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Project 3323 – The Carbage 2000 Nissan Pathfinder Project

While this will be an introduction, well, an official introduction, to my 2000 Nissan R50 Pathfinder, there is also a bit of a story to be told. One of why I’m so tied to this truck. It may seem like a pity story, but it’s far from that. Rather, I want people to be encouraged to continue to work towards something they are good at doing and sticking to it. Even if it means not living in a home for a while.

How I got the R50 Pathfinder


I purchased this truck from a friend of mine, Drew from Thirsty Film who now owns his own photobooth rental company, about two years ago. I needed a daily after my original truck’s engine finally let go and he wanted to get rid of it. At first, this truck just served as something to get me around and take me to different shoots and events for my freelance work. Then I moved out of the area I was originally living in and tried living in Crestline, CA. It was a mountain town and put me three to four hours (mostly due to SoCal traffic) from areas I was doing a lot of work in and I couldn’t stay there anymore. I was pretty much spending the money I was making and was just making a loss.

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Turning from a SUV into a Home


Because of that, I decided to move back to the LA area and where I’m located now. However, I couldn’t move in right away and I had to be in that area to work. I, being the stubborn person that I am, didn’t want to bother friends and burden them with keeping me in their homes. I decided to live in my R50 Pathfinder for a month, roughly. I didn’t tell anyone except a very few people what I was doing. My family back in Virginia didn’t even know and this is probably the first time they are finding out about it. Sorry.


It was tough as I was living in my truck and basically “camping out” in places like discreet parking lots and streets that I could get away with sleeping at for several hours. The first couple of nights were rough as I was nervous about doing it. I’ve done real camping in my truck for things like the King of the Hammers before, but nothing like this. Even with a real bed in the back of the Pathfinder, those first couple of nights were hard to stay asleep for very long. Noises and worries about someone trying to break into your vehicle make one paranoid. After about the third night, I got over it and realized it was mostly in my head. That’s not to say it wasn’t a possibility, but you learn where it’s safe and where it’s not.

Doing the Business that isn’t Work


Obviously, the Pathfinder isn’t a RV and I wasn’t staying in hotels or even AirBnBs to save some money, so how did I shower and use the bathroom? I had two people locally that I told what I was doing, so I could use their showers and bathrooms if I needed. Usually, though, I would purchase shower time from a local truck stop and I was doing my work from Starbucks wherever I was at. There were a couple of nights, that wasn’t related to going somewhere to work, that I stayed in a hotel because I was feeling ill, but other than that, my home for nearly a full month was my R50.

Attachment to the Inanimate


It’s strange the things you can get attached to. I just can’t bring myself to get rid of this truck because I can’t bear the thought of losing it. It’s a vehicle, a nonliving object, yet it’s still something that I cherish. It was home. It kept me employed and working. It still helps me pay the bills. I owe a lot to this thing and to give it up would be equivalent to giving up a faithful employee who believes in your business.

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A Family Influence

My Dad with my younger brother and I. His lettering workshop with its hand painted mural that he did after the office was finished by my grandfathers, in the center. Him finishing up decaling an IHRA Sportsman Rail car to the right.
There is another reason I’m so attached, too. When it comes to Japanese makes, I’m a Nissan guy. My dad had a Nissan 720 pickup that he lowered and painted himself for his side business, Banner Lettering and Graphics. He’s a Ford Master Mechanic, but he did lettering and painting to support my mother, younger brother, and myself. There were some very late nights he sacrificed to make sure we had food on our plates, sometimes I wouldn’t see him until the next morning.

Col. Tom with my dad as a toddler to the left. Right, Charles with his sister, my Great Aunt Mary. On top of his military service, Charles also worked as a computer technician.
My earliest memories are of my grandfathers involve Nissans. Colonel Tom Banner, who I knew better as “Papaw” and is a member of the US Army Quartermaster Hall of Fame. He owned a Nissan 720 King Cab pickup and I remember going everywhere in it to get wood for projects. I’d then use the leftovers to make toys out with him. He then sold it to my other grandfather, Charles Lively, Sr. who I declared would be “Pa” when I was an infant and also served in the US Army. He taught me about computers and technology at that age, too. Both passed away while I lived here in California chasing this dream of Automotive Writing, Charles on Thanksgiving of 2012 due to heart failure and Tom on January of this year due to cancer. I never got to see them before they passed because I was here in California, but I was fortunate enough to speak to them before they did. They were very proud in what I was doing as an Automotive Journalist and were always supportive of my efforts, even if I had to move so far away. I’ve always wanted to do something to commemorate all three of them and since they all owned Nissans during my youngest years, I feel this R50 Pathfinder can do it.

Project 3323


So, I refuse to fire this Nissan Pathfinder from Carbage. Instead, it’s now going to become Project 3323. I’m not going to tear it down and disable it. It’s still my daily. However, I am going to improve it and work on it to make it a more capable vehicle than it is right now. So, the work that will be done to it will be stuff that won’t take it offline for more than couple of days. I have mass transit here in Gardena, so being down two days in the middle of the week won’t be that bad. It just can’t be more than that.

What’s with the Name?


