The Nissan D21 is one example of how to do things right. Nissan focused on making truck that could pull of heavy duty work, prioritizing strength and power over anything else, and ended up with exactly what it set out to build. However unglamorous the D21 might have looked like, owners could count on it to get the job done—whether it was hauling heavy loads or service equipment for small businesses. Officially discontinued and succeeded prior to the turn of the millennium, the D21 is still a common fixture on roads today.
1980-1996: Continuing a Tradition
The original D21 was actually a successor to the Datsun 720—so much so that the name was retained for several years until 1982 when the Nissan D21 acquired the name and designation. With a double-wall bed and overall solid styling, the D21 was unofficially called the “Hardbody” in the US. Its design did stand out with its two large, squared headlights and large, bulky appearance. There was amazing customizability at the back as customers had a choice between a standard 6-foot and long 7-foot cab.
Powering the D21 by 1990 was a 2.4-L, 4-cylinder SOHC KA24E. It was a very solid engine, considering its relatively smaller size and, when it was bumped up to a 3.0-L, 6-cylinder VG30E prior to 1997, there was little appreciable boost in power and torque. While the 5-speed manual transmissions were far more common, there was an automatic transmission available for those who preferred it. Rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive variants were produced in equal number.
Standard features were air-conditioning, larger wheels, elevated suspension, stereo with tape deck, and a rear bumper—as funny as that last one might seem today. The last major refresh of the D21 would come in 1994—with a more modern, ergonomic dashboard; but little else. In 1996, however, owing to tightening safety regulations, a driver’s side airbag was added as a standard, rear-wheel anti-lock braking was standardized, and a central brake light up and center in the cab were all added.
1998-1999: The Giant Rests
In 1998, Full Bosch all-wheel anti-lock braking would become a standard on the D21. By this time, the Nissan was already famous within and without the United States because of its reputation of being extremely reliable. Applications ranged from use a fairly standard pickup truck to a full-blown refrigerated truck. One of the last engine upgrades it got was a slight bump up to a 2.7-L, Inline-4 TD23 diesel engine capable of a decent 84-horsepower. This output was sufficient enough to make it excel at its jobs yet remain economical with fuel consumption.
The “end” of the D21 can be said to be more of an evolution as the Nissan Frontier that succeeded it owed a lot if its design and innovations to those set forth by the D21. Even the appearance of the Frontier borrowed a lot from its predecessor. As a last hurrah of sorts before being put to rest, the D21 was the truck used by Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear in crossing the English Channel with an outboard motor attached to it.