Pristine Condition: 1971 Datsun 521 Pickup

Former U.S. Vice-President Thomas Riley Marshall (1913-1921) is credited with saying, “What This Country Needs Is a Really Good Five-Cent Cigar.” There are some counter claims that he just picked up the comment from someone else, but it doesn’t matter as he got the credit. What this country really needs today, however, is a really good reliable small pickup truck like this 1971 Datsun 521. There is nothing today approaching the compactness of this Datsun and there hasn’t been since Ford discontinued its previous version of the Ranger. A mid-size pickup today is gargantuan and a full-size is Brobdingnagian (really huge). So let’s take a look at how things youstabee with this Datsun 521, located in Clearwater, Florida and available here on eBay for a current bid of $9,077, reserve not yet met.

Compact Datsun pickup trucks were first produced between 1955 and 1997 and were then replaced by the Frontier, which isn’t as out of wack size-wise as some of its midsized competition, but it is definitely not in the same size league that the 521 was. The 520, and its similar successor, the 521, were offered for sale between 1966 and 1972 and came in both right and left-hand drive arrangements. The 521 claims to be the first compact truck sold in North America with a half-ton capacity rating.

The seller advertises this 521 to be all original with only 60K miles or 60K “known” miles. It started life in Bakersfield, California and was sold with just two options, a front bumper and an AM radio. The seller considers the condition to be pristine and I would have to agree with that assessment. He further states, “Garage kept! No rust”. And there is no evidence of rot, typical for a dry California vehicle, or body panel damage. The cargo bed looks used but certainly not overused and the underside of this Datsun would seem to be better than one would expect a 49-year-old vehicle to be. And all of that leads back to the exterior finish, it almost looks too good to be original, it still has a substantial sheen and there is only one minor issue, that I could note, on the tailgate. Rounding it out, are the doggie-bowl hubcaps and white stripe tires, they make a light and innocent statement.

Under the hood is a 1.6 liter, in-line, four-cylinder engine known for developing 96 HP. The seller claims, “1.6 liter 4 cylinder runs fantastic”. He mentions a “dry carburetor” if not driven within the week which I take to mean carburetor leak-down, something that should be easily remedied assuming there are no cracks in the carburetor casting. Power to the rear live axle is distributed via a four-speed manual transmission.

The interior is notable for what’s not here, it is a typical early ’70s truck interior, as modest as it gets. The upholstery, door cards and instrument panel present as original though the seller comments that the dash pad is cracked, not sure how easy that will be to remedy on a not commonly encountered pickup like this Datsun. The head-scratcher is the rubber/vinyl white floor mat. It seems like the absolute wrong color for any vehicle, especially a truck that’s likely to see lots of dirty feet. The more vehicles complicate themselves, the more I appreciate the simplicity of this Datsun’s instrument panel.

So, would you agree that what this country needs is a really good reliable small pickup truck like this Datsun, or am I living in the past? (What we need is a really good five-cent anything but that’s another matter.) Or have times moved on to the point that bigger is better and a ’71 Datsun 521 is just a throwback reminder of a past that won’t be repeated again?

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  1. Moncton(was Winnipeg)carnut Member

    There’s one of these here in Moncton. Orange, automatic. Shows up at my work periodically. Excellent condition also.

    Like 5
  2. Bluetec320 Bluetec320 Member

    Nice truck except for the diamond plate and the wrong rim color. The wheels should be a smokey gray metallic, though I believe the hub caps are correct. I owned 2 of these over the years, they were good trucks, but they just couldn’t withstand Pennsylvania winters.

    Like 3
    • triumph1954

      Diamond plate was typical in the 70s when you wanted a rear step bumper for a ball hitch. Nice truck.

  3. Rex Kahrs Member

    Wait…they re-named Winnipeg?

    Like 5
  4. Howard A Member

    This is pretty cool, I think this was a real game changer for Datsun. Aside from Toyota, there was not much like it. Suddenly, everybody wanted the “Lil’ Hustler”. For situations where a full size pickup wasn’t needed, these fit the bill perfectly. That and gas prices tripled, again, US caught with their pants down ( or denial) and eventually made a showing with the Ranger and S10, but I don’t think ever really caught up to this day. With as many sold, just as many turned into dust, but it would make sense, someone kept one hidden, and like this, only in the south. Like I’ve said before, it just shows the lack of offerings today, that someone would spend 5 figures on one of these. Like I’ve also said, there could be a tad bit of remorse when they actually drive it. “I JUST SPENT $10 GRAND ON THIS TIN CAN???? It barely does the speed limit”. A great find, but a new Frontier it ain’t.

