California 2-Owner Truck: 1970 Datsun 521

These old-school economy-minded trucks are beginning to appeal to me in a big way, especially as I consider a possible Ford Courier purchase (long story, not really set in stone). This 1970 Datsun, like the Courier, Chevy LUV and Mazda pickup variants, offers appealing dimensions and simplicity as a project hauler. With just one owner up until last year and a California truck since new, there’s a lot to like. Find it here on eBay with bidding approaching $8K and no reserve.

One of my favorite details about this Datsun 521 is the rear taillamp treatment. I love how they stack horizontally under the tailgate, even if it begs for your brake lights to get smashed out in a mild rear-end collision. The truck has been repainted once, which explains the exceptional paint quality, and the wheels are obviously not stock.

The pictures weren’t loading for me when I wrote this one up, so you’ll have to accept this screen grab of the interior. It’s also in great condition, with the seller not noting any real upgrades here, making me wonder if this bench seat has survived this well since new. The truck was in the care of one owner up until last year, and does come with its sweet original steel wheels and hubcaps.

Image courtesy of

The 521 is an absurdly simple design, but that doesn’t mean some mechanical updates weren’t needed. The seller has addressed the following in his time with the truck: New timing chain, head gasket, top end seal kit, new Weber carb (original included w/air cleaner), new header (original exhaust manifold included), new 2″ custom exhaust, polished valve cover, motor detail, and all the tune up stuff, fuel pump, spark plugs, wires, cap and rotor, new battery, etc. Runs strong. No leaks, smoke or excuses.” That sounds like a turnkey 521 to me – what do you say?

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  1. stillrunners

    Neat survivor…..

  2. Frank Sumatra

    I am now deeply nostalgic for my time in Northern California circa 1975.. Heading over the hill down to Half Moon Bay for a few drinks (Just a few; we had to get back up the hill) at the Miramar Beach Inn.

  3. Jeff

    I’m seriously in the market for something like this, but I need something not so nice, and much cheaper…

  4. kobus

    grew up with these Datsun’s in S. Africa and you simply cannot kill these suckers!!

    • XMA0891

      In the Northeast, rot summarily offed ours – And in short-order at that.

      • JC

        My father bought a ’73 and an ’82 and they rusted out 5 minutes after leaving the dealer…lol. the engines were bulletproof in both of them and the ’73 could haul a full ton… the ’82 was not quite as capable though, they had gotten softer by then.

  5. CanuckCarGuy

    What a great looking little truck… especially in this shade of green. The rims and steering wheel give it a sporty vibe – very nice daily driver for someone.

  6. angliagt

    Man,these small trucks are appreciating like Porsches.
    I really like trucks like this,but can’t fit in one comfortably.

  7. Miguel

    I would like to know the history behind the fairly new plate on it. I say fairly new because it has been some years since the 7 series was issued.

    If this was a one owner truck, why does it have white plates on it.

    I know there are a lot of reasons for the changing of the plates, but I am still curious as to why.

    • Steve R

      It’s a recent issue plate. If it sat unregistered for an extended period of time and dropped out of the system, had personalized plates or was missing a front plate among other reasons it would wind up with new plates. It’s not necessarily a big deal. My money is the registration lapsed and new plates were issued.

      Steve R

      • Miguel

        Steve, I understand all those reasons, which is why I said it would be an interesting story to go along with the truck.

        If, as the write up says, it was a one owner truck, even if it had fallen out of the system, the old plates can be re-activated with an old registration card, or the title.

      • Steve R

        That wasn’t always the case. About 10 years ago I bought a 1970 Nova that had aged out of the DMV’s system. I has new plates but the original blue plates were/are in the trunk. I couldn’t get them re-registered to the car because I didn’t get any old registration documentation to show they were ever assigned to the car. The story with this truck is probably no more complicated than the option was never offered and/or the owners didn’t care.

        Steve R

      • Miguel

        Steve, any old registration card would work, or the title the owner gave you which had the original blue plates listed on it.

        I bought my first car, a 1963 Plymouth Fury, back in 1982.

        That was at the beginning of when cars were going out of the system.

        The DMV worker told me he didn’t know if I could keep the black and yellow plates. I told him, if I can’t I won’t register the car.

        I had the original title plus years of old registrations, so he was able to reactivate the plates. He must not have run in to that previously.

        I have had to educate DMV employees a couple of times.

  8. Lindsey Johnstone

    My Dad had one, same year and color. Bought it new for just under $2k. I think he finally got rid of it in the late 90’s. This was after me using it mercilessly when I was 17 and 18. I am sure my friend Paul remembers to this day going over a narrow country road bridge sideways at 70mph. It was pretty sad looking towards its end.

