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by Jay Traugott
Once upon a time, compact pickup trucks were the norm in the US. Not anymore as automakers want us to upgrade to full-size pickups for reasons many don't need.
What you're looking at here is a nearly extinct species in the US although it wasn't always that way. Like so many creatures in the animal kingdom past and present, nature has done things over many millennia which has resulted in the end of a countless number of species. Human extracurricular activities like illegal poaching and a little rainforest destruction here and there haven't helped either, but even certain auto segments have fallen victim to changing consumer habits and tastes.
Greenpeace and PETA jokes aside (and there are plenty), my point is that just like animals, there have been many cars that at one time heavily populated our roadways but today only appear in classic car collections, or in old barns covered in rust with mouse crap instead of seats. The compact pickup truck is one of those endangered automotive species, in the US at least. Now that Ford kissed the Ranger goodbye, only Toyota and Nissan are building compact pickups for the US and that future may be questionable as well. Even the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon twins are nearly mid-size offerings. Dodge Dakota? Extinct like a flying penguin.
No, the small compact pickup is a thing of the past and its future only seems secure in pretty much every continent but North America. The compact pickup truck segment was literally invented by the Japanese in the mid 1950's and Americans responded. Unlike larger offerings from Ford and Chevrolet, carmakers like Toyota and Datsun built and imported to the US these small yet amazingly useful pickups that were easier to drive, extremely well-built and reliable. Not that those classic Ford and Chevy trucks were anything bad, but often times a compact truck was just more suitable for some, especially as a panel van (good for transporting chickens).
Beginning in 1955, Datsun (it's now known as Nissan) began exporting its 120 Series compact pickup to countries including the US and its popularity began to spread fast. Originally powered by a small 860 cc inline-four with just 25 horsepower and mated to a floor-mounted four-speed manual, the front-engined 120 Series was upgraded regularly through the rest of the decade. The 220 Series debuted in 1957 visually looked nearly the same as its predecessor but Datsun not only increased engine size and power (now rated at 60hp), but it also added a 12 volt electrical system and improved front and rear suspensions.
Also like the 120 Series, it was sold as a standard two-door pickup, a double-cab or a three-door panel van. Because of this smart packaging and solid engineering, the 220 Series paved the way for Datsun in the US. Datsun subsequently named its line of compact picks 320, 420, etc. until the final 720 Series debuted in 1980. Beginning in mid-1983, Datsun built them in a new facility in Tennessee. Unlike its predecessors, the 720 was offered in both rear- and all-wheel drive and buyers could opt for gasoline or diesel engine options. Production ended in 1986 to make way for the more modern and better equipped Hardbody pickup.
Compact pickups were still popular in the US at this time, but the ground was already beginning to shift in favor of full-size trucks partially due to cheap gas and the comfort of having more power, bed space and towing capabilities. Featured here is a 1978 Datsun 620 pickup has been owned by one family for the past 34 years in Sonoma Valley, California. It sat in a climate controlled barn for a few years in the heart of wine country, hence the reason why it's still in such great shape. All of the body work, paint and interior are original and a full restoration isn't even necessary. Even the bed and chrome are in near flawless condition.
There's just less than 51,000 miles on the clock and a current bid of $9,999.
With the era of the compact pickup over in the US and automakers like Ford not interested in selling the redesigned Ranger Stateside, examples such as this old Datsun 620 are certainly rare and hard to find. Some may even consider them extinct entirely.