Home » No Longer Cheap, But Still Cheerful: 1995 Nissan Hardbody vs 1987 Dodge Ram 50

No Longer Cheap, But Still Cheerful: 1995 Nissan Hardbody vs 1987 Dodge Ram 50

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Welcome back to another Shitbox Showdown! Today we’re looking at a couple of friendly little pickups that cost more than they used to, or should. But before we get there, let’s see the final tally from yesterday’s project choices:

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Fix it again, Tony; the Fiat wins it comfortably. Lots of folks thought the R16s were neat, but the charm of that little Italian sedan on its too-good-for-the-rest-of-the-car alloy wheels proved irresistible.

Now then: I’ve had a lot of cars. Not as many as our buddy (and amateur male model) S. W. Gossin, but I’ve had my share. Thirty-three in my own name, plus a dozen or so that my wife has owned in the sixteen years we’ve been married, and a handful of others that belonged to friends/family/significant others that I drove (or worked on) enough that they almost count as mine. Three of those were compact pickups: a 1983 Nissan/Datsun 720 4×4, a 1984 Mazda B2000 Sundowner, and a 1988 Toyota pickup. All manuals, all fairly basic, and none of them cost me more than a thousand dollars. Compact stickshift pickups were, for a long time, just about the best cheap ride you could get: tough, economical, useful, and fun to drive in their own gruff bouncy leaf-sprung way.

But then they went and quit making them. And by “they,” I mean everybody: Nissan’s truck grew into the Frontier, Toyota’s grew into the Tacoma, Chevy ditched the S-10 in favor of the larger Colorado, Mitsubishi gave up on the US truck market in 1996 (and I didn’t realize they actually held out that long until I looked it up), Mazda sold rebadged Ford Rangers for a while and then vanished from the market, and Isuzu did the same thing with a rebadged S-10. The Ranger soldiered on until 2012, the last holdout. It’s back now, of course, alongside the new smaller Maverick, but it just isn’t the same.

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So there’s a decade-long gap in the supply of used small trucks, which means the remaining ones are getting pretty long in the tooth now. They’ve all but vanished from places that use a lot of road salt, and here on the West Coast, the prices on good clean ones are, well, just take a look.

1995 Nissan D21 “Hardbody” Pickup – $4,995

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.4 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: Vancouver, WA

Odometer reading: 123,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Yep

I have an affinity for Nissan pickups; I bought my 720 on a bitterly cold day in Duluth, Minnesota, when the entire back end was buried in a snowbank. It started right up, heaved itself out of the snow, and I was sold. That truck saw me through a really rotten time in my life with reliability and ease. My wife had a first-generation Frontier before we met, and drove the wheels off it. And the cheap beat-to-shit 1991 Pathfinder we used to move from California to Oregon made it to 360,000 miles.

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By that measure, this purple pickup is just about broken-in at 123,000 miles. This one features a KA24E four-cylinder, a step up in power and refinement from the twin-spark-plug NAPS-Z engine that my old 720 had. It’s still not a powerhouse, but it’s a good durable motor. Combined with a five-speed manual, this truck should run for damn near ever.

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The outside of this truck is a little scruffy, but not terrible. It’s missing a little clearcoat, and it looks like there’s a little wrinkle in the driver’s side bed side, but who cares? It’s purple! Colors like this were easily the best thing about the automotive market in the 1990s; remember when a new car lot looked like a bag of Jolly Ranchers? Can we go back to that, please?

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Inside, it’s industrial gray, but in good shape. It’s a King Cab, with two little inward-facing jump seats in the space behind the two bucket seats. These are perfect if you want to make sure your friends never ask you to drive anywhere. These trucks were available a lot more basic than this; this one has carpet, power steering, and air conditioning. Fan-cy.

1987 Dodge Power Ram 50 – $6,995

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.6 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, part-time 4WD

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Location: Portland, OR

Odometer reading: 86,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sure does

For the longest time, American automakers didn’t bother making their own small trucks; they just imported them and renamed them. Ford sold Mazda-made trucks under the Courier name, Chevy sold Isuzu trucks as the LUV, and Chrysler stuck Dodge and Plymouth badges on Mitsubishi trucks. It started out as the Dodge D50 and Plymouth Arrow, but Dodge’s tough-guy truck nomenclature started early, so the D50 became the Ram 50. And if that wasn’t tough enough for you, just check the box for 4WD, and it became the Power Ram 50.

