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The Bygone Datsun Days: Remembering the Nissan Hardbodies

1997 Nissan Hardbody

Wiki Commons: Nissan Hardbody

We’ve all experienced the loss of a product due to discontinuation. It’s terrible. And, if you’re personally attached to the product, it’s all the more devastating. Did any of us ever really get over the end of the Fisher-Price Great Adventures Castle, for instance?

Another bygone nostalgia factory that you might hate to miss, the Nissan hardbody truck, was never really replaced in the compact pickup truck market. No other compact pickup truck has achieved the same level of style and timelessness.

But then again, how could one?

History of the Nissan Hardbody

The D21 was the first and only model colloquially called the Nissan hardbody. “Hardbody” refers to the truck’s generally tight appearance achieved through firm paneling, a compact body, an aggressive front end, a styled grille, and a double-walled bed.

The Nissan D21 was immediately preceded by the 720, but Nissan had been busy perfecting its stylish truck designs for decades before the company was even called Nissan.

Datsun, the Nissan predecessor company, had been designing and manufacturing trucks since the 1930s. The Type 13 truck was Datsun’s first build and sold well until it was replaced by successor models.

The 1965 Datsun 520 took leaps toward what we now know as a compact pickup truck and marks Datsun’s shift toward a hardbody truck. Two models later, the 720 was the last true Datsun Truck.

Before the D21 hard bodies hit the road, pickups sold by Nissan in North America were still sold as Datsun trucks. The company officially changed its name to Nissan Datsun and then just Nissan in 1985, just before Nissan D21 sales began in the United States.

When the D21 began sales in 1985, it was the first Nissan pickup and so was often referred to as “the Nissan truck.” It was designed and marketed as a direct competitor to the also unnamed “Toyota truck.” God bless the ’80s, a time when everyone was too busy listening to walkmans and trading garbage pail kids to title their automobiles — talk about nostalgia.

The Nissan Hardbody pickup truck also underwent some changes of its own over the years of its production from ‘85 to 97’, some of which we’ll touch on below.

Best Nissan Hardbody Model Years

As the Nissan D21 hardbody continued to develop, some changes were made which opened the door for some particularly outstanding model years. For instance, horsepower across model years increased by almost 30. Take a look at how the Nissan hardbody pickup continued to develop until the mid-‘90s. 

The Nissan hardbody ‘85

If you’re looking to bring back a classic, you might as well go for the original. You’ll get major style points for sporting this Nissan hardbody, but you’ll sacrifice some functionality.

Five-speed manual transmission is much more common than automatic transmission in this model, as was rear-wheel drive over four-wheel drive. The early model hardbodies are pretty slow at just 106 horsepower and the interior will feel dated.

But maybe you’re into that.

The Nissan hardbody ‘94

If you want a bit more functionality without sacrificing appearances, the 1994 Nissan hardbody D21 is probably your best option. The ‘93-’97 models all had an increased 134 horsepower, so it’s a good idea to opt for a model within these years.

But, the ‘94 is a great model even outside of the horsepower boost. In 1994, Nissan offered a value package on their XE trim, which included a ton of premium features for the time that would make your hardbody feel a bit more modern and functional.

With this model, you’ll have the following modern amenities you might not in other D21 models: air conditioning, power mirrors, power windows, alloy wheels, and chrome trim styling. This model also introduced a new, more modern dashboard and interior.

The ‘94 model also receives an impressive 31 highway MPG.

Why Was the Nissan Hardbody Discontinued in 1997?

It wasn’t!

Although, yes, the Nissan D21 hardbody was replaced by the Nissan Frontier in most of the world in ‘98, Mexico continued to manufacture the Nissan D21 ‘97 until 2008. Further, some of these late-model Nissan hardbodies were still on the new-car market for another six years. In Venezuela, Nissan continued to market these D21s until 2014.

This means that if even one D21 took a few more years to sell, there could be a hardbody sitting on a dealer’s lot somewhere in South America right now. And, while this might not be much solace to buyers in the U.S., it’s still nice to know that somewhere out there, at this very moment, someone might be pushing a brand new Nissan D21 hardbody clutch for the first time.

Ahhhhhh.

READ MORE: A LOOK BACK AT THE BEST DATSUN 240Z MODELS