What makes a popular brand popular? It's a combination of several factors. Performance and quality are mandatory, first and foremost. Parts, both stock and aftermarket, must be easy to come by. Finally, a brand's popularity often depends on technical information, especially related to tips, tricks, and parts swapping. All these factors add up to a critical mass in which an enthusiast community gains momentum and begins to attract new members. While several other brands have long enjoyed such a critical mass and the popularity that goes with it, Nissan has generally lived its life with a much more compact enthusiast following.
That could change. The Nissan knowledge base is growing thanks to enthusiasts like Steven Lutz. Steven likes the Nissan brand so much that he's started Rugged Rocks Offroad, a business catering to Nissan exclusively.
Steven's Pathfinder is the rig that gave rise to Rugged Rocks. Purchased new by his parents, the Pathfinder started out as a humble, stock 2WD model. It stayed stock for years, doing menial jobs such as getting groceries and picking the kids up after school.
When Steven was handed the keys at age 16, he'd already formulated a plan for the Pathfinder. The 2WD transmission was set aside in favor of a 4WD transmission and matching transfer case. With a front output now in place, he was able to feed power forward into a solid front axle.
That initial conversion has been continuously refined and tweaked for better and better performance. During the refinement process, several roadblocks were encountered. Rather than giving up entirely or taking the easy way out by installing parts from another brand, Steven dug in and did research. He figured out how to use Nissan parts to overcome the roadblocks. Yes, there are a couple of non-Nissan parts on board, but they're there for all the right reasons.
We spent a day in the Pathfinder, sitting shotgun as we made our way up into Big Bear, navigated the rock gardens of the John Bull trail, and then unlocked the front hubs and drove back. The rig has a pleasant on-road ride that floats over the expansion cracks common to SoCal freeways. On the rocks, there's plenty of flex and plenty of traction. This is a truck that could easily serve as both a daily driver and a weekend plaything.
If you're a Nissan fan, or if you're considering becoming one, take a closer look at the Rugged Rocks Pathfinder. It's built using Path-ology: the passionate pursuit of Pathfinder and Nissan knowledge.
Vehicle: 1990 Nissan Pathfinder
Owner/hometown: Steven Lutz/Fontana, CA
Engine: Nissan 3.0 V-6 with Doug Thorley headers
Induction: Stock EFI, K&N air filter element
Transmission: Nissan FS5R30A five-speed manual
Transfer case/low range ratio: Advance Adapters Atlas II/5.0:1
Front end: Custom Diamond axle with Nissan H233B third member and kingpin-style Dana 60 outer components
Rear end: Stock Pathfinder, which includes the H233B third member
Ring-and-pinion: 5.57:1 Nissan gears
Front differential: Limited slip
Rear differential: ARB Air Locker
Front suspension: Prototype Rugged Rocks three-link, 14-inch stroke, 2.5-inch Sway-A-Way coilovers
Rear suspension: Rugged Rocks triangulated four-link conversion kit
Tires: 37x12.50R17 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2
Wheels: 17-inch Allied Rock-A-Thon beadlocks