The Nissan D21 generation succeeded the Datsun 720. The Datsun badge was used by the company for its models from 1980 to 1983 after which the Datsun tag was dropped in favor of the Nissan. In the United States, the unofficial name of the D21 series was Nissan Hardbody.
The name of the truck ‘Hardbody’ was in fact referred to its double wall bed and overall styling. In the US market, the Hardbody was sold between 1986 and 1997 and had a competition with Toyota’s compact pickup. The D21 Nissan series received a lot of modifications in its body styling so as to make it distinct from the preceding Datsun 720. The D21 series and Hardbody received two large headlights instead of four smaller lights found on 720. The D21 also introduced some aggressive looks rather than sticking to boxy one. The Hardbody Truck led the basis for the later Nissan Pathfinder which appeared with a chassis code of WD21.
Standard and King (commonly known as Extended) were the two Hardbody cab styles offered in the US market. The bed length for standard models was 6-foot (2 m), while the extended version had 7-foot. For other markets, there was another cab version called ‘Crew Cab’ offered as a 4-door pickup tuck featuring a short 4.5 feet long bed. The Hardbody Truck was available with the option of 4-cylinder and V6 engines including the 2.4-L 4-cylinder KA24E SOHC that took the place of Z24i. The 6-cylinder 3.0-L VG30E engine on the other hand improved the engine output and torque very slightly. The VG30E V6 engine was not offered for the 1996 and 1997 model year because of the enacting of new emissions standards. During these years, the vehicle received KA24E 4-cylinder engine for both 2WD and 4WD setups. A 5-speed (with overdrive) manual transmission was standard on all models, while automatic transmission was optional.
The models were produced both as rear wheel drive and all wheel drive configurations. The top range SE trim 4WD version came with standard with a limited slip differential. Some of the prominent features offered were: air conditioning, larger wheels/tires, sliding rear window, stereo, and revised rear bumper. Different trim levels offered were: base, XE, and top of the line SE, where a ‘value package’ was offered for XE trim in 1994. The package comprised of air conditioning, power mirrors, alloy wheels, and chrome on body trim like the mirrors and bumpers. The ‘sport power package’ was available for the SE trim offering features like sunroof, power windows, locks, and mirrors, air conditioning and special “Robot” alloy wheels.
Nissan underwent a major model year crossover in 1993 that resulted in a vehicle with a dashboard similar to the one found in vehicles from 1986 to 1992 with minor modifications and redesigned equipments including a new R134A air conditioning refrigerant. The last major facelift was released in 1994 offering new ergonomic dashboard and improved interior styling. Depending on the US ‘DOT’ enacted ‘high mount brake light’ law that require all automobile companies producing trucks to position the brake light in the center of the rear, 1995 models came in compliance with this law. The driver’s side airbag was made standard in 1996 as well as the rear wheel ABS system was introduced both in 2WD and 4WD setups. However, the 1998 D22 series Frontier came with the Full Bosch 4 sensor ABS system.
All across the world, these inexpensive and reliable Hardbody pickup trucks gained a lot of popularity. Some of them can still be seen on-road and off-road in different regions. The longevity, dependability and reliability of these vehicles made them a popular choice among motoring enthusiasts. The only negative point of these small pickup trucks was the rust factor that appeared over time on body panel and frame. Another drawback was the noisy timing chain found on the vehicles produced between 1990 and 1997, powered by KS24E 2.4-L 4-cylinder engine. The engine was having a problem with the stock timing chain guides and slippers failing, breaking off and eventually damaging the timing cover, holding the chain to the engine and/or time cover and also deteriorating the pistons and bending valves.
This could be avoided by purchasing the aftermarket engine timing parts including chain guide, slipper and tensionser. Putting these factors aside, the KA24E was a terrific engine performance wise. The D22 Series was introduced in US market as Frontier in 1998. This series replaced the previous KA24E engine with a new DOHC 2.4-L 4-cylinder engine also used in Nissan Altima. In 1999, Nissan released another VG33E V6 engine alongside the current engine. The VG33E V6 engine featured relatively larger exhaust manifold studs (10 mm) so as to minimize the peril of premature exhaust manifold stud failure. Compared to KA24E engine, VG30E and VG33E engines were both dependable and consistent.
As for D22 series, it is still produced in South Africa and many other regions. Until 2008, the Mexican built D21 was offered in certain Latin American countries as a new design. In Latin America, the vehicle is sold under Nissan Camiones name (meaning Nissan Trucks).
End of Production
On March 15, 2008, the Camiones was discontinued after remaining in production for 15 years in the Cuernavaca plant and replaced by Nissan Mexicana.
In Venezuela, the Nissan Hardbody Truck is still being marketed as D21.