By on December 22, 2010

I’ve been seeing quite a few junked Datsun pickups in recent years, and most of them have featured the King Cab option. To those of you accustomed to 21st-century pickups with four doors and luxurious back seats, the few additional cubic centimeters of the Datsun 720’s King Cab must seem a cruel joke.

Sure, you could fit more toolboxes and stuff out of the weather, but what about leg room? Cup holders? The small Toyota trucks of the era seem to be evading The Crusher much better than their Nissan contemporaries, no doubt because every plumber in North America wants the same Hilux-grade reliability that warlords and strongmen throughout the world demand from their trucks.

The good old L20 engine held together just about as well as the Toyota R, but the iconic profile of a Hilux sporting a 23mm cannon mounted in the bed and a couple dozen 14-year-old “soldiers” hanging off the tailgate helps keep depreciation from reaching scrap level. Thus, little Toyota trucks live, little Datsun trucks die.

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19 Comments on “Cramped So-Called King Cab Dooms ’79 Datsun Pickup...”

  • avatar

    Imagine a time when all we wanted in a pickup was a space to throw in a duffle bag! Now it seems we need to carry half the house.

  • avatar

    Pickups that make it to 30 years old have been appreciated for something. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason Toyotas live on and Nissans go to China is down to parts availability. Any Nissan product that has been out of production for 10 years is living on borrowed time, because the Nissan doesn’t even bother with the maintenance parts after that.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    My neighbors had one in the mid 1980s and other than rusting like an SOB it was pretty reliable.  He replaced it with an early 90s extended cab S10 4X4 and it too rusted like an SOB but managed to be slightly less reliable.

  • avatar

    I bought a low-mileage 1978 King Cab in 1980 and it seemed very spacious compared to the standard cabs, unfortunately it began rusting before my eyes; I had the rocker panels and fenders replaced and traded it in.

  • avatar

    I owned an orange ’79 Datsun King Cab PU for a few years back in the mid to late 80’s, and I loved it.  Sure, you couldn’t put 3 kids in the back, but it was big enough to put grocery bags, a suitcase, my box of R12 freon that I needed for the drive home on a hot day, etc.  It sure bet the non-King Cab version.

  • avatar

    Rust is the answer.  The reason that Nissan didn’t stock parts after 10 years is that there wasn’t anything left to bolt them to.

    Seriously, these were great little trucks until you walked out one morning and could only find an orange-tinted puddle where you’d parked the night before.

    • 0 avatar

      My dad had an 81 Datsun King Cab 4 X 4.  He solved the rust problem by leaving the house one day.  This allowed my younger brother to go “four wheeling” which resulted in the King getting rolled over.  The fact that it was a 4 X 4 kept it from being totalled, and it came home with an entire brand new body.  I mean every panel.  And when it came back, it was a Nissan.

    • 0 avatar

      jpc:  that story is soooo cool! (even better of how my parents were quite pissed after i, without due consideration and proper testing, lit up a fully-extended old-spice deo-stick in the living room one afternoon to demonstrate its flaming-sword-like qualities – having only tested extinguishing it in its non-extended state (put the cap on) my extrapolated demonstration went horribly wrong once the wax started to melt, drip onto the carpet, and set it afire (like so many little islands with erupting volcanos as viewed from space)… yet, surprisingly, their anger dissipated rapidly once the ins. co. said they would replace all the carpet with new carpet…

      btw, regarding little japanese trucks and their once-profound penchent for rapidly metastisizing sheet-metal cancer, i always wondered who benchmarked whom to become the king of rust in these little pickups, was it datsun trying to out-do mazda, or the other way around?

  • avatar

    I like the NG900 beside it better.

  • avatar

    It’s hard to remember just how cramped pickups were back when this was called “King Cab.”  You can’t even lean the seat back in most 80’s standard cab trucks.  They’re bolt upright and pushed completely against the back wall of the cab for all but the shortest drivers.  This would have been a luxuriously spacious truck compared to the regular cab Toyota.
    My A100 pickup was amazing, though; you had some serious room behind both the front seats.  Enough for a 17 year old to put a boom box, a home made inverter, and some house stereo speakers!  Ahh, nothing like Die Warzau through some Ampex speakers in your rattle trap A100.  Oh, to be young in the early 90’s again!

  • avatar

    I have the ’82 Toyota 4×4 equivalent of the Datsun/Nissan.  I can reach over, roll down the passenger window and adjust the passenger side mirror from the drivers seat without unbuckling the belt. These things are tiny. Rust was awful which is why most are gone.  mechanically they all were nearly indestructible.

    • 0 avatar

      My 83 standard cab Toyota was perfect sized for me at 6′.  It wasn’t spacious but I never felt cramped and I took it on many long drives without any issues comfort wise.
      I think the less adjustable the controls are the more thought the designers put into making sure they are in the right spot to begin with.

    • 0 avatar


      You just hit the nail on the head! You revealed the single, most important reason why Japanes cars and trucks started taking over in the first place – mechanically they all were nearly indestructible!

