Size matters. I know, I know… there’s always a debate about that, but the fact of the matter is that there is always an appropriate tool for any job. Sometimes, what’s available is just too big do to the job correctly. Sure, there are times when you need the big guns to get things done, but other times it’s actually more efficient to use a smaller, more precise implement. I mean, you wouldn’t put a picture hanger up with a 5lb sledge hammer, would you? I hope not. If you would, please don’t go into interior decorating…
Well, when you’re talking trucks, the conventional wisdom was that bigger was better. That was always how it was; through the ‘40s all the way until the late ‘70s. Then something happened. Well, okay, a lot of things happened. One of the big ones was the fuel crisis. All of a sudden, gas wasn’t so cheap, and big trucks with thirsty engines all of a sudden didn’t seem like such a great idea for small jobs. Also, the number of cars on the roads was increasing, and maneuvering big pickups in tight city areas wasn’t really to anyone’s benefit. Another big thing that happened was Japan.
While Japan may not be geographically big, and its automotive products certainly weren’t large, the impact of Japanese automotive imports on North American Motoring was HUGE. For the first time there were a number of fairly high-content, low-price vehicles that addressed the increasing need for smaller size and greater efficiency. This, though, didn’t just apply to cars. It also applied to pickup trucks. It’s no surprise that Japanese trucks were smaller and lighter duty than their American counterparts, but they were also quite durable (by and large) and very, very cheap to run.
When Datsun (the name Nissan chose to use in those days in North America) brought over their 620 pickup, it became a very big success. The small size, and surprisingly large bed, were perfect for urban hauling, light delivery and on-concrete work truck jobs (like hauling ladders and painting supplies, for example). The fact that they were also nice looking and cheap helped too. Soon, the Big Three (AMC was never in on the truck market. Image in a Pacer pickup! Hmm….) were left holding the bag, and scrambled to get their own small trucks. These usually took the form of captive imports, like the Chevy LUV and Ford Courier, not to mention the Dodge D-50.
However, it was the humble Datsun 620 that led the way. By 1975, this little “mini bruiser” was packing the inline four L20B engine that put out 110 hp and 102-ish lb.ft of torque. There were also King Cab and long-bed versions available, and the truck proved to be quite popular. Apparently, almost half the people who bought it didn’t even use it as a truck, and so the current trend of buying trucks as city vehicles seems to have begun with the 620 as well.
Given that kind of impact, it’s not a surprise that there would be a model of the truck. In fact, there was a small army of them! There were several Revell and Monogram step side versions, as well as a couple of rather shoddy-looking Monogram SnapTites. However, the best one, it should also come as no surprise, came from MPC, who, in the mid ‘70s seemed to be kitting anything and everything they could get their hands on.
Thus, in 1975, MPC issued a 3-in-1 “customizing kit” of the Datsun 620, also apparently known as the “Sportruck” in Canada and the “Little Hustler” in the US. This kit, like so many MPCs, went through several versions, being retooled considerably into a custom tow truck with flip-forward hood (“The Scavenger”) and then being made into a Monster Truck tow truck at the end of its life. (WTF, MPC?)
Most of these kits, including the original ’75 MPC, have been long forgotten. However, thanks to Round 2, the ’75 Monster Tow Truck saw the light of day in 2016. At that time, it was figured that the moulds for the conventional truck were likely irrecoverable, and the Monster was the only 620 we’d see. Well, once again, Round 2 rolled up its sleeves to bring a classic back to life the way it should be! Thus, in late 2017, we once again got the chance to purchase a reissue of the classic ’75 3-in-1 kit.
Being a fan of weird, small or loser cars, I immediately began to salivate when this was announced. Thankfully, I can stop making puddles everywhere I go now, because I finally got my hands on one! Let’s check out the newest output of what seems to be Round 2’s patented time machine! Dial it back to the groovy days of the mid ‘70s, get your cowboy boots and bell bottomed jeans and strap in!
If it’s one thing I love about MPC kits, it’s their boxes. They often have just the most ridiculous custom versions on there, and there’s so much energy and excitement that it’s hard to contain it all. However, in 1975, the boxes weren’t as crazy as they got a bit later. In fact, you could ALMOST call the ’75 Datsun’s box tasteful. Why almost? Well, look at it!
