Some years back Aaron and Natalie Pennell acquired the 2001 Nissan Frontier truck you see here, but it didn't look much like it does now with the exception of the factory silver paint. The truck had been 'wheeled quite a bit and pushed beyond the limits of the stock Nissan drivetrain. They soon realized they wanted to build the truck into something more that could get them across tougher trails in the Southwest.
Aaron welded up a front winch...
Aaron welded up a front winch bumper that fits tight to the front grille, yet accommodates a Warn M8000 winch and its solenoid box. Aaron had John Kanicsar at Hunter Offroad bend the tubes and Aaron laid the beads to bring the bumper to completion. Tucked up high, it offers excellent front approach angle for the truck.
Since then, the IFS has parted ways with the truck, stronger axles have been added to linked suspensions, a stronger t-case has arrived, and rolling rubber has increased. Aaron has done a good majority of the build himself, working out of his carport.
The Pennells now have a truck that is far more capable to get them out exploring their favorite areas in the backcountry. With a thoughtful approach to a tubular bed design, the truck can be set up compactly for tougher trails or reconfigured with more bed space for camping runs.
Aaron found the stock IFS...
Aaron found the stock IFS was certainly not up to the tasks he planned for the truck and its components were rapidly wearing anyway. Out came the torch and grinders, and the IFS dropped to floor. In its place resides a solid axle conversion. Aaron opted for a high-pinion Dana 44 spinning Yukon alloy axle shafts out to Warn Premium hubs. Locking those shafts together is an ARB Air Locker spinning 5.38 gears.
Aaron is still pushing for a little more strength in the drivetrain, and we've seen photos of a Dana 60 housing he's started building as a replacement for the front Dana 44. He hasn't experienced a lot of carnage with the half-ton axle, but he's looking to push the truck harder and the 1-ton-rated axle he has planned will allow him to tackle tougher trails with greater confidence.
This isn't your average Nissan Frontier, and it wasn't meant to be. This Frontier sees regular desert use and has been built for more serious pursuit of trail fun!
||2001 Nissan Frontier
||Aaron and Natalie Pennell/Tempe, Arizona
||3.3L V-6 with factory supercharger
||Stock Nissan four-speed auto
|Transfer case/low range:
||High-pinion Dana 44, Yukon chromoly shafts
||Ford 9-inch, Dutchman 35-spline shafts
|Ring and Pinion:
||5.38 (front), 5.42 (rear)
||ARB Air Locker
||Custom three-link with panhard (front), Custom triangulated four-link (rear), 14-inch FOX Racing coilovers
||37x12.50R17 Goodyear Wrangler MT/R
||17x8.5 MB Razor aluminum
||Custom tubular bed, custom console with steering brakes, 2007 Nissan Xterra seats, custom winch bumper, and Warn M8000 winch
Under the hood sits a stock...
Under the hood sits a stock Nissan 3.3L V-6. This one has the factory supercharger which has fairly low boost, but offers a few extra ponies to help turn the heavier drivetrain and bigger tires. For improved cooling on the trail, Aaron fabricated a custom fan shroud and mounted a Ford Taurus electric fan in place of the factory mechanical one.
More often than not, solid...
More often than not, solid axle swaps end up with front leaf springs. However, Aaron opted for a custom three-link setup with a panhard bar keeping the axle centered under the truck. Steering is direct crossover to the passenger side high-steer arm using the stock Nissan steering box, which was ported. Steering effort for Aaron is reduced with the addition of a 1.5-inch x 8-inch PSC hydro-assist ram. The front of the truck sits on 14-inch-travel Fox Racing coilovers running a 200-over-300-lb/in-spring combination.
The rear axle is a Ford 9-inch...
The rear axle is a Ford 9-inch built in a Ruff Stuff housing. A Strange third member holds a Grizzly locker with 5.42:1 gears. Dutchman 35-spline alloy shafts are built with a six-lug pattern to match the front axle. A Ford 8.8-inch disc brake conversion gives the truck reliable stopping power.
Fox Racing coilovers are used...
Fox Racing coilovers are used in back as well and the tops tuck into the tubular bed. Spring rate for the rear is 150 over 250 lb/in. The rear suspension is a triangulated four-link using some link frame mounts from Rugged Rocks. Front and rear lower links are 2-inch-by-0.250-inch-wall DOM to withstand sliding over trail obstacles.
Options for Nissan transfer...
Options for Nissan transfer case upgrades can be limited and strength here was a goal as well. Aaron opted for a two-speed Atlas, which tucked up nicely under the floorboards without any great loss of ground clearance. It mated to the rear of the Nissan auto tranny using an Advance Adapters conversion. He used the Advance cable shifter kit to position the shifters where he wanted in the factory hole in the floor. Custom skidplates and t-case supports mount between the framerails.
With a relatively long 119-inch...
With a relatively long 119-inch wheelbase, the rear driveshaft is quite long and can dip a bit low under the truck on its way to the rear axle. Aaron had Phoenix Rack & Axle build him a two-piece driveshaft with an intermediate carrier bearing. He fabricated a mount truss and skidplate between the framerails to support and protect the bearing. This gained him significant clearance to help keep the shaft from dragging on boulders.
Traction for this Nissan comes...
Traction for this Nissan comes from 37-inch-tall Goodyear Wrangler tires. They’re mounted to 17x8.5 MB Razor alloy wheels that have been painted black. Rock sliders under the rockers keep trail obstacles from crunching the lower sheetmetal.
A custom center console sits...
A custom center console sits between a pair of 2007 Nissan Xterra bucket seats. You can see the pair of Atlas shift levers forward of the seats. The two levers to the rear are ones Aaron added to use as cable-actuated steering brakes for the rear axle.
Aaron designed and fabricated...
Aaron designed and fabricated the rear tube bed from scratch. It’s made primarily from 1.5-inch tubing with welded 18-gauge steel sheet panels that complete the sides. Once it was complete, the entire bed was powder-coated for long term durability.
Here’s a bird’s eye view of...
Here’s a bird’s eye view of the fabricated bed. Aaron built it to nicely accommodate a 37-inch spare behind the factory fuel tank, which was relocated to allow room for the linked suspension. A Hi-Lift is also mounted within handy reach and a mount for a CO2 Powertank is integrated onto the bed as well.
Out back is a tubular tailgate...
Out back is a tubular tailgate that can drop open for access to the spare or other cargo. This simple tail piece can be quickly swapped at home to another tubular structure that locates the tire further back to make more bed space for camping or other gear. In this way, the truck can be configured for hard core crawling or for greater cargo space.
The truck came with pair of...
The truck came with pair of roof rails to tie down light cargo. To this, Aaron added a tubular basket with some floor support to haul a few extra items for longer camping trips.