Let me tell you, for the bucks, I was certainly happy with my 1991 Nissan Pathfinder. I’d owned it three years and it owed me less than five grand.
This article was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s July 2010 issue
In fact, regardless of the bucks, it was a good little truck and the 2.4-litre four-pot was happy to chug to the shops and climb anything I pointed it at in 4X4-low during my (too-infrequent) weekend treks into the bush. But longer trips and towing – something I do regularly – were a chore.
For about $1000 I could install a carbie upgrade and throw on a better-breathing exhaust to liberate an extra five or 10 kilojobbies from the 74 already there… but did I really want to bother with hot-rodding? Or sink more money into it? No. So I decided an upgrade to a more powerful vehicle with a few more creature comforts would be more sensible.
Like most of us, I don’t have a spare $50K for a new Pajero or Prado (or Patrol or Cruiser) and even if I did have the bucks, I don’t need a late-model rig sitting in the driveway being shat on by birds for weeks at a time. Been there, done that.
With a more realistic budget of around $10k, I decided a 90 Series Toyota Prado or second-gen Mitsubishi Pajero would be ideal. Both these decade-old vehicles are ideal family tourers and medium-duty tow vehicles.
My personal pick was a wide body NL Pajero, preferably a turbo-diesel – a very rare beast. I was in no particular hurry so was happy to surf carsales.com.au (and various other sales sites) and keep my eyes on the dealers until I found a vehicle that was in good condition for a good price.
By using the websites’ various search functions, it’s possible to weed out the “tell ’im he’s dreamin’” rigs and find exactly what you want, but you have to be quick to respond to a listing, and be ready with the cash.
One Saturday, I missed out on a bargain Pajero with dual airbags for just $7K but I consoled myself that the statement “needs wheel alignment” in the ad probably meant bent chassis.
But as I happily checked out prices, one thought kept grinding away in the back of my mind: When I sold my Pathfinder, I’d be saying goodbye to the terrific lifted suspension, a Long Ranger tank, a cargo barrier, my simple twin battery set-up and four almost-new A/T tyres. Then, I’d have to spend thousands to bring my new vehicle – whatever it was – up to similar specs.
A long-range tank is not essential, but is very handy when towing and touring and I’m not real keen on travelling home from the local shops without a cargo barrier, let alone up the coast or to the other side of Australia.
Suspension … yeah, that’ll be at least twelve to fifteen hundred bucks, and although my Pathie’s self-built raised floor/fridge slide/drawer set-up cost only a few hundred bucks, it cost a couple of weekends mucking around building it in the garage, too.
Then one day it dawned on me: why not retain the special gear and transplant it into a same-series Pathfinder V6? Nissan’s 113kW/248Nm 3.0-litre OHC V6 donk was plonked into the Pathie in 1992 and compared to the 74kW/117Nm of my four-cylinder, it smokes rubber.
At the same time, Nissan added an extra two doors to the Pathie to better compete with Pajero and Toyota’s 4Runner in the family 4X4 market. After living with a Pathie for three years, I was familiar with the mechanicals and happy with its overall size and driveability.
Really, all I wanted was the same truck but with a bit more grunt. So … ahhh … why not buy the same truck with a bit more grunt? So the hunt was on for a Pathfinder V6.
Once again, websites and car yards were keenly inspected. Nissan offered two spec levels of D21 Pathfinder and I soon discovered most top-spec Ti models’ leather seats are split and cracked by now. There was also a question mark in my mind about the complexity of the Ti’s push-button climate control system.
The limited edition Pathfinder Walkabout was of no interest as its spare wheel is inside the cargo area rather than on a swing-away carrier. I drove just one Pathie from a dealer: its paint looked good but only one week’s rego and the need for new tyres made its $5500 price look steep.
Other Pathies I looked at (private and dealer) had dents, misaligned panels, racing-slick rubber, soft shocks, tatty carpets and ripped CV boots. One Ti I inspected – described as immaculate – had big bubbles of rust and its sunroof was silicon-glued in.
Googling Pathfinder 1993 for sale after a few beers one evening led me to a white Pathfinder for sale in rural Cooma, NSW. The kays were good and from the pics it appeared all its doors lined up. An email and subsequent phone conversation with the seller was also feel-good: he’d owned it for three years; the local bloke he’d bought it from kept it in a carpeted garage (I laughed – but the seller fella insisted it was fact).
I decided this vehicle was worth looking at but Cooma is a 10-hour return trek from my home. The seller agreed to meet me halfway for an inspection and test drive.
