Curbside Classic: 1972-79 Datsun Ute Coupe U620 – Meeting the Ugly

Here in the metal is a follow up to Don Andreina’s entry The Long, the Short and the Ugly. Most of the goodies on Datsun’s popular 620 pickups are discussed at length on Don’s post. Still, here was a chance to give a photo spotlight to this option of the 620 line.

Granted, beauty is not one of the Ute Coupe’s attributes. Regardless, it wasn’t rare a sight during my childhood days in El Salvador back in the 70s, a decade renowned for wonky styling. Especially at Nissan’s headquarters. I actually agree with Don, the regular pickup is a rather nice-looking design, while not denying that Nissan’s studios must have been littered with Mopar brochures. There’s quite a bit of fuselage on these vehicles.

What exactly were Nissan’s stylist muses, we’ll never know; designers tend to be cagey with such details. Japanese ones even more. The few interviews I’ve seen with Japan’s stylist tend to go ethereal: “I wanted to reflect the spirit of a blade…” “I wanted for the car to have the lightness of a feather…” and so on. On the Ute Coupe, seems: “Plymouth envy wishes mail slot cargo basket.” Oh, wait, I forgot to remain ethereal.

A canvas cover was offered when new.


Ute Coupes seem to be more popular on Australia and Asia. Wikipedia claims the format’s origin from a farmer’s letter to Ford Australia in 1932: “a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays.” If this is true, they must have been small pigs, or guineas. That may be Wiki’s origin story but I have my doubts. In the early stages of the car industry, when tinkering around with metal was a lot cheaper, a ruined rumble seat sedan was probably the concept’s basis: “Hey, Aunt Mae won’t be coming to church… what if we bring those egg crates for sale instead?”

While the Ute Coupe concept seems rather baffling (especially dressed in Datsun’s 70’s styling), we indeed benefit of more material wealth and disposable income nowadays. Families today have multiple vehicles, specialized ones even. Back in the day a low-rent laborer or subsistence farmer must have found the people-carrier-small-load concept appealing. The family of dad, mom, granny and 4 runts in the cabin; while bringing some farm tools in the back. Indeed, such were the conditions in Central America back in the 70’s.

Datsun had been providing Ute Coupes since their pickups’ 2nd generation, back in the 50’s. Even the oldest ones looked better than the 620, ironic considering Nissan’s designing talents were less developed then. Then again, the 70’s were not Nissan’s best styling decade. The water cooler at headquarters must have been laced with some hallucinogenic-inducing industrial residues. Each of Nissan’s transgressions were memorable ones, especially on me.

I have a hard time thinking of the Datsun 620 line as old vehicles. Sturdy and straightforward as could be, people in Central America have hung on to them fiercely. On each daily drive, I come across 2-3 of these in various states of maintenance. Heck, one 620 pickup resides in a produce store half a block away from my home. In the opposite direction, another block away, the blue Ute Coupe can be found.

In comparison to the pickup the Ute Coupe is a rather rare sight, though. This one belongs to an electronics technician, and I assume from its condition that some of his expertise is put into practice to keep it running. Locals appreciate this model’s accessible mechanics and low-cost maintenance. As for its comforts, previous posters have mentioned of the 620’s punishing ride; cargo is its main function. Regardless of looking like a “unibody,” Datsun’s Ute Coupe is built with the same body on frame technology as the pickup. No idea if Nissan bothered to soften those rear leaf springs a bit, or if the family going to church suffers the same kidney-shaking ride.

Ugly when new, ugly now, a few pragmatic users find the Ute Coupe’s unique niche a satisfying one. Cash is still being exchanged for these, as far as I can tell on the local FB marketplace. Punishing ride or not, those few users seem more than willing to tolerate, even cherish, its foibles.


Related CC reading:

The Long, the Short and the Ugly – by Don Andreina

Datsun King Cab Pickup – Yes, We’ve Long Legs in America – by PN

COAL#16 Datsun King Cab – King of Space Mountain – by Ed Hardey