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Custom Duramax-powered Nissan GU Patrol ute review

By Justin Walker | Photos: Nick Heidt, 10 Sep 2018 Custom 4x4s

Custom Nissan Patrol GU ute

Want to build a no-nonsense, uber-tough tourer? Then shoehorn a monster 6.6-litre Duramax TDV8 into the engine bay of a Patrol ute.

WHY over complicate matters when the simple approach often works best, as this trick GU Patrol proves.

Owner Todd Bonnard wanted a 4x4 ute that was, in his words, “the perfect all-rounder”, so when this half-finished project vehicle, complete with transplanted Duramax 6.6-litre V8 turbo-diesel and six-speed auto, came up for sale, Todd jumped on it.

As a long-term GU Patrol fan – the other rig in his garage is a 4.2TD wagon – it was an easy decision to make. The modified 4x4 belies its subtle, understated exterior by offering incredible on-road performance; plus, it’s nigh-unstoppable in the rough stuff. And it all starts with that bloody big engine.

Enlarged Heart

IT’S a straightforward answer when Todd is asked about the appeal of the Duramax nestled inside the Patrol’s engine bay.

“Definitely the power,” he enthuses. “And in terms of what you can do with them to extract more power. They’re pushing pretty big power over in the US in those big utes and rigs there, so you can imagine what it is going to do in a smaller Patrol – the power-to-weight ratio is much better.”

As with any engine/gearbox transplant, it’s no easy task, requiring a few mods to the engine bay to ensure proper fitment (a cut and plated firewall, for one), along with numerous add-ons, to make it run smoothly with the rest of the big Nissan’s drivetrain while punching out copious grunt.

The Allison six-speed auto is mated to the Nissan transfer case via an adaptor, while engine management is through an Edge Insight CTS2 system (with in-cabin scanner/monitor). There’s a custom-made ARE Cooling radiator and front-mount intercooler fitted, and the transmission cooler has been moved beneath the tray with an additional fan to aid cooling.

Induction is taken care of with a Patroldocta four-inch snorkel and airbox, and three-inch hot-and-cold side piping. Pushing it all out the back is a four-inch custom-made (from scratch!) titanium exhaust with a 100 cell catalytic converter.

The Patrol’s donk now punches out 335kW and 1200Nm (it was dyno’d at PID Diesel Conversions) at the rear wheels that, rather unsurprisingly, adds up to a vehicle that Todd says nonchalantly, “does pull pretty hard”. Smartly, Todd had a hydro booster fitted to the brakes.

Over and Above

ADDING that huge V8 diesel clearly enhances the vehicle, but it’s not the only trick to this rig. The Patrol’s common-sense suspension comprises of a three-inch suspension lift and a two-inch body lift, which ensures the Patrol’s underbelly is well clear of terra firma. If the near-impossible does happen and the belly touches the ground, the custom rock sliders keep it all well protected.

Boosting ride and handling is a set of AmadaXtreme remote-reservoir dampers, front and rear. Todd initially had a problem with the front-end units leaking oil, but it was a quick fix, with Todd fitting new seals and O-rings and enjoying reliable performance since.

Todd also changed the front springs, citing the coils that came with the vehicle when he bought it as a bit too soft for his liking. He upped the ante and fitted custom-made Pedders coils, rated to a 500kg constant load.

Superior Engineering Superflex sway bars front and rear tie it all down, along with Super Engineering Superflex radius arms, Panhard rods and long arms. The Patrol now rides firmly (but not uncomfortably) on-road, but has plenty of suspension travel and flex for when things get challenging off-road. 

Rolling stock is a set of tough 17-inch Walker Evans Beadlock wheels, shod with chunky Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ LT315/70R17 rubber that, on occasion, have been known to emit a chirp or two when Todd puts the foot down to access that 1200Nm.

Bush Ready

AS WELL as the top-notch suspension setup, Todd’s Patrol contains more smart choices including fitment of an ARB Air Locker diff lock to the front axle (with air supplied via an under-bonnet compressor). Perhaps surprisingly for some, he hasn’t fitted a rear locker; although, his reasoning is super sound.

“The rear isn’t locked, it’s just an LSD,” Todd explains. “That’s the combo I would rather have. The Nissan LSDs are pretty good; they don’t need a locker. If you fit one, on the road you lose the LSD... it becomes an open centre, so I would rather keep the LSD for when I am towing.”

The ute tray is a relatively straightforward setup, albeit with a slightly wider than usual cage. Apparently the previous owner had two 80-litre fridge/freezers and preferred to run them lengthways so he could fit them both in, but Todd prefers running his fridge across the cage and throwing his swag and camping gear in there instead.

The spare wheel mounts securely to the back of it, and Todd reckons there’s more than enough storage in the cage – as well as on the rest of the tray – to hold all the gear needed for a bush trip.

More sensible touring mods make their presence felt under the tray, with two 40-litre water tanks fitted. A separate but no less important underbody mod is the FASS fuel pump ensuring quick ignition and a Facet pump ensuring the juice from the main and sub tanks keeps flowing.

Walking Quietly

WHEN Todd bought the Patrol it still needed plenty of work. “It was driving, but it was a bit rough and needed some time spent on it to get it all sorted for engineering and rego,” he says, with the main issue getting the wiring sorted so the engine/gearbox transplant worked perfectly.

Once that was done, it was onto the body itself, with fitment of a heavily modified Nissan factory bullbar (that now looks way tougher than the ‘standard’ unit) to the front end.

Panel work was limited on the Patrol, with the most noticeable mod being the fitment of custom-made Fairline fibreglass front guards and an air intake atop the bonnet.

With the wider rubber the extended guards could have looked over the top, but the styling and shape of these retains a subtle, under-the-radar exterior appearance. A set of Lightforce HID spotties, a GME radio aerial, and a custom-mesh grille complete the front-end styling.

Keeping the sound of that big V8 donk subdued in-cabin is a Kenwood head unit with six-inch speakers and tweeters, plus a 10-inch sub and amp set up behind the passenger and driver seats respectively. A raft of gauges – boost, EGT and oil pressure – keep Todd informed of what’s going on under the bonnet, while an Oricom UHF tackles bush comms duties.

A Bigger Stick

TODD’s goal with this Nissan Patrol was to make it the perfect all-rounder and, with thanks to Wild 4x4 & Customs, PJM Auto Electrics, Dave’s Paint & Panel, Precision Paint & Panel and PID Diesel Conversions, the end result is pretty damn close to that ideal.

But, like all off-road enthusiasts, once you start it’s really hard to stop, and he reckons there’s still room for more, mentioning his future plans to “crack the 500hp mark”.

In the meantime, Todd’s got a few adventures planned for the big white rig including an upcoming Vic High Country trip and then, perhaps, Cape York. With that grunty engine, impressive suspension setup and smart touring mods, we reckon the Patrol is a shoe-in for both adventures.