Dig The New Breed

Originally Published: June 2013 Words: Dan Fenn Pictures: Dan Fenn

Once seen as a new breed of 4x4 built to stay on the road, the Nissan Terrano is more hardcore than almost anything you can buy these days. You can get a decent used one for next to no money – and if you follow Paul Harber’s lead, making the most of what it’s got needn’t cost you more than a few quid either.

The Nissan Terrano II was seen as a soft-roader when it was launched. That was in 1993: by the time it was finally pulled from UK sale in 2006, things had changed so much that off-road purists who once mocked it now mourned its passing.

Born into a world of Troopers and Cherokees, the Terrano lived on into the era of Freelanders and X5s. By then, its technology was hopelessly out of date – with a ladder chassis, live back axle and low-range transfer box, it was the kind of 4x4 the mass market had stopped buying.

Well, what do the mass market know? One of the glossy car mags used to describe it as ‘Britain’s worst car.’ If you knew your stuff then, you knew you were reading Britain’s worst magazine. And if you’ve seen a Terrano in action anytime since, you’ll know this is no soft-roader.

Especially not if the one you’ve seen is Paul Harber’s. He’s not modified it much, at least in comparison to the prepped 90s it rubs shoulders with at playdays, but the fact that he’s done so at all puts him in a select minority (this is only the second Terrano ever to have appeared on these pages), and what it demonstrates above all else is that you’d don’t need to do much to one of these to turn it into a proper bit of kit.

Paul didn’t arrive at the Terrano as a time-served off-roader. He’d had Freelanders in the past, as well as a Hi-Lux Surf, but hadn’t ever tried them on any ground worthy of the name. ‘But then I got this and started coming up to Tong,’ he says, and if you’ve done that too it’ll all be clicking in to place.

One visit to Tong is enough to convince anyone with a soul that off-roading is brilliant. Paul clearly has a soul, because here he is back at Tong, a place where he’s become a regular, and the Terrano now looks a bit different to that first time.

Only a bit, mind. Its tyres are 265/70R15s, so that’s no more than about an inch taller than the truck’s originals. And that’s with a total of four inches of lift, two each in its body and suspension. They’re not even all that hairy, either, with an all-terrain pattern that looks mild even by its own standards but keeps clawing away gamely. Still, put on a set of muds with a bit more height, which is pretty much exactly what Paul intends to do, and you can only guess at what it’ll achieve.

Those four inches come from an Xpajun body lift and a combination of wound-up torsion
bars and what Paul thinks are long-wheelbase five-door Terrano springs on the back. Being rated to hold up a heavier body, naturally enough they hold the three-door body higher, and that’s as scientific as it needs to get.

Lift doesn’t necessarily equal articulation, but fetching off the anti-roll bar and tossing it in the skip tends to. That’s what Paul did, or as good as, and first time you see this Terrano flexing out your jaw will drop. All the good stuff happens at the back, obviously, but there’s so much of it, and it’s so good, that the axles will get a huge twist on without there even being a front axle to twist.

This is the point in the article where we should launch into a flowery description of all the other amazing stuff the truck’s had done to it, but there pretty much isn’t any. The engine breathes in through a snorkel and out through a 2.5” stainless steel straight-through exhaust that Paul made up himself, but aside from that it’s as it left the factory. He talks about turning up the fuel pump and turbo boost at some stage, but rates the 2.7 TD as one of the most reliable units you can get. ‘I don’t think I’d swap the engine for anything else,’ he says, and yes that includes the 3.0 diesel that went into the Terrano for its last few model years.

He even thinks the engine should have enough on standard gearing to spin up the 33” tyres he plans to fit in the future. You may shake your head in condemnation and judge him for falling into the must-get-ever-bigger trap, but in fact this is just a prudent response to the rust that’s noshing its way through both rear arches.

Trouble is, you see, you can get weld-in replacements for lots of cars, but not the Terrano. And Nissan put a wider flare on later models, meaning he could get a set of these and use them instead… though of course that would make his current tyres look silly, so upgrading to a bigger set would simply mean he was doing a properly thorough job of repairing the rough bits. The front arches would need a little trimming, too, which just goes to show how thorough he’s willing to be to keep his Terrano looking nice.

He’s also planning to replace the sills with some ‘nice, chunky box section,’ which is the only kind of box section a true off-roader is interested in. He won’t, on the other hand, be upgrading the steering pump – that’s why he wouldn’t go beyond 33” on the tyres, as wisdom has it that this is the biggest size you can go to without over-stressing the standard one.

As you can tell, this is a man who’s been learning his stuff since coming by the Terrano and finding his way into the off-roading game. A wagon driver for Longwood Engineering, Paul actually got it from his brother Andrew, who’s also had 90s and Discoverys and gets a vote of thanks for helping him into the whole scene; as is so often the case, it started out as no more than a daily driver but once he realised how much fun it could be, it turned into something altogether more interesting.

‘It’s a little bit smaller than a Land Rover,’ Paul reflects, ‘with a shorter wheelbase. So it can get into places they can’t. And anyway, everybody’s got a Land Rover!’

If more people realised how rugged the Terrano is deep down, and how easy and cheap it is to bring out the best in this tough and very willing off-roader, it’s impossible not to conclude that you’d see a lot more of them at Tong and its fellow playday sites. Paul’s is already a hell of a tool – and when he’s got it riding on a set of tyres worthy of its amazingly flexible suspension, it’s going to make more jaws drop than ever. ‘Britain’s worst car?’ Britain’s baddest off-road sleeper, more like.


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