2002 Nissan Frontier Desert Runner - Front Clip - Project Desert Dragger: Episode I
Bring Down The Trojan Horse
From the September, 2002 issue of Mini Truckin'
By Lance Martz
Photography by Lance Martz
In this, our very first installment of the buildup of our 2002 project, a brand-new Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Supercharged V-6, we'll do one of the most radical modifications ever photographed. In this episode, you'll see the off-road-chassis-equipped Nissan (that means the suspension is both wider and hangs lower than a typical 2wd chassis to lay frame) be modified to lay out flat. From our efforts to slam the too-tall Frontier, we found out that this modification would work perfectly to bring a Nissan Pathfinder, a Nissan 4x4, or other vehicle with too much ground clearance down to the ground somewhat inexpensively. Despite what you might think, this isn't the most difficult process you've ever imagined, but it does take some seriously large cajones. For more information, please contact the companies that have assisted us in the buildup of the Frontier. If you want to see the finished product of our efforts, you'll have to wait until the next SEMA Show in Las Vegas rolls around in November. That's where you'll get to see the impossible made reality at the Primedia/Mini Truckin' booth at the show. Lucky for you, we'll be covering every aspect of the truck's progress right here.
1. First, we had Suspension...
1. First, we had Suspension Dimension disconnect the radiator, the steering, the brake, and all the electrical lines from the factory front frame clip. Once the engine was supported and unbolted from its mounts, the clip was cut cleanly just in front of the secondary cab mounts beneath the leading edge of the Frontier's doors.
2. We swapped front clips...
2. We swapped front clips with California Mini Truck Dismantlers in Montclair, California, and even though we got what we needed out of the deal, the new front clip was far from ready to go onto the truck.
3. The replacement clip, which...
3. The replacement clip, which comes from an '87 Nissan Hardbody V-6, was stripped of its engine mounts, its steering, and all its suspension components. Everything was temporarily removed to make the clip lighter and more maneuverable for installation.
4-5. After carefully measuring...
4-5. After carefully measuring the replacement clip as well as the area we'd cut on the Frontier to the Frontier's front body mounts, we trimmed the replacement clip accordingly and set it to the side.
6. While the truck's original...
6. While the truck's original suspension was fine for its use, we had to modify the truck to be able to ultimately lay frame. The original oil pan sat at a much lower point than a 2wd oil pan would, so this had to be changed immediately. The easiest way to do this while the front clip is not on the truck, which gives you clear access to the oil pan. Along with the frame clip, we got a 2wd V-6 oil pan from Cal Minis along with the correct oil pickup tube for that oil pan.
7-8. To get to the oil pan's...
7-8. To get to the oil pan's mounting bolts, we had to remove the truck's starter. Once it was out of our way, we drained the oil pan and removed it.
9. Compared to a Hardbody...
9. Compared to a Hardbody oil pan, the Frontier desert Runner V-6 oil pan looks like Goliath. You can't slam the Frontier using the factory pan, since it hangs down a good 6 inches lower overall.
10. We test-fitted the oil...
10. We test-fitted the oil pan, and it bolted right up to the Frontier's engine block, but we found that the oil pickup was way different. Because you have to supply the engine with ample oil for cooling and lubrication, the pickup was modified as well as the internal baffle inside the oil pan, which had to be trimmed to make room for the oil pickup. The factory oil pickup was configured to pull oil from the bottom of a huge oil pan, so it had to be canned, and the Hardbody pickup was slightly modified for our use.
11. After thorough cleaning...
11. After thorough cleaning off all the old sealant from the engine block and the oil pan, as well as the ancient sludge in our retrofit part, we allowed the oil pan to dry completely of the solvents we used, which broke down oil and sealant. We then installed the oil pan using gasket sealant and the original bolts that retain the factory oil pan.
12. We then double-checked...
12. We then double-checked the Frontier chassis where we'd cut the frame and the Hardbody clip before we went any further. A bit of cleanup was still needed on the Hardbody clip before we could proceed.
13. As the Hardbody frame...
13. As the Hardbody frame clip was lifted into position, the clip was steadied using transmission jacks.
14. To install the clip, we...
14. To install the clip, we first bolted the forward section into place at the Frontier's front cab mounts on either side of the truck's core support. This added extra balance to the frame clip and took some of the load off of the support stands.
15. Since the truck was on...
15. Since the truck was on the lift, we used a crossbeam to lift the Hardbody clip slowly into position.
16-17. While raising the clip...
16-17. While raising the clip into place, we constantly checked the Frontier frame, the engine, and all other items that were in close proximity to the clip until the frame clip was even with the top of the Frontier frame.
18. With everything square...
18. With everything square and straight, we stitch-welded the frame clip to the Frontier chassis one side at a time, all the while making sure that the correct outer frame width was maintained from side-to-side.
19. Once the frame was securely...
19. Once the frame was securely welded into position, Semon Shabke, Suspension Dimension's co-owner and resident frame swap-master, moved over to the company's optical torch/plasma cutter to make the support straps for our next step.
20. The straps were welded...
20. The straps were welded onto the bottom and to both the inner and the outer sides of the new front clip frame, making the clip every bit as strong as a virgin frame. With the clip bolted up and welded in completely, the stands that have supported the frame clip were removed.
21. Next, we had to address...
21. Next, we had to address the problem of replacing the engine mounts in the Hardbody clip with modified mounts that would secure the Frontier's engine.
22-23. Semon came up with...
22-23. Semon came up with these simple, yet effective engine mounts that he bolted to the Frontier's engine and welded to the front frame clip.
24. Moving on to the rear...
24. Moving on to the rear of the truck, we found that the only thing keeping the Desert Runner chassis off the ground were these monstrous leaf spring perches.
25-26. True to MT style, these...
25-26. True to MT style, these nasty things were cut off the frame using a torch.
27. After a fair amount of...
27. After a fair amount of detail grinding and a squirt of black spray paint, nothing was left in the way of allowing the Frontier to lay flat on the ground.
28. Since the front suspension...
28. Since the front suspension was swapped simply because it was too wide and hung down too far, we had a similar problem with the rearend. The frame would no longer keep the truck from laying, but the Frontier Desert Runner rearend is too wide. Rather than trying to find a shop that would narrow the rearend to our specifications, we opted for a Nissan Hardbody V-6 rearend that was delivered to us along with the frame clip and the oil pan parts by California Mini Truck Dismantlers.
29. This is where Episode...
29. This is where Episode I of our buildup ended, but keep on reading because we're moving ahead full steam to install the airbags that will allow us to rail Project Desert Draggin' or raise the truck enough to glide over pavement and speed bumps.
California Mini Truck Dismantlers (front frame clip)Dept. MT
4002 State St.
Montclair, CA 91763
Mac's Springs (suspension needs)
26746 E. Base Line
Highland, CA 92346
Suspension Dimension (fabrication)
1364 Camino Real, Ste. 135
San Bernardino, CA 92408