By on August 25, 2015

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I loved my 1st gen Pathfinder. Unlike today’s CUVs, it was a proper SUV — derived, and barely civilized from the compact pickup truck beneath. The ride was, as they say, trucklike. The accomodations, Spartan. And, until my wife decided the normally-sturdy VG30 V6 needed some additional positive crankcase ventilation on a subzero February morning, indestructible.

(I blame my wife, but really, I’m probably at fault, as I likely botched the coolant ratio when I changed fluids the prior fall. Alas, she doesn’t read TTAC.)

Unfortunately, when our truck was hauled to the nearby Nissan dealer, our phone call came not from the service department, but from sales. A quick inspection while on a lift revealed entirely too much of the inside of the frame rails, and not enough of the outsides. The Ohio winters had claimed another victim.

I reminisced about my truck while scouring eBay, Cars.com, and Autotrader today. I noticed that there are plenty of early Pathfinders out there, but very few with low miles. I saw a bunch with over 250,000 on the odometer, which is remarkable for any car with a propensity for rust.

This ’95 looks quite clean, with around 150,000 miles under the seemingly-rust-free body. The dealer only offers three photos, so I’d insist on more photos and/or a third-party inspection before winging it to Idaho. This is a no-frills, take the family anywhere machine, unlike the modern cute-utes which wince at the suggestion of gravel.

I miss my Nissan. It never let me down (let’s forget about the better half for a moment), and carried everything I threw at it. It even hauled a dead Mazda RX-7 a couple hundred miles on a heavy trailer with no complaints. I wouldn’t try that with a modern CVT-equipped equivalent.

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45 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: 1994 Nissan Pathfinder...”


  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    The only thing it’s missing is the funky three spoke wheels.

    I always liked these…

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Yeah, those were the best.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        They really cement the “funky anime sci-fi vehicle” vibe I always got from the original Pathfinder.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I liked the uplevel LE versions with the mesh wheels, and mirror tint over the back windows. On the QX4 version, sometimes the mirror tint was even gold tone!

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Corey, you’re talking about the next generation that went unibody, and I know exactly the trim you’re referring to. Isuzu did a very similar thing with the Trooper with those ‘wire/lace’ pattern wheels. I personally am not a huge fan in either case, the Trooper to me looks best with the simpler mid-level alloys or even the utilitarian base model steel wheels with center caps.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I was thinking there was an uplevel available with gen 1, but I will defer to you on that. There is a Trooper L and a Trooper Limited (I believe these were used separately). The Limited version was actually more expensive than an Acura SLX, when they were both being sold concurrently – go figure there. Hard to find the Limited Trooper, but there is one for sale around here actually (Dayton anyway).

            https://dayton.craigslist.org/cto/5158300950.html

            I love them in white.

            EDIT: There was an LE trim available by 95 with the gen 1, but it didn’t have those features we’re talking about. Looks like just leather and different wheels. Nothing fancy til 96. But I really think those looked great.
            http://zombdrive.com/images/1996_nissan_pathfinder_4dr-suv_le_rq_oem_1_500.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      Spartan

      Yep, the SE model came with those. I always liked the way they looked.

  • avatar
    AMC_MatadorX

    Our family had one, black, with the manual. The family member that drove it was very hard on cars, yet his lasted well into the mid 200’s, on the original clutch if I recall. SoCal kept it pretty rust free, but the inside not so much being used as a surf wagon. Pretty amazing how sturdy it was given all the abuse. Took it on a major off road adventure once fitted with Pirelli Scorpion’s into the Anza Borrego slot canyon, and never encountered any obstacle it couldn’t overcome. Eventually, electrical faults did it in. Was to be my first car, but that honor fell upon a 1996 MPV 4WD instead, an equally reliable and surprisingly 4wd capable sport utility minivan, currently on its 5th timing belt and otherwise stock engine/automatic at 250,000. (Ironically Pathfinder and MPV share the same automatic tranny)

    I remember when they (aunt and uncle) first bought the Pathfinder new, and everyone gave them crap about how they had bought a black SUV. At one time it was desirable enough that trips to Baja California necessitated a pretty high end disassabler alarm to be fitted, and many $20’s distributed to local law enforcement.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Good to hear about another fellow gen 1 MPV-er, my family still has both of ours, a base model ’89 with the rare 4 cylinder with about 240k miles on it, and a ’98 totally loaded up ES Allsport 4×4 model with about 170k. Both are secondary vehicles at this point and slowly but surely succumbing to the rust monster. I agree, the 18 valve V6 is a sturdy workhorse and the jatco transmission just does fine as long as the fluid is changed occasionally.

