Classic Datsun TrucksThe 1959 U.S. auto market was made up primarily of gas-guzzling vehicles with V8 engines. Power was king. Into this climate steps Datsun, introducing a mini-truck with a 1000cc, 37-horsepower engine and quarter-ton load capacity. Could it compete with the powerful Fords, Chevys, and other trucks available to buyers?
It did compete, slowly at first, then picking up speed. The little trucks were sporty and easy to drive. Datsun listened to feedback, making changes to suit the wants and needs of their customers. Engine size quickly increased to 1200cc and horsepower to 60.
A revised 320 pickup hit the U.S. in 1961, but popularity rocketed with the introduction of the Datsun 520 truck in 1965. Sales went from a few hundred units per year to more than 15,000, making it the top-selling imported pickup in the United States. Nissan (which has always been the company's name) held that title for more than a decade.
Datsun Truck Firsts
- 1969, first half-ton compact pickup
- 1975, first long bed compacts
- 1977, first extended cab compact truck
Datsun Trucks Moving Forward
Import manufacturers watched Datsun's success and introduced their own compact trucks, and U.S. automakers stepped in after the gas crunch of the early 1970s. Nissan continued to make improvements to their Datsun trucks to stay ahead of the game. The company's fourth generation, the Datsun 620, was produced from 1972 to 1979. The 720, manufactured in 1979, was the last truck to carry the Datsun name. After that, badging was changed to Nissan.
Did You Know?
They were called Datsuns in the US before 1979, but most of the world knew these vehicles as Nissan products.
Trucks Made in Tennessee
With the continued success of their small trucks, Nissan made the decision to become the first auto importer to manufacture pickups in the United States. They chose Smyrna, Tennessee, just southeast of Nashville, for the factory site. The first Nissan truck rolled off of the assembly line in 1983, and since then, Nissan has received many awards for having the most productive automobile plant in North America.
Enter Hardbody & Frontier
The sixth generation truck, the Hardbody, was introduced in 1987. It became one of Nissan's best selling products, averaging 100,000+ units each year.
The Frontier was introduced ten years later. It received the 1998 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study award for having the fewest quality problems in its segment.
Two new versions of the Frontier were unveiled for the 2000 model year. The 2-wheel drive Frontier Desert Runner and the Frontier Crew Cab, the first true 4-door compact pickup introduced to the US market.
Nowadays, it's hard to imagine a trucks market without compact pickups. There have been many changes since 1959, but it's obvious that there are just as many new developments ahead of us.