What we’re lookin’ at here – is a solid axle swap 1988 WD21 Nissan Pathfinder. It’s awesome! But it’s not easy… or cheap lol.
This straight-axle swapped WD21 Pathfinder belongs to Daniel Pence.
He drives it a lot actually, both on & off-road. He’s owned this 2-door Nissan Pathfinder for nearly 20 years now, and he’s done all the fab/custom work himself (with the help of friends). He’s always loved Nissan trucks, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
But be warned…
When you get into the 80’s/90’s Nissan 4×4 world, the trucks are 100% rad, and the owners are diehard. But the aftermarket support is way more scarce than Toyota. And waaaaaay more scare than Jeep. There’s rarely ‘a kit’ readily available to meet your needs.
Daniel Pence had to fabricate everything under the lifted WD21 Pathfinder.
He cut out all the mounting points from the Pathfinder’s factory independent front suspension, and fabricated new mounts for a 3-link straight axle front end. (Detailed photos are at the end of this article.)
The front axle is a Dana 44 from a 1988 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, along with 1970 Bronco coil springs.
The rear axle is also from the same ’88 Grand Wagoneer. The factory Nissan rear axle is actually known for being super strong, even stronger than the 44. But the Dana 44 is less expensive to buy aftermarket parts for… so that’s something to consider.
This truck has 5.13 gears.
It also has a dual transfer case (twin sticks)…
Which also gets rid of the CV half-shaft openings on the OEM transfer case. Kinda of a ‘2 birds; 1 stone’ scenario.
To make the dual transfer case work with the Nissan tranny, Daniel & his buddy fabricated a custom adaptor plate, which they were pretty excited about (photos at the end). The dual transfer case allows you to operate the the front & rear axle independently, opening lots of options. For example, you can put the front axle in 4-lo and the rear axle in 4-hi if you want/need the front tires to dig & ‘pull’ your vehicle over the crest of a rock without spinning-out the rear tires & losing traction.
Daniel’s Nissan Pathfinder is running 37” Cooper STT Pros on 17×9 wheels.
The front winch-bumper was custom-built by Daniel himself, as was the roof rack. He’s working on a rear bumper now.
The rock sliders along the sides – are a 67” kit made by Trail Gear for a Tacoma/4Runner. He bought the set & then trimmed about 1.5” off the sides to tuck it up better to the Pathfinder before welding them in place.
This Pathfinder’s got the VG30 6-cylinder.
And Daniel upgraded to multipart fuel injection from a 90s model. He said it was a total PITA, as he had to change the entire wire harness, but the truck runs better with less headaches… so it’s worth it in the long run.
There’s just something about lifted 80s & 90s Japanese 4x4s & SUVs.
Something about big tires on small boxy trucks. And a ‘vibe’ that is definitely real. As I stated at the beginning of the article, don’t be deceived, this is not a cheap/easy build. This is Rome. Rome wasn’t built in a day. But these ARE cheap & easy trucks to own.
And you can still grab one of these cheap. Trucks like this are FUN to modify. Even 33s still look tough & period correct on the 90s boxes. Just know whatcha got & where it stands, be cool with it, and I promise you’ll have A TON of fun on the trails. And… a chill cruiser to mash around town.
Text by Wooley Photos by Ben Whiles
Check out these sites for Nissan Pathfinder aftermarket support:
Solid axle swap PHOTOS
Twin sticks – This is the regular 5-speed shifter, plus the standard low range, and then double-low range shifters.
DOM steering links with 1-ton Chevy tie rod ends (below).
Ballistic Fabrication adjustable coil spring buckets/perches. (Note the 3 adjustment bolts on each side)
Control arm / Long arm mount (as seen from the driver’s side).
Here is the upper 3rd link mount at the frame (below).
These photos show the track bar axle mount & track bar frame mount (below).
The Pathfinder is running a front sway bar from a TJ Jeep Wrangler (upper black bar in photo below).
Daniel had to cut-out & seal the ‘CV-axle’ portion of the Nissan transfer case.
This is the custom adapter plate that Danny & his friend fabricated to go from the Nissan transfer case to dual transfer case.
Here is the final & complete setup.