By on March 22, 2012

Did any of the Afghani Mujahideen drive Datsun pickups to battle after the Soviets invaded? Probably, but the Toyota Hilux got all the press. For the same reason today, Malaise Era Toyota pickups tend to be kept alive, while their Datsun, Mazda (via Ford), and Isuzu (via Chevy) counterparts get crushed when they finally suffer some problem that costs more than $200 to fix. I’ve been seeing a steady stream of these Datsuns in junkyard for 20 years now, and here’s the latest one.
This pickup is a bare-bones, non-King-Cab, zero-options model. No tach, all idiot lights.
The L20 was very reliable, though Toyota’s 20R set the bar impossibly high for four-cylinder truck engines.
Remember aftermarket sunroof conversions?

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28 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1976 Datsun 620 Pickup...”


  • avatar
    MarkP

    I have a soft spot for old Nissan pickups. In some ways I kind of wish I still had my old ’84 King Cab. It was a good, reliable truck.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    ‘Remember aftermarket sunroof conversions?’ Unfortunately, yes. My ’83 Mustang I had back in high school had one. Bastard leaked even in light rain.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    What in God’s name are those white tubes protruding from the IP?

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I remember seeing these often as well.

    These were decent looking trucks back in the day. This one, I think has been resprayed at one point as it looks like the underlying color was yellow.

    Aftermarket popup sunroofs were quite common, but they still exist even today. Webasto sells a model, but most of the ones they sell now are the motorized units.

    If I had bought the Fiat 500, I was considering one from them with the full shade, not the perforated screen that comes with the factory sunroof and it would regain back 2″ of headroom over the stock unit.

  • avatar
    TR4

    All those tie-down hooks on the bed exterior look very practical. I guess the stylists didn’t have as much say-so back then.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    My sister’s high school boyfriend had one of these… maybe a year or so older, but new at the time. It was an amazing little truck and seemed pretty revolutionary at the time in that it was tiny (the first mini-truck I’d ever heard of) ; quick enough with that screaming ohc engine; and still a real truck you could haul things in.

    It was great but it rusted to nothingness in salty Great-Lakes country faster than you could say “Datsun nice truck you got, er, had, there.”

    Maybe the HiLux rusted too but I don’t think Toyota even tried to sell any in our part of the country. Toyotas of any sort were scarce on the ground in the 70′s in my neck of the woods (Cleveland-Erie-Buffalo corridor).

  • avatar
    texan01

    I remember my neighbor had one when I was 5 or 6, I remember even then that it was a LITTLE truck. It was traded in for an El Camino that was a much better truck for what he used it for.

    I ran across one in the wrecking yard much later, and realized that I can sit in the drivers seat and reach through the passenger window to adjust the mirror, with just my arm.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    The Japanese mini-trucks from this era were awesome, most way over-built, except maybe the Mitsubishis. There only real enemy was rust. I drove an Isuzu Trooper (same drivetrain as the PUP or LUV) back and forth to Alaska several times and Mexico, had nearly 325k on it when the chassis died. I barely put a dime in it. Presently keeping a 82’ Toyota 4×4 Hilux running as a yard truck, this thing is extremely tough to break.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    There were many reasons to like this truck back in it’s day.
    For the money, you could have ended up with a wimpy little two door coupe that would only have impressed your mom. Instead, you got a truck that was as handy as anything on the road that let you and your stoning buddy to head out for an overnight party west of Horseshoe Reservoir. You could crash in the bed along with your overnight gear, then head up to the State Forest and check out the trails up at the Divide. Since the truck was small, you could shove it over some narrow jeep trails and take it into the Roosevelt National Forest onto the old abandoned railroad gradings.

    The truck let you move your friends’ stuff for all the six packs you could drink. They might even have paid for the gas to haul it to their new places.

    It was OK back then to put your dog in the bed. You tied a bandana around it’s neck, then if it wasn’t jacked up on life, it would stay in the truck. If you threw in a Frisbee, it would chew on it and entertain other drivers.

    You could toss empty beer cans in the bed. Heck, you could toss an empty keg back there. When any old beer dribbled out as the cans rolled around, you could just hose it out at your parent’s place.

    For $2999, you could get a little rugged truck that fit your lifestyle and not cost you a lot of money in maintenance. The insurance was cheaper than your friend’s Trans Am, and it was way newer than the rusty Dodge Dart your brother drove.

