This Nissan Hardbody Desert Runner is a 1980s nostalgia bomb

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The best name ever given to a truck has to be the Nissan Hardbody Desert Runner. Even better, unlike many awesomely-named cars (looking at you, Dodge Rampage), the Desert Runner lives up to its name.

You’ve likely never heard of this car, but it’s a pretty big deal to Japanese car nerds like myself and, when one is listed at auction, it provokes some excitement. This Desert Runner currently for sale on Cars and Bids is in excellent condition and a 1980s nostalgia bomb.

Nissan Desert Runner front three-quarter
Cars and Bids/adventuremotorcars

In the 1980s Nissan was all about off-road endurance racing. The company wouldn’t shut up about it. To commemorate its success in the Baja 1000, the Gold Coast 300, and the Mint 400, Nissan built 1000 Desert Runners for the 1988 model year.

The Desert Runner package added standard off-road equipment including 31-inch tires, tubular bumpers and step-bars, a front bull bar with driving lights, and a front skid plate. In full Baja-style, Nissan added racing decals, a huge bed-mounted roll-cage with driving lights, a bed-mounted spare tire, and a tailgate net. Strangely for a pickup, the Dessert Runner was not designed with cargo in mind.

1988 Nissan Desert Runner rear three-quarter
The Desert Runner looks out of place in the city. Cars and Bids/adventuremotorcars
1988 Nissan Desert Runner
Some of the coolest wheels from the 1980s are Nissan’s 15-inch tri-spoke alloys. Cars and Bids/adventuremotorcars

All Desert Runners are powered by Nissan’s 3.0-liter VG30 V-6, which produced 145 horsepower and 164 lb-ft of torque—not terrible for 1988. The engine drives all four wheels through a two-speed transfer case and five-speed manual transmission. A limited-slip differential helps keep the rear tires moving in the right direction.

1988 Nissan Desert Runner
A version of the VG30 V-6 was used in the Nissan 300ZX. Cars and Bids/adventuremotorcars

You’ll notice there is no A/C compressor in the engine bay; this truck was optioned without it. According to the seller, “air-conditioning was one of only three options for the Desert Runner, the other two options being a stereo and automatic transmission.”

Why would you need air conditioning in the desert? If you get too hot, just grab a cold beverage from the cooler. Did I mention all Desert Runners had ice-chest holders built into their beds?

1988 Nissan Desert Runner tailgate
Nissan, knowing the Desert Runner’s audience, welded an ice-chest holder to the roll bar. Cars and Bids/adventuremotorcars

The wild graphics, Baja-style caging, and rugged light bars, make the Desert Runner look straight out of an ’80s action movie. The first movie I think of when I read “1988 Hardbody Desert Runner” is Rambo III, the 1988 movie in which John Rambo runs through the Afghan desert for nearly the entire 102-minute runtime.

Rambo gif

Maybe if John Rambo drove a Nissan pickup instead of a horse in Rambo III, it wouldn’t have been the low-point of Stallone’s blood-drenched series.

A few years earlier, in the 1985 classic Invasion USA, bad guys run from the dual-Uzi-wielding Chuck Norris through a shopping mall in a Nissan 720 (the predecessor to the Hardbody).

I promise all these movie references are going somewhere …

This particular truck has made the rounds in the last few months, first catching our eye when it appeared on Bring a Trailer in July, resulting in a no sale at $11,500. Then, the dealer listed it on AutoTrader for $18,500 with no luck. Now on to Cars and Bids, where it is likely to be appreciated by an audience that strictly visits the site to view obscure ’80s cars with wild decals.

One of the hottest segments of the classic car market is 1980s Japanese trucks. So why has this Desert Runner been such a hard sell?

Even though the Desert Runner should have been at minimum a Steven Segal-level action star, it was never used in a movie. The pop-culture-obsessed 1980s passed and left the Desert Runner in obscurity. Maybe if the Desert Runner was associated with a classic like Back to the Future, it would get more love. We’ve seen Toyota Pickups sell big simply because they look like the one Marty McFly had.

In addition, Nissan hasn’t cultivated the massive off-road following that Toyota has enjoyed in recent decades. Something about the Xterra, Armada, and Frontier don’t inspire the masses like the 4Runner, Land Cruiser, and Tacoma. To be honest, I’m partial to Toyota, but it never made a truck as cool as the Dessert Runner.

1988 Nissan Dessert Runner
The Desert Runners slight fender flares almost go unnoticed. Cars and Bids/adventuremotorcars

This truck is missing nothing and it’s ready to show off at Radwood. The new owner won’t even need to spend sleepless nights scouring eBay for a late 1980s Nissan OEM tailgate net or a vintage Mint 400 hat to complete the look.

Nissan hat
Buy this truck, get a free hat! The Mint 400 was immortalized in Hunter S. Thompson’s novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Cars and Bids/adventuremotorcars

Regardless of what price this truck eventually garners, the new owner will have an amazing truck. The selling dealer recently finished an extensive restoration, which explains how a 263K-mile truck can look this pristine. All the rugged metal caging, bumpers, and side steps have been power-coated black, which looks especially sharp against the fresh Nissan racing livery. The high mileage could turn some bidders away, but like many Japanese trucks of the era, it’s likely good for well over 300,000 miles before encountering any major issues.

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