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But this truck doesn’t look tough to me. It looks earnest, and stalwart, and approachable. This is a truck that wants to be your friend, not scare the daylights out of you like so many modern trucks seem to want to. It’s a good configuration for a small truck: standard cab with a long bed (7 feet on these, I think), four-wheel-drive, and a good old-fashioned bench seat. It’s ready to do stuff, like a good truck should be.

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It’s in great condition, but with only 86,000 miles on it, it should be. I don’t know how a work-spec truck like this survived all these decades in such good shape; most of them get worn down to a nub. It makes me wonder if it sat around for a while. I’m happy to see some dings and scratches in the bed, though.

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The D50s/Ram 50s/Mighty Maxes get overshadowed by other small trucks, and I’m not sure why. It’s a sharp-looking little truck, maybe not quite as everlasting as some of the others, but it’s got that sporty thing going for it.

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Let’s just say it: Both of these trucks are overpriced. But they’re also both at little used car dealerships, and you know how much cash talks at those places. You can probably knock a third off either of these prices. Still not the bargain they used to be, but that’s just where the market is these days. So what’ll it be: 2WD with some extra room in the cab, or 4WD with an extra-long bed?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Gubbin
Gubbin
1 year ago

Since I got fed up with my Frontier, I have been stalking Craigslist for a Nissan exactly like that one, in that exact area, for roughly that price for the past couple months. HOW DID YOU SPOT IT BEFORE I DID?

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
1 year ago

The Nissan is a king cab and a cooler color, so I chose that!

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 year ago

That purple is tempting because I love the color purple in all applications, but lower miles and 4 wheel drive makes this an easy win for the Ram.

Stacks
Stacks
1 year ago

I’d normally go for 4WD all else being equal, but the Nissan gets my sentimental vote. My mom had a ’96 or ’97, and I used to absolutely send that thing around the twisty gravel mountain roads of rural NC where she lived. Slow car fast of course, but it was ultimately super-light, RWD, and with a perfectly nice manual. It’s honestly a miracle I never met any oncoming traffic around a blind curve or skidded over a cliff.

Both of them are about double what I’d feel comfortable paying though, that’s ridiculous.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 year ago

Easy win for the big D. It’s cleaner, has lower miles, and it’s equipped with 4×4. If you can’t Dodge it, Power Ram 50 it.

Full disclosure, I’m openly pro-Mopar and Mitsubishi.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
1 year ago

Went Dodge as 4wd. Both are good weekend warriors/dump runners.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago

Voted Nissan because of cabin space and purple.

Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
1 year ago

Gimme the Derge. 4wd, bench seat, top-tier aesthetics for the era.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
1 year ago

“Mitsubishi gave up on the US truck market in 1996”

I don’t mean to be pedantic, but didn’t Mitsubishi sell a pickup for a few years in the late 2000s? I think it was a badge engineered Dodge, but it counts.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 year ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

Yep, the Mitsubishi Raider. It was a rebadged 3rd gen Dodge Dakota.

BunkyTheMelon
BunkyTheMelon
1 year ago

That hardbody will still run long after the heat death of the universe.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
1 year ago

I’m picking the Ram50, because I owned one. I blew the engine at 120K and dropped in a gray market replacement over the weekend in an apartment parking spot. That little truck got abused by this (then) 20y old out in the southwest deserts 🙂

Bomber
Bomber
1 year ago

This is another really difficult one. I was all set to vote the Nissan. That is THE truck of high school. (Well after high school…ugh). But that Dodge presents so well and underneath being a Mits means it will run just as forever…

I voted the Dodge for 4×4…I live in Colorado…

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
1 year ago

I’ve logged many road-trip miles in my good friend’s ’78 and ’89 Nissan King Cabs.

He’s gone now and so are the trucks, but all left a solid, positive imprint on my travels. These vehicles had a nice seat-of-the-pants feel: more skateboard, less buckboard. Good, smooth engine to boot.

I remember a trip through Maine, winter of ’78, where we picked up a coupla kids (my same age, actually) who were riding their thumb on something like an 8-degree night. This 20-something couple were intent on getting out to an island (Monhegan?) so we stuffed them into the back (bed had a cap) and gave them a couple of woolen Army blankets which they were thrilled with. We dropped them at the shore on the mainland and they walked toward a small boat basin where the guy said he had a skiff with a little Johnson outboard.

The wind was starting to kick up, and we asked if they were sure this was a good idea.
They came back with a chilled but cheery “Oh yeah, we’ll be fine!” and I guess they were. We hung around till they cleared the dock thinking they might change their mind but off they went.

