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:
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.
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
Engine/drivetrain: 2.4 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: Vancouver, WA
Odometer reading: 123,000 miles
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.
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.
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?
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
Engine/drivetrain: 2.6 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, part-time 4WD
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
every middle/high school football coach i ever had drove this nissan.
The Mitsu’ – erhh I mean RAM, because of the bench seat. But I really think those kind of truck should be diesels.
This was a tough choice for me. I love those little Nissans, but I also love a 4WD single cab pickup and that D50 is really in nice shape, so it barely edges out for me.
I had an 88 Mighty Max, a friend of mine ha an 86 Ram 50, and another friend had a 91 Hardbody. The only one of the three that didn’t suck was the Nissan. I wouldn’t recommend the Mitsu/Dodge twins to my worst enemy.
First Dodge product I’ve ever wanted besides an old 60’s Power Wagon. Bring it to me!
“…Fix it again, Tony; the Fiat wins it comfortably…”
I always thought it was “Fix It Again Tomorrow”?
I like them both, but would probably save $2k and skip 4WD in this case. And as the article says, those old Nissans were bulletproof.
Cut their prices in half and I’d probably get the Dodge for 4WD.
I like them both, but I’d rather have more room in the cab than 4wd. Plus, a buddy of mine had one of these D50’s 7-8 years ago, and even then he had a hard time finding parts for it. Nissan made a TON of those Hardbodies, to I bet it’ll be a lot easier to find parts for.
Nissan for me since it has an extended cab and was produced in larger numbers.
I was just thinking about this era of small trucks not long ago and just off the top of my head I came up with 12 brands that marketed small pickups in the late 70s through the 80s in the US. Might be more, this is just what I rolled off in my head
Chevy (LUV then S-10)
Ford (Courier then Ranger)
Dodge (Ram 50 and Rampage)
Volkswagen (Rabbit pickup)
Mitsubishi (Mighty Max)
This struck me because these trucks were primarily secondary vehicles, save for people in the trades. In a family context, dad’s “car” primarily. but almost never an only vehicle outside of blue collar singles. Very popular, saw them all the time, but parked next to the family station wagon (later minivan). Has there ever been a secondary vehicle like this, produced by this many companies in the same era?
In the sixties many families had what we called “train cars.” These were the sh*tboxes that dads drove to the train station to commute into the city.
Of course, this was a class of car that could take many forms except really a pickup truck. Pickups were almost never part of the family livery. I guess the trend toward personal trucks started in the late seventies with decal trucks, sport trucks, a la “Urban Cowboy” etc.
As I’ve said before, I was the only kid in high school (Class of ’75 about 350 students) with a pickup truck (’72 Dodge W 150 Power Wagon), and I sometimes received sideward glances, especially among the girls.
Today, you’d never see a sh*tbox in the driveway of any house in my old neighborhood. Residents are way too conscious of their perceived status, image, or whatever you’d like to call it.
Truth is, as my late mother used to say, “Nobody’s watching.”
‘I sometimes received sideward glances, especially among the girls.’
Were those “Hot DAMN!! I want me some of THAT!! :0” sideward glances
“Oh SHIT, please, please, PLEASE!! God make that poor ass maybe rapey pickup driving hillbilly loser leave me the fuck alone :(” sideward glances?
Sideward glances could mean anything.
$7k is just too much for that truck, even with 4WD. For the same price, I’d get the Mitsubishi, but in this case, I’ll give up the 4WD and spend less for a newer trucklet with a larger cab.
I had a first gen D50 in a reddish dark orange with stripes down the body on the hood. It was a great little truck that I drove until the transmission died and then since I really did not need it at that point, I sold it to a guy who put in a new transmission and drove it for years after.
So it gets my nostalgia vote.
Prices of these small trucks have gone nuts. I’m sure these can be negotiated, but still…
I picked the Ram for 4WD.
I’m not paying $5,000 for either of these, and they’re close enough in purpose and condition that I had to pick the Nissan.
Cut both prices in half and I’d probably take the Dodge at $3,500, but even that would be top dollar.
A fascinating little movie some may like to check out: Hands on a Hard Body: The Documentary. I read that Tarantino always recommended it so I gave it a shot, and I am glad I did.
I was all about that purple people pleaser, but then adding a driven axle changed the math.
I have long legs, and was never comfortable in ANY regular-cab pickup until the late-90’s Ford blob that everybody hates. It had a longer cab with just enough room to set the seatback at a civilized angle.
So gimme the Nissan with the extended cab.
This was a tough one! My grandfather had both a Nissan hardbody and a Mitsubishi Mighty Max (ok I know the one we are looking at is badged as a Dodge) as farm trucks when I was a kid. The Mitsubishi was the first car I ever drove. And it wouldn’t die. Even with a warped head and the most gaudy oil consumption I’ve ever seen (like driving around in a smoke machine) it would start on the first turn of the key. He still has the Mighty Max, and I’m sure I could get it for free. But it was worked hard and I don’t think there’s much life left in it. And even after sitting for 8 years or so, I bet it still smells like cow shit. In addition to its ability to smoke out a whole field, the steering had several inches of play, and the brakes…well they did stop you, eventually. And it made all sorts of clunking noises from the suspension. I wish I had somewhere to keep it, when he passes away I’m sure his bitch of a wife (second marriage, not my grandmother) will have it hauled off for scrap as soon as she can, especially if she knew I might want it one day.