Front and center is, of course, the custom version, named the “Li’l Hustler” (now we know why!). This is pulling out all the stops, and has dug deep into the MPC Kustomizing Toolbox. While many may consider slammed and customized minitrucks a modern phenomenon, this thing proves that’s not the case. It’s got everything a good ‘70s custom (car or truck) could want. I mean, it’s got fat tires, turbine mag wheels (almost de rigeur in the day) and chrome bumper rails at the front and back (which look more like a lifting handle or towel rack, but whatever…). To make matters even more ridiculous, it has friggin’ SMOKE STACKS!! That’s right, just like a real “big rig”, it was a definitely period thing to put tall pipes on your pickup (see Dodge’s “Li’l’ Red Express” for details). While it’s presumptuous enough on a full sized pickup, it’s just ridiculous on this one! Oh, check out the side pipe/mufflers that feed the stacks, too.
Keeping the Kustomry rolling, there’s also a custom tonneau cover (cut to fit round the stacks, no less) and a large, chrome, hood-mounted tach. To keep up the “big truck” pretentions so flamboyantly displayed by the exhaust system, there is also a pair of chrome “big rig” mirror. Finishing the package is, of course, a paint job that would make Liberace blush! With all kinds of stripes, panels and solid arc segments in a wild rainbow of yellow red and green, the custom decals push the “Li’l Hustler” over the top!
In comparison to this version, the other two look positively sedate. The “Street Rod” version just uses the tach and big wheels/tires of the Li’l Hustler, and eschews the rest for a somewhat “sleeper” look. Then, tucked up in the right corner, is the Stock Version. Yeah, you can do it stock, but clearly MPC knew what the kids were all about back then, and the Custom took centre stage. The poor stock version, shown only in side elevation, is pretty meek in comparison, sporting a set of polished dog-dish hubcaps and small, thinly-white-striped tires. It’s like MPC figured on one would want to build that one. Well, no one but me, maybe… It reminds me of the poorly-build stock Chevette on Bear Bait’s box. However, at least this 620’s stock is as nicely rendered as the other versions in nice period art.
The sides of the box continue the story. On one side is they typical MPC list of all the cool customizing accessories you can get. For a small truck, they load the Datsun up quite well, with a custom centre console, freaky exhaust system and all the other goodies that you’ve already heard about. There are even “go fast” parts for a higher-performance engine. This is before MPC got on the turbo kick, I guess; that’s from the late 1970s forward. Otherwise, I’m sure there’d be a turbo on here too.
The other side of the box is a cross sell for the MPC Customizing Kit range, and shows off the ’73 Mustang (why not a Mustang II, for ’75?) and ’75 Vette Convertible kits, as well as giving a write-up about the “diorama instructions” inside. This seems to have been a big thing, since other MPCs of the time did it too. It’s kinda neat that they were encouraging people to put their kits in context!
The back of the box is typical Round 2, showing a parts layout for the kit in black and white line drawings. Who looks at those, though… (You’ll see why I ask this later.)
So, what does this little resurrected gem look like? Well, to be honest, my first impression was: pretty darned good. I was struck, upon opening the box, at how SMALL the kit is. I mean, I knew that it was a small truck, but I’m working on the ’64 Fleetside right now, and compared to that, this truck is downright TINY! While the box might be regulation size, the kit is smaller than usual, so you get the impression that there’s not a lot in there.
However, what is there looks good. There are nominally six independent racks of parts, with the bench seat and frame being separate. All parts are bagged, and there are two separate bags of parts, and one for the cab. There’s also a bag that contains two racks of chromed parts, separated by a fine plastic sheet to prevent rubbing. Nice work, Round 2. One rack has all of the inappropriately chromed engine bits and other custom accessories on it, while the second, smaller chrome rack contains the 8 parts for the turbine-style mag wheels.
The two red clear tail lights are in one compartment, and the clear glass windows in another, of a single separate bag. This is a far, far cry better than the way MPC used to pack their kits; as we all know, with an old MPC, it’s basically a bunch of parts in a bag, and the windows are left bare, running the risk of incurring “tire melt” at any time. How many MPCs have I had to turn down just because of tire melt on the windows, I wonder… I know it’s been at least a few.
On the note of tires, Round 2 gives you two sets of tires for the kit. One is an older-school looking set of stiff, vinyl tires with pronounced seams and raised letters. These will require a bit of work to look good. The other set, though, are the new standard Round 2 pre-printed lettered tires. Like on the Pinto, Volare and others, these things are awesome. They are soft, flash free and pre-lettered. You CAN’T complain about that!