      I’ve yet to find an equally function vehicle to rival the MPV: minivan roominess, “real” SUV 4wd capability and towing abilities, tidy exterior dimensions, and simple and durable drivetrain layout. Modern crossovers don’t even come close.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I’ll believe a rust-free Hardbody or first-gen Pathfinder when I see it. I bet that shiny body is hiding some frame perforation.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Stupendously sturdy little rigs, I think the only things to really go wrong with them (aside from serious frame and body rot) was broken exhaust manifold studs as they aged. There was a clean supposedly Florida truck for sale not too far from me, a low mile manual variant. Mighty tempting, but I already have my ’96 4Runner covering my weekend SUV duties.

    The recently departed Xterra was a pretty worthy successor to this original BOF pathfinder, except the old WD21 pathy probably has a nicer finished interior than the Xterra, and better reliability. The generation after this original Pathfinder are an interesting step towards the “sport” side of SUV, in that they went to unibody construction and macpherson struts up front if I recall correctly, while keeping a solid rear axle. They stayed this way until 2004, gaining a nice VQ engine near the end of their run. 2005 Pathfinder aped the 2002 Explorer’s combination of BOF with an independent rear suspension, and is in general a fairly unremarkable vehicle relative to the older ones.

  • avatar
    doubleshooter

    RUST BUCKET! check frame

  • avatar

    It’s interesting that the Pathfinder went from a BOF (1986-1995) to a unibody (1996-2004), back to a BOF (2005-2012), and then to a unibody again (2013-). You don’t usually see that.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      I think your wrong about that. My sister and her husband bought a Pathfinder in the early 2000’s and it was a BOF truck. Served them well for close to 10 years and it sold on CL in less than a day.

      These were compact SUVs that you could actually tow with. The V6 in the Nissans were a lot better in that regard than the torqueless 3.0 V6 you got in the Toy trucks. But haven driven my cousins ’93 Nissan extended cab PU, 4WD V6 w/5SP stick, identical to my ’93 Toy PU extended cab, 4WD V6 w/5SP stick, I can tell you the rest of the Nissan truck at that time wasn’t in the same league as the Toy. Not even close

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        The 96-04 Pathfinders are most certainly unibody vehicles. It’s an interesting combination of a solid rear axle and legit 4wd transfer case with a low range, and all the usual SUV capability, but like the XJ jeep Cherokee, there is not separate frame.

        The 96-04 Pathfinders are known for very competent handling and refined rides, in large part due to straying from the usual BOF formula.

    • 0 avatar
      fvfvsix

      I had a 2005 Pathfinder SE Off road, and I bought it because it was a truck. Fantastic vehicle with a really ballsy motor. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t traded it.

      Here’s to hoping the Gen 5’s are trucks again :)

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    I’ll be driving through Caldwell on my way home to Boise tomorrow, I can take a look. I’m sure you have access to my email, as Farago used to email me and tell me to stfu.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    My buddy had one of these with a stick…..those were the days!

  • avatar
    canddmeyer

    TTAC is the only website I peruse that drags as popups and commercials consistently reload themselves. Am I the only one with slow response on TTAC?

  • avatar
    ReSa

    You can also try the Ghostery add-on on Firefox. Works like a charm.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Ah, the days when a 4,000 pound vehicle could be powered by a 153hp engine and 4-speed transmission and nobody minded.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Haha yep, my old ’98 MPV had a 155hp/169tq 18 valve 3.0L V6 tied to a jatco 4spd auto that liked to lock up the torque converter in overdrive at 39mph… the car weighed something like 4050lb. My 3750lb 4Runner feels like a rocket by comparison, with its 3.4L V6 churning out 217ftlb (183hp) at much lower RPMs (also a 4spd auto).

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Yeah, before CAFE forced us all to take all these high horsepower engines against our free will.

      • 0 avatar
        onyxtape

        I remember driving the MPV, fully loaded with 5 adults with luggage on the roof, through Montana back when they repealed the speed limit. It started making this scary noise and started shaking at around 110mph. Slowed down, I did.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      How about 98 horsepower?

      http://www.japaneseclassicsllc.com/1990-nissan-terrano-071915.html

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Gosh I really wouldn’t bother getting something JDM which looks EXACTLY like what we got here, except for a TDI engine. That’s lame.

        Get a Patrol and be unique! Also, wasn’t the Terrano sold in Canada?

        Edit: OMG they got a Sera! Yaaaaas.
        http://www.japaneseclassicsllc.com/1990-toyota-sera-082615.html

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          Naah, I think the Terrano nameplate was JDM only. You might be thinking of the X-Trail?

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I saw one somewhere, was thinking maybe Canada. Suppose not!

            Hey the X-Trail is cheap used, and well-equipped. It’s like what happened if a CRV met a Pilot on styling as well. I wonder what the Canadians think of them.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            I’m sure there are several hundred Terranos running around British Columbia by now. Import age is 15 for Canada.