    Like 7
  5. Pete

    It’s actuallly better than a new fronteer. I had a new 2016. What a piece of snnnt.

    Like 7
    • John

      I have a ‘17, and disagree.

  6. Quintin Torsen III

    A fine vehicle by its nature, is like a beautiful woman. Sleek and majestic. Men crave them and wish they could be among the men who can afford them. This is not that.

    Like 7
  7. Mark P

    Not bad in 1971 if this was making 96HP from 97 CI. One HP/CI (almost) was a big deal still long after 1971. My wife has a 1.6L in her car that makes about 190 HP with a turbo.

    Like 2
  8. Bob C.

    EXACTLY like it youstabee, square, boxy and bare bones. That was the real deal with pickups, big and small. I sometimes miss those days.

    Like 6
  9. Phinias

    Had one. Reliable, easy to drive, good looking. However, I’m only 5’8” and it was the most miserable vehicle to drive in for any trip over 100 miles that I’ve ever owned. Ergonomically terrible…but still a very good truck.

    Like 5
  10. angliagt angliagt Member

    What – no cup holders,no screen in the dash?
    These are cool little trucks,but no leg room,7,like
    what was posted earlier,very uncomfortable for
    long distance driving.
    That 96 horsepower was rated at the flywheel,
    so don’t expect much in the way of power.

    Like 2
  11. Car Nut Tacoma

    Awesome looking Datsun truck. My aunt and uncle had one back in the 1970s and into the early 80s. At the time, I didn’t find it attractive, at least not when compared to the 620 that replaced it. But as the style changed into the 80s look, etc., I found the Datsun 521 truck more and more attractive.

    Like 3
  12. Erik

    To answer your question at the end of the post…YES!!! We do still need trucks like these in the U.S. By all means I respect the opinions above that gripe about the lack of room or comfort in these small trucks and we have all gotten used to having our full size American trucks with all the comforts and features of cars (which nearly all trucks these days have become what was once dubbed “Cowboy Cadilacs”). But some of us just desire a basic small economical reliable pickup (and even with a single cab and ruber mat floor) to make that occasional run for some lumber, some sheets of 4×8 plywood or drywall, to haul that lawnmower and weedeater, or to pickup that FB Marketplace find and at that a truck that is cheap to purchase, maintain, fill up with gas, and insure and to have it maybe even sitting there as a second seldom used vehicle or even a daily driver if we don’t have a long commute. Throw in that the tradespersons, delivery services, and landscapers that most need the old small trucks no longer can find the old small pickups that used to be available on the used market. There is demand out there but unfortunately 1) The demand for small trucks is less than that for full-sized or mid-sized trucks; and 2) The manufacturers make too much profit on their full-sized or mid-sized trucks to offer small strucks where the profit would be very little. But I do wish you could still find a new or late model small bare bones basic single cab pickup truck offered for the American market that is not much more than some stamped steel for a single cab and bed sitting on a frame with and utilitarian cabin with rubber mat and powered by a fuel efficient engine that provides only enough power to haul the bed’s maximum capacity. Until then I just keep dreaming of such a new truck while wishing I still had my 1980 Toyota pickup long bed that when I finally sold it 20 years ago it had 330k on it and still had some life left in it. And these survivor old trucks like this Datsun are too nice and preserved to consider purchasing one for use like a new one.

    Like 4
  13. Miguel

    When did we get the idea that every vehicle had to be capable for every purpose?

    If you don’t fit in this truck, but a bigger one.

    If you need to do a lot of highway travel at 100 MPH, then buy a truck with a bigger engine.

    This was great for what it was designed for and the grief comes in to play when you try to adapt it to what you think it should be.

    Like 13
  14. Mountainwoodie

    My Father-In-Law had a ’72 with bowling trophies glued to each of the front fenders. I jut thought it was the coolest thing ever. He was a shorter man with a crew cut and just did it because he wanted to. Very unassuming guy who would make christmas decorations out of wood in his home woodshop. Whenever I borrowed his truck the trophies were like gunsights and I would lean out the window to look at the trophies as they sailed through the air. When he went to the bowling alley in the sky I tried to score the truck but his worthless granddaughter got it. It probably lays in ruins somewhere up in northern California.

    It was no fun to drive of course. Upright seating position low to the floor and would shake loose your denturres, But boy it was something.

    Like 3
  15. Steve RM

    I had a 72 back in the day. Basic, but a great little truck. The potential market for a true small truck is huge. I’m still driving a 91 Toyota regular cab 4 cyl. with over 220,000 miles because you can’t buy a small truck in this country. My 30 year old truck gets better gas mileage then the new Tacoma. That’s nuts.

