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Frozen in Time: 1986 Nissan 720

Scotty GilbertsonBy Scotty Gilbertson

I have a thing for these early Datsun pickups, the square, four-headlight, pre-Hardbody/D21 designs. They’re so utilitarian, harkening back (hey, I’m an architect, we always use flowery language) to a simpler time when trucks were trucks. What a concept, eh? This 1986 Nissan 720 is a long-bed 2WD pickup with z.e.r.o. rust and it’s listed on eBay with a current bid of under $2,000! What?! It’s located in sunny¬†San Bernardino, California which has helped to keep it absolutely rust-free. But, there’s a nasty secret hiding in this truck.

This may be the nicest Nissan 720 that I’ve ever seen, at least in photos. This thing appears to be bone-stock, drop-dead perfect, at least in the looks department. It’s a one-owner California truck and it has absolutely no rust what so ever, “not one spec of rust, bubble or blister.” I couldn’t even say that about my wife’s brand new (in 2011) Mini Cooper which after four months of ownership had a “rusty door actuator” which caused the windows to go down 4-inches on their own. Ugh, what a horrible car that was. But, back to this beauty.

If I didn’t have my 1980 Dodge D-50 Sport pickup I would probably be all over this one. A 2WD pickup isn’t ideal for anyone living in the upper-Midwest where snow and ice can last for four or five months out of ever year, or sometimes even longer. But, I wouldn’t drive a perfect, rust-free truck like this on the salty roads here anyway. The 720 was more in the camp of basic, non-“designed”, utilitarian trucks more so than the very much designed D21 Hardbody that replaced it in early 1986. The long-bed would be handy for big, relatively, hauling duties and there is no arguing with the condition of the body and interior on this truck, it’s maybe the nicest original one in the country, or as nice as it can possibly be.

This is one amazing interior. I’m not sure if I see a single flaw here. Well, there are a couple of discolored pieces inside, maybe due to uneven fading from the California sun? This truck was a “grandpa’s truck” and it has only 48,763 miles on it! Hey, Scotty G, what about that nasty hidden secret that you mentioned? This truck is absolutely gorgeous, 100% rust-free, and the interior is as nice as you’ll ever find on the planet – where’s this nasty secret?

It’s funny that you should ask. This perfect-looking engine is Nissan’s 2.4L inline-four with throttle body fuel-injection and around a 100 hp when new. Nice, very, very nice! So what’s the deal with this thing? Well, according to the seller, the “family stated it was parked several years ago and hasn’t been started since. When we hooked up a battery and it did nothing. Based on our quick assessment we believe the engine is seized/frozen. The truck will need a new or rebuilt engine in order to run.” Ouch, dang, that’s one big, nasty secret. This truck is frozen in time, but so is the engine. How can an engine that looks this perfect in a truck that looks this perfect not run at all after only 48,000 miles? What’s the story on this one? Do you think you could get it running again?

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  1. Lee Hartman

    I sold one like this last year. One owner, low miles, nice original interior, even came with a camper shell that had been on the truck since new. All of the manuals and service records were in the glove box, with the original sales invoice. Had a little rattle when first starting. I was told that’s a Nissan thing, the timing chain tensioner leaks down.
    Sold it for $1000.

  2. Steve

    Pull the plugs, rig a rubber hose on a funnel and pour a few ounces of marvel mystery oi in each cylinder. Put the truck in third or fourth gear, and rock it back and forth. That will answer the question regarding whether the engine is stuck or not. Proceed from there depending on outcome of test.

  3. Vegaman Dan

    At that price, you buy it and rebuild the engine. That’s a wonderful WORK truck. And the design is before special editions and graphics packages were the norm to treat them as cars instead. I appreciate an honest work truck. But that interior is amazing. That floor cleaned up beautiful.

    I think if I was a Nissan dealer, I’d want to have this on my showroom as a vintage vehicle for people to look at.

    • Patrick Pettit

      There were actually a variety of cheesy graphics packages for these trucks in the early eighties, none of which have aged well (aesthetically or physically). I had a 1984 like this which I loved, although it had an alarming tendency to pop head gaskets…

  4. Joe M

    Oh, so this is what they looked like originally. My neighbor bought one of these for 300.00 got it running; patched up the rust and painted it in house paint (black and white zebra stripes), she uses it to pick up stuff for her business.

  5. Sam

    Nice truck worth the gamble for the mechanically inclined. Maybe some meatier looking tires…other than that keep the stock look and enjoy.

    Unrelated observation. Michael Douglas dead? Tiger Woods found dead in a plastic sheeting? Next week someone will find Jimmy Hoffa’s body.

  6. Steve R

    At least someone can rectify the travesty of a dead Toyota engine by installing the correct Nissan engine. Whoever did this swap did a fantastic job, it looks factory, they even installed AC.

    Steve R

    • Patrick Pettit

      I can’t tell if you’re serious, but I’d know that old Datsun Z24 anywhere.

      • Steve R

        In the initial write up, which has since been edited, the engine was listed as a Toyota 2.4. I was giving him a bad time.

        Steve R

  7. Russ

    why would a Nissan 720 have a Toyota 2.4 motor ?

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Ha! Good catch, Steve R and Russ. I was also looking at a similar era Toyota pickup at the same time. I fixed it, thanks for catching that.

      • Nrg8

        Um nope. That is the 86 vintage z motor. You may be thinking of the older one with the big aluminium valve cover. Google 86 720 motor and click on images. Unless everybody did the swap. My old 710 would light up the dash, but no turn every other month. Just a matter of cleaning the connections on the positive lead where those white connectors are. They oxidize and get sloppy

  8. Andrew

    That is a 8 plug nap z engine, inthe picture anyway sir.

  9. hank

    Beware—parts for these trucks are getting VERY SCARCE. While still behind the parts counter this year, I had several people trying to keep the 720’s and D21’s on the road. Sooner or later, things are going to go that you just can’t find.

  10. angliagt

    Another “One Owner” truck – the previous owner,that is.

  11. angliagt

    Another “One Owner” truck – the previous owner,that is.

    And “100% Rust Free”? – I see rust on the exhaust manifold.

  12. Wojtus

    Engine looks familiar for me. KA24i? Carb or single point injection. KA24 are still in production for D22/NP300.

  13. Eric Weir

    Scotty if you want that Nissan I’ll be more than happy to take the 80 ram d50 off your hands I miss my 86 my grandpa gave me


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