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Classic SUVs are all the rage. Good, clean first-generation Ford Broncos can cost as much as the new version. The same is true with old Toyota Land Cruisers and 4Runners. And the classic British Land Rover and Range Rover have always been popular. Any number of shops will completely restore these vehicles, upgrading them to the owner’s every whim. However, one old SUV has yet to appreciate: the first-generation Nissan Pathfinder. That got us wondering — will it become the next classic SUV?   

An overview of the first-generation Nissan Pathfinder

First-generation Nissan Pathfinder: Classic SUV
1986 Nissan Pathfinder | John Prieto/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The first-generation Pathfinder debuted in 1985 as a two-door body-on-frame SUV based on Nissan’s Hardbody truck. It competed with the Chevy Blazer, Ford Bronco II, Jeep Cherokee, and Toyota 4Runner in the U.S. market. For the 1990 model year, it gained a four-door body style. Among the distinctive features of the four-door Pathfinder were rear door handles concealed in the C-pillar trim. 

Initially, buyers could choose from Nissan’s 106-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a 143-hp 3.0-liter V6. By 1990, Nissan dropped the four-cylinder Pathfinder from the U.S. market and gave the V6 a new multipoint fuel injection increasing the output to 153 hp. 

The first-generation Pathfinder continued through the 1995 model year with periodic updates. By then, buyers could opt for the base XE trim with a standard manual transmission, the SE trim with automatic transmission and power windows and locks, or the LE, offering a leather interior, sunroof, and Bose premium stereo. 

The first-gen Pathfinder is cheaper than the 4Runner

Today first-generation Toyota 4Runner models range from about $5,000 for a rusted, beat-up example to the mid-$20,000s for one in excellent condition. According to Hagerty, prices for vehicles in good to excellent condition have doubled in the past five years. 

By comparison, Nissan Pathfinder values have increased, but not at the rate of other vintage SUVs. There are still plenty of first-gen models available for under $10,000 in good condition, and excellent ones sell for around $20,000. Hagerty doesn’t show a valuation for the Pathfinder, which means the classic car insurance company covers few of those models. That’s a good indicator that first-generation Pathfinders are still considered used cars, not classic SUVs. 

Owning a first-generation Nissan Pathfinder

The main problem to watch for on a first-generation Pathfinder is rust. Many Pathfinders and Hardbody trucks of that era rusted around the rocker panels, rear fenders, and rear bumper. But the most significant areas to watch are rusted frames or frame mounts. 

Mechanically, the Pathfinder is sound. The 3.0-liter V6 delivers velvety power and adequately motivates the SUV, especially the updated version with multipoint fuel injection. The four-speed transmission with electronic overdrive is generally solid, as are most of the other mechanical bits. Its body-on-frame configuration makes the first-gen Pathfinder a competent off-roader that’s still comfortable enough to drive on the highway. 

The best thing to look for is a Pathfinder with detailed maintenance records or one that checks out in good mechanical condition. A pre-purchase inspection is always worth the expense and can save you thousands of dollars. You’ll find plenty of first-gen models for sale in good condition, so don’t settle for a beat-up example or hold out for the unicorn.  


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