Curbside Cute-Ute: The Nissan Sunny GB120

Sunny GB120 1

It is proving to be harder than I ever imagined to find great curbside classics in Japan. I’ve thought a lot about the reasons why and the only reasonable explanation I can think of is that the average Japanese person is pretty much limited by space and expense to a single vehicle. That means that most folks are going to choose something practical and modern, so it seems to me that it must take a pretty special person to drive something old in this country. Thankfully, I was finally able to find something that proves there are at least a few of these special people around.

The first Nissan Sunny hit the streets way back in 1966 as a direct competitor to Toyota’s brand-new small car, the Corolla. Originally, it was offered in two versions, a two door coupe and a van/station wagon and came in both “Standard” and “Deluxe” trims. It was powered by a 988cc 4 cylinder engine and backed by a 4 speed manual transmission.

NIssan Sunny GB120 2

Over time, Nissan – which literally means “Made in Japan” – expanded the line and in 1967 introduced a small commercial truck based on the Sunny 110 chassis. Originally, it was a simple, commercial utility vehicle with few options but, as the line was incrementally improved over the years, so too was the truck. The version I found on the street today is a “GB120” long-bed, which was introduced in 1971 and built without major changes until the 1978 model year.

Despite their obvious appeal and the fact the passenger version of these cars were sold stateside as the Datsun 1200, these little trucks were not exported to the United States because of the infamous “chicken tax,” a 25% tariff on potato starch, dextrin, brandy, and light trucks imposed in 1963 by the United States under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Looking at it now, I feel like we missed out.

Nissan Sunny GB120 3

As classic cars go, these little trucks still have their fair share of fans here and I have spotted several since my arrival some months ago. Today was the first time I’ve been able to photo one, but it seems to be a good representative of the type. Careful observers will note its rough condition, including several dents and a diamond plate work box in the bed, that indicates this truck is still a working classic rather than a pristine garage queen. Frankly, I like that and, hopefully, you do too.

That’s all for now, but I’ will be back as soon as possible with another interesting vehicle from the Western side of the Pacific – just don’t hold your breath for anything really old. Wish me luck!