Curbside Classic: 1972-79 Datsun 620 Long Bed – The Long, The Short And The Ugly

(first posted 1/17/2018) 

I love this ute.

Let’s start with those headlights. It’s such a pleasure to see yellow lenses over here. They’re not so common in Australia, seen more often on JDM fanboi/grrl steeds than on the thoroughbred French where I believe they first appeared.

More impressive are the bezels. Just beautifully shaped and bringing a sophistication not seen on the similarly-sized 610/180B passenger cars.

The contours on that front clip through b-pillar are the primary reason for my affection.

Nissan was at its styling peak during this period, most notably with the 230/330 Cedric and 110 Skyline, but this supremacy did not trickle down to the 710 and below. The 620 shape was mercifully not derived from its size-kin passenger cars. An extra-special flourish is the bullet-side that starts halfway along the shoulder of the door.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

The 620 arrived off the back of the 521, which dominated its category in the US (MY 1971: Datsun 521 – 70,000 units vs Toyota Hi-Lux – 15,000). The body was essentially a b-pillar-forward version of the Pininfarina 410 Bluebird, with updated front clip to mimic the smartly shaped in-house 510.

In the US, the 620 was powered by the same 1600 cc I4 from the 521. In 1974, the engine was upped to 1800 cc and after 1975 to 2000 cc (seen above). Here in Australia it received a 1500 cc engine and there was also a 2200 cc diesel, though I don’t think we got it.

According to Wikipedia, it was called ‘The Little Hustler’ in the US. According to Nissan US, it was the Li’l Hustler, the name given to the previous model as well. Canada called it the Sportruck, South Africa the One-Ton Pick-Up and Australia the Datto 1500 ute.

By 1972, the small pickup category was really starting to expand. Ford’s Courier had been followed closely by the Mazda upon which it was badge-engineered. Chevrolet had tapped Isuzu for the Luv and the Hi-Lux had just received a new body.

So too did the Datsun 620 range expand. Mainstay was the short-cabin short-bed. Optional were tinny-looking kitchen-sink-drainhole hubcaps.

Also optional was a longer bed. The 620 was produced in two wheelbase lengths; 100.2” and 109.6” allowing for a host of new variants including the Li’l Hustler Stretch.

With extra overhang added, the longer wheelbase equated to a seven foot long bed.

Maybe more. According to the text, Too Tall Jones was 6’ 9”. Looking at the image it seems like more than 3 inches from his feet to the tailgate.

The extra wheelbase also allowed for the four-door double cabin to be introduced. It had the same rear overhang as the long-bed, but with a much shorter bed. It also had a higher roof and a really awkward b-pillar treatment.

In 1977, the King Cab was added to the range. Paul captured a wonderfully preserved special-appearance packaged version and wrote it up here.

The King Cab used the longer wheelbase with the shorter tray. It would probably be my favourite variant except for that clumsy rubber-ringed opera window. If they’d done something the same height as the door window with sharper corners and framed a bit nicer, I’d be sold. Instead they went all Caruso in flimsy bondage gear.

So far the long and short. Now for the ugly.

Much in the tradition of JDM weirdness, there was the U620 Coupe Utility. This had (I believe) extra seats in the rear and took that bullet-side body flourish all the way to the rear.

Every time I look at the U620, I can’t help thinking of the Subaru Leone two door.

Not in a good way.

There was also a JDM three-door van, but I couldn’t find any images of it.

Instead I found this, thanks to Ben Hsu at Japanese Nostalgic Car with images by ytseng3

It’s a YLN 753 wagon. Yue Loong (now Yulon) is a manufacturer based in Taiwan, and from 1957 they were building Nissans under licence. This wagon probably gave better comfort than the scary-looking people-carrier bottom left.

It looks to have the 610’s rear side window and c-pillar, and the 710’s rear doors. The bulletside flourish is gone, but that accent along the bottom of the doors into the wheel arches looks unique. Ben made the astute observation that the YLN wheels have six studs, and surmised that this body was built on the 620 platform rather than it being a front-clip transplant.

Even more curious is another 620 wagon. There’s very little out there in the web on this, best I can get is that it’s an Indonesian variant. It’s definitely not the YLN wagon body and actually looks like its based on the crew cab with that b-pillar ugliness. Both these retain the bulletside body moulding through to the end, but the rear door treatments seem different.

Could be custom jobs.

Speaking of which.

Enough said.

I’m more of a styleside kind of guy, but for those of you seeking the genuine utilitarian aesthetic there’s the California Stepside. Also available in Luv, Toyota and Courier.

For even more authenticity, there’s the tray top brochured as the flat body.

The other day I saw a Japanese cab chassis though I can’t remember the model. It had nothing over the rear chassis rails, not even a tray although there was a long metal box sitting transversely up against the rear of the cabin. The whole setup was fully rat, both in patina and attitude. Again, not to my driving taste but great to see, and entirely possible with this, the most strippo 620 variant.

You could get all trucky with optional high exhaust behind the cabin, but I think they were just for show. On a plastic scale model.

This one goes just a little too far for my personal aspirations, but it’s very nice to look at. Car by Landon Brown, photo by Mike Burroughs.

Back to our feature CC. As mentioned, I prefer a styleside rear. Those bumperettes offer very little functionality but cling to the shape so well. I think later US ones got another larger bumper underneath that actually juts out (which may have been an option all along).

I’ve consulted with my JDM CConsigliere Papa Squid who tells me this style of wheel/tyre arrangement is called stretch. It originated with drifters for getting big rims under the guards, stretching the rubber wide to fit. Also appealing for its resultant lower stance.

This 620 is a really desirable unit, with a long bed that complements the masterful front section well and adds that extra special touch of rarebience.

Love it.