But What If You Did?
Think Titan, only smaller. When you consider that all '05-and-later Nissan Frontiers share architecture with the fullsize Titan pickup, you have to wonder why more people don't build them. Frontiers feature a narrower version of Titan's fully boxed hydroformed ladder frame. Then there is that class-leading all-aluminum 4.0L V-6 backed by the same automatic transmission and found behind the Titan's 5.6L V-8. The rear Dana 44 axle is available with a factory electric locker and features standard disc brakes. Manufactured right here in the U.S., Nissan Frontiers occupy a small but secure mid-level niche in the midsize pickup classification. The initial purchase price is typically less than that of its longtime rival, the Toyota Tacoma. And with more and more aftermarket support surfacing each month, the inspiration for a full-on desert Frontier is now within reach. Loyalists will tell you that Nissan's excellent reputation for durability overshadows all other brands in places where paved roads are scarce. In fact, sales figures in underdeveloped Third World nations prove this claim. Here in the U.S., Nissan struggles to recover from a lackluster reputation brought on by a slew of rust-laden mid-'80s Hardbody pickups still roaming around today. Once renowned for its reliability and endurance off-road, Nissan's strategy to sustain this reputation fell short in 2006 and 2007 when marketing expenditures were shifted to prioritize efforts in promoting its new car offerings instead of trucks. Moving the corporate headquarters from Southern California to Nashville didn't help either. Sadly many of the talented and motivated individuals who helped develop the latest-generation Frontier jumped ship during the move. The subsequent personnel void resulted in diminished internal passion for the platform. In essence, the cars got more attention. This slowed down the aftermarket significantly. Today we see a slow but steady rebound in effect, and with a new infusion of interest from Suzuki, thanks to the new Equator (aka rebadged Frontier). This should, in theory, help stimulate more aftermarket support for the platform.
The one to build? We strongly suggest starting with the '05-and-later Frontier Nismo. The Nismo package is the most coveted model because it includes factory skidplating, an electronic rear-differential lock, Bilstein shocks, and a few other goodies you simply cannot get on the standard and limited versions.
If we could build one the way we wanted, it would include a custom-built long-travel suspension system similar to what Spencer Low Racing once offered. Fiberglass front fenders and bedsides would be mandatory, and a bunch of custom tube work would help make it work safely. Bolt-on power adders, such as headers, intakes, and programmers, are available and produce good results. Pay special attention to ensure the wheel speed sensors remain intact. It's known that Nissan's computer logic will not let the truck shift into 4WD without signals from these sensors. To avoid these issues, install a simple toggle switch inline on the ABS power circuit. This enables drivers to defeat the ABS when desired or when the 4-Lo is selected. This will negate all the ill effects ABS has on stopping the vehicle on loose dirt surfaces. Likewise, a differential-lock override button can be installed to fool the factory logic, allowing the electric locker to work in 2WD and 4-Hi and at speeds greater than the 16-mph factory shutoff. The steering rack is another part that is subject to failure on the trail, so be sure to carry a spare. For the serious enhancements in power, Stillen (www.stillen.com) offers a supercharger kit for the V-6 that is said to add upward of 93 hp to the stock configuration. Lots of other upgrades exist but are often hard to find. A good resource for Frontier-specific information is an online community at www.nissanfrontier.org.
-Robust chassis and drivetrain
-Electronic traction control with defeat button
-Selectable locking rear differential
-Weak rack-and-pinion steering system
-Cheap-looking plastic interior
-Limited aftermarket support (currently)