    The drawback was that the cabin was made for a full grown Japanese man – 5’10 tops. Being taller meant I wore these little trucks and could only go so far before my knees cramped up. The seats were not meant for long distance, which meant that after a few hours, your tailbone would have flatten the padding right down to the springs.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    My uncle bought a brand new yellow 76 datsun pickup because he had an hour one way drive from Cartersville Alabama to his job at the bottling plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. He put 100k on it in around 3 years, at about which time he pulled the engine and rebuilt it because it was already getting tired. 100k isn’t that many miles for something with nearly all highway miles, not even in those days.
    My brotherinlaw bought a new 79 for the same reason as my uncle, and my uncle ended up rebuilding the engine in that one at around 100k, so the engines in those were not what people make them out to be.
    A friend of mine here in Ohio bought a 78, and we replaced the head gasket on it when the mileage was in the 40′s, but in all fairness head gaskets were a problem with most aluminum headed engines for many years. By the time the truck was 4 years old there were holes in the side of the bed big enough to stick your fist through, that was also common of japanese pickups. They didn’t even have double wall construction in the bed, so as soon as it started rusting you could look right through the sides.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    No “Floor Temp” light on this Datsun?

  • avatar
    darkcobalt

    I went through several of these in the late 70′s and through the early 90′s. Couldn’t hardly kill them. Nad if you did, just go get a new motor and bolt it in.
    My first ‘car’ was a 69 Datsun. Previous body style, but just as tough. I couldn’t kill it and as a teenager you know I tried.

  • avatar
    jdhall

    I had one of these that looked exactly like the one pictured (minus all the dents. Before that, I had one of the earlier (520 style?) versions. The first truck cost maybe $2,200 new off the dealer lot.

    I lived in the desert so rust was not a problem, and they carted my motorcycle to many a desert race. I also drove cross-country from California to New York and Georgia in one. I had to replace the water pump in New Mexico. They were outstanding vehicles although certainly un-crashworthy by today’s standards. The only problem is that the aluminum heads would crack if the engine was overheated. I had to rebuild both trucks for that reason.

    I still think simple small trucks are the way to go. But I expect that I am a small minority in beleiving this.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    When I had my first real job as soilsman/surveyor/construction inspector, my boss had a green extended-cab Datsun of this type. I got to drive it on a few occasions. While the Datsuns looked a little more styled and “softer” then the Toyota pickups of the time, they were no less rugged or unkillable.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    The 620 was very popular among 510 owners for its 2000cc engine which directly replaced the 1600 and provided a significant bump in horsepower and torque.

  • avatar
    rustyra24

    This truck and previous generations made Datsun/Nissan successful. Servicemen coming back from Japan bought these trucks because they used them when stationed in Japan. They realized how useful they were. When Datsun first came to the states, trucks made up the balk of Datsun sales.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    You are correct about the love of Toyotas. I’ve seen owners keep them running through their 3rd and into the 4th decade of their life. Despite the fact that replacement parts outnumber original factory. In the 80s I remember Chevy LUVs being treated like a Bic lighter. Use it till it breaks then move on.
    But I do miss the mini pickup concept. Even if they never made one I truly fit in.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Had a 79 king cab. May have been the first year for the 5 speed. I bow to the resident expertise but I don’t remember an aluminum head until 1980 with the NAPSZ engines. Concur that they were fragile.

    I abused this truck to no end and it would not die. Wooden flat bed on the back because even in Texas there is a tin worm. Finally needed ball joints etc and bought used tires only for the front. Got rid of it then. Tend to think I wasn’t real smart to do that.

    I had no reason to believe the toyota was more rugged than the 79 and older Datsuns. Put over 250k on this one. I replaced a bunch of NAPZ engines and am pretty unhappy with them. Overheating was instantaneous and fatal. Head gaskets I suppose. Anyway, it froze and is sitting out back now. Hated to see it go but thats what happpens sometimes when the high school automotive class does the job.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I had a ’72 pickup, I couldnt keep head gaskets in it. I melted a piston and fixed it with the rod and piston from a junker. I just re-used the original rod bearing. A great little truck and ,yes those tie down hooks were great.

  • avatar
    Broo

    In the early ’80s, my father had a yellow one. not sure if it was the same year, but very, very similar. Replaced afterward by an early ’80s Toyota pickup, then a very good looking 4×4 82 Toyota pickup. He’s been without a truck since the early ’90s. The few times he needs one, he calls me to come over.

  • avatar
    hgrunt

    I think this was the truck that made my friend’s father swear off used cars forever. He bought one second hand, back in the 80s. The PO welded the transmission mounts into the frame, so he had to pull the engine to change the clutch. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he wasn’t replacing the clutch once a year or two…he had to slip the clutch a lot while pulling his boat out of the water.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    Argh, I wish the leaves weren’t hiding the serial number.

  • avatar
    dm2012

    I owned a ’74 Datsun 620 for a couple of years, way back in college (early 1980s.) Even after replacing the head gasket, it still ran hot. Only way I got it to run reasonably cool was by installing a Z car radiator. Incredibly, the thing had non-self-adjusting drum brakes on all 4 wheels. Have some nice memories of sitting in the bed of this pickup on Joshua Tree climbing trips, drinking beer & listening to Howlin’ Wolf on the cassette deck as the moon rose over the desert.

  • avatar
    primerdust360

    I’d love to find a pre-smog “bulletside” to hide a V8 in. I remember some of the truck magazines still had vendors advertising custom parts for sale for these in the early ’00′s.


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