The Incredible History of the Nissan Patrol

When people in the US think of iconic off-road SUVs, they tend to picture the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser, Willys Jeep, or Ford Bronco. Those ‘in-the-know’ may also include the Land Rover Defender or even Mitsubishi Montero. But if you asked someone overseas, especially in Australia, to make such a list, there’d be one more SUV at the top: the Nissan Patrol. And while it isn’t really well-known by that name in the US, Donut Media’s latest video explains why it’s so popular everywhere else.

What is the Nissan Patrol?

1967 Nissan Patrol
1967 Nissan Patrol | Cool Classics International

The period after WWII saw a lot of military Jeeps helping rebuild Japan. The Japanese government saw the utility of these four-wheel drive vehicles and requested Japan’s automakers to make similar ones. This is how vehicles like the original Toyota Land Cruiser and Mitsubishi J-Series Jeep came to be.

But while Mitsubishi bought the rights to the Jeep’s design, another Japanese automaker competed with Toyota in designing a new 4WD vehicle. That was Nissan, and the design in question was the original Patrol, then called the 4W Series. It was a truly bare-bones, ultra-utilitarian vehicle, which made it popular with military, firefighting, and police forces.

1973 Nissan Patrol 60
1973 Nissan Patrol 60 | The Paddock Cars via Hemmings

By 1960, the first Patrols made it to the US, where they competed with Toyota’s FJ40. The Patrol was actually the first vehicle ever sold as a ‘Nissan’ in the US. But the Patrol was pulled from the US in 1969 after poor sales. It’s difficult to understand why sales were so poor. Like the FJ40, the 60-Series Patrol had easily-cleaned vinyl seats and fold-down rear bench seats. It’s possible that being badged as a ‘Nissan’ in Datsun dealers may have confused people.

But, while the Patrol failed in the US, it became a sensation overseas.

How the SUV became a sensation

Available with a hardtop and soft-top, and even as a pickup, the 60-Series Nissan Patrol was the first vehicle to ever cross Australia’s Simpson Desert. With a two-speed transfer case, narrow body, and 1st gear so low it could climb dunes on idle, the 60-Series cemented its place in Australian culture. The second-gen Patrol was so popular, Nissan didn’t replace it until 1980.

1987 Nissan Patrol Paris-Dakar rally car
1987 Nissan Patrol Paris-Dakar rally car | Nissan

The third-gen 160-Series Nissan Patrol, sold as the Safari in Japan, was equally popular. The addition of a diesel engine added to its esteem among 4WD enthusiasts, as did its increased refinement. That diesel also cemented the Patrol in rallying history.

1987 Nissan Patrol Paris-Dakar rally SUV
1987 Nissan Patrol Paris-Dakar rally SUV | Nissan

In 1985, a Patrol became the first diesel vehicle to finish in the top 10 at the Paris-Dakar Rally, winning its class and coming in 9th overall. Although the Mitsubishi Pajero was more dominant, the Nissan Patrol’s rally performance made it enormously popular. In 1986, 1 in 2 vehicles sold in Spain were Patrols.

The 4th-gen Y60 Patrol came with coil springs all-around, something only offered on the Range Rover at the time. In 1990, Nissan began offering the Patrol with the RB30 inline-6 made famous by the Skyline GT-R. But for ultimate performance, customers turned to the 5th-gen Y61, available from 1997.

Its 4.8-liter inline-6 was so well-built, tuners have been able to crank out four-digit horsepower figures from them. In the Middle East, tuned Y61 Patrols have been filmed beating Lamborghinis in drag races.

In fact, the 5th-gen Nissan Patrol is kind of like Australia’s Ram 1500 Classic. It was so rugged and popular, it was still being made until 2016, alongside the 6th-gen Y62 Patrol. And it wasn’t until the 6th-gen, in 2010, that the US finally got a Nissan Patrol again. Sort of.

Nissan Patrol vs. Nissan Armada

2020 Nissan Armada | Nissan-00
2020 Nissan Armada | Nissan

Initially, the US only received an up-scaled version of the Patrol. That was the Infiniti QX56 SUV, later named the Infiniti QX80. But, in 2016, Nissan USA got a version, too. That was the Nissan Armada.

2020 Nissan Armada interior
2020 Nissan Armada interior | Nissan

Compared to the Patrol proper, based on Top Gear and Car and Driver’s reports, both the Armada and QX80 are more up-scale, with leather seats and wood trim. Although the Armada’s dated infotainment system and rather poor fuel economy have been criticized, the 3-row SUV’s 5.6-liter V8 (its sole engine) and 7-speed automatic let it tow up to 8,500 lbs. It’s also available with all-wheel drive, and its recent safety feature update helped it earn a Consumer Reports recommendation. However, the Armada does lack some of the Patrol’s more off-road features.

2020 Nissan Patrol
2020 Nissan Patrol | Nissan

The Nissan Armada does share the Nissan Patrol’s skidplate and body-on-frame design. However, the Patrol also offers locking front and rear differentials, whereas the Armada only has a two-speed transfer case. Rather like Toyota does with the Hilux and Tacoma, Nissan considered US customers were looking for more refinement, rather than hard-core utility.

2020 Nissan Patrol interior
2020 Nissan Patrol interior | Nissan

However, as both Donut Media and Roadshow demonstrate, the Nissan Patrol has also become more up-scale. It’s difficult to tell if the next-gen Armada will share the next-gen Patrol’s off-road features. But it would be a chance for Americans to truly experience an iconic off-roader once more.