Worn Warriors: Datsun Day
Posted on 22 March 2016
This is a new series pioneered by Jeff and myself to document and appreciate the worn warriors of downtown Portland. Perhaps one week it will be WWII Quonset huts in the industrial district, perhaps another it will be banged up Datsun trucks in Chinatown. Join us on a trip of crusty discovery of those nearly forgotten relics from the past. I will offer a more technical, down to earth view, while Jeff will offer his initial emotional response.
1984 DATSUN 720, Old Town Portland
Ah yes, the Nissan/Datsun 720. A well-engineered and exceptionally popular little Japanese truck that is growing rarer by the hour. This example is a pretty bare bones example with some "custom touches" by owners over the years. When purchased off the lot, a number of exciting options were available, from the covered "bushmaster" to the sport version somewhat tactlessly dubbed the "Li'l Hustler." This truck has none of them. It looks like a previous owner, often referred to as a "p.o." by car people (exempli gratia: "The p.o. of my Datsun pop-riveted on some dorky aluminum trim to the sides."), pop riveted some dorky aluminum trim to the sides of the truck. Perhaps dorky is too harsh. Rakish is a better adjective.
While mechanically these trucks were very well made (one can coax many many miles out of one with regular maintenance) the bodies were prone to rust. Perhaps the rubber bumper added along the belt line of the truck was placed there to keep other careless drivers from dooring the truck, caving in its brittle body panels. It appears that it is suffering somewhat serious automotive leprosy as the rear bottom panel off the bed has fallen clean off. But heck, I bet if it's treated right this little truck has plenty of life still in it.
Surrounded by cars not even a decade old, it would be easy to dismiss this ole Datsun as a piece of trash. Perhaps you could mistake it for a dirty, rotten, surprisingly gigantic orange peel. Maybe you would pass it on the street, and like flying by somebody you know from high school, think, “I know that thing from somewhere.”
I’ll tell you where I know it from: my sweetest dreams. Many nights have held the hand of the Sandman across the center console as oldies played through a moldy, rusty radio. I’ve cruised the roads of the Columbia River Gorge in a deep sleep, suddenly startled by a crashing sound, pulling over in the Dalles only to discover the entire back half of my beloved Datsun has fallen off and been swallowed by a massive sturgeon fish. I’ve caught many Zs to the thought of these cracked headlights. This are sweet dreams I have. So finding this dirty, rotten, bright, beautiful, oldie-but-a-goodie orange peel in downtown today was a victory.
1975ish DATSUN CAMPER
What a dreamboat! All the convenience of home in a tiny aluminum-sided package. These lil' Datsun Campers were direct competition for the tiny Toyota Campers of the same era, but undoubtably the Datsun's had more style. Park it anywhere! You can afford the gas! Let's hit the road! Thank the stranger who left the cool custom graphics on the back!
When I imagine my future, the white picket fence is seldom there. Instead, there’s often some sort of camper. Admittedly and unashamedly: it’s usually a Minnie-Winnie. But I suppose in my more modest imaginings of future life, I live in a Datsun Camper. Stumbling upon, or rather being startled, by this camper today was a nice dose of reality. It felt like the Portland streets reached out and said, “It’s okay to be a Datsun,” which I interpreted as, “It’s okay to be you.” Whether you imagine the white picket fence, a condo in a thriving metropolis, or a grossly hip tiny house, take a moment and imagine that we’re all born to live in these modest, oddly melancholy Datsun Campers. Humbling, isn’t it? But not bad at all.