Home » Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines What A Modern Nissan ‘Hardbody’ Truck Would Look Like And It’s Quite Good

Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines What A Modern Nissan ‘Hardbody’ Truck Would Look Like And It’s Quite Good

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With today’s supply chain issues and absurd car prices requiring 84-month financing, we need to be thankful for little things in the automotive world. For example, yesterday I followed one of those fourth generation Toyota Prius models with the absurd amount of surface detailing and giant-lips lower rear window; I was happier than a pig in mud to remember that this thing had recently been discontinued and replaced with a design that is ultra clean and simple:


Hell, the old one even had a concave upper rear window and odd dip in the rear “wing” that looks for all the world like the drunken-vampire-face back of a 1959 Chevy. Toyota claimed this was for aerodynamic efficiency, which is sort of odd when you remember the claims (unsubstantiated) that the shape of the old Chevy’s tailfins actually sucked the back of the car off of the ground at speed:

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Volo Cars (car for sale), Toyota

Seeing this comparison of old Prius versus current one makes me feel a lot better;  it gives me hope for the same type of changes in truck design.

Can You Make The Grille Bigger Please?

The “more is more” philosophy of design seems rather popular with pickup trucks today. Manufacturers started to add these eyelash extensions and monstrous radiator grilles to make their trucks seem “tough” and stand out from the crowd, yet now their appearance is so homogenous that they all look the same. There’s a lot going on visually, and while some manufacturers do the detailing better than others it’s almost pointless to nitpick which ones are the most successful:

Truck Fronts
Hendrickcars (truck for sale), General Motors

The bottom line is that the trend is starting to reach a critical mass where there’s really nowhere else to go. Like tall tail fins at the end of the fifties, it’s becoming virtually impossible to upstage anyone by adding more or going bigger.

Barrett-Jackson, Barrett-Jackson

Just like in 1960, the pendulum may have to swing back in the other direction towards cleanliness soon. Personally, I’m looking forward to that time.

The Golden Age?

Looking at pickups, they seemed to start out as very industrial looking things nearly a century ago, then gained up the styling trends of the fifties, sixties, and seventies before finally reaching what I consider to be their ultimate state of Truck Purity in the late eighties. The 1988 fourth generation General Motors C/K were, to me, the perfect blend of pure modernist design and clean functionality. Concurrent Fords like the eighth generation one Jason owns now are good examples as well (not to mention the clean, aero tenth generation model that our own Matt likes as well).

These were vehicles that didn’t try to upstage each other with grilles so tall that anyone under six feet can’t shut the hood when it’s open and you need a camera to see anything closer than about twenty feet ahead of you. Like Steve McQueen or James Garner, they were good looking and appeared to be tough without trying hard.

Old Trucks
Ford, General Motors, Ford

Dumb Name On A Brilliant Truck

Easily one of my favorites of this era was the 1986 Nissan compact with the somewhat cringe-inducing title of “Hardbody” (which conjures image of spandex-and-leg-warmer-clad fitness buffs gyrating to Olivia Newton John’s song “Physical”). Almost everything is right with this little pickup and the antithesis of truck design today. No overly-stamped side panels, absurd grilles the size of a house, or fussy looking headlamps ten feet off of the ground with this thing. A simple box shape with minimalist fender bulges to break up the sides and low horizontal band of a grille below an angry-puppy-dog sheetmetal brow; the split between the grille and this ‘eyebrow’ continues as a detail around the entire truck. Clean, simple, beautiful, with nothing contrived, nothing superfluous; it’s unapologetically a truck.


Ford got the ball rolling on the compact truck revival with the Maverick, and now it looks like Toyota and Nissan are going to release competitive products quite soon. Predictions on the look of the Toyota offering (called the “Stout” after a 1960s model) show the expected scaling down of the Tacoma or like a Maverick with different detailing or “light signatures.” Nissan concept sketches are floating about, yet the ones I’ve seen seem to missing the perfect opportunity to pay homage to their Miami Vice-era Hardbody masterpiece. I did observe that Nissan presented a Frontier-based “Hardbody” tribute not ago, and it was a disappointment to say the least. They replicated the awesome original alloy wheels, added a roof bar with spotlights, and…that was it. Were they serious? This thing has nothing to do with the eighties mini-truck icon.

Nissan Frontier Hardbody Concept 2022 1280 01

The Revival

We need to give this a shot ourselves.  Translating the styling of the old Hardbody to a new truck is surprisingly easy, to the point that you have put an image of the old one next to the concept sketch to tell the difference. It’s a truly clean form, and I’ve kept all of the trademark features of the original; the low band of grille, the subtle fender bumps, and the detail line that runs around the entire perimeter of the truck. Yes, the standard four door would likely be the primary format, but I had to add a “King Cab” style two-door-looking thing (with suicide rear doors) for old times sake (including the way the rear quarter windows wrap into the roof).

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underlay- Ford

In back there’s an available two-way tailgate with the stamped in “old skool” logo (though it is tough for someone my age to see that logo as nearly forty years old). Note the stamped depression that blends in with the back-up lights in the taillamp clusters.  A fold down step and cover for the hitch area cleans up the bumper area.

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Workmanlike Cabin

The interior of the original Hardbody followed the exterior’s simple, functional design:

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Bring A Trailer (truck for sale)

We’ll do the same thing on the interior of the new “tribute” truck. If I were to write one of those pretentious high-minded sounding press releases, I would say that the clean, pure shape of a steel I-beam would be the inspiration for the new truck’s dashboard. Vents with a similar look to those in the grille sit at the top, while the void space houses the monitors (since I refuse to have them jut out of the dash as if they’re Best Buy monitors like most new vehicles today). In fact, both monitors can lift up to reveal more storage space (I know GM did this trick- why don’t more people do this?).


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While the monitors are touch screens, there are still plenty of big, chunky rubber covered knobs and buttons for primary functions that can be operated while wearing dirty work gloves.

Is The World Ready For Pure Truck Again?

What will the future hold? One great thing about the EV revolution is the lack of need for a radiator grille which should be a practical reason to end the madness. Will there be a sea change like after the Taurus debuted in 1986 amidst the landau roofs and hood ornaments of the maliase era? Maybe Toyota follow the example of the outstanding made-over Prius with the next generation of trucks? Someone will be the first to make the leap; could this golden-era Nissan be the inspiration?



Our Daydreaming Designer Attempts To Fix The Underappreciated 5th-Gen Pontiac GTO, Which Too Many People Think Looks Like A Malibu – The Autopian

Our Daydreaming Designer Takes The Chevy Corvair Into The Eighties But In Van And Pickup Truck Form – The Autopian

Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines He’s David Tracy Buying A ‘Holy Grail’ 1987 Jeep Truck That Never Existed – The Autopian

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

A Misguided Tipster Asks The Autopian For A ‘Different Tractor Machine,’ So The Daydreaming Designer Gives It To Him – The Autopian

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11 months ago

Knobs need to be up above the stereo so you can row through gears without knocking your knuckles. the steps in the bumper are cool but they need to flanks a central license plate mounted. If they returned the solid axles from this era and a NA V6 as an alternative to a turbo 4 pot, I would look twice.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
11 months ago

Pure Truck” would be a good marketing direction.

11 months ago

Whoa, whoa – that badge on the grille is WAY too small, it needs to be at least big enough to look like it could double as a belt buckle

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