The non-plated, non-clear components of the kit are all cast in white. This is standard for Round 2, but I will say that I would rather they used a military kit-style light grey. For one thing, the white is very hard to photograph correctly (at least for me) and for another, it makes it so much harder to see the detail until you primer it. Still, it’s clear to see that the kit is pure MPC, with good seat and tonneau cover texturing, nice grill detail work and even bed rib texturing on both the upper and lower side of the bed floor. There’s even a bit of texture eon the floor of the cab, although it looks a little vague and large to be carpet.
The engine, while small for the time, is very comforting to see when, like me, you’ve been building a number of four-bangers. There’s good texture on the engine too, and like most MPC motors, there are lots of separate, non-moulded-in accessories. There’s a separate intake with carburettor as well. So, overall, things look good in the powerplant department. There’s also a surprisingly complicated suspension setup in the front end, with pivoting steering to boot. Hopefully, this will turn out better than the reputedly incomplete setup in the ’75 Vette.
Because the truck is a simple vehicle, there’s not a lot going on in the interior, which is commensurately small as well. There’s no headliner, unlike the ’64 Fleetside, but there is a nice dashboard and the bench seat looks convincing. The chrome racks are miraculously “chrome”, but of course, there are big attachment points to the sprues on most parts. Thus, “bald spots” will naturally occur when they are cut of the chrome rack. This is why, even though chrome paint isn’t as good as plating, I always go with it. At least then everything is consistent!
The instructions are typical of MPC kits of this era. They are well drawn and fairly clear, and there’s not a lot on there that should give even a new builder too much in the way of problems. The instruction sheet is, as is typical, one large, folded piece of paper. At least it isn’t as huge as Bear Bait’s “tablecloth” instructions. A good section of the back side of the instructions is dedicated to how to make a diorama. It’s interesting for sure, although techniques have progressed quite a bit since it was written. It’s an interesting bit of completeness, though! I do like that even Round 2 seems to know this, as they make a big deal about presenting the diorama instructions “for nostalgia” purposes only!
Like many MPCs, the ’75 Datsun was issued, reissued and re-reissued once or more every year for at least like, 5 years. Thus, I’m sure that there has been some “generational drift” as my reader sperhical_harmony calls it. This is a typical issue with MPCs, but it seems that, at least in the Datsun’s case, things like engines and interiors weren’t too drastically altered.
Despite their best attempts, though, there’s one thing that Round 2 seems to have had an issue with. This flaw concerns the wheels and tires.
While the bulk of this kit is pretty cool, Round 2 really blew it on the tires and wheels. “Wait!” you say. “The kit comes with those cool pre-printed tires, right? How can you say they blew it?” that’s a good question. However, they did, and hard. And before you think that it’s a problem with the original MPC, be aware: IT ISN’T.
The problems start in Step 1 of the instructions. They show the stock wheels (which are bare plastic) being installed on a tire that isn’t clearly labelled. However, the way it’s drawn, I can’t help but think it’s the more poorly-formed unprinted tire. However, if you look at the drawing, the tire seems to have a clear seam on it, and there is a definite marking for a whitewall. That makes sense, right? They show a whitewall on the “Stock Version” picture on the box.
True, but they don’t give you stock width, white-walled tires. They only give you the two kinds of lettered tires. So then, what the heck is going on? This is where you have to look ahead, and do some digging to prove things. Firstly, the spare looks the same as the stock tire; a seamed tire with a thin white wall. However the spare is shown as being made of two parts, parts 46 and 47. However, there are no parts called out on the “stock” tire shown in the first substep. Thus, it SEEMS like the stock tire is supposed to be the same as the spare, but in this kit, it isn’t.
That’s exactly the problem. In the original version of this kit, and many subsequent versions too, there was a full set of five tires cast in styrene. This is the same as the Chevette, and the Omni to boot. However, the confusion comes in this kit because not only is it not clear which rubber tire you’re supposed to use, but there AREN’T ENOUGH STOCK TIRES!! And that, boys and girls of all ages, is the root problem here.
For reasons I do not know and cannot fathom, Round 2 has not issued the kit with the required number of stock tires. I assume that the original kit had these, as the original instructions clearly show a two-piece main tire the same as the spare. Maybe the moulds were destroyed? Maybe MPC combined the original Li’l Hustler and straight annual ’75 Datsun kits? I only say that because of the instructions I saw in an eBay auction, shown below. Still, it seems many of the later versions of this kit DID have the option to go fully stock, and I assume they did have the right number of styrene tires for this.
