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April 21, 2020

Things You Just Can't Forget

A 1972½ Datsun 620 pickup was my first car (not this actual truck, but it's twin). I bought it in 1977 for $1,295. It was a little battered with a dented passenger side front fender, a badly scraped bed, and a saggy and bent rear bumper.

This was in Los Angeles County, California. It’s difficult for someone who didn’t live during that era to understand the mania for the mini pickup truck that existed back then. They were desired by everyone from tradesmen (who really needed a truck), to students who wanted the cool factor, to commuters who wanted an occasional get-away vehicle. Mostly they were just in demand. And Angelenos can be a little addled when it comes to an “in” vehicle.
The 620 was a great truck in its own right. First, consider the style. It looked great – quite advanced for its times.
(By the way, the “Datsun Saves” slogan meant “saves money,” not “lives” or “souls.”)
In contrast, consider the very popular Toyota Pickup of the same timeframe.

The Toyota was a good truck. Maybe a great one. But the Datsun 620 was its equal in every practical respect, with its reliable 1600cc engine; and it was the Toyota’s superior in terms of styling.
Then, in 1976, Datsun did something incredible that made me want one even more. The King Cab.

This was a groundbreaking concept for the day, in a mini truck. I remember it so well because a college friend of mine bought one. Brand spanking new. It was a ’77 model that he (or his dad) purchased in ’76. What an amazing truck. Storage space behind the seat. What a concept.
I owned my Datsun for five years, driving it every day, across the U.S. and back, on a newspaper motor route around the Salton Sea, in the vicious cut and thrust of L.A. traffic, and the equally dangerous Coachella Valley highways (during snowbird season). The truck finally met its untimely end, nose-first into a palm tree. (It’s a long story, but it wasn’t really my fault. Some other time.)
And note, mine was a 1972 1/2 model year, signifying a transition year. Here’s what the preceding model looked like.
As far as I know, the running gear from 1971/72 was identical to mine. The difference was cosmetic, but quite substantial as such.
Although they were built in large numbers, the 620 is a rare sight today. And as they’re not especially sought after as collector’s items, they won’t necessarily break the bank. But finding a nice, clean one is challenging.
Still, I can dream. Much as I did in the 1970’s.

And they were reliable. The 1600cc in-line four-cylinder engine and its cousin the 2400cc in-line six were gems. Easy to maintain, super reliable, bulletproof. You couldn’t kill them with a flamethrower.
As I grew up, I drifted off to VWs while my parents stayed with what had then been rebranded as Nissan cars. Their first Nissan branded vehicle was an ominous choice: 1987 Nissan Minivan: one of the most catastrophic failures in American automobile history. A vehicle so bad, Nissan literally bought them all back and had them destroyed. Curbside Classic: 1987 Nissan Van – How Did This Turkey Escape The Crusher (Or Oven)?
Sure enough, after a series of engine fires, Nissan bought my parents’ van and offered them an additional voucher towards the purchase of a new Nissan. My folks bought a 210 wagon, which was under powered and a further disappointment in terms of reliability. Years later it was traded for a Sentra, which was an improvement I gather. But that was their last Nissan.
Personally, I wouldn’t consider buying a Nissan. But — a classic Datsun….

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