1986 Nissan Patrol
Being George Mallory
There are certain things you do simply because you can. You don't really need any further reason. You can do them, so you should do them. End of story. Overthinking it just gets in the way. When I get a new sports car, for example, one of the first things I want to know is how fast it goes, so I have a tendency to take it out and try to find the top speed. I'm talking about, like... on day one of ownership. I can't help it. With a four-wheel-drive, I want to know how it climbs mountains, and I stopped trying to fight these types of urges a long, long time ago. Now I just go with them. So perhaps it's no surprise that I hadn't had the Nissan Patrol for more than a couple hours before I was launching it up the side of the second highest peak within 100km of my house even though, according to my wife, I really should have been back at home sweeping up the pool deck...
But hey, to paraphrase John Muir, the mountains were calling and I had to go.
It's not exactly legal to drive up the side of this particular mountain, but I don't think anyone really cares much, or ever comes here to check even if they did. With only a cell tower on the top of the peak, there is a broken, narrow, winding and heavily rutted dirt track that twists its way to the summit, but accessing the track requires driving around a rather large, fenced off access replete with concertina wire and "PELIGRO!!" signs. Just getting onto the track in the first place is one of the hardest parts of the climb, with more than a hundred meters of a very technical crawl through ancient volcanic rock lined with dense, chest-high scrub. This is wild boar country. Tough going. I wound my way carefully around the fencing, creeping along at something less than a walking pace, letting the long-travel suspension articulate over the extremely rough terrain. When it was behind me, I turned onto the broken track and headed upward.
Your Own Private Tactical
If you've never driven one of these Patrols, you owe it to yourself to give one a go. From the same era as a 70-series Land Cruiser, and with size, weight, specifications, and even styling that begs obvious comparisons to that stalwart, I'll tell you right now that between the two of them I think I personally prefer the Nissan. With one of the toughest chassis anywhere, and a torquey, smooth diesel straight six, the Patrol nevertheless has a fineness and lightness to the controls that feels somehow less truck-like than the Toyota. Some may dislike that characteristic, but I find it pleasing, operationally speaking.
Ask a variety of serious off roaders what the toughest commercially-available 4x4 vehicle is and you'll likely get a variety of different answers, as well as a lively discussion. Maybe even, in some circles, a fist fight. It's a topic of much debate and not a little passion, with Jeep people in one corner, Land Cruiser people in another, Land Rover people in a third... There are Geländewagen fanatics, Hilux junkies, Hummer nuts, and a whole assortment of other preachers. Unimogs! Pinzgauers! The cocktail bar at a 4x4 trade show can be a very boisterous environment indeed. But quietly among all these different camps, every bit as committed to their cause as the others yet somehow less noisy, you'll find the Nissan Patrol aficionados.
Fun fact: The Patrol is extremely popular in eastern Russia, Australia and east Africa. If that doesn't tell you everything you need to know about its toughness, I don't know what would. But when I was looking at this truck I called a good friend of mine, a very talented automotive journalist and photographer who works for Hemming's Motor News, and asked him what he thought of Patrols.
"Badass." was his one word reply.
I pressed him for a little more info. How so, exactly? Strong underneath? Great engines?
"Hey man," he said, "Those things were THE choice of every tin-horn dictator on the planet for more than a generation. To this day, in a lot of the world's banana republics, civilians soil themselves when they see a Patrol coming down the road. And when you need to equip a brutal army on the cheap, to control a large area of rough country, with few roads and fewer repair shops, you'd be wise to listen to a cut-rate, ruling psychopath. They know this kinda stuff, and they bought Patrols."
Used for more peaceful purposes in the first world, however, the Nissan Patrol still has a lot of friends. There was one on the Maroc Challenge when I entered in 2015, and it showed up every evening at the bivouac, on time, undamaged and unruffled. I never saw anyone servicing it or repairing it. Ever. That may not sound very impressive, but enter the Maroc Challenge one of these years and you'll see what I mean. Patrols are extremely popular in Europe with fire departments, forestry services, and rural police forces. The SD33 engine is known for going a million kilometers without major repairs, is simple and cheap to service, and the chassis is as tough as anything around. Ground clearance is excellent, suspension travel is long enough for even extremely difficult terrain, and the transmission and transfer cases are much tougher than they need to be. Above all, the 3rd generation Patrol is simple, robust and massively capable, yet is as quick starting, easy to operate and cheap to maintain as you can imagine.
And yet they never sold the bugger in the USA. Go figure.
Black Is The New Black
Not entirely "murdered-out," but darn close, this 1986 model has been in the ownership of one local firefighter for many years. Rust free and structurally sound, it has been flat-blacked a couple times, with the fender extensiones treated with a thick, durable, textured bedliner. Flat back diamond plate guards vulnerable areas, and deep rear mudflaps are secured up with chains, ready to be lowered when conditions warrant. Beefy brush bars, chunky BFG's, and a roof rack with auxiliary lights gives it a businesslike look without going too far over the top.
The suspension is all recent, and sports a mild lift with slightly oversize tires, but every modification, from the wheels to the auxiliary lights, was legally homologated with the authorities in Spain. No small feat, that, and proof positive that the work was done right, using only recognized, quality parts. Dual batteries are on board as well, with a disconnect key under the steering column.
The bodywork is straight and honest, the mileage is low, and the interior has been redone in a stylish black and gray combination that suits the nature of this particular Patrol. Rough and rugged, always cared for, no stories... it's a heck of a nice Nissan Patrol.
Because It's There
Climbing steadily up the mountain, I was really starting to enjoy myself. The SD33 has a very smooth spread of power across a wide rev range, and the slick shifting five-speed manual allows lightning fast gear changes when surfaces become slippery or progress begins to stall, allowing the kind of timely adjustments that are so critical when the going gets tough. Wheel slip was common on the rocky terrain, but the suspension felt composed and planted at all times. Slow and steady, I ground my way to the top, stopping occasionally to walk particularly nasty stretches or to sit for a moment and admire the views.
I saw my first wild boar that day. And my second. A couple falcons and a whole bunch of sparrows. But no human beings. On a closed trail near the top of a difficult mountain, it's just you, the vehicle and nature, and that makes the surroundings feel pretty special. Why do it? Why drive a Nissan Patrol all the way up here, likely breaking a few laws and risking an embarrassing recovery if you put a wheel wrong? Because that's what Nissan Patrols do, frankly, and the challenge of making it up and down without help is an inspiring one.
Up there, high enough for the clouds to start closing down the ceiling, there's nothing to bother you. Nothing to pay attention to except the available grip and the scenery. Nothing to worry about.
My phone beeped. A text from my wife. "How's the pool deck looking?"
Well... almost nothing.
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