By on March 13, 2013

I see a lot of old, totally used-up Toyota and Datsun pickups in self-service wrecking yards (though any of these newer than about 1984 is a rare sight), so it takes a fairly special one to make me shoot some photos. This extremely Malaise-ated ’80 King Cab 720, with its brown paint, huge “4X4” door decals, and excrement-inspired tan/yellow/brown tape stripes certainly got my attention last week.
It’s bashed up, the interior is toast, and the rust indicates an origin somewhere east and/or north of Colorado. Must be a million miles on this thing, eh?
Nope, just 155,221 miles on the clock. Either the odometer broke in 1992 or this truck drove a lot of very hard miles.
The full changeover to the Nissan marque was still a few years off at this point, but Nissan was laying the groundwork with these “Datsun By Nissan” badges.
Electronically protected! No doubt the alarm was a variation on the Taiwanese National Anthem theme.
The King Cab wasn’t very kingly. In fact, it would be considered utterly intolerable by present-day truck buyers. You could sort of squeeze a couple of passengers back there, if everyone involved was very motivated, but in practice the King Cab mostly served as a place to store stuff out of the rain.
Some good patina on this thing.
Even though this type of self-service yard charges about the same for a whole long block as for a wheelbarrow full of carefully selected engine innards, whoever pulled this L20 spent a lot of effort grabbing just the parts he wanted.
Here’s an option you don’t see very often on small pickups of this era: air conditioning!

The Datsun Value Phenomenon continues!

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23 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1980 Datsun 720 King Cab 4WD Pickup...”

  • avatar

    This guy is worn out! I keep looking, and I’m just not sure there are enough indicators that it’s 4WD.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Huh, I never realized that Nissan used an independent front axle on these.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep. All the Hardbody/D21’s are IFS as well. One of the few weak points in the trucks. Most serious wheelers will do a single axle swap on the front, but it’s expensive.

    • 0 avatar

      There are photos of the transfer case lever, front drive shafts, and the lamentable body lift that Nissan applied to all of their 4×4 trucks during this generation. That’s enough to convince me it is 4WD.

      I really hated the stock body lift. You can see that the body is mounted about 4 inches over the frame on these, and the bent crossbar under the front bumper serves as an end cap to cover the ends of the frame. The 2WD ones had their bodies mounted directly to their frames without the spacers. I wonder if one could correct this flaw on a 4×4 Datsun.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        The lift was done so they could sling the front pumpkin under the engine.

        Looks like a typical R180 in the pics. Did they have a reverse-cut ring and pinion, or did the transfer case reverse the output shaft?

        • 0 avatar

          Oh yeah. It was before Mercedes and BMW started sleeving slave shafts through oil pans on their AWD vehicles. I guess Nissan couldn’t figure it out on their own. I’m not surprised. All good Japanese automotive stereotypes started with Honda or Toyota. All the bad ones started with Isuzu, Mazda, Nissan, or Subaru.

          • 0 avatar

            I for one would prefer a simple body lift to passing driveline components through the oil pan on a 4×4 as this makes for not fun trailside repairs. The pumpkin isn’t really a shaft that could be passed through a hole anyway. I would assume that this is why many 4x4s have the front diff offset to one side however, but on a truck with IFS i imagine this isnt so easy as a solid axle design. Also I didn’t see anyone singing the praises of GM on here when they designed the steering on the Trailblazer to pass through a hole in the oil pan. I see this sort of sillyness as needless complexity.

  • avatar

    I had a blue 81 king cab. Mine was the fairly rare 3 speed automatic and it was bulletproof. It was the first year for the napsz engine. Should have been a Z22. The trannie was bulletproof but the engine was not. Very sensitive to overheating with cast iron head and aluminum block. Very strong but fragile head gasket. Went through 3 engines in my truck but it was worth every one.

    Ideal would have been this truck with a 79 or older type engine. The whole truck would have been bulletproof. The NapsZ was made for the smog control Nazis but turned out to be a hot rod.

