Here’s Why The Nissan Hardbody Pickup Remains A Legend To This Day - SUV VEHICLE

Here’s Why The Nissan Hardbody Pickup Remains A Legend To This Day



  • The Nissan Hardbody paved the way for legendary pickups by offering rugged design and durability like no other compact truck.
  • Owners praise the Hardbody for its off-roading capabilities and double-walled bed, making it both practical and tough on and off-road.
  • Featuring innovative trims like the Desert Runner, the Hardbody left a lasting legacy that influenced the development of the Nissan Frontier.

Over the years, Nissan has produced some pretty legendary trucks, which are considered by many to be some of the best and most iconic pickups ever made. Always in stiff competition with fellow Japanese auto-makers like Toyota, who produce the invincible Toyota Hilux, and some of the best American pickups ever made, Nissan has produced, and continues to produce, some excellent models like the Nissan Navara, the Nissan Titan, even though it will be discontinued soon, and the Nissan Frontier. There is one model from their illustrious history though that stands out as a legend of our time: The Nissan Hardbody.

Without the Nissan Hardbody, we would not have some of the best pickups in existence today. The Hardbody worked hard for its rightly deserved reputation, so we’ve set out to discuss information about its off-roading ability, its rugged usability, its design and build quality, the multiple trims offered, and what trucks it helped to make possible.

In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from various manufacturer websites and other authoritative sources, including Bring A Trailer, Car,, Classic Car Journal, and Repair Pal.

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The Hardbody’s Design Made It A Rugged Beast

Originally manufactured as the Nissan D21 in 1986, this legendary pickup gained a reputation for being tough and solidly built. Designed and produced to compete with other compact pickups of the time in the U.S.A., the Nissan Hardbody has become a much sought after classic pickup to own today. The name ‘Hardbody’ was dubbed by its original customers, and from there it stuck when Nissan started using it as its official name. The Nissan Hardbody was produced from 1986 to 1997.

A Double-Walled Bed Made It Tough

One of the main reasons that customers dubbed it the Hardbody, was for the fact that the bed was double walled and extremely durable. With double-walling, the outside of the bed is protected from damage caused by hauling things in the bed, and vice-versa.

The Nissan Hardbody also received a reputation for its aggressive and unique styling (more on that below) that other compact-pickups could not compete with at the time. Everything about the Hardbody, when it was released and today, shouts a brutish and brilliant compact truck.

A Serious 80s And 90s Pickup That Can Be Used

It is not all just a seriously cool and rugged 1980s/1990s look that the Nissan Harbody possesses though. The towing ability, admittedly, is not as strong as some of the best full-sized pickups but, if you are looking for a utility vehicle that can do a bit of hauling, towing and can be used off-road, the Nissan Hardbody is still a truck to consider. Especially if you are looking for a classic truck which oozes charm.

According to owners of 1987 Hardbodys who have left a review on Car, the model year was extremely durable, tough, useful, and reliable. Some owners scored the reliability as 10/10, with one owner saying about his Hardbody, “Awesome. Too bad Nissan stopped making them in 1997“.

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It Features An Engine That Was Never Seen In A Stateside Nissan Before

1994 Nissan Hardbody XE King Cab in green Posing on country road
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Though Nissan had started building their first vehicles in the U.S.A. a couple of years earlier, when the Hardbody was still in its infancy as the Datsun D20, the change to Nissan halfway through 1985, which causes many people to call the first roll-out of Hardbodys 1985.5s, signaled a change in procedure for Nissan. It was with the first model year of the Nissan Hardbody that they introduced the first V-6 engine in a stateside-built Nissan pickup truck.

Multiple powertrains are available in all model years of the Nissan Hardbody that include two different 2.4-liter inline-four engines that utilize both gasoline and diesel. The powertrain that is regarded as a step-up and the second most desirable is the 3.0-liter VG30I V-6 that features in model years from 1986 to 1989. Nissan subsequently released another 3.0-liter V-6 from 1990 to 1997 called the VG30E, which, because of its horsepower rating, is the most desirable.

Nissan Hardbody Specifications


Throlle-Body Injected 3.0-Liter VG30I V-6

Multi-Point Fuel Injected 3.0-Liter VG30E V-6

2.4-Liter Inline Four

2.7-Liter Inline Four


140 Horsepower

154 Horsepower

106 Horsepower

134 Horsepower


167 Pound-Feet

180 Pound-Feet

134 Pound-Feet

154 Pound-Feet


Five-Speed Manual or Automatic

Five-Speed Manual or Automatic

Five-Speed Manual or Automatic

Five-Speed Manual or Automatic


Rear-Wheel Drive or Four-Wheel Drive

Rear-Wheel Drive or Four-Wheel Drive

Rear-Wheel Drive or Four-Wheel Drive

Rear-Wheel Drive or Four-Wheel Drive

Top Speed





0 – 60 MPH





Towing Capacity





Payload Capacity





(Data gathered from

Nissan Hardbody Key Interior And Exterior Features

Nissan Hardbody Interior
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Apart from being built solidly, the Nissan Hardbody has an exterior and interior design that stands out among other compact-pickups from the era. Boasting a boxy front end, square grille, squared off hood, square headlights, rugged heavy doors, and large windscreen, the Hardbody looks like it means business on and off-road.

