15 Things Every Purist Should Know About The Nissan Hardbody

Nissan pickups of today have once again risen towards becoming one of the best trucks on the market. The truckmaker has had some rough years since 1997 when the Hardbody Nissan was retired. The Hardbody was one of the best little trucks ever produced, and they are still one of the most sought-after classic trucks for basic use. They also make great offroad racers because they are so tough and simple, so people who like to drive into the great unknown are more than willing to trust their safety to a Nissan Hardbody.

Even though these small pickups were designed as small work trucks, they cannot tow or haul anything near the maximum payloads of a full-size pickup. But, if a mini truck is wanted simply to do basic chores around the house, this is truly the truck that should be obtained for the job. Granted, the trucks today are monsters compared to these little pickups, but if you think about it back in the ’80s and ’90s, these trucks were more than capable of completing the everyday tasks that the general public needed.

Let’s look into this truck briefly and review the 15 things every purist should know about the Nissan Hardbody.

Updated April 9, 2023: The Nissan Hardbody was, and still is, one of the best small-sized pickup trucks on the market. Since this article has become outdated, we have decided to freshen it up and add a few more points that all purists should know about the Hardbody. If not, be thankful that you came across this list of facts to help you better understand why the Nissan Hardbody is a truck that should never be underappreciated or forgotten.

Related: 10 of the Best Used Pickups Worth Buying Today



Double Wall Truck Bed On The Nissan Hardbody


Front and side view of a 1995 Nissan Hardbody

Hardbody was not the original name given to the truck by Nissan, but consumers quickly dubbed the truck with it, due to the toughness of the truck and the double-walled truck bed. Since the popularity of the name grew, the marketing ploys also began to use it, which is where the official name of the Nissan Hardbody began. Initially, the truck was manufactured as the Nissan D21 in 1986 to compete with the larger, less fuel-efficient full-size trucks that filled the streets of the Northern Continent.

It Was The First Stateside Nissan With A V-6

A parked 1990 Nissan D21 Diesel with the hood up

Front and side view with the hood up of a 1990 Nissan D21 Diesel

The first state-side Nissan was built in 1983 when the truck was still called the Datsun D20. It came from the first American factory in Smryna, where the legacy of the Nissan Hardbody began. In the middle of the first year of production, the truck shifted from being a Datsun to being a Nissan, which is when the first state-side truck was offered with a V-6. The smaller four-cylinder was the engine found in most, but the six-cylinder was an option for those that wanted a little more power.

Related: Nissan Destination Frontier Is Your Affordable Overlanding-Ready Pickup Truck

The Truck Was Crossed Between Hardbody And 720

A parked 1997 Nissan Hardbody

Front and side view of a green 1997 Nissan Hardbody pickup truck

In the early years of 1986, Datsun was just converting their line of trucks over to Nissan, which is why they are called the Nissan 720 pickup trucks. Once the middle of the year rolled around, they began to be known as the Nissan D21. From there, the mighty truck went down in the history books as the Nissan Hardbody truck. The Hardbody was one of the most durable, dependable, and sought-after trucks from that moment on until it was replaced by another truck line in 1997.

Nissan Hardbody Had A Small Gas Tank

A parked 1995 Nissan Hardbody
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Front and side view of a 1995 Nissan Hardbody

During the first years of production in the United States, the king cab Nissan 4 X 4 came with the same small 16-gallon tank that the single cab versions had. This was fine if the owner used it around the farm or town, but the range was not great when it was taken off the beaten path. The smaller trucks definitely get better gas mileage than the larger trucks, but the distance that one tank of gas could carry ended up being about the same. The following year the mistake was recognized and fixed by offering a 21.1-gallon gas tank as standard.

Related: 5 Trucks To Consider For Hauling Heavy Loads

It Won The Industrial Design Excellence Award (IDEA)

A parked 1990 Nissan Hardbody
Greg Gjerdingen via Wikimedia Commons

Front and side view of a 1990 Nissan Hardbody

The second year of building the Nissan Hardbody in the States was so great that the truck received the 1987 Industrial Design Award (IDEA). IDEA is one of the premier industrial design award programs on the planet that recognizes those that go above and beyond in designs of various industries. The Nissan Hardbody was a top-of-the-line truck with a winning design, which was proven when the truck received the prestigious award.

Nissan Hardbody Had Its Own Unique Dash

A parked 1987 Nissan Hardbody
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Front and side view of a 1987 Nissan Hardbody

1993 brought about some exciting changes to the Nissan Hardbody. It was a year of transition from old-school dashboard gauges to ones with more innovative technology. What that meant for the 1993 Hardbody is that the gauge cluster was designed as a bridge to the new style, so the ’93 has a unique dashboard console. No other Nissan truck would have it unless it was modified to fit into another year. The following year, the gauges were changed one final time to allow the new tech to be used, making the year of gauges unique.

Related: Nissan Titan “Truckumentary” Chapter 7: Truck Love

Nissan Hardbody Brought Curved Performance Designed Dash

A parked 1995 Nissan Hardbody

Drivers side view of the interior of a 1995 Nissan Hardbody King Cab

The year following 1993 brought about one of the most significant changes to the dash of the Nissan Hardbody, not just the instrument cluster. The shape of the dash became more rounded, curving in such a way as to mimic the performance-styled dashboards of the other leading models from wihtin the Nissan stable. It brought a more modern, sleek look to the interior of the Nissan pickup, creating a truck that the older generations would love, as would the people of the new generations.