          • 0 avatar
            don1967

            Canadians loved their X-Trails… the closest thing to a compact, affordable, reliable Range Rover. It was cool in a not-trying-to-be-cool way.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Looking at the ones for sale on Autotrader Canada, they seem to hold up very well, and be good used values. I didn’t see any crappy ones, and they’re all 8-10 years old now too.

  • avatar
    NN

    We had one of these in the family at my parents’ house in Las Vegas as the runabout for my brothers and I when we were in town there. My Dad bought it for like $4k, RWD, Gold, 5-speed stick. He kept it for 4-5 years and then sold it when my youngest brother graduated and was no longer spending much time back there. I think he sold it for about $4k, only reason he did sell was property tax & insurance were making it not financially feasible to keep it around. The odometer was seized at ~140k miles when he originally bought it, so we could only guess how many miles were on it (we suspected over 200k) when we sold it. It leaked oil like a sieve but otherwise maintenance was next to nothing. Great truck, always loved the look, too. Too bad about the new Pathfinder!

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    I remember riding in a handful of these as a kid since my father was a GM for Budget in so.cal and they had a program for these SUV’s, they looked identical to the one in the picture.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I actually had one of these, a 94 bought new in 93. I think it was the XE model, had pretty much every option short of leather. It was a good SUV for the time, ride height put me over the ground blizzards in Wyoming.

    On the downside, quality was not its strongest aspect. It was an old design at the time I drove it, one that harked back to the days when Japanese cars were considered “Up and Coming”. It had quite a few issues near the end and was traded in 2002 for a new Tahoe.

  • avatar

    I am driving a ’94 D21 that is over 200K. I love, love the little truck!

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    I bought a ’95 Pathfinder in 2003 and it was a pretty fun truck. After replacing the rotted brake lines. The exhaust manifold had separated partly from the engine due to defective bolts (there was a recall for that one). The power door locks would randomly unlock and lock while driving. But it had a sunroof, 4WD and fat tires, and I miss it still.

  • avatar

    I had a ’91 SE for a few years.
    I loved the fuel economy. Not that it was great, but that it was absolutely consistent. Driving around town? 19 MPG. 1,600 mile road trip? 19 MPG. Stop and go urban traffic? 19 MPG.

    Tough as nails too. My Pathy’s previous owner had cross-threaded and stripped the head with the #6 spark plug, which is easy to do in the engine due to the layout. I bounced over a speed bump, the plug popped out and suddenly the engine went all helicoptery. I had to drive it for a week like this because I couldn’t afford a fix. I finally was able to take it to a shop and got a reduced hourly rate because I helped. We HeliCoiled the head and it ran fine for another 3 years and 25k miles.

    I sold it for $2500 to a high school kid. Used the money to buy an ’81 Alfa GTV6. I consider that a good trade, even though I miss having a dead reliable beater truck around.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    We had a ’91 SE for 11 years. 5-speed manual. I kept the frame flushed out and had a spray rust treatement done regularly. The frame stayed solid. So when I sold it in 2006, I got $4500 for it. I also spent hours keeping the rust at bay under the back seat, in various bits of the front end, and in the rear lower corners of the rear door openings. The white paint was tough like enamel.

    The design lived on as the first generation X-Terra, with the main change being the X-Terra used the rear leaf suspension from the pickup rather than the Pathfinder’s sophisticated 5-link rear suspension. I recall our Pathfinder had front OR rear ABS. Brake bias device also. Beautiful red cloth interior (the SE got leather later) with the most plush carpeting and mats I’ve ever seen. It had the adjustable shocks, which never wore out and which worked very well to give the ride needed for various conditions. The SE also came with a rear lsd differential.

    The low range, excellent clearance and skid plates made it ideal for off-roading. The front torsion bar suspension allowed mounting the engine very low, aiding stability. It was better than the peer 4-Runner, which suffered from rust, malfunctioning tailgate window, a narrow cabin and a dangerously high center of gravity. I’ve seen far many of those 4-Runners with the rubber side up. For those smart enough to figure this out, the Pathfinder was a great purchase compared to the prices driven up for the 4-Runner by mindless Toyota fans.

    But, on the downside was the absence of means to drive in 4wd on dry pavement. This was dangerous on roads with mixed ice and bare patches, and the thing was basically unstable in bad highway conditions. The otherwise excellent engine had a bad habit of breaking manifold studs. The so-called bumpers were laughably flimsy trim bits. We replaced the Pathfinder with the incoming 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara, which, although far less rugged, still had a low range and was a much safer vehicle. Incredibly cheapo carpet and mats though.

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