Nissan Motor Corporation
Published Sep 14, 2022
Relive stories from some of Nissan’s most thrilling cars
Nissan in the U.S. charted a new course in April 2021. An ad called “The New Nissan” (which has more than 6 million views and counting, by the way) offered glimpses of American actress Brie Larson driving iconic Nissan vehicles — with a hint of more to come.
A few months later, Larson’s onscreen poise lent itself to another nostalgic ad titled “60 years in 30 seconds” featuring the 2022 Pathfinder and some classic global models that inspired it. In this encore to “The New Nissan” (which was revised in August, 2022), Larson drives on various terrains around the world in classic Nissan vehicles and explains how “it took a while to get up here.”
Watch the ad again, and deeper stories behind the cars are teased with clues like “Hell’s Revenge” and the “Empty Quarter.” Below are short stories about each car that remind us of some of the most significant cars – and moments – in Nissan’s history.
Enjoying a leisurely drive in the country, Larson is behind the wheel of the first vehicle Datsun sold in the U.S.: a 220 pickup truck. (Datsun became Nissan in the U.S. in 1986.)
In 1958, Datsun showed the 220 pickup at the Los Angeles Auto Show alongside its sibling, the 210 sedan. The first exports from Japan to America began soon after the L.A. show in 1959.
Both models shared the same engine and chassis. The engine was a newly developed Type C inline 4-cylinder, nicknamed the “Stone Engine” for its durability.
Demonstrating the chassis and engine’s toughness, Datsun entered two 210s in the 1958 Around Australia Mobilgas Trial. After the tough 16,000-kilometer endurance race – which was so grueling it was never held again – the two Datsun sedans finished first and fourth. Thanks to the 210’s win in Australia, and the 220 truck’s popularity in LA, the two models got well-deserved praise and attention in the U.S., which set the foundation for Nissan’s exports to America.
The 220 pickup and 210 sedan’s roles in establishing Datsun in the American market cannot be understated.
The Datsun 210 sedan won the Australian rally in 1958. Look closely at the front end and see the similarities with the 220 truck that established the Datsun brand, and laid the foundation for Nissan in the U.S., in 1959.
“A hard left in east Africa”
In 1971, the legendary #11 Datsun 240Z won the grueling 3,852-mile East African Safari Rally. Driver Edgar Herrmann and navigator Hans Schüller took the victory after traversing through remote bush country while dodging giraffes in Nairobi, Kenya; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Kampala, Uganda.
The rally was a resounding success for Datsun, with the 240Zs finishing first, second and seventh. The Datsun win was the brand’s second consecutive in the rally after a win in 1970 in a Datsun Bluebird.
The Nissan Restoration Club overhauled the winning 240Z in 2013. It’s now part of Nissan’s heritage collection in Zama, Japan – close to Nissan’s global headquarters in Yokohama where visitors can see it today.
An interesting modification: Above the Dunlop sticker on the rear fender are some clever grab handles. If the driver needed extra grip in soft sand or mud, the co-driver would stand on a crossbar behind the car, grab the handles and jump to press the rear tires into those loose surfaces, reestablish traction and carry on racing.
“A right at Baja”
Dirt is in Nissan’s DNA. Nissan has competed in off-road endurance racing since the 1960s. Larson’s “right at Baja” line refers to Nissan’s amazing string of off-road racing victories in the 1980s.
In 1987, the Hardbody won the Baja 1000, Mint 400 and Gold Coast 300. The Baja 1000 was the toughest of them all, with competitors battling difficult sandy, rocky conditions in the Mexico desert. To honor its successful off-road racing, Nissan sold 1,000 special edition “Desert Runner” trucks in the U.S. in the 1980s.
The term “Hardbody” – for the race truck and pickups available to consumers – refers to a double-walled pickup bed with very firm paneling. Hardbody models were manufactured at Nissan’s plant in Smyrna, Tennessee and quickly became beloved, tough work tools to millions of truck enthusiasts in America.
Today’s Nissan Frontier is a direct descendent of the Hardbody trucks – displayed proudly by the Frontier PRO-4X model Team Wild Grace drove in the 2021 Rebelle Rally and the Project Hardbody concept displayed in Chicago.
Trivia alert: In 1986, the Hardbody pickup truck became the first design from San Diego-based Nissan Design International (which later became Nissan Design America) to be produced.
“A 180 in the empty quarter”
The Empty Quarter — or the Rub’ al Khali in Arabic — is a barren, sand-filled desert in the Arabian Peninsula. Part of the massive Arabian Desert in the Middle East, it includes areas of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
The SUV of choice for millions of enthusiasts in the region is the Nissan Patrol, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2021. An integral part of the lives of Gulf nationals and expatriates alike, Patrol has earned iconic status by conquering the harshest terrain in luxury and comfort. The 2022 Patrol 70th Anniversary model, a special edition exclusive to the Gulf, furthers the iconic SUV’s success in the region.
Since 2017, the U.S.-market Nissan Armada has traced its lineage to the Patrol. The two models share design, most mechanical components, and most importantly, soul.
Whether functioning as a support vehicle to the United Nations’ peacekeeping efforts as Patrol has done, or transporting families on adventures like Armada does every day in the U.S., both models trace their roots to the Empty Quarter.
“65-degree incline at Hell’s Revenge”
“Had the pleasure to validate the all-new Frontier on the hardcore trails and rock paths in Moab, Utah, with our crack test team. My confidence and excitement went up through the roof. This tough truck rocks. Congrats team, well done!”
– Chris Reed, Nissan Senior Vice President of R&D for the Americas on LinkedIn
The 6.5-mile “Hell’s Revenge” trail in Moab, Utah, is a legendary 4×4 trail with hazardous obstacles – one of which is aptly named “Tip Over Challenge.” The trail is scattered among dusty red rocks and stunning desert terrain. Only the most experienced drivers, driving the most capable four-wheel-drive vehicles, dare conquer it.
Before any new car or truck is sold, it undergoes exhaustive testing. Hell’s Revenge is just one place where Nissan engineers conducted these rigorous tests on the 2022 Frontier. Building on a proven chassis and frame, the engineering team refined and tuned the powertrain, steering and suspension with data gleaned on the challenging off-road trails in Utah.
One off-road feature that engineers undoubtedly had fun putting through its paces: A new Off-Road Mode, available on Frontier PRO-4X, turns exterior cameras on when the vehicle is in 4LO. This mode helps the driver negotiate tight off-road trails without having an external spotter to avoid potential body scrapes or dents.
Looking back at where we came from helps us understand why things are the way they are today. For over 60 years, Nissan has built cars, trucks and SUVs that have been battle tested in some of the most punishing environments and brutal proving grounds in the world. It’s our heritage, reflected in today’s Z, Armada, Pathfinder and Frontier – vehicles that give everyone a chance to be thrilled.
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