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Is This the Most Capable 2000 Nissan Xterra in the World?

Posted in Features on March 14, 2019
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Roco4x4 has a reputation for building high-end Jeeps in its Miami shop, so it might surprise you to learn that Roco4x4’s owner, Ricardo Olavarrieta, wheels a . . . Nissan Xterra? Yep, he and his crew took many of the same design parameters they use when building Jeeps for customers and applied them to Ricardo’s 2000 Nissan.

Before they could add 1-ton axles and 42-inch-tall tires though, the Xterra was covered in dog hair and had a blown engine—but every project has to start somewhere. Nicknamed the Iguana, this Xterra has wheeled all up and down the East Coast and in Moab, and even participated in the Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road Ultimate Adventure in 2011.

Prior to UA 2011, Ricardo put the Iguana on a diet, cutting off the smashed rear sheetmetal and removing the doors and rear hatch. He replaced the sheetmetal with tubing and was still able to shave 2,000 pounds from the Xterra, making it more capable and reliable on the trail.

Recently Ricardo completed an eight-day wheeling trip across Honduras, where the Iguana had no issues breaking trail for much newer and more expensive Jeeps. The huge tires rolled over everything in their path. The engine doesn’t make enough power to break the built 1-ton axles. The leaf spring suspension is simple and reliable. Ricardo Olavarrieta has demonstrated that these traits are universal no matter how many slots there are in your front grille.

Power comes from a 170hp VG33E V-6 engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Ricardo Olavarrieta, owner of Roco4x4, bought the Xterra in New Jersey in 2005, but when he went to pick it up it had a blown engine, a fact that hadn’t been disclosed. The dealer replaced the engine while Ricardo waited, and then he drove the Nissan back to Miami.
The front axle is a coveted high-pinion Dana 60 out of a 1979 Ford F-350. These particular axles are so sought after because of the differential and spring pad placement, which allow them to be retrofit under vehicles like an Xterra without outboarding the leaf springs. Ricardo upgraded the axle with Warn 35-spline premium hubs, an ARB Air Locker, 5.38 gears, chromoly axleshafts, and Super Joints from Yukon Gear & Axle.
The front suspension consists of long, soft YJ Wrangler leaf springs that provide ample flex but also wrap with the leverage from the 42-inch Pit Bull Rockers. Roco4x4 built a traction bar to eliminate the spring wrap, and Fox 2 1/2-inch-diameter, 12-inch-travel shocks fitted with remote reservoirs and dual speed compression (DSC) adjusters smooth out the bumps.
Roco4x4 built an exo-cage from 1.625x0.120-wall tubing to protect the sheetmetal and occupants. It ties into the bumpers, sliders, and frame in multiple locations for strength. The front bumper holds a compact yet powerful Warn 9.0Rc winch wrapped in synthetic winch line. It is topped by an 18-inch Vision X LED light bar.
The rear axle is a full-floating Dana 60 out of a 1996 Dodge Ram 2500. It has been upgraded with 5.38 Yukon gears, an ARB Air Locker, and disc brakes with Wilwood calipers. The heavy-duty diff cover and axle truss tie into the traction bar that prevents axlewrap.
Leaf springs are an easy, affordable way to locate axles. The rear of the Iguana uses Skyjacker leaf springs intended for a Chevy K10 to match the ride height of the front YJ springs. The soft springs do require a traction bar to prevent axlewrap but ride great, particularly with the 2 1/2-inch-diameter, 14-inch-travel Fox remote-reservoir shocks.
The interior of the Xterra isn’t Ricardo’s highest priority. The original dash and windshield are still there, but the doors are long gone, replaced with custom tube doors from Roco4x4. The lack of doors has allowed the elements to take their toll on the Corbeau seats and Road Armor harnesses, but Ricardo wears their faded and tattered threads as a badge of honor for how much this rig gets used on the trail.

Tech Specs

2000 Nissan Xterra
Engine: 3.3L V-6
Transmission: FS5 5-speed manual
Transfer Case: Factory WD22 with 4.10 Calmini gears
Axles: Dana 60 with 5.38 gears and ARB Air Locker (front and rear)
Springs & Such: YJ leaf springs (two packs combined) and 12-inch-travel Fox remote reservoir shocks (front); Skyjacker K10 springs and 2.5-inch-diameter, 14-inch-travel Fox shocks (rear);
Tires & Wheels: 42x16.5-17LT Pit Bull Rockers on 17x9 TrailReady HD beadlock wheels
Steering: Redneck ram with modified factory steering box and pump
Lighting: Vision X 18-inch LED light bar, Rigid Industries rock lights, Vision X Minidura reverse lights, Maxbuilt Trail Tail taillights
Other Stuff: Warn 9.0RC winch, Bubba Rope synthetic winch line, Bubba Rope kinetic recovery rope, Corbeau seats, Pro Armor harnesses, Teraflex hand throttle, Optima RedTop battery

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