    • 0 avatar

      I learned to drive in one (silver, 81 king cab, also automatic, mandatory cargo shell with jumping fish in the windows). I remember 56 mph was about as fast as you could drive safely in a straight line. Voluntary speed limiting as it were.
      I specifically remember we had to take it in for service and got charged for 8 plugs. Dad was furious until it was pointed out to us that it used double plugs. Was that actually true? I never vetted that fact…

      I’ve had three hardbodies since, and my current one has 141k and just keeps going.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup it had eight plugs and pretty much a Hemi combustion chamber. The idea was to fire, swirl, and fire again. Did it for smog. Those 8 plugs were a big reason it ran so good.

  • avatar

    Those external tie downs were excellent sources of rust here in the Rust Belt. Haven’t seen one of these in many years, but i remember seeing them in my youth, rust streaks down the side of the bed from the tie downs, along with most of the bed eaten away, especially the tailgate as pictured here.

    My Dad had a 78 Toyota Hi Lux when I was young. My young legs would have loved A/C to protect them from those vinyl seats. I remember the day my Dad traded it in on our 1988 Ford Ranger XLT 2wd Supercab. It only had 80k miles on it and turned it, with a backfire, on the way to the Ford dealer. It was only 10 years old and the body was mostly shot, especially the bed. My head still thinks of some 10 year old cars as being new and many, if even half cared for, still look that way!

    The Ranger still didn’t have air. Dad worked nights, so he said he didn’t need it. He regretted that decision the longer we kept the truck. I learned to drive stick on that truck and loved it, so once I felt confident, I drove it a lot. I missed A/C, but that 2.9 V6 with a 5 spd was way more fun than my hand me down 81 Regal V6.

    The Ranger in 88 was one of the few mini-trucks with the rear seats mounted to the side of the cab (and they folded away when you didn’t need them), not a bench. It was actually usable and more than once, I remember all five of us getting in the truck to go Christmas tree shopping. It was eventually traded in due to the tin worm too.Memories….

  • avatar

    That truck could have come from N. Texas and still be rusted through like that. We had a neighbor that had a ’74 Datsun 720 standard cab, and even when I was 8, it was a tiny thing, the King Cabs were just slightly larger. It made the ’82 El Camino that replaced it seem massive.

    Although to be fair, there’s a round headlight Toyota truck that is a very faded red that isn’t rusty that one of the maintence guys at my complex drives.

  • avatar

    I have an ’85 720 right now that I use as a weekend chore machine / motorcycle hauler. In Houston there is almost always one of these in the high-volume yards, and new parts are cheap and still on the shelf at the parts chains.

    Going back to the other thread about compact trucks, there probably still is a place in the world for a truck this size. I’ve had a couple of people at the home improvement store tell me about how they used to have a truck like this, but they upgraded to a full-size– and miss the smaller truck they had. Not for everyone, but for someone.

  • avatar

    I had the 2WD version 1980 Kingcab for several years. Got in a wreck commuting home in 1993, got paid by the guilty party’s insurance company $2,200 for a total. Bought it back at scrap value, reefed on the fender in the wrecking yard so it wasn’t protruding into the wheel well, mounted the spare and drove away. Bought new fender and bumper, $90 apiece. Same color even…the new parts’ satin black primer matched the paint exactly. I thought I’d really cut a fat hog.

    Exactly four weeks later I was hit in the side by a car exiting a driveway and barrel-rolled twice. Totalled again. No chance of shade tree mechanicking this time. Bought a 1991 Mazda B2600i SE-5 Kingcab and appreciated the extra “power.” Hee!

  • avatar

    The Stetson’s were god-fearing people.

    The Stetson’s life on their 170 acre diversified farm wasn’t the most extravagant, but it was happy. Jimmy and his son Calvin were finishing their breakfast of eggs and deer sausage, and formed a plan of attack for the days activities. “We gotta move them bales before they get even more decrepit.” Jim was referring to the west field, which was still littered with 6ft high hay bales from 2 weeks ago. Calvin said nothing as he glanced at his father out of the corner of his eye. The mannerism told his dad everything he needed to know. Basically, it read “Ugh. This is gonna be a rough day, but I’m ready and willing.” Things would have been different if they had a skidloader, or even an old tractor with a bucket like any farm should, but the Stetson’s weren’t privy to such luxuries financially. “Is Rusty good to go?”, Jim asked. Calvin worked his rear end off all weekend on that nasty Datsun to get it servicable after it ran so roughly on the last job, it could barely haul itself back to the barn. It was now, once again, running on 3 cylinders and ready to work. He had performed the repairs with a $0 parts budget. It was a feat he had accomplished by expertly applying electrical tape, pliers, and a file in critical areas of the ignition system. He nodded with reserved pride.

