Rare Rides: A Nissan Hardbody Flexes as Desert Runner

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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!

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.

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 30 comments
  • 05lgt 05lgt on Mar 29, 2017

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

  • Dividebytube Dividebytube on Apr 04, 2017

    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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