    Like 3
  16. Keith c Knox Member

    Rumer is that Ford is working on a pickup smaller than the new Range. Supposed to be called the Maverick. I have a 2019 Ranger Lariat Crew Cab.

  17. Jerry

    Nice little truck but I would definitely prefer the Subaru Brat which is the same genre and period. Just me I guess.

  18. Whynot Member

    My dad bought this exact little truck new. He gave it us boys in the late 70’s. Dad said you break it you fix it. Three teenage boys and a sister. We loved that truck so many fond memories. One wouldn’t have thought so by the way we took care of it. It was so tough ! So it had 96 hp . We never knew that, we rev’d it up dumped the clutch if we had one at the time. And laid a single track burnout! We would dig around shop in morning before school find anything flammable and pour in tank. It would run on kerosene, saw gas ,old gas didn’t matter. So much fun it that truck . Met its demise hit a loaded log truck on a bridge. Tore us in half. Was still running only had a cab so no get away . Dad sold motor, trans for a couple hundred bucks. I would love to have that truck again. Not 10k love it. Take it over these soccer mom trucks we have today. Traction control on a 4×4 what a joke.

    Like 1
  19. Chris in Pineville

    Spring of ’72 I was getting out of the Army and wanted one of these.
    Couldn’t afford it. (was about $2000 I think.)
    We just bought a 4-year-old car for my wife to drive that cost the same as my first house…..

  20. chrlsful

    single sided bed, weird lill tailgait clips, tie-down hooks, 4 cyl? Yep! Not 10 K tho…1st dye or rip out rug (bed liner there & bed) and correct wheels or nicer.

    Can’t never make a bigger cab tho (easy) so the ’77 + king cab (weren’t they the 1st to make a bigger import cab?) would need be sought…

    No speed demon (who cares – I’d even go w/the Corrier w/a diesel) but that’s not what it is…

  21. Pgh Jason

    Love the simplicity of the older trucks. My Dad has an ‘86 Nissan 2wd and it was great fun to drive. So simple … 5 speed, am/fm, basic instrumentation, slider rear window. It shouldn’t have been fun to drive but it was and even at 6’ tall and despite the vinyl seats, it was pretty comfortable. Of course back then my car was a Suzuki Samurai so the little Nissan would seem comfortable.

  22. Cerno

    This was one of the last vehicles my Grandfather owned . I can remember driving up to the horse track with him to watch him paddock . It was simple was a little bouncy and the four speed really reved but we got there . I would trade today’s life for a simple one in a heartbeat. Cars today are plastic without the collectability of the past .

  23. Louis Chen

    It’s true that if anyone is looking for a compact simple, reliable & reasonable. There aren’t any available except most of them are trashed… I missed my old VW Rabbit Diesel pick up. I still have it and still runs. The closest and getting fatter and costlier, Honda Ridgeline. We American are truly wasteful breed especially here in Texas! Do we really need humongous 4X4, dual wheelies that suck up fuel like the old Tuna Boats? Since we’re swimming in a sea of oil, need to learn to save it for a rainy day! This specimen looks perfect!

  24. 19sixty5 Member

    Wow, that is a sweet 521! I had a 79 620 King Cab 5 speed with an under-dash AC (on the passenger side) It was one of the best vehicles I ever had. It was frequently overloaded, I had a vehicle tow dolly and towed dozens and dozens of cars with it, never complained, just ran and ran. The cargo hooks were the best thing ever. But… it finally rusted itself to death as most did. The bed sides rusted at the wheel wells, as they all seemed to do, the floors… well once the seats were no longer structurally attached it was time to go. Never, ever left me stranded and took more abuse and went places that other trucks never could.

    Like 1
  25. MG Steve

    I really like this size truck, and totally fail to see why most of the US world is driving these behemoth trucks, now commonplace. Rarely do I see more than the driver . . . but they seat 4 or 5 people? 4 WD . . . for getting stuck in the flower bed at the mall? An 8′ bed . . . almost always empty. I’ve had a “small” Mistubishi, a “small” Isuzu, then an ’83 “small” Toyota. I finally sold the Toyota at 311,000 miles for $100ish less than I paid for it 23 years earlier. I now have the “last” of the small, Toyota Tacoma trucks. The end of the small trucks was 2004. I hope to keep that alive for another 50 years. It is really all I, or most people, IMHO, really need. Get real folks!

    Like 1

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