    It was now officially, the rear-end crack of dawn. These working men dawned their well worn, discount Carhart-knockoff attire while admiring God’s beauty. Another day in paradise. The fog obscured the far expanse of the property, and beams of sun filtered through like fingers. The air was crisp and laden with moisture.

    Calvin wrenched open Rusty’s door and popped the hood. He attached the nearby jumper pack to thine battery that was about to go to the Lord. He twisted it’s permanently inserted key. The stubborn Datsun by Nissan gave an oblong sound of refusal to fire. Jim lifted his eyebrows at his son as he put on his stiffened leather work gloves, there was no need to voice the question. Calvin turned forward once again, and dug his spur into the truck’s gas pedal. PUMP-PUMP-PUMP-PUMP-PUMP-PUMP-PUMP. He twisted the key again and the pickup roared to it’s 2000rpm idle as if it was angrily kicked out of bed. Calvin’s attention now focused on removing the dew from the inside and outside of the windshield. He switched on the HVAC fan by rapidly working the fan switch back and forth vigorously until a solid electrical contact was made. The sound of objects being blended in the squirrel cage, and sight of hay being blown from the vents indicated his efforts had succeeded. Some heat would work well in this case, but you don’t move the temp control. YOU NEVER MOVE THE TEMP CONTROL. A tattered old T-shirt finished the task.

    As Rusty warmed, the men hitched up it’s companion, a battered and acetylene-torch modified boat trailer adorned with rotten wood planking. They were now ready to labor. The Datsun chugged over the steep ridge, accompanied the sounds of a rattling, squeaky trailer and christian rock blaring from a single disintegrated speaker.

    Jim and Cal grunted as they rolled their 3rd bale onto the truck and trailer. The huge rolls reeked of mildew, and weighed several hundred pounds. Cal lost his footing in the earth and the nearly stowed bale rolled back off, running over his leg in defiance. “DAMMIT!”, Calvin shouted. He looked up at his father, who already had the death stare in place, he knew immediately that he would be highly perturbed at his foul language. They lashed down the dammed to the trailer, and Jimbo climbed behind the wheel.

    They had just crested the summit of the ridge, when all of rusty Hades literally came loose. The excessively high GVW prompted Jim to apply the brakes firmly, and in advance. He sent the rusty rear brake tubing to the Lord,it’s lifeblood spurted out of the severed artery. The two once again shared mannerisms in concert. Calvin staring in a worried “Aren’t you going to slow down?”, Jim staring at the floor in fright as he furiously pumped the pedal. A crunching sound arose from the rear of the truck, and the two watched in amazement as the fully loaded trailer passed off to their left, the Datsun by Nissan’s rear bumper still coupled to the front of the juggernaut. “JESUS F_____G CHRIST!!!” Jim evaluated his options. He steered the truck to the shallowest portion of the ditch. The twon men suddenly wished they had worn their seat belts as they braced their arms to the A-pillar in preparation for flight. The little truck lept into the air and shed 500lbs of hay from the bed. Every microscopic content inside the cab became airborne. The nose of the pickup became arrested in the neighbor’s cattle fencing, before rebounding. Then there was silence, punctuated by a calm weather report from the tattered speaker.

    “Where do want it?” Cal said to the flatbed driver from the seat of his new/well-used skidsteer.

  • avatar

    A good friend got one of these as a High School graduation present. Same color and striping but not King Cab. One time we took it into the 4WD section of the Padre Island National Seashore all the way down to the Port Mansfield Cut and back. We slogged it through all the toughest stuff we could find on the way down and had to turn around at the Cut of course. What he didn’t tell me was that it was down to 1/4 tank at the Cut, meaning we’d used 3/4 tank to get there. At 1/8th tank he fessed up and we went into desperation mode and ran along the waters edge, which is illegal, in 2wd. Made it back without having to hike. We also took it on a road trip up to Big Bend later that Summer and also sunk it up to the axles in the Oso Creek mud flats out close to the King Ranch. Yes it rusted badly, particularly the bed at the seams, but it really wasn’t any different than the other Japanese pickups we’d seen around at the time so we didn’t really consider that the various adventures might have had an effect. It was just expected that it would turn into a pile of dust in a few years anyway.

