Fifty years ago, famed American Western singer and actor Roy Rogers climbed atop a rock with his hunting rifle and dog in an advertisement claiming the Nissan Patrol was the vehicle of choice for sportsman. Flash forward to today and the Patrol is largely forgotten among consumers—and even many automotive journalists. The small boxy SUV has been mostly lost to history and hasn’t enjoyed the revival of old Toyota FJs or Jeep Wranglers you see on the trails.
In a stroke of luck, we were able to find a fully restored ’67 Nissan Patrol in Nissan’s heritage museum. We checked it out, drove it through the Tennessee backroads, and even drove the newest “Patrol”—a ’17 Nissan Armada—back to back for comparison. We survived the muddy roads and getting a little sideways. It was a memorable driving experience showing exactly 50 years of difference between the two vehicles.
Nissan Patrol History
The ’60s were an interesting time for Nissan. It had only recently introduced itself to the U.S. market through the Datsun brand. Datsun had unveiled its first American car at the 1958 Los Angeles Auto Show and had a sparse collection of dealerships selling the 310—known as the Bluebird, a midsized car.
In fact, from 1962 to 1969, U.S. consumers could only buy the Nissan Patrol through Datsun dealers, and the SUV was the only Nissan-badged vehicle sold at the time in the U.S. The Patrol was offered as a direct competitor to the Toyota Land Cruiser J40 series and first sold in Australia in 1960. It claimed to be like a Land Rover offering “more power for less, but just as tough and utilitarian,” according to Nissan USA’s heritage information. The Nissan Patrol saw sales of 2,216 units and was sold up until 1969 when imports were halted.
The Patrol name likely comes from a ’58 Nissan 4W65 Patrol, which resembled a Willys Jeep. This nameplate, introduced widely in the U.S., is now more well-known world-wide than in the states. It is basically the same thing as the U.S.-market Nissan Armada.
Thanks to the efforts of Nissan employee Bill Thomas who found this ’67 Nissan Patrol in a Nebraskan farmer’s field, we were able to see exactly how it came from the Yokohama, Japan, factory.
1967 Nissan Patrol Specs
The blue SUV is 12 feet long, 5 1/2 feet wide, and stands almost 6 1/2 feet tall according to a Nissan service manual. It weighs 3,450 pounds with much of the weight in the front.
It rides on a boxed, ladder-style frame with leaf springs front and rear with a semi-floating 4.10 rear axle. Powering the SUV is a rather large 4.0L I-6 engine mated to a three-speed on-the-floor transmission. The SUV has a top speed of 73 mph. It has a wide turning radius of 18 feet and a stopping distance of nearly 46 feet from 31 mph.
The Patrol can hold 6 “big men,” produces 145 “thundering horses” (hp) and can climb up a 62 percent grade (yes, 62 percent) according to a vintage commercial advertising the “Datsun” Patrol. The commercial encourages buyers to “Drive a Datsun Then Decide.”
We drove a hardtop model with two bench seats in the rear facing each other. Another variant was a soft top model with a top that extends from the rear to over-top of the cabin.
Lastly, the service manual says the Patrol is rated at 21 mpg on “paved roads.” Off-roading fuel economy is seemingly up to the driver.
Driving the Backroads in a Patrol
Like most things, the reality doesn’t quite mirror the vintage advertisement of a smooth highway driver with a robust off-road capability.
On the paved roads, the Patrol is loud with doors and windows rattling on any bump. The skinny and hard rubber 6.50-16 six-ply tires don’t offer much in the way of grip as we found when we inadvertently ended up nearly going sideways on a wet paved road.
Off-road on dirt is really what the Patrol was built for, and its size is seemingly ideal for fitting through narrow trails. The 4.0L I-6 produces a remarkable 235 lb-ft of torque, enough torque to “climb trees” according to then advertisements, and along with the locking 4WD hubs, that made the little SUV quite capable. With a tall first gear of 2.90:1, you can literally let the Patrol go and it will climb over many obstacles. Plus, its high wheelwells and exterior design allows for plenty of clearance and during our day of driving on muddy roads and through water covered roads, we could barely see any sign of the day’s driving.
Finally, its lack of power steering and power brakes makes driving a more tiring experience compared to today’s vehicles. Not that there is anything wrong with lacking those features, it is just something a driver has to be ready for.
Flash Forward to the 2017 Nissan Armada
Driving the same roads in the ’17 Nissan Armada was a complete contrast to the Patrol. The lower body was covered in dirt from the day’s activities as the movement to better fuel economy has necessitated lower wheelwells and body panels.
Behind the wheel, the Armada is a relaxing drive with a very quiet cabin (as compared to the Patrol). It handled the same washboards, potholes, and road conditions the Patrol did much smoother with much less jarring. The 5.6L V-8 engine mated to a seven-speed automatic didn’t even feel like it was working hard at various speeds, and the interior seat comfort was night and day better.
Like the Patrol, the Armada rides on a ladder frame and offers 4WD capability. However, the improvements in suspension, tires, and performance (plus 50 years of automotive engineering advancements) make it a completely different driving experience.