COAL: 1996 Nissan Hardbody – Hard to Beat a Hardbody

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.

The few months that I had both vehicles. The Hardbody eventually replaced 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.

I could not find any pictures of this truck entirely in focus! The truck was immensely helpful for hauling motorcycles, my Puch Magnum and Honda CL350 in the foreground.


A shot from the tail end of a bicycle auction. Only the house-painted ’68 Schwinn Orange Krate was mine, the rest were my friend’s finds.


Comparing my friend’s 1960 Ford F-100 to the Hardbody. More similar than you might think. Certainly neither had many creature comforts!

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!