Curbside Classic: 1969 Datsun 1500 (521) Pickup – Hard Labour With A Dash Of Style

I’ve seen this one on the street a couple times – it’s definitely still in use. I recently found its nesting place and couldn’t resist taking a few photos. It’s so refreshing to find a 50-year-old pickup that looks like this. Neither over-restored to prissy trailer-queen status, nor sacrificed on the altar of hipster normalization and turned into yet another road-scraping restomodded atrocity. Just the kind of patina half a century of honest work will put on a resilient labourer.

The paintwork looked original throughout, though it may not look like that in the pictures. I guess a few minor things did get fixed up – those taillamps may well have been replaced at some point in the not-too-distant past and the reflectors were probably added for legal reasons. But that’s just TLC. The only obvious addition is that lamp and that weird-looking antenna thing. Anyone know what that might be used for?

The interior was a bit of a let-down, with that ill-fitting radio and that suspicious headrest. But those aside, it all looks to be in perfect working order – and in surprisingly good condition. That’s the good thing about vehicles from this era: there are not many things to break, and if they were decently made and used with care, which this one must have been, they last forever.

Datsun pickups were an essential part of Nissan’s plans for world domination. In the late ‘50s, they started exporting the 211 pickup, closely derived from the 210 saloon. When the 310 Bluebird arrived, the 320 commercial chassis (above) followed suit, graduating to a 1.2 litre and inheriting the saloon’s front end, but keeping the beefed-up rear suspension and non-synchronized 1st gear throughout its tenure, from 1961 to 1965.

Bluebirds of a feather – above: 410 saloon (1963-65); below: 520 double cab (1965-66)

When the 520 arrived, two years after the 410 Bluebird it was based on (esthetically). Just like the previous two generations, the 520 was available as a pickup, a two-door wagon and a curious double cab based on the wagon. One notices a numerical discrepancy between the 520 pickup and the PininFarina-designed 410/411 Bluebird saloon it’s supposed to be honed from. The reason is that, as of this generation, the pickup and the saloon were structurally unrelated: the 410 Bluebird ushered in unit body construction at Nissan, whereas the pickup/delivery 520 kept its trusty separate frame.

They just made the 520 look like the saloon – especially when it got upgraded to quad headlamps in 1967. But really, aside from the engine (a 1.3 litre 4-cyl. J-engine, a Nissan-made reverse-engineered Austin B-series used on the 411 range), the Bluebird and the 520 no longer shared much of anything under the skin, unlike previous generations. The 520 also had access to the 1.5 litre version of the J-engine, which produced a decent 76hp.

Above: 2nd series 520 pickup (1967-68); below: 521 van (1968-72)

Pretty soon, that also became true of the skin itself, too. In 1967, the 510 Bluebird took over with a revised body and IRS. This was followed by the 521 pickup/delivery van in late 1968, which married a 510-ish grille and hood on the previous generation’s cab. Little had really changed, except a new 1.6 litre L-engine became available – an OHC design that Prince had cribbed from Mercedes-Benz, apparently.

The 1600 was chiefly used for export markets – JDM Datsun 521 pickups were usually of the 1300 or 1500 variety. Of course, the 521 kept the old live axle and the 520’s dash; RHD models also kept their 4-speed on the column through to the end of the model’s life in 1972.

The quad-faced 520 inaugurated the “Big D” logo for the truck line. It moved from the grille to the top of the hood for the 521. As logos go, this is really one of the most uninspired, half-arsed, capital-D-for-Duuuhh excuses for a hood ornament that’s ever graced a four-wheeled vehicle. I don’t know why it is that Datsun and Toyota, the behemoths of Japanese carmakers, took decades to figure out branding. It’s not like they didn’t see good examples around them (e.g. Mitsubishi). Datsun did have a sort of upside-down Nike swoosh think going for a time, but they gave it up and just dropped a big D on their cars for a spell. I wonder how many overpaid consultants were needed to come up with this gem.

Anyway, this truck is a thing of beauty (hood logo excepted) and I’m glad to have unearthed its hideout and share it with the CCommunity. May it continue passing the shaken and remain a working truck as long as possible. Cent’anni!


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Neighborhood Alley Outtake: Datsun 1600 (521) Li’l Hustler Pickup, and Its Replacement, by PN