I now believe this Pathie was kept in a garage with carpet for much of its life as (disregarding a few dents) I could find little more than a stone chip anywhere. Under a layer of dust and except for some silly stickers, the pure white paint was stunning.
Apart from some fluffy carpet edges, the interior was sensational, the chassis was the correct factory satin black with no chips or flaking, and every bolt and bracket had its as-new zinc plated appearance.
The engine bay was also showroom: there was not a trace of mud, grease or corrosion anywhere and it was obvious to me it had not been detailed to jazz it up or hide any nasties. I doubted this vehicle had ever been driven in the rain, let alone on a dirt road or into a creek. All the electrics worked. The only real let-downs were the dents and one torn CV boot.
Taking these blemishes into consideration, I made an offer. Sold!
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I spent some time under the bonnet installing a second battery tray. I’d done this with my previous four-cylinder Pathie, but a different engine bay layout meant I had to start from scratch (almost) with the V6 engine. This means I’ve now got plenty of power for accessories on trips away. Also, when the Magnum winch makes its way into the bullbar I’m assured of self-extrication capabilities. And talking of power, the extra herbs from the V6 go a long way to making sure those trips are less straining, especially when towing.
With plenty of towing and bush work in its future, I wanted to fit the TJM Series 2000 torsion bars and four-inch taller Dobinson coils from my four-cylinder Pathie to the V6 one. Swapping the torsion bars’ anchoring crossmember was easier than doing the bars individually – but only just. I slipped a new set of front shocks into my V6 Pathie, too: This meant I could sell the four-pot with a matched set of TJM Series 2000 dampers. Previously, I’d split the set of TJMs and fitted Rancho RS9000s as the TJM rears were too short for the tall Dobinson coils.
Compared to my four-cylinder one, I wasn’t real happy with the feel or performance of the brakes on my V6 Pathie – despite the V6’s bigger calipers. The original front rotors were scored so I popped a few hundred bucks and two hours into a set of DBA slotted rotors and some Ferodo 4X4 pads.
The 140-litre Long Ranger tank was swapped from one Pathie to the other, too. Sure, working on a hoist would have been great but as I don’t own a hoist I had to do it the hard way: rolling around on the cold concrete floor with a jack. The fuel pumps and senders were retained in their respective vehicles.
Wheels & Tyres
The most recent addition has been a set of Cooper STs. The first set of tyres I bought came mounted on 16-inch HiLux rims, which I preferred to the Pathie’s factory 15-inch wheels, so I kept them on. The ARB winch bar has a Magnum winch already destined to fill the hole.
DIY Storage Drawers
Using marine ply, some marine/automotive grey carpet and two $20 under-bed storage drawers, I’d created a simple flat floor/storage system for my previous Pathie. It was an easy fit into the four-door after I’d carefully measured and cut away some timber in the rear door armrest area.
1992 Nissan D21 Pathfinder ST V6
Owner: Glenn Torrens
Engine: VG30E 2960cc SOHC V6
Power: 113kW at 4800rpm
Torque: 244Nm at 4000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
List of modifications
Suspension(front): TJM Series 2000 torsion bars (listed approximately 75mm), KYB gas dampers, reinforced steering idler arm and shaved droop stops
Suspension(rear): Dobinson coil springs (providing about 100mm lift), Rancho adjustable dampers, relocated handbrake cable tethers, lengthened brake hose to axle
Wheels & Tyres: Toyota Hilux 16 x 7-inch steel rims with 245/75 Cooper STs
Exterior modifications: Wheelarch flares from four-cylinder Pathfinder; ARB commercial winch-compatible front bar; drop-down alloy picnic tray in spare tyre carrier; Long Ranger 140-litre fuel tank; Trail Boss heavy-duty tow bar; Anderson-style power socket for camper trailer; extended exhaust (to suit Rock Tamers removable mud flaps); Narva Plus 50 headlight globes; DBA Kangaroo Paw slotted front disc rotors; Ferodo brake pads
Interior modifications: Rear seat bases removed; Milford cargo barrier (forward mounted); self-built raised cargo area with light-duty removable storage drawers; extra tie-downs; LED interior lights; Pioneer CD/radio unit and upgraded front door speakers; Recaro LX drivers’ seat; Black Duck Canvas seat cover; cheapo floor mats; fridge slide; glovebox cool box pipe from air con; Jaycar 400w inverter; extra 12V/Engel sockets; fire extinguisher; twin battery system consisting of: self-built tray, BEP four-way isolator switch, Jaycar switchable 100A circuit breaker with voltage display, custom-made cables, Century 520CCA starter battery (2nd)