By on June 1, 2012

We saw a Datsun 620 Junkyard Find recently, and now I’ve found an example of the 620’s predecessor: the 520.
I’ve always admired the small Japanese pickups of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but I still wasn’t prepared for the beauty of this instrument cluster. The speedometer has real depth that’s not readily apparent in this photograph. Such simplicity, yet there’s genuine style as well. I may have to go back and buy it.
The good old L engine, the same family that went into 510s, Z cars, and countless other Nissan products from the 1960s through the 1980s. This is the four-cylinder L16.
At some point, this truck’s former owner added skull-themed window film and dice switch knobs.
I’m not sure where this aftermarket fuel tank, seen sitting under the camper shell, came from. Perhaps it was pulled from this truck, or maybe it came from another vehicle in this self-service yard.
These pickups weren’t as prized as their Toyota counterparts, so you don’t see as many of them still chugging along in daily service. Perhaps the L engine wasn’t quite as bulletproof as the Toyota R, but it came close.

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25 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1972 Datsun 521 Pickup...”

  • avatar

    Not bad, the truck body looks straight.

    It’s obvious that someone at one point either didn’t like the blue or it was so badly faded so had it resprayed.

    That front bumper I don’t think is original, otherwise not too bad a shape, outside of some parts missing, mostly on the inside.

    Nice find!

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    I think there’s still a good market for small trucks. My guess is that the Koreans – or perhaps the Chinese – will step in.

    As usual, Detroit is……Detroit.

  • avatar

    This might have been one of the last 521-series trucks, as the 620 was introduced in February 1972. There were only two things really wrong with the 521: 1) rampant rust which was fairly typical at the time for Japanese cars; and, 2) a fairly cramped cabin even for a slender six-footer.

  • avatar

    These little trucks were laughed at by the Big Three right up until they noticed market share going that way.

  • avatar

    I know a dealer here in Puget Sound that has one of these on the showroom floor for sale. I would not say its in “museum grade condition,” but it is darn close. I’ve gone in to the showroom floor to eye hump it from time to time.

  • avatar

    Down here in Texas that truck would’ve had several years of service left in it before it went to the scrapper. They’re just too useful to kill off prematurely.

  • avatar

    The truck is something… but a spline-drive Rudge wire wheel as a jackstand???? Wow. That’s some salvage yard. Somewhere, there’s a big Healy or Jag E-type guy going “ARGH!” at that.

  • avatar

    That thing is surprisingly rust-free.

    As much as I’d like to see the little wheelbarrow trucks come back, I don’t think enough Americans would buy them — at least in this form factor. They’d rather have the everyday convenience of being able to carry more passengers. When it comes to hauling they’re content to do what they can with a small SUV, a buddy with a truck, or just pay for delivery. Plus, when these caught on the first time it was fairly uncommon for cars to have fold down rear seats to expand cargo room.

    To have any chance at success these days they’d need a bigger cab with rear seats.

    • 0 avatar

      I haven’t seen one of these since bout the time I left Las Vegas to return to Ohio in 1982. The little Japanese trucks never lasted long here, they started to disintegrate almost the second the salt hit them the fist time. A neighbor’s early 80’s Toyota rusted at amazing speed.

      I don’t think a small truck like this would sell well either. Too cramped inside, and besides the lack of interior room, too slow for most people nowadays. Safety regs would make it weigh a lot more than one of the old ones too. I know someone who was driving a nearly new Ford Courier, which I believe was a rebadged Mazda, and was hit by a 77 Cutlass and nearly lost her foot when the firewall collapsed. The Cutlass was pretty messed up, but the driver was unhurt. It was a scary wreck that proved the claims made about the little trucks being flimsy were entirely true. I saw a couple of Toyota trucks from around that time that had firewall collapses too( The dealer was right down the street, and I liked to check out the wrecks from time to time). I hear people whine about the safety regs all the time, but they sure come in handy when you get hit or hit something.

  • avatar

    Even in California you dont see these anymore. The L16 didnt have the torque to propel a loaded truck in the mountains. I hated driving my brother’s. The contemporary Toyota 18R was 2.0liter.

  • avatar

    Wow, those pictures just brough back some memories! My father bought a used version of this same truck in red when I was a wee tot. The thing was an irredeemable piece of junk – upstate NY winters had caused it to rust severely, it would periodically decide to stall during inopportune moments, such as while trying to clear a busy intersection, etc. – but we loved it nonetheless. Riding in it was always an adventure, and in our early eighties yuppie suburb it was still an oddity to see a family that owned a pick ’em up at all, let alone a jalopy of a pick ’em up. While as a six year old I didn’t yet have the right words to frame the perception, I could tell that my dad felt slightly jaunty and iconoclastic every time he putted down our SAAB and Volvo infested street in his little red goat.

  • avatar

    Whoever the last driver was, he/she must have been pretty small- that replacement seat is jammed back. It’s an issue with all short-cab trucks, regular car seats won’t go back very far.
    As for the wire wheel- don’t worry, I have every faith that it’s junk.
    I used to fix English cars & I kept remembering something that my father said: “When the frame and the wheels are worn out, maybe it’s time to get rid of it”.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Ah yes, fond memories of easy maintenance and repairs. Heh, whoever posted that L-engine entry needs to substitute “reverse flow” for “non-crossflow.” And I’ll reiterate what’s being said about that body: it’s far from gone and far worse examples have been turned into cheerful little hot rod minitrucks.

