OWNER: Nissan Motor Corporation/Mini Truckin' Magazine PROJECT MANAGER: Lance Martz RIDE:
A couple of years ago, Sport Truck magazine approached Mini Truckin' magazine with a truck it was done with, offering it to us to use as a custom project buildup. The truck was a yellow '03 Nissan Desert Runner with a supercharged V-6 powerplant. It was, without a doubt, a very cool mini-truck and had all the bells and whistles you could possibly want - as well as plenty that most custom mini-truckers would rather do without - from the factory. Unfortunately, you can't just 'bag one of these trucks since they come equipped with a 4x4 suspension profile. The suspension is both too wide and hangs down way too far to even think about trying to lay stock frame.
Once we realized the truck couldn't be 'bagged or laid out using conventional means, we turned to more drastic measures. The Mini Truckin' staffers are known around Primedia as the guys who aren't afraid to take a plasma cutter to anything with wheels and tires. The truck was delivered to Suspension Dimension in Grand Terrace, California, where its suspension was stripped down and a long look was taken at all that was in the way. Up onto the lift the truck went, where it lived for a couple of months, and out came the plasma cutter, which was used to hack the front framerails off just in front of the doors. With the engine hanging precariously over the engine bay, we dropped the stock front frame clip away and loaded a junkyard front clip we got in trade from California Mini-Truck Dismantlers for the stock front clip and suspension we'd just removed. The '89 Hardbody front clip and regular 2WD suspension soon became part of the Desert Runner, and we were faced with even more exciting challenges.
New engine mounts had to be fabricated because of the huge difference between the '87 Hardbody and '03 Frontier chassis. Once the mounts were made, the oil pan was addressed. Since the Frontier had a supercharged engine, it also carried a huge oil pan with an extra 2-quart capacity; that wasn't going to fly with a truck laying frame, and we started wondering how to fix it. Someone in the shop happened to compare the '03 V-6 oil pan to an '89 V-6 oil pan and realized that the mounting holes were exactly the same. After modifying the '89 oil pickup tube and internal oil baffling to fit, we bolted them up. Somehow, the truck ran like the supercharged beast it had always been.
Next, the frontend was 'bagged as easily as you'd 'bag any regular 2WD Nissan Hardbody. Moving to the rear, things got a bit iffy once again. Huge spring perches on the rear framerails cause Desert Runners to sit higher than typical 2WD trucks. These were axed from the framerails, along with every crossmember the truck came with, in preparation for the new reversed four-link suspension we were adding to allow the rear to completely drop to the ground. Suspension Dimension came up with a trick flame-cut, flame-pattern steel crossmember, which holds a hoop in the center. When the truck is laid out, an optical plasma-cut SD affixed to the rearend rises and fills the hoop, creating the shop's logo.
Once it was finished to the point of needing paint, we loaded the truck up and took it to Prescott, Arizona, where Charles Armstrong and his wicked troops were ready to shave, paint, and sling custom graphics on what we'd dubbed Project Desert Dragger. In a month's time, Auto Art managed to shave it, add custom graphics, and pull out all the stops in order to get the truck to the 2002 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. There, the truck was proudly displayed in Primedia's main-hall booth. More than one Nissan executive came over to see what we'd done to the company's once sky-high mini-truck. They were amazed, as were we, with all that had been accomplished in the few months before the show.
Since the SEMA Show, the truck has mostly sat untouched (except for several burnouts by the guys at Suspension Dimension). We recently dusted off the cobwebs, tubbed the bed, and added a permanent bedliner to get the truck ready for a cover shoot. Without the help of such Suspension Dimension alumni as Sean Thurman, Semone Shabke, and new Suspension Dimension owner Sean Canela, we never would've been able to make Project Desert Dragger a reality.