, I began thinking of other cars again. While I could wax philosophical all day long about the Hardbody’s merits and to me it was the perfect truck, but I’m pretty certain I was the only one thinking that! The outward appearance wasn’t exactly the image I wished to portray, at least as my sole vehicle. I know it sounds shallow but at the time I was dating, in my twenties and had a really good job, in fact, I got a promotion that December – it was time to make an automotive change to better reflect that.
I listed the truck on Craigslist and after a few weeks, I got a call late one night. The caller had a Miata that was just wrecked and he needed a new vehicle quickly. He knew the D21 in and out as his dad had one back home with astronomical miles on it and it was very reliable. He knew what the truck was and appreciated it for that – a good home in my eyes. He came and bought it the next day. Looking back at this truck I have to laugh – I sold it in the dead of winter without a backup plan, forcing me to ride my bike to work, errands, etc. until something else came along. Hardly an improvement!
I certainly see the appeal of a bare-bones little pickup, though I have reached the point in life where a/c would be awfully hard to do without.
I am not sure why, but I never bonded with the hardbody pickup. Maybe it was because of the pickup my father had, a late version of the prior generation. I had really liked the look of that one – it seemed to me almost perfectly styled for a Japanese compact truck. I have come to like these much better now than I did at the time.
Nissan called that a Navara in this market tough old things an employer a few years ago had a flatdeck version in his runabout fleet with NA diesel engine and 5 on the tree it was sluggish dependable and had awesome AC I was given the task of bogging up the dents and squirting it in ute fleet white and for a well beaten old bomb it came up quite well, nothing was done to the engine it just kept on going.
I had the blue version of this truck for a couple of years. Good truck that was never much trouble. That is the kind of truck I can make use of.
I recall going to the junkyard and buying a set of factory steelies. The truck I had came with wide steel white spoke wheels that were rusty and whose tires were worn out. If I was putting new tires on it, I wanted to put the factory narrow tires on it b/c the wide tires made it a handful in wet weather.
Junkyard was quite affordable on the wheels but wanted more for the little plastic caps than I paid for the four steel wheels (with good paint even). I think he thought he had me in a tough spot. Told him to keep his little plastic caps if they were so valuable and rare. I could do without them. Never understood old junkyard dudes like that. He could have pocketed more money but instead got greedy.
I’d like to see similar smaller vehicles return to American roads again. I recently drove a an almost new Ford F250 crew cab long bed 4WD. Was like driving a school bus. Good truck if a person really needs a truck that big.
Postscript: The ’68 Orange Krate cleaned up pretty well. 95% stock/correct with some fun period mods like the massively tall sissybar.
Nice, that bar is so tall it won’t fit in a picture! The condition of the original grips and seat is incredible since it seems to have seen a fair amount of use.
The sissybar was comically huge. The grips came off a donor ’69 krate and the seat was a patina match off eBay… So I was happy how it all came together!
I miss compact trucks.
Sadly…in this area, those Nissan trucks just rotted to powder.
Sadly, same here. That’s why I hopped on it as soon as I could despite the high ask. This came from Nebraska, not sure if they use road salt over there…
I totally get the love for a small, red, 2wd, Japanese truck. I still wish we had kept the 1994 Toyota pickup my dad bought new. Sipped gas, decent pep, pretty smooth 5 speed, the 22R was reliable as an anvil. It just couldn’t safely tow the ridiculous hulks of vehicles I continuously are compelled to drag home. I thought I was going to loose it on one such trip dragging home a 74 Lemans on a uhaul dolly. Amazing the stuff we think is reasonable when we’re young.
Lovely little rig, I really like the very utilitarian tough look of them, and they don’t just LOOK tough, these things are hard as nails. they are ALL OVER Mexico, and will continue to plug along, hilariously overloaded, for decades to come, owing to the lack of road salt. Heck there are plenty of the previous gen (Datsun 720 style) rigs over there in perfectly serviceable shape. I came back from there (for work) set on buying an old compact stick shift truck, one of these Nissans was at the top of the list. But as you note, most of them have rotted away, and the few remaining ones were almost Toyota-tier overpriced. I ended up with a pair of Rangers the following several gardening seasons and really liked them. Just as tough I think.
My father-in-law has a mid-nineties Hardbody. It’s a little fancier in that it is the extra cab and has alloy wheels. Otherwise, pretty basic with a 5-speed manual. But man, is it one tough little truck. He’s had it for almost 20 years and we still borrow it when we have to haul stuff. It’s a real work truck- not pretty at all. The body is straight, but it has the tell-tale signs of being parked outside all year here in the Pacific Northwest- copious amounts of grime and fir needles choking any available opening or crack and a healthy patina of algae. But it keeps chugging along. Nice to have it handy when we need it!
There is a Butter Yellow D21 in my driveway right now. It was produce 03/86, making it one of the earliest Hardbodies. The switchover from the 720 was sometime mid-’86. I bought it a few years ago as a weekend hauler/hobby project. It is remarkably well preserved and original.
The main difficulty was buggy electronics, which I have finally worked out. There is scant reliable information on these (Z24i engine controls), and the lack of OBD2 does not help.
Overall, it does everything asked of it really well.
Another Hardbody, eh? I think most of the basic steel wheels will interchange between the 720 (and older-generation Nissans/Datsuns) and the D21, as the right wheel on my trailer built from an ’85 720 is the same style as the ones on this Hardbody, minus the center cap; the cap wouldn’t have worked anyway because the lug nuts are too thick on the outside for a secure fitment. These must all be 14″ too, as I managed to install Ford Aerostar hubcaps on mine. I believe the Frontier & related vehicles share the same bolt pattern as the older trucks as they’re all 6-lug designs.
It’s so satisfying when you can actually use your vehicle for its primary intended purpose, which seemingly few people are able to do. Besides on farms/ranches & other businesses, how often do “big” pickups haul an actual load in the bed or tow an appropriately-sized utility trailer?
Glad you got a good buyer who knew all about the model & was in absolute need of new transportation; NOT having a backup vehicle plan not so much! 🙂
Got pictures today of both wheels. The left one is no doubt original to the 720 line–it was the original spare when the trailer was still a pickup, hence the rust stains–while the right wheel clearly has different-shaped spokes around the outside of the hub (same as on your Hardbody). Otherwise the two are the same in just about every other way. I got another spare with the same style as the left except for being painted black. And those hubcaps DID come from an Aerostar, I just taped Nissan emblems over the Ford ovals so there would be no mismatched branding. Amazing how much change a decent set of hubcaps can do!