    I enjoyed working on the L-series Datsun engines in my early used vehicles. Using a 10 and 12mm wrench, you could remove every major external component, and the 14/17mm pair would let you adjust valve lash. As stated elsewhere, the factory cam chain stop tool was a bit pricey where I lived, so most shade tree mechanics cut down a chunk of plywood to wedge into the timing cover for camshaft or cylinder head replacement duties.

    • 0 avatar

      The maintenance may have been easy, but it was also “constant”. I’ll take harder and almost never, thanks.

      I saw a really old Nissan truck on the road today, one of the little four rectangular headlights ones – early 80’s? The driver was in his early 80s as well. Was sufficiently rusty that he CERTAINLY “knows someone” to get it inspected, as it did not have antique plates. But I have not seen a Japanese pickup of similar vintage on the road in Maine in ages, maybe decades.

      • 0 avatar


        Yep, that would be the Datsun/Nissan 720 series trucks that were built from 1980-1986. The early ones, from 1980-1983 had single walled beds with the rolled lips, the later trucks, ’84-86 had double wall beds.

        I got to drive a 4×4 King Cab version, I think from 1982, or was it an ’81? I forget now except it was the base King Cab model with a cap and stock steel wheels, was white with blue interior and had only an AM, or was it an AM/FM radio, the speaker(s) mounted in the kick panels.

        This would be 1989 and I volunteered to drive it as it had a manual and I knew how to drive one. I was one of two drivers, the other drove the school’s ’81 Plymouth (or was it a Dodge?) full sized van and Jim, one of our instructors went to a local ABC affiliate to not not tour the station, but to pick up some donated equipment, such as their old character generator and an old video tape editor for us to use for training purposes while in a TV Broadcast Tech program at a local Voc Tech college (now part of the state community college system).

        all I remember of that experience was the truck being bouncy for being a 4×4, me with an intestinal infection so everything down below was plugged and was very, very uncomfortable as a result.

        I got to ride that summer/fall as I got hired on to work at the station doing odd jobs, along with going with one of the engineers to remount TV’s onto carts and wall brackets and many of them were old, and I mean old, like some going back to the 1960’s, the rest dated to the late 70’s, early 80’s and we took that truck with us.

        I remember so vividly sitting in the truck waiting for the engineer to return and listening to the radio at one of the elementary schools (at the time, the tech college was owned by the local school district) and hearing one warm, sunny early to mid fall afternoon, the Box Tops doing Cry Baby, this being the fall of ’89 and later, hearing about the earthquake that rattled Candlestick Park for I think the opening of the World Series in San Francisco. We were at another elementary school installing TV’s when we first heard the news.

        As soon as we could, we hot footed back to the station and fired up the monitor that had a tuner and cable connected to it, and tuned into CNN to see video footage of the earthquake.

        That’s my experience with the early 80’s Nissan trucks. :-)

      • 0 avatar

        I put 300k plus on an 81 king cab that is like you describe. Bought it in Guam in 81 and the Navy shipped it to Frisco. Picked it up and took it through a couple jobs. It wound up in Texas.

        It is possible it could still be running.

  • avatar

    Ah yes, the only vehicle I ever owned that had worse brakes than my early ’60s Beetle, and I thought that was impossible. The amazing thing was it always worked, sold it for far more than I bought it for, amazing what a tune up can do for a vehicle, which makes it one of about 3 out of the 30+ I’ve had over the years. But, if you get one of those old things running, live where it is flat…hills are not your friends coming or going.

  • avatar

    Near me there’s a ’78 Datsun 620 King Cab for $1K. No rust, but it has a cracked head.

    For that money, I’d rather resurrect my comatose 1990 Chevrolet Cheyenne 1500 with the 4.3 V6 and 700R4 overdrive tranny.

  • avatar

    Re: would americans buy them. I would never have quit driving them had they still been available when I bought my last truck.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I have seen far worse examples of these on the road, some rotted so bad the bed was replaced with another one.

    However the black 380SEC parked a couple of rows behind; sad.

    • 0 avatar

      Aw man, you got me Murilee! This was one of the vehicles I first recall riding in, but only mentioned it briefly because it was simply a weekend vehicle to the family and we didn’t drive it too-too much.

      Wow, just wow…your first picture of the vehicle’s face, and then the instrument cluster…it made me smile. Reminds me of weekend trips to the dump, hauling out yard waste and other junk my mom wanted gone. I can still hear the sound of the engine! What’s funny is ours was the same original color as the one in the junkyard! We painted it a different blue. We eventually gave it to my grandfather who gave it away a couple years later, and it was really rusted out!

      I still want one of these back! I’d swap in whatever Japanese motor the 510 guys are using…

    • 0 avatar

      That’s not a W126 SEC, it’s a W107 SLC.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Yes, I added a vowel and got my SEC mixed up with SLC. The SEC was the early 80’s large coupe replacement. I know of a parking lot in Red Hook Brooklyn that is full of SLC’s in various states of repair. The next time I drive by there I will snap some pics.

  • avatar

    I worked at a Datsun dealership when these trucks were new.
    We had one like this done up as a tow truck, and it used to haul in full size American pickups.
    When we did car shows, we’d set up a special ramp in the back of a 521 so we could drive another one up on top of it, just to show it could carry its own weight.
    I remember the gearing being quite low to allow it to accomplish this stuff.

  • avatar

    The two door Nissan Pathfinder obviously has DNA from the late 80’s Pulsar NX.

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