Whatever the reason, the sad truth is that the truck, as it comes, CANNOT be built entirely stock. Since my usual rule is to build something stock if I only have one of it, and since I do like to have a “mini museum” of everyday cars in stock form, this is a very big disappointment. Fuzz Duster used the wrong wheels originally, and Round 2 just went with it. That’s okay. Not great, but okay. However, not giving all the tires needed to build a model advertised on the box… that’s not okay.
Adding a minor note to the confusion is that the tires likely originally used for the custom version (the non-lettered ones) are now likely supposed to do for the custom version. However, I’m worried they’ll be too thick to be stock; I have no idea how this is going to go together. Incidentally, the instructions call out body colour for the wheels under the dog-dish caps. That’s wrong too. My research shows that the rim on all Datsun 620s was silver, with a chrome dog dish, and chrome trim rings (on the King Cab only, it seems).
The decals, like all of the new Round 2 decal sheets, look amazing. You get the full, tacky stripe/panel paint job for Li’l Hustler, plus decals for the various corner indicator lights. One other thing that’s awesome is the Datsun decals for the tailgate. You get them in black, red and white, which is nice. However, the red (I assume they’re for Li’l Hustler) and one set of black are actually separate letters! Thus, if you want to apply them over the tailgate’s letters individually, you can. I honestly think I might try that! I don’t know how they’ll work, but if they’ve been precisely done, it will be a very cool effect.
You also get two licence plates, plus some racing credits and the legitimate, stock “Datsun” badging for the front fender. The only issue I have with those is that it appears that Round 2 tried to approximate the look of chrome by drawing a reflection line through the nameplate. I get what they were going for, but it actually doesn’t work, and I’d have preferred just silver decals that didn’t try to look like something they’re not.
All the decals are beautiful, colourful and in register, and I’m sure they’ll be miles better and much easier to use than an original sheet. MPC decals don’t hold up well to age; ask Gold Rush!
This is a kit a lot of people didn’t know they wanted until they saw it or heard about it. I’m one of those people, and the second I found out about this kit I was excited. I remember them driving around when I was young; by then, a lot of them were half-rotted, but it’s still awesome to get a kit of a car that used to live “just down the road”.
By and large, this is a good kit. Round 2 likely had to do a lot of work to bring this one back, but it was worth it. There seems to be a bit of a “620 Resurgence” of late, with Hot Wheels making numerous 620s in the last couple of years. This kit is a good way to “pile on” the bandwagon, if there is one. It’s hard to fault the execution of the kit; it seems to be no worse for flash that an original would likely be, and my first impression of the moulding is that it has survived quite well. Better than others, like Bad Company or the AMT ’76 Gremlin.
This kit, though, is NOT for kids. That’s ironic, since that was squarely the market MPC targeted originally. However, because this is a “retro kit”, it’s also very expensive. If this was a $10-$15 glue-bomb-in-waiting (as it would have been back in the ‘80s), I would say to welcome all comers. But it isn’t that kit; it’s a pretty expensive kit with all the issues, fiddliness and ability to absorb hard work and good intentions inherent in any MPC model. I wouldn’t suggest trying it unless you a.) have several (good plan!) b.) have a significant amount of experience and c.) can take it seriously without getting bogged down. The kit will reward patience, but will punish ham-fistedness. It’s likely not the best model for introducing new builders to the joys of the hobby. On top of that, it is SMALL. It’s shocking how small it is, compared to a “normal” truck, like my 1999 Silverado. Thus, the pieces are smaller and more delicate, and you do get less styrene in the box.
Despite the overall awesomeness of the kit, the SNAFU with the tires is a major, MAJOR let-down. It’s not quite a betrayal; I mean, they do only show 3 sets of halves on the parts call out on the bottom of the box. However, it’s still deeply uncool to not be able to build the kit the original way, with the original crappy, thin, but very authentic, styrene tires.
Overall, I’m excited, impressed and pleased with Round 2’s newest rescue from modelling’s dustbin. I can only hope they keep it up, and press other cool stuff like the Monza notchback and ’75 Pontiac Sprint! (Hear that Round 2? Oh, and Vegas, too, if you’ve got ‘em!) If you can get past the tire issue, then there’s no reason not to get it. It’ll be a fun and attractive display piece, no matter how you build it, and it won’t take up too much space either. It’s like “diet history”; who doesn’t like that?!