Nissan Heritage spotlight: the Hardbody legacy continues

Beloved compact truck begins its next chapter Sept. 14

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Nissan Heritage spotlight: the Hardbody legacy continues


Nissan offers a thrilling range of diverse and functional vehicles that cater to a wide range of drivers. For six decades and counting, that vehicle lineup has included capable trucks like the Nissan Hardbody.

Introduced in 1985, the Hardbody is one of the most significant trucks in Nissan’s U.S. history. The Hardbody capitalized on a desire for compact, rugged and easy-to-use trucks that were equally suited for work and play – from landscapers to surfers, and everyone in between.


Dubbed Hardbody for its tough, double-walled bed design, the robust Nissan quickly became beloved by truck enthusiasts across the country, introducing countless new customers to the Nissan brand. Today, the Nissan Frontier continues that legacy and position in the truck market.

Compared to its Nissan 720 predecessor, the Nissan Hardbody – codenamed D21 – had a more modern exterior design with smooth, flush body surfaces and a spacious-feeling cabin helped by large windows. A more angled windshield and other design touches advanced the truck’s look while also benefiting aerodynamics and fuel efficiency.

Offered in standard and double cab configurations, with rear- or four-wheel drive, the truck was “designed in accordance with the concept of a ‘Human Oriented Pickup’,” according to the company’s 1985 press release. For capability, the truck had a ladder-type frame enhanced for stiffness, four-wheel drive that could be shifted “on the fly” at up to 25 mph, an available electric winch and in-cabin pitch-and-roll display for 4×4 models.

This 1990 Hardbody 4×4 from the Nissan Heritage Collection features a 3.0-liter V6 engine and a five-speed manual transmission.

The Hardbody boasted more cabin room than its predecessor, with higher-quality and more comfortable interior components. The ‘80s nostalgia jumps into overdrive when you spot features like the truck’s simple-yet-effective analog instrument dials, the available cassette deck and the utilitarian, straightforward HVAC control sliders.

Significantly for Nissan’s U.S. operations, the Hardbody was one of the first vehicles designed in California by Nissan Design International, Inc. (now known as Nissan Design America) to reach full series production. In 1982, the team began designing a truck to appeal to American drivers. Along with praise from both media and consumers, in 1986, the Hardbody received a Certificate of Achievement award from the Industrial Designers Society of America.

Members of the Nissan Hardbody design team are seen in this photo from 1990.

Like many other important Nissan models, including the Datsun 510 and the Z, the Hardbody made a name for itself in the world of motorsport.

In 1987, Hardbody off-road racing trucks won the Baja 1000, Mint 400 and Gold Coast 300 competitions. To celebrate these victories, the company launched a special-edition “Desert Runner” model. In 2021, Nissan again paid homage to those race-winning trucks, entering a Hardbody-inspired Frontier in the 2021 Rebelle Rally, the longest off-road rally in the United States.

Team Wild Grace captained the Hardbody racer-inspired Frontier to an impressive sixth place finish out of 42 competitors at the 2021 Rebelle Rally.

By building a following among customers and establishing a strong position in the compact truck market, the Hardbody laid the groundwork for even more successful Nissan trucks. For the 1998 model year, the first-generation Frontier replaced the Hardbody. A second-generation model arrived for the 2005 model year, and the current-generation Frontier followed for 2022.

And there’s more excitement on the way: On Thursday, Sept. 14, the next chapter of the Nissan Hardbody story begins. Subscribe to Nissan News here to ensure you don’t miss it!

About the Nissan Heritage Collection

The Nissan Heritage Collection, currently open via private tour only, contains a number of production and concept vehicles – including a 1990 Hardbody 4×4 – significant to the brand’s U.S. operations.

See more highlights from the Nissan Heritage Collection:


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