No V-6 Was Offered Due To Emissions Regulation Failures

A parked Nissan Hardbody
IFCAR via Wikimedia Commons

Side and front view of a Nissan Hardbody

Truck enthusiasts who have been following along with the history of the Nissan truck and how it has compared with the competitors throughout the years may already know about the fate of the 1996 Hardbody. The company was having some serious problems with the V6 engine that would be offered in the truck. So much in fact that they pulled the option away, meaning that in 1996 the only engine that could be ordered new was the four-cylinder engine that was usually the standard option anyway, all because Nissan could not get the engine to pass the current emissions regulations.

Related: European Emissions Regulations Could All But Kill Brands Like Mercedes-AMG

The Nissan Hardbody Was Built To Be A Truck

A parked 1997 Nissan Hardbody

Front and side view of a green 1997 Nissan Hardbody pickup truck

Even during the years in which the Nissan Hardbody was redesigned to include some of the new and modern ideas of the company, one thing has always stood steadfast with the Nissan Hardbody. It was designed to be a truck, and it was built to be a truck, and it was sold as a truck. There were never any tricks or gimmicks designed into the production of the Hardbody because its name and reputation spoke for themselves. The bottom line was that if the consumer wanted a small truck, the Nissan was the one to choose. If people wanted luxury, they were offered a car.

The 1997 Nissan Hardbody Gave Way to The Nissan Frontier

A parked 1999 Nissan Frontier
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Side view of a red 1999 Nissan Frontier

The Nissan Hardbody was one of the best little trucks to be offered, but as all things do, the truck had begun to fade into history since 1997 when the Nissan Frontier took over. The Hardbody truck was retired to make way for the new, innovative Frontier that fell on hard times with problem after problem. The company wished it could go back in time, but Nissan has continued pushing forward and, as of late, has once again earned its reputation as offering a great truck at an affordable price.

Related: Three Used Budget Mid-Sized Pick-Up Truck Alternatives To A Toyota Tacoma

Nissan Hardbody Came With Two Engine Choices

A parled 1993 Nissan Hardbody

Drivers side view of the engine bay of a 1993 Nissan Hardbody

You read earlier that the four-cylinder engine was the only choice for the Nissan Hardbody starting in 1996, and seeing that in 1983 the first six-cylinder in a pickup was offered by Nissan in the Hardbody pickup. This means that between the model years 1983 and 1995, the Nissan Hardbody could be bought with a choice of options. The standard mill was the 2.4L four-cylinder Z-engine (later switched to the KA24E SOHC engine in 1990) that could push out just over 130 horses. The upgraded version was the 3.0L V-6 with around 153 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque.

Two Bed Sizes Were Available With The Nissan Hardbody

A parked 1995 Nissan Hardbody

Side and rear view of a 1995 Nissan Hardbody

When considering a compact truck purchase, two things may not even cross the mind: the cab’s size and the bed’s length. Even if this is the case with you, though, a mind shift is in order because not only is it an essential consideration, but it is one that Nissan has so nicely made available to you. Each truck, no matter the trim level, can come with a standard six-foot bed, or what was known as the “long box” that measured seven feet from the back of the cab to the tailgate. Depending upon your needs from the Nissan Hardbody pickup, either bed could have been ordered at the time of the original purchase. If you plan on buying a used model, check out the length before making a final choice.

Related: 10 Classic Pickup Trucks Worth Buying

Nissan Hardbody Had Cab Size Options

A parked 1993 Nissan Hardbody

Side and front view of a 1993 Nissan Hardbody

Modern trucks today, such as the Ram 1500 and Ford F-150, have cab size options, with the majority of buyers opting for a second row even if they do not want a full four doors. This is because the pickup today is used for work, play, and daily duties, which is precisely what the little Nissan Hardbody was all about. When you travel back in time a few decades, the Nissan Hardbody of the 1980s and 1990s can be seen with a small second row designed to store tools out of the weather or haul small children around when needed. For many, it was the perfect place to install a set of speakers designed to blow the windows right out.

There Was A Nissan Four-Door Crew Cab Hardbody Pickup

A parked 1994 Nissan Four Door Hardbody
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Side and partial front view of a 1994 Nissan Four Door Hardbody

If you are lucky enough to have some connections in international markets, it may even be possible to get your hands on a four-door Nissan Hardbody. There may even be one available in the United States that has already been shipped over, but they are few and far between. Nissan designed these trucks to stay around the same length as the basic King Cab version by cutting the size of the bed down to four and a half feet, giving room for the second full row in the cab. Of course, this cuts down on the usability of the truck bed, but it offers more passenger space, so the trade-off is solely up to the specific needs.

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The Nissan Hard Body Desert Runner Was One Of A Kind

A parked 1988 Nissan HArdbody Desert Runner
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Front and side view of a 1988 Nissan Hardbody Desert Runner

Offroad racing is a sport that is either followed or ignored, but one thing is for sure; Nissan was right in the middle of things in the ’80s. The company had many top finishes, and to celebrate its prowess, the company decided to turn a basic-level Nissan Hardbody into an offroad machine known as the Desert Runner. This package could be added when ordering the truck from the factory, giving the buyer bigger tires, skid plates, front bumper guards, roll-cage with lights, tailgate net, and racing decals. The truck was not designed for hauling or towing, but nobody really cared when blasting through sand dunes or a long patch of mud.