By on March 29, 2017

1996 Nissan Desert Runner, Image: via Craigslist

There’s a certain allure to a limited-run special edition that goes beyond “Special Edition” badging and discounted heated seats. Automakers give these ordinary vehicles a new angle (often at the end of the model cycle) to boost sales and margins by a few units and pesos. Down the line, these special vehicles become footnotes over which the ICE can obsess and drool.

And today’s Rare Ride is no exception, if you can handle it. Steel your nerves.

Nissan Hardbody Extended Cab

Hold on, though. We need to cover some history first.

The Nissan Hardbody we got in North America went by many names around the globe. Nissan called it Datsun Truck in the Japanese market, and labeled it Navara, Big M, Power Eagle, D21, and several others in other locales. Available in this last-generation from 1985 through 1997, the Hardbody was a successful small truck, but it’s long gone in salt states as rust was not a gentle lover.

But our striped creation is a bit distanced from the light blue and debadged late-model example you see above.

Nissan Desert Runner Print Ad, Image: via Craigslist

This 1988 Desert Runner from Craigslist is just about the opposite of all things cool-blue and debadged. The paint is in your face. There are metal guards and lights everywhere. And it’s red, white, and blue like certain flavors of Fruit Stripe gum, or America.

1996 Nissan Desert Runner Rear 3/4, Image: via Craigslist

The tire is mounted right in the bed just like they do in the Dakar Rally, so you know it’s cool. There’s something else that’s special back there, too.

1996 Nissan Desert Runner Bed-Mounted Ice Chest Holder, Image: via Craigslist

This metal frame, which is for your fish tank, when you take your pet fish out exploring with you your cooler. Seriously, it’s labeled in the marketing as the “ice chest holder.” When you pose around to a beach party, you’d better bring the Igloo, and it had better be full of whatever people at beach parties in 1988 drank. Coors Light?

1996 Nissan Desert Runner Seats, Image: via Craigslist

The interior isn’t much to look at, which is good since you’ll be too focused on the exterior cool factor to care. In the winter months, your Bugle Boy jacket will be protected from wear by these awesome Nissan branded, seat belt leg warmers.

1996 Nissan Desert Runner Driver Gauges, Image: via Craigslist

Think about the orange gauge scheme you see here, and that it would persist at Nissan across the line through about 2008. The truck has a little over 153,000 miles on the clock, which is a fair bit. But never fear, as it has the old workhorse VG30 engine from the 300ZX and Mercury Villager. The power!

1996 Nissan Desert Runner Bed, Image: via Craigslist

The truck is not in pristine condition, and the seller is asking $7,500 for it. This may be too much, or it might not; I had a hard time determining the ultimate rarity of this vehicle. Wikipedia is silent on the matter. And while the advertisement lists it as a 1996 model, the interior (no airbag) and front end treatment are older than that. So I’m going to say it’s an ’88 like the eBay listing for it once did. The VIN in the ad would appear to be wrong, as CarFax thinks it’s a 1996 King Cab.

Nissan Desert Runner Print Ad, Image: via Craigslist

There’s also a nice spec page from the ad included, showing full details on the Desert Runner.

If any of you B&B have details on the extent of the rarity we’re seeing here, let us know in the comments.

[Photos via Craigslist]

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30 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Nissan Hardbody Flexes as Desert Runner...”

  • avatar

    “you’d better bring the Igloo, and it had better be full of whatever people at beach parties in 1988 drank. Coors Light?”

    Bartles and Jaymes!!!
    Zima!!! (well, assuming this truck was around for a couple of years after ’88)

  • avatar

    BTTF truck >>>>>>>>>> this.

    This looks like something the American Gladiators would drive for a McDLT commercial.

    • 0 avatar

      I sold Nissans for a short (and awful) stint around this time. The basic V-6 Hardbody truck was pretty darn cool. I had one with 4wd, the four-cylinder and a manual as a demo. Then I went on a sales cold streak (which proved more or less permanent) and they punished me with a Stanza van (yes, that one). I just opted to drive my own car into work after that.

      • 0 avatar
        Corey Lewis

        A Stanza Prairie! I like that.

        • 0 avatar

          Actually, no, you wouldn’t have!

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            Pillarless box van thing, awesome! I should have picked up the Axxess I saw for sale in Kentucky a few months ago. It was only asking $1800 or something.

          • 0 avatar

            Well, the Axxess was kind of cool looking. The Stanza wagon was just…something Nissan stores would hand out to underperforming sales reps for demos as punishment. That should tell you something.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            Tells me you’re a bad employee! I’d have expected you to be in a 300ZX pronto.

          • 0 avatar

            Well, in car sales, you gotta actually sell cars to be a good employee…so, I failed. Big time. But I did get to go out and flog any number of 300ZX Turbos on my lunch hour.

            And I did have the singular experience of trying to sell a Yugo. Bet no one here can beat that.

            (Then again, I did show up to work sober on a daily basis, and never had coke dealers, bill collectors or angry baby mamas looking for me at the office, as my coworkers did…)

  • avatar

    Cool little truck. The comment about rust was bang on. The term “HardBody” always made me laugh.
    IIRC 1991 or 1992 was the year that airbags came out. My 1990 F250 didn’t have them but a buddy’s truck a bit newer did.

  • avatar

    One of the local ice cream truck companies runs Nissan Hardbody pickups with a similarly inspired paint scheme:

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Aaaah, the cargo net. Soooooo 1988.

  • avatar


  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Here’s some info;
    1. The global 86 Navara, single and dual cab had different sheetmetal compared to the US Hardbody. The global King Cab was a Hardbody style. I owned one with a Z24.

    2. When did the 3.3 V6 become available?

    3. Those “vents” (actually blanks”) on that particulary styled hood was only available on the first series of the D20.

    4. To me this vehicle appears to be from the 80s. This is also supported by what appears to be the angular and boxy instrument cluster. Later D20s had the curved dash over the top of the instruments.

    This is global, maybe the US was behind like the current Frontier.

  • avatar

    The article states that it’s an ’88.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      But, there was some confusion with other dates suggested.

      • 0 avatar

        Just to make it a trifecta (86-87-88), everything is basically identical to the 87 that I drove for about 5 years. I might still have it if I had a v6 like this one. The 2.4 (2.0-2.2-and 2.4) all had head gaskets that were made of glass. Had several of them and that’s what killed them all. Don’t care for the paint job or the bed that was turned into a spare tire carrier but it’s a great truck.

  • avatar


    1. My Maxima’s gotta be rarer that this ripoff beautiful piece of Nissan weirdness. I knew a diesel fleet mechanic that commuted ~90 minutes one way in an early 90s hard body–5 long days a week. He replaced it with a 5MT Cube (!) in 2010 after nearly 20 years of ownership. Rust was becoming an issue, so it was relegated to off-road duty at his farm. #nissanpower

    2. I’m disappointed you didn’t chime in yesterday, you M-driving scoundrel!

  • avatar

    96 VIN on an 88 truck puts the rarity at … zero. you can’t own it, and odds are neither does the lister.

  • avatar

    I’m late to the game but I owned a 4-cyl 2wd ’94 Nissan truck – black with green, er stripes? waves? whatever that shape was. It was ungodly reliable though. The interior of my ’94 looked much more rounded than this “1996” one, so yes, this is from 1988.

    I do remember the Desert Runner – why? – because as a teenager I drove my mom’s 1984 Nissan truck and became a bit of a Nissan fanatic. The truck was on my lust list. Hey! It was the 80s!

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