And it looks like they made it, or so we chose to believe.

DadBod
DadBod
1 year ago
Reply to  XLEJim700

holy shit Monhegan is out there, that would be an epic trip in a skiff on a bitterly cold night

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
1 year ago
Reply to  DadBod

I’m not 100% sure it was Monhegan, DadBod. It could’ve been something closer to the mainland. In any event, the confidence level of the couple was so high that we almost felt embarrassed/awkward raising a note of caution. Apparently this was a common thing for them.

I’m a native of Staten Island, and my friend (older than me) was an experienced recreational sailor, so we had some idea of what can happen on the water. But so did they by all appearances. They were thrilled for the ride in the back of the Datsun, and they were happy to island bound. I hope they’re as happy today!

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
1 year ago

Oh damn! My vote tied it up at 70 each!

Gene1969
Gene1969
1 year ago

I went for the Mitsubishi/Dodge because it has 4wd.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
1 year ago
Reply to  Gene1969

AND a bench seat.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

The Dodge brother from another mother, please. Good, solid, dependable small truck that delivered value in addition to to whatever you loaded in the bed (7 feet!!). Interestingly, a slightly earlier version, 1980, I think, won a C&D mini truck comparo versus, Ford (Mazda), Chevy LUV (Isuzu), Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, and VW. Miss the days when small trucks were a common sight.

Frank Wrench
Frank Wrench
1 year ago

Man, I can’t choose, want both! I had an 86 2WD Ranger 2.9L 5 speed long bed as my daily driver for most of the 90s. Could not kill that truck. It hauled many a loads more than it was spec’ed to. When I was done beating on it, I sold it to a friend who continued to beat on it. And when he was done with it he gave it to some exchange students from Germany to drive to down FL with (from NY.) It finally gave up on that trip with over 300k on the clock.

It’s a shame this class of vehicle has all but disappeared. They were great first vehicles, cheap and versatile.

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
1 year ago

My first vehicle was a 1976 Datsun King Cab handed down to me in 1984 from my Dad after years of use, so I have a fond place in my heart for Datsun/Nissan trucklets. It rusted like crazy but that engine and transmission were unkillable. I know this because it was stolen from us in 1982 and the guy did his best to kill it. The police found it two days later, sitting in a ditch. There was an empty handle of vodka in the cab, so you can imagine what probably happened. Apparently, Drunky McDrunkerson had passed out at the wheel, ran it off the road and sat there unconscious for who knows how long with his foot on the accelerator. The gas tank was dry and the wheels had dug themselves into the loose Florida soil until the rear axle was sitting on the ground. He probably woke up when the engine noise stopped, and then crawled away to parts unknown. Anyway, we pulled it out of the ditch, put some gas in it and checked the oil, and it fired right up.

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
1 year ago

Had an ex who had a 2WD Ram 50 with the 2.6 and 5 speed, was fairly sporty for the time, short bed, roll bars, bucket seats.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
1 year ago

Can’t go wrong with either of these honestly.

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
1 year ago

I like the bench seat in the Dodge, and the 4WD, but it has the shorter cabin with no interior storage space… and where’s the cup holders?

Dogs love trucks; specifically Nissan, so that’s my choice.

Abraham Smith
Abraham Smith
1 year ago

I drove an identical nissan through high school. It was a noisy tin can, but tough as hell

Fuzz
Fuzz
1 year ago

Mileage doesn’t matter to the Nissan, it’ll run forever. Those things are indestructible, my buddy gave it his best effort.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
1 year ago

Once again, I clicked intending to vote on one truck (the D21), but wound up voting for the other (the Mitsu), mostly on the strength of 4WD and the extremely clean condition.

Aside: Man, Mitsubishi’s lineup was full of bangers in the 80s and 90s.

SageWestyTulsa
SageWestyTulsa
1 year ago

Assuming the mileage is accurate and the 4WD works as intended, the Mitsudodgy is the easy choice for me. That said, you’d think that for $6995 they’d at least throw a matching set of tires on it. As clean and solid as it seems, I wouldn’t hesitate to get the body and paint fixed, get the missing center caps squared away, and have a sweet little weekend runaround/camping truck.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago
Reply to  SageWestyTulsa

The front tires appear to be new. Given that the seller is a buy-here-pay-here (i.e. janky), I’m wondering if the new rubber was installed to mask alignment/front end issues.

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