Why call it Project 3323? If you’re a Nissan nut, you kind of get the last two numbers. In Japanese, the number two is pronounced “nii (nE, if you can’t figure that out)” and three is “san.” So, two-three can be pronounced “niisan” and is why Nissan’s primary works race cars are number 23. Another note is that “5523” is “Go Go Nii San,” so that’s why those numbers pop up in Nissan’s odometers for sales and marketing.


For this project, it’s not “San San Nii San,” though. “33” represents the engine displacement of the VG33E, 3.3-liters. So, yes, the engine is staying for now. I will probably do the supercharger from the Frontier/Xterra, but I’ll have to figure out how to fit it under the hood and intercool it. It will also represent the size tire I’m looking at starting with, a 33×12.50R17 with 17×9 +0 (4.5-inch backspacing) beadlock wheels. I was looking at doing 35-inch tall tires, but have decided against it, again for now. The idea with the beadlocks is that they will allow me to more quickly change tires for tire reviews and testing here on the site. So, yes, the Pathfinder will be more than just a rejuvenated play toy, it’s going to be a tester.


R50 enthusiasts are probably already wondering how I’m going to achieve that and I do have ideas. The start will be simple, though, spacers for both the strut and on the hub. I will also be cutting the front and rear fenders out to fit the tires because I’m not putting much of a lift on the truck. I’m an off-road guy, but I’m also someone who appreciates a low center of gravity.

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Desert Runner Style


It’s also going to stay two-wheel drive. I keep debating repeatedly if I’m going to do a 4WD swap. Reason being is that Nissan made this truck into a vehicular version of a Lego kit. A 4WD swap isn’t as extensive as most vehicles. The only additional things you would need (besides the drive shafts and transfer case), is a single cross member for the front differential and the front knuckles. The struts are the same (valved different, but no taller or providing additional travel), lower control arms are the same, and the brakes are all the same. It’s also been done and well documented with the person doing the conversion the Nissan Pathfinder Off Road Association (NPORA) forums saying how easy it really was. It’s not cheap, but the conversion is stupidly straight forward.

Two-Wheels Driven


Despite that, I’m focusing on keeping the Pathfinder 2WD. The key thing I want to do is make a set of front coilovers that provide a two-inch lift that will also give me two-inches of additional travel. It would also maximize space under the fenders as it would allow me to use a smaller outside diameter spring and not use a spacer. I have three different ways of approaching it in my head from straight forward to very, very complicated in making a Super Strut system like what’s currently used on the Honda Civic Type R. Well, similar in principal, anyway.


I will also need to strengthen the front strut towers. The current idea is to weld in strut supports in front of and behind each tower and tie them both together with a strut tower bar. I will also have to add an additional chassis brace know as the “missing link,” a bar that spans across the rear mounts of the lower control arm. This is to help box them in and provide additional strength to the front suspension. The rear will be easy, but I will need a set of adjustable control arms and possibly a drop-down bracket for the track bar (Panhard bar, if you prefer that name).


There’s the need to install a locker and I’m eyeing a Nitro Gear and Axle Lunch Box Locker since I have an open differential version of the H233B. Because it’s also the 33-spline version the only other option is an ARB Air Locker, but the locker by itself is nearly $1000 and I’d still need an air compressor. That’s more than I’d like to spend now, but I do like the idea of having on-board air for the tires.

While I have the axles out, I will plan to do a rear disc brake swap as the backing plates of the drums need to be pressed off and the backing plates of the WD21 Pathfinder’s axles will need to be pressed on in their place. The plates are the mounting points for the calipers and for the parking brake shoes and the axles are shorter on the WD21 and 31-spline, which is why I just can’t swap the axles.

Start


To begin, though, I need to knock out some much-needed maintenance and general repairs. It needs the timing belt and water pump replaced and the valve covers are leaking oil. The air conditioning system doesn’t work because the lines leak and the compressor doesn’t pump. While I’m in there, I’ll replace the alternator with a higher-output version from the Nissan Quest as it’s a bolt-on replacement for the Pathfinder. Frontiers and Xterras aren’t so lucky. The one thing I’ve already done is replace the cracked radiator with the CSF OE replacement I got earlier this year.

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The headlights also need to be replaced because they have not only fogged severely but have also yellowed out. I might be able to clean the left side, but the right side is done so I’ll just replace both at the same time. I also need to remove the fog lights as the driver’s side is cracked with a hole and I’ll be replacing the entire front bumper with a tube bumper. Same for the rear bumper, a tube replacement. Once that’s done, I’ll install a set of LED lights all around, including the headlights.

Here, we, go.


So, that’s the plan. Just keep in mind, plans change and morph as a project moves forward. It’s also not going to be quick by any means. I’m doing this within my budget and sometimes that budget is strained as it is running a website solo.

Justin Banner

Justin Banner, Lead Editor and Founder of Carbage Online, has been involved with the automotive media and industry in many capacities and now tackles publication ownership with CarbageOnline.com. Prior to that, he has freelanced for top online publications of modern media that include Speedhunters, MotoIQ, Super Street Online, Hot Rod Magazine and many others. All due to his nearly 20 years experience as a mechanic, service writer, and technical support in the automotive industry. Justin is also a Journalist Level member of the Motor Press Guild - an industry recognized entity of professional automotive journalists - since 2015.