Welcome to another installment of Cars Of Future Past, a series here at Jalopnik where we flip through the pages of history to explore long-forgotten concepts and how they had a hand in shaping the cars we know today.
With the recent reveal of the Ford Maverick, the world’s seemingly been reminded that small pickup trucks were a thing and can still be. But the Maverick isn’t that small in the grand scheme of things — it’s just more compact than your average pickup, which has ballooned in size over the last few decades.
To that end, I submit for this week’s Cars Of Future Past a pickup that is actually small. So small, in fact, that it borders on useless, and never stood a chance at production. This one goes out to the equally bewildering and delightful 2001 Nissan Nails concept.
Almost nothing about the Nails made sense, though one look at the little dude and it’s hard not to agree that the name really fit. It was tough, helpful and yet also insignificant in isolation, much like a fastener. The white, blue and red logo on the wheel well evoked a patch on a mechanic’s overalls, or the Little Tikes badge on a Cozy Coupe. It was just an earnest, wholesome thing.
The entirety of the Nails measured 167 inches long — roughly two and a half feet shorter in length than a Maverick — though it’s unclear how much of that was composed of the bed, as specifications are hard to come by. The blue paint on the sparse body panels looked almost like matte plastic, though Nissan said at the time it’d been given a “treatment to allow rough use without being concerned about scratches or dents.” Adorable? No, that’s adurable.
The friendly robot mug and yellow-tinted fascia is nearly level with the truck’s diamond-plated floor, which carries all the way to the bed at the rear. That bay is encircled by cartoonishly chunky rails, interrupted by large wheel arches. The wheels are actually pushed so far out into the corners that they don’t impede cargo space too drastically, a thoughtful touch.
What about those curious fabric-clad doors at the rear of the cab? Nissan termed this a “soft partition,” and it could be opened to carry especially long items, like lumber. The doors themselves were also kept in place by “hooks and fasteners,” which honestly seem miserable to deal with. I guess zipper technology hadn’t yet been perfected so early in the new millennium.
The rear gate actually swiveled upward, hinged on the left side. This was one of the Nails’ cleverer ideas, as it meant you wouldn’t need as much lateral space for the gate when loading or unloading stuff. Then again, the bed was so low you’d probably rarely have to move the gate at all, but at least the option was there all the same.
One of the primary aspects of the Nails’ exterior we haven’t yet discussed — though I’m certain you’ve noticed by now — is it’s wheels. Nissan said these gave “the impression of being rubber-faced wheels.” That suggests they aren’t, in fact, rubber-faced, though they certainly look like the sort of wheel you’d expect to see on a futuristic lunar rover. In what is undoubtedly the Nails’ worst but also best idea, that very design was repeated for the steering wheel as well. There’s a reason why cars aren’t operated using oversized Frisbees devoid of spokes or curved outer rims, but the Nails wasn’t about practicality; it was about sticking to a bit.
In fact, the entire interior of this car is confounding. The front seats are less, well, seats in the plural sense and more like a singular bench, making for the least comfortable love seat you could ever imagine. The stalk coming off the steering wheel column is comically oversized. The door pockets seem to offer sizable storage, though the shape and side zipper access is odd. And the instrument cluster — “a large multifunction screen that displays all the necessary information,” according to Nissan — appears to be completely dominated by a cryptic, meaningless graph. Of course I’m guessing it didn’t actually function and was a fake prop, but it’s still amusing to look at.
Update: OK, you eagle-eyed commenters have deduced that the passenger seat can be slid into the drivers seat, which makes the cabin modular and the extra space afforded by the removable partition actually useful. Thanks to you, and apologies to the Nails — that’s a great idea and I failed you.
Look, you can’t expect me to argue this with facts, because the Nails has no factual basis in this world. It’s a pickup too puny and low to be useful, with a phenomenally weird cabin and a steering wheel you can’t grip. You’d be far better off buying an old-fashioned kei car with a hatch, like a Mazda Scrum, or something actually utilitarian, like a Daihatsu Hijet dump truck.
But neither of those would look anywhere near as cool as the Nails does, and that’s the whole point here. Nissan’s press release accompanying the concept makes it seem the designers weren’t necessarily inspired to create a pickup from the outset; they just wanted to make something funky for techy youths and, at some point along the way, it grew a truck bed.
Designed and engineered with ‘booster’ as its theme, the Nails concept suggests new, flexible ways of using vehicles as ‘a tool for communicating with friends’, rather than simply as ‘a means of transportation’. The Nails concept integrates advanced communications tools including cellular phones. This concept can be used either as an exciting two-seater or as a light pickup in whatever creative way one might desire.
Kind of makes you wonder why they didn’t just name it Booster, but again — I hope whoever pitched Nails got a promotion.
I don’t have to tell you that nothing as precious as the Nails could ever exist on a production basis in the modern era. Except maybe in Japan, the domain of the almighty Daihatsu Midget — but even there, no Nails.
I’d also like to say that learnings from developing the Nails influenced Nissan’s future, bigger trucks, like the Frontier, Navara and Titan. It’d be poetic in a way — a brawny pickup stealing ideas from the unlikeliest progenitor. But of course they didn’t. The Nails was a flash of lightning, in and out of our consciousness in an instant.
You actually can! The Nissan Nails graced GT Advance 3: Pro Concept Racing for the Game Boy Advance — a flat, Mode 7-style racer with cars taking the form of pre-rendered sprites. The Nails appears in GT Advance 3 in supremely blurry fashion, all its 105 horsepower on display against the likes of Japan’s top sports cars of the ’90s and early 2000s.
The GT Advance series was actually a really charming, abridged Gran Turismo-lite experience for Nintendo’s humble handheld. The games played better than you think, and had some awesome music to go along with the racing and tuning. Much like the Nissan Nails, you’d never expect much from them, though they left quite the impression all the same.