Nissan Hardbody nameplate to be revived, likely with D21 3-spoke block wheels

Nissan dropped a mysterious little teaser Thursday centered around the delightful D21 Hardbody. The no-nonsense compact pickup embodied the notion of form following function, and there was a minimalist beauty in its simplicity. We aren’t naive enough to think that Nissan will bring back the D21, but the press release reads, “The Hardbody legacy continues,” and “Beloved compact truck begins its next chapter Sept. 14.” As the Hardbody is one of our favorite trucks, consider our interest piqued.

Introduced in 1985, the D21 was among the first Nissans designed at their US studio in La Jolla, California to reach full production. It was also the first Nissan truck to get an official name, “Hardbody”, which referred to the bed’s double-walled structure. Prior Nissan trucks had simple names like Datsun  plus engine displacement, and were commonly referred to by either their trim levels like Li’l Hustler or King Cab, or by chassis codes going from the 720 all the way back to the 120 in 1955.

Nissan offered a wide range of configurations and options for the Hardbody: regular or King Cab, short or long bed, 2wD or 4WD, 2.4-liter inline-four or 3.0-liter V6. Four-wheel-drive models even had an optional winch, shift-on-the-fly 4WD, and meters measuring pitch and roll.

As much as we’d like to see a revival of the D21 Hardbody, the “next chapter” is likely going to be a trim level on the latest D41 Frontier. In 2022 for the Chicago Auto Show Nissan built a couple of Frontier concepts based on the Hardbody and the Datsun 720. The show was abuzz about them, especially the fantastic 3-spoke block wheels on the Hardbody version.

We soon heard from sources within Nissan that the company had decided to put Hardbody-inspired wheels into production. We’d bet that they’ll show up on whatever we see on September 14. What would be particularly cool is if this Hardbody trim level had some serious off-road hardware like Toyota’s TRD Pro lineup. After all, the Hardbody did win its class in the Baja 1000, prompting Nissan to release a Desert Runner version of the D21 in 1988, limited to 1,000 units. The Hardbody is packed with history and we’re curious to see where that leads in a week from now.

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6 Responses to Nissan Hardbody nameplate to be revived, likely with D21 3-spoke block wheels

  1. Taylor C. says:

    If they can still offer the King Cab variant, I think it’d look great!

  2. cyko9 says:

    Nissan says “Beloved compact truck…” then lifts a Frontier even more. I like the look, but with car-based “trucks” gaining popularity (e.g. Subaru Santa Cruz, Ford Maverick), I think Nissan is missing an opportunity.

  3. Alan says:

    “Hey guys, we just put in all this half-effort to design a non-competitive Tacoma alternative, and for some reason it’s just not selling – ideas?”

    “Let’s call it the Hardbody. Those were cool.”

    “But does anyone outside of the sphere of enthusiasts remember that name? And is this new, mediocre monstrosity worthy of the badge?”


  4. Alan says:

    Er, worthy of those wheels.

    Reading comprehension > me.

  5. Socarboy says:

    I may be in the minority here, but I wish Nissan would bring a small truck to market around the size of the original D21 Hardbody. There is such pent up demand for a small body on frame pickup and not another Ford Maverick or Hyundai Santa Cruz clone.

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