The interior is just as rugged and utilitarian, and also boasts a comfortable legroom of 42.2-inches. The original lineup features a classic-looking dash set-up with large dials and switches, whereas Hardbody models from 1993 onwards showcase a more innovative design. Debuting in the 1994 Hardbody line-up, the dashboard that features is curved and sleeker looking. Gone are the boxy looking dials and a more refined finish was adopted, creating an interior that was still very usable, but would also appeal to the younger customer.

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Off-Roading And Hauling Are The Nissan Hardbody’s Speciality

1984 Nissan Hardbody 720 4x4 in sand Posing on country road
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If you are looking for a new pickup truck this year, you can expect some pretty high towing capacities and lots of gadgets and tech to make off-road adventures a lot easier, even from the cheapest V-8 powered pickup truck of 2024. With the technology available in the mid-1980s, it was not as easy. But, another reason why the Nissan Hardbody has rightly earned legendary status is due to what it can do off-road with the limited driving aids of the time.

The Nissan Hardbody’s Off-Road Prowess

Nissan Hardbody side profile
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The 1986 Nissan Hardbody gained a reputation as a very good off-road vehicle which many previous owners have mentioned as one of their favorite points about the pickup. The Nissan Hardbody isn’t considered as one of the best off-road trucks of all time but, due to its rugged construction and thanks to a ladder frame chassis that provides strength and durability, it is still a very dependable trail hound.

A decade on, the 1996 Hardbody continued as a respected off-road pickup truck and features independent front suspension with torsion bars. The torsion bar setup allows for easy adjustment of the front ride height, which is beneficial for optimizing ground clearance when tackling challenging obstacles. Also, at the rear, the Hardbody boasts a solid axle paired with leaf springs, contributing to its load-carrying capacity and durability off-road.

Nissan Hardbody Towing Capacities

Very little credible information exists online about the true towing capacities of the full Nissan Hardbody model years, like we have for some of the best SUVs for towing today. According to customers who have left reviews on Car about their Hardbody, this awesome compact-pickup is great for hauling and towing a reasonable amount, both on a hitch and on the back of the bed. All of those who have mentioned towing and payload say that they know the limits of an old truck and use it for lugging sensible amounts, more so with four-wheel drive. Unfortunately, with respect to towing, the Nissan Hardbody doesn’t stack up against more modern compact pickups such as the 2024 Ford Maverick.

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Multiple Awesome Trims Of The Nissan Hardbody Were Offered

1984 Nissan Hardbody Desert Runner 4x4 In red and white
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Through the production years of the Nissan Hardbody in the U.S.A, lots of trims were produced and are still around today as very collectible pickups. All Hardbody trims sold in the U.S.A. feature a Standard Cab or King Cab and can be bought showcasing a long or short bed, and featuring either automatic or manual transmission. The five-speed manual option was the original standard though.

Trims available from 1986 to 1997 include the XE trim which boasts air-conditioning, an improved audio system (on later models), and cloth upholstery. The next trim up is the SE trim, which includes alloys as standard, a limited slip-differential, and more interior upgrades. The highest trim available is the LE trim and boasts the best sound-system, a better quality interior and optional sunroof. There was a real off-road menace option offered to top it all off as well.

A One Of A Kind Trim Option Exists That Is Out Of This World

If you aren’t content with what the Nissan Hardbody offers as a great compact-pickup truck, then luckily, Nissan decided to give buyers the option to upgrade their Hardbody to an off-road package called the Nissan Hardbody Desert Runner.

If you can find a Nissan Hardbody Desert Runner, according to, there have only been three sold in recent years, you have found a real off-road legend. Featuring bigger wheels, a skid pan, roll-cage, and beefier suspension, the Desert Runner not only could tackle some very gnarly courses, but also looks like something straight out of a 1980s movie.

The Nissan Hardbody Bowed Out To The Brilliant Nissan Frontier

1998 Nissan Frontier
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With production of the Nissan Hardbody coming to an end in 1997, a big gap in the compact-pickup segment was left to be filled. That wasn’t to be the end of the influence of this awesome little pickup though. Without everything that was tried and tested very successfully with the Nissan Hardbody, the roads and trails wouldn’t have the highly-respected Nissan Frontier. A pickup that now seems a little dated compared to a lot in the segment, but is still very capable of everything a pickup should be capable of.

The Nissan Hardbody started from working and humble beginnings as the compact-pickup segment competition began to heat up with others like Toyota and Ford. To this day though, thanks to everything that the Nissan Hardbody incorporated, it is still a much loved and respected compact pickup.


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