  • avatar

    This was the first year of the 720 , they sold by the boatload .

    In 1999 or so , my friend got one for $800 in VGC except it ran horribly
    ~ he brought it to me and I discovered the local ” Tune Up masters ” place had mixed the 8 spark plug wires and left the spark plugs gapped way too narrow right out of the box , in 1/2 hour I had it running As-New again , that NAPS Z engine was a real stormer , reliable and a fuel sipper to boot . he used it for a few years , polished the original black paint and and pristine interior , got NO local buyers (Los Angles) @ $1,500 so he gave it away to an older family friend who cherished it and still calls to say !! THANK YOU !! every few months .

    The above referenced 1974 was a 620 , a totally different series Datsun pickup , also very good out of The Rust Belt , I had a ’73 1600 5 speed (great) and a ’78 2L Slushbox (terrible) .

    Mini trucks , as mentioned , are not for everyone ~ I tried them as Shop Trucks and simply didn’t like their size , I’m back to old American short bed L6 plodders .

    THANK YOU for all the great stories and fond memories .


  • avatar

    Those low slung tailights were a constant source of frustration and struggle on my 82. The back of the lights were exposed to road crud and mud/dirt/snow flinging off the wheels. The wiring was always going wonky and the light cavaties filled with dirt. Toyota placed the lights where they should be, up on the box. Nissan followed suit with their 83 (or 84?) redesign.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    My first new car and easily the best car I will ever own was a 1984 Nissan p/u. We were coming out of a deep recession and I had stupidly resolved to drive my old car as long as possible. Misguided frugality, that.

    The government had entered into “voluntary” import restrictions with the Japanese. By May of 1984, the economic recovery was strongly under way, creating an instant shortage of Japanese cars. The dealers would have a list of incoming cars written on a grease board and you would buy off of that, for substantially more than list. Trucks were exempt, but the overall shortage meant only that you could buy it for list, $7500 instead of $5500 that I could have paid a year earlier. That the clutch gave out on my old car in the dealer parking lot didn’t help anything.

    The Nissan was like two cars. The money I saved later became the downpayment on my house. I bought a new car several years later, thinking the Nissan had about had it, but I found myself continuing to drive the Nissan to work every day for fifteen years. Towards the end, people would knock on my front door and ask me if I wanted to sell the truck. They didn’t speak English. About that time a young turk at work made a joke about my truck which by then looked a little like the pumpkin we left out ’til Easter. I remarked that I used to take very beautiful women on dates in that truck. He was astonished. Of course back then, I was a very fit young guy with lots of wavy hair and soulful eyes and didn’t look so much like the forgotten pumpkin myself.

    I traded it to my brother in law for a sedan to look more professional for a big job i had been offered. He lost an argument with a cow that was catapulted over the cab and died in the bed of the truck. He’s lucky he wasn’t injured. The saftey of those trucks was a scandal even by the standards of the day. That was the end of it. It never missed a beat in over 230,000 miles.

  • avatar

    Much love for the 720 trucks. In 1983 grandpa let me ( A 10 y/o ) pick out a new 84 black on black King Cab 5spd S/T (PW, PL, PS, AC, Sunroof) then took me to my great grannys to learn to drive. Ah, Memories. Kept that truck till my mid 20’s and stupidly sold it. Have had at least 10 720’s and D21’s (Hardbodys) as well as a 85 Yota with 400,000 honest original miles. I miss these trucks.

  • avatar

    My youth is punctuated by the view from the passengers side of these trucks. Dad was a dealership manager for now defunct Fouts Brothers Datsun in Smyrna Georgia. On court mandated visitation weekends, I’d move my bag from my step-Dads Pinto into my Dads newest floor model Datsun pickup at the McDonalds in Commerce Georgia, (1/2 way between Greenville SC and Atlanta)

    At first it was the Lil Hustler, then the malise eras, then the Hardbodies. Always extended cabs, always 4x4s. By the time I moved in with my Dad, the Fouts Brothers had expanded into Izusu and Nissan HD delivery trucks and my Dad was the manager. Luckily I was driving myself by then, but those plaid pattern seats and boxy Datsuns do take me back.

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