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When Was The Last Time You Saw a Nissan Frontier on The Trail?

Posted in Features on November 30, 2017
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Wheeling rigs fall into one of two categories: popular vehicles with a lot of aftermarket support (think Wranglers and Tacomas), or more obscure vehicles like the Nissan Frontier shown here. There is an undeniable appeal to having something different on the trail, but in order to do so you either need to have deep pockets to pay a shop to build one-off components, or you need to be handy with a chop saw and a welder. David Kowalski falls into the latter group. Rather than trade in his pride and joy on a more common Tacoma, he has built a Nissan that can hang with the Toyotas.

Rather than sell the Nissan for something more common, David put his Frontier into service as a wheeling rig. He started by replacing the IFS with a high-pinion Dana 44 front axle. Leaf springs, shackles, and hangers from Bonney Motorsports were used to locate the front axle and create enough room for 38-inch Super Swampers.

“I got 4.88 gears to match the factory 4.90 gears in the rear diff, but the crawl ratio wasn’t nearly low enough on the trail,” Kowalski confesses.

The next major upgrade was 3.7:1 transfer case gears from Automotive Customizers that nearly doubled the crawl ratio available from the paltry factory low range ratio of 2.02:1. Once the Frontier had locker differentials, big tires, and low gearing it was capable of going anywhere more common vehicles go, and turn heads while doing so.

David Kowalski built a flatbed out of repurposed 2x2-inch, 0.188-wall box tubing and 1.75x0.120-wall HREW round tubing after wrinkling up the factory bed on Dusy-Ershim Trail. The raised sides of the flatbed provide plenty of tire clearance and capture all of the items stored in the middle under the fullsize spare tire. There is plenty of room for spare parts, tools, and camping gear on the sheetmetal floor of the bed.
Power comes from the original VG33E V6 engine. At 170 horsepower it isn’t exactly a powerhouse, but the engine has been reliable and the truck currently has 225,000 miles on it.
The plastic front bumper was replaced with a custom steel bumper built from 2x2 0.188-wall box tubing. The new bumper offers significantly better ground clearance and approach angle, and holds a 12,000-pound Bulldog winch and 20-inch LED light bar.
The front axle is a high pinion Dana 44 from a Ford F-150 that has been narrowed to match the width of the rear axle. Chevy outers were also added to match the original 6x5.5 bolt pattern of the Nissan. The Dana 44 is filled with 4.88 gears and an Eaton E-Locker.
“These H233B axles are actually really strong,” David explained. “They come with 4.90 gears, the ring gear is 9.2-inches, and they use 33 spline axle shafts.” All he did was weld the carrier to create a Lincoln Locker for improved traction.
Articulation comes from custom leaf springs from Bonney Motorsports. Jared Bonney also provided the front spring hangers and shackles for the solid axle swap. Rancho RS5000s are used at each corner, although David added King stickers for “added performance.”
Rolling stock consists of grooved 38-inch Super Swamper TSLs on 15x8 US Wheels that have been upgraded with Total Metal Innovations beadlock rings.

Tech Specs

2001 Nissan Frontier
Engine: 3.3L VG33E V6
Transmission: Factory five speed manual
Transfer Case: TX-10 with Automotive Customizers 3.77:1 gears
Front Axle: Dana 44 with 4.88 gears and Eaton E-Locker
Rear Axle: Nissan H233B with 4.90 gears and welded differential
Springs & Such: Bonney Motorsports leaf springs, Rancho RS5000 shocks (front and rear)
Tires & Wheels: 38x12.5/15LT Super Swamper TSLs on 15x8 US Wheel 78 Series rims with Total Metal Innovations DIY beadlocks
Steering: Factory steering box, 2-inch drop pitman arm, custom tie rod and drag link with Moog tie rod ends
Other Stuff: Custom flatbed, 12,000-pound Badlands winch, 20-inch LED light bar, custom front bumper, custom rock sliders

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