  9. Steve-O

    These a great little trucks.We had a red one like this that we picked up from a neighbor in the early 80’s. I forget the exact amount, but it was just a few hundred bucks. It seems like with my mom, dad, two brothers and me that there were always at least six or seven vehicles around. We used it for short trips. I probably couldn’t fit in one now, (6’2″, 250 lbs), but when I was a kid, around 12 or 13 y.o., it was the perfect size! It met it’s end when my dad loaned it to my uncle, (mom’s brother) to drive to work when he got a job that was too far to justify driving his 73 Ford F150 swb crew cab 4×4 with a 428 to (!) He said a hog ran out in front of him and he swerved to miss it, laying it on its side and putting it between two trees… We got it on it’s tires and drove it home. The passenger side was wasted but it was still driveable. He drove it like that for a while, until he came across another one sitting in a guy’s shed that had overheated. It was green like this feature truck. We pulled the engine out of the red truck, along with any good parts and sent the truck to the dump. By this time he found a small car to drive and gave the truck back. We drove it for a while and sold it to his wife’s cousins who came down (to Texas-hitch hiked?) from Washington state. They didn’t stay long and needed a way back, so my dad sold it for around what we paid for the red truck. The agreement was a little down and they would send the remaining as payments, he would send the title when it was paid off. Needless to say he never got the full amount, (not sure if he even got one), and they never got the title, which I am sure the didn’t care about. If anyone finds a truck like this in the pacific NW with no title or bonded title, and a Texas history, this is why! LOL

  10. rustylink

    had a 621 – first year for the 5spd – quite a peppy little truck though it ran out of wind over 75 mph. Great MPG -and could corner better then you’d ever think. I ran the piss out of it and it was bullet proof.

  11. DRV

    I ran the hell out of 2 of these for my lawn care service in 1971-73. I’ve wanted another since but I live in Ohio now where they would only last a few years before returning to the earth.
    We would pick up an overflowing mulch load and the bed would ride on the axle occasionally. They sure beat using my convertible beetle that I started out with. 2 guys in the front seats and 2 Lawn Boys in the back seats.

  12. Wil Skeat

    Seat has obviously been reupholstered. Too bad about the non-stock steering wheel, mag wheels are kinda nice. I had a ’70 PL521 for 19 years, only gave it up when it was totaled in an accident. Kid in a Corolla made an illegal left turn through traffic right in front of me to turn into a driveway. T-boned the Corolla; good news: killed the Corolla (piece of junk) too.

    I can personally attest to the vulnerability of the taillights, but they were the only casualty, besides a bent bumper bracket (BTW, this one is missing the rear bumpers…) when a gal in a Beetle rear-ended me at a stoplight. Dinged the crap outta the Beetle’s hood, though…

    I also replaced the stock carb with a Weber w/mechanical secondary, also installed a hotter cam and larger valves (from the 1800cc L18 motor, this one has the 1600cc L16). Still have that engine tucked away in the garage…

  13. Gay Car Nut

    Awesome looking Datsun truck. My aunt and uncle had one similar to this 40 yrs ago. I wish I were old enough. I would’ve loved to have inherited the truck. It was simple by today’s truck standards. Like most Japanese compact trucks, it had a small displacement engine, probably between 1.5 and 2.0 litres, a 4 spd. manual gearbox. It had either a bench seat, or twin bucket seats. I can’t remember. If I had it, I would’ve used it for just about anything under the sun. Work, play, both! :)

  14. Gay Car Nut

    I love the non-stock steering wheel and the mag wheels. What I don’t like is the lowering of the suspension. I’d still like to use the old Datto for work and play.

  15. Wrong way

    Looks great, except those yellow headlights were not stock! Get rid of those rediculous lights then it would be stock again!

  16. Doug

    6 lug Chevy pickup wheels bolt on these, so it’s easy to change the look. I saw one of these at SEMA with what appeared to be a Miata engine in it, and set up for autocross as part of the Optima Street Car Challenge.
    The earlier single headlight trucks were rated for 1,000 kilos- roughly 2204 lbs.
    We would take the leaf below the main leaf out of the spring pack for normal use
    and only put it back if we were going to be hauling heavy items. Otherwise, the truck would ride like a hard tire forklift when empty.

  17. Moparmann Member

    Those wheels are BEAUTIFUL! I guess in the interests of “fuel efficiency” we can only have flat/no lip wheels now! I had this style American Racing wheels on a 70 Charger. Oh, the truck is sharp too! :-)

  18. Joel

    Old 1963 Datsun 320 I saved from a salvage yard

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