      Car buyers will put up with lots of niggling issues, but if the car won’t or doesn’t run or run well or start, eventually they will move on to a car brand they believe is reliable. That is the fact of what I learned many years ago about why people (back when I was on the west coast in the service 40 years ago) bought Japanes cars (and trucks). I took issue with how odd-smelling and cheap the interiors were, and that they were “tin cans”, but time after time, the owners raved on how well they ran (and handled) compared to what had become seriously bloated and unreliable domestic cars, no matter what brand. They were more economical, too. Didn’t matter that gas was 25 cents per gallon, if my avatar only got 16 mpg, and my buddy’s 1971 Corolla wagon got 25 mpg, well, you see what I mean.

      How soon we forget that simple fact!

  • avatar

    I had the ’80 Datsun King Cab. It was my first car and I remember it fondly. Since it is a slow day at work and this is an appropriate venue, a trip down memory lane is in order…

    My King Cab was extremely reliable, needing virtually no maintenance besides replacing the oil it consumed. In fact that truck was so tough it taught me bad habits of neglect which I had to work to correct on my next cars. As I think back to how I treated that car I am amazed and a little ashamed.

    Obviously, the truck was a gutless wonder. Its nickname was The Mallard, for some reason, and when I stumbled upon a bronze duck-in-flight statue I affixed it to the dash. This was extremely entertaining at the age of 17, of course.

    The Mallard was an appalling sky blue color, with a dingy white Brahma camper shell. And as if the cruel highway gods approved of my ornithological theme, it was soon permanently speckled with brown dots thanks to a mysterious fluid leaking from a passing truck. This kind of made the whole vehicle look like a robin’s egg, or possibly a low-flying cloud leaking acid rain and exhaust fumes. The Mallard’s sheet metal was also uniformly frosted with a white haze that thickened every year as the paint aged and expelled some kind of critical and probably toxic chemical. Wipe it off, and it would come back a week later. Magical!

    The truck’s original color, seen via scratches in the cargo bed, was yellow. It was the sort of nasty shade that you would put on a dangerously decrepit object that you wanted no human to approach or possibly even look at. Old Soviet nuclear lighthouse batteries were probably painted in this color. It would have been better than rolling around in a robin’s egg, though. I wish the previous owner had not painted it.

    Once The Mallard was driven through a wicked sandstorm on the California Grapevine. The poor little truck could actually not make headway against the wind, and I had to park and ride it out at a Denny’s. In this ordeal, the windshield and paint were sandblasted to a matte finish. Thanks to the weak wipers and pitted windshield, the car was unsafe to drive in the rain thereafter without a generous application of Rain-X.

    Of course, the light back end would lose traction, swing around and kill you anyway if you weren’t careful in the wet. I usually carried a hundred pounds of sandbags back there for that reason. There were always a few handfuls of shells rolling around in the bed too, from desert shooting trips. Hey, in Southern California, at least rust wasn’t a problem.

    The Age of the Mallard lasted about 4 years, I think. One day in the early 90s, my grandmother gave me her old car, a 1983 Caddy Coupe de Ville and I gleefully sold the Mallard. I was trading up… Cadillac, baby. It was like driving a couch with a fuel computer built in, and a righteous 5-body trunk! No comparison, right?

    Making that trade was my first and still greatest automotive error.

    The Caddy was comfortable, but it was also an ugly, wallowing, gutless, unreliable, hateful, and hilarious contraption. It was my first adult experiences with a GM vehicle. Like many firsts in a young man’s life, it also permanently scarred me in ways that I am still discovering.

    I like to think the Mexican guy who bought The Mallard is still using it in his gardening business… driving it around in the hot Inland Empire sun, feeding it oil and futilely trying to wipe the white haze off the brown-speckled sky blue paint. Godspeed to you, good sir, and your faithful Japanese steed.

  • avatar

    My father had a 1982 Datsun King cab with the diesel option. Bought used it had already looked like it had gone through a metal grinder with all the dents it had. What it lacked in sophistication or comfort it made up for by providing treasured memories. Like using one of dad’s tool boxes as a back seat and seeing the exhaust cloud in our wake, or seeing motorists behind us hack a lung while cursing us. It’s nickname, fittingly, was Rust’N Smoke!

  • avatar

    My grabdfather had one they bought new. I actually rode in the jump seats of his truck a few times. I also made several road trips in the bed of the truck under the basic camper shell that kept the bed dry. The truck was good but the paint was starting bubble when he sold it.
    As I’ve gotten older I worry more and more about those “jumpseats” in extended cabs. I imagine a rear-ender that shoves the bed forward and traps the occupants of those little seats. Not to mention a rollover while riding unbelted in the covered bed of a pickup… I like trucks but on the modern road you either need a huge crewcab truck or plan on carrying a couple of people.
    I’d still prefer the little trucks over a big fuel sucking truck that I had to drive on a regular basis.

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