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Like other Japanese car makers post WW2, Nissan decided to take a Willys Jeep, reverse engineer it and come up with its own take on an off-road 4X4. The 4W series of vehicles from 1951 was the result of that process and, by 1958, Nissan had progressed with the concept to the point of adding Patrol badges to their rugged little puddle-jumper.
By 1960, an all-new version of the Patrol was ready for a waiting world and the G60 was born. There’s debate over what year the model actually arrived as a fully-fledged, factory import into Australia but it must have been very early in the G60’s life, because Nissan Australia claims the first ever European crossing of the Simpson Desert that didn’t include camels or horses was achieved by a G60 in 1962. And while that may not sound too amazing, consider that the first crossing of the Simpson by a European had occurred just 26 years earlier in 1936.
So, straight up, the vehicle was considered to be a serious contender as our nation woke up to the idea of a 4x4 being something other than for military, civil engineering or agricultural use. Equally obvious was the fact that the Nissan was always going to go head to head with the newly minted Toyota LandCruiser.
The Nissan Patrol had definitely not shucked off its military design ethos in the G60 days. In fact, it was downright primitive. It used a separate ladder chassis upon which the body was bolted down, and suspension was by crude leaf springs front and rear. Brakes were drums all round with no power-assistance and the gearbox was a three-speed manual.
The four-wheel-drive side of things was handled by a two-speed transfer-case and part time front-axle engagement, giving the driver a choice of 2H, 4H and 4L. Free-wheeling front hubs or limited-slip differentials? Er, no.
But what gave the Nissan a perceived edge over the competition was the notion (not unfounded, it should be said) that it was actually pretty handy off road. In fact, contemporary road tests of the thing credited it with even more mountain-goat DNA than the equivalent LandCruiser, and, even back then, that was saying something (and fightin’ words).
The limiting dynamic factor was surely that clunky old three-speed transmission (but even the LandCruiser was similarly saddled until 1974 when a four-speed became standard). What saved the Patrol was a grunty, 4.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol engine. There was, of course, no diesel option back then, but the carburetted, pushrod six made good power and torque with a claimed 108kW and 319Nm which was probably very optimistic, but still managed to push the Patrol along okay.
In Australia, there wasn’t actually a trim level as such (on the basis of not enough trim to qualify) but you did have choices. You could have your G60 as the long-wheelbase wagon (pretty rare even at the time) a long-wheelbase pick-up (most of which were worked to death) or a short-wheelbase option with either a soft or hard top. The latter versions are the ones still around in the biggest numbers today, and there’s an enthusiastic band of owners who keep the G60 faith alive.
The soft-top is a breezy contraption, and most long-distance travellers preferred the hardtop. Any G60 still around is also likely to be a major grandfather’s axe in that nearly everything will have been replaced at least once by now. Rust-proofing at the time was still a black art, and the G60 was really no better or worse than its peers in this regard. Which is to say: it rusted like crazy given the opportunity. A G60 in 2020 will also feel rather quaint to drive. The live axles are heavy and equate to a lot of unsprung mass, so the suspension action is slow and quite clumsy. The same goes for the steering which was slow even by the standards of the day and forced the driver into a constant series of micro-adjustments to keep the Patrol pointing the right way. Bank on the thing being noisy, too, with the tinny body offering up all sorts of percussion accompaniments to forward progress.
We remember that first Patrol sold here today for the fact that it created a dynasty that ensured Toyota didn’t have it all its own way. In fact, the Patrol’s journey over the years has forced Toyota into upgrading the LandCruiser, and the Nissan beat Toyota to market with innovations like a turbo-diesel engine, and a vehicle with coil springs at each corner, forcing the competition to play catch-up. That said, the G60’s story as an individual model is one of Nissan allowing the blood to slowly drain out of the idea thanks to a policy of not updating the product. If you look at the G60’s timeline, you’ll see that the only real upgrades to the basic package amounted to a third windscreen wiper for 1976, and then a thinly padded dash-pad, AM radio and a hand-throttle for the 1978 model year. Even the three-speed transmission lasted until 1980, long after Toyota had made a four-speed standard fare.
Actually, there was a mechanically updated model called the G61 in 1980 which was the last gasp of the G60 and was essentially the G60 body on the chassis of the all-new MQ Patrol. The G61 used the MQ’s axles, brakes and crucially its four-speed manual gearbox, but only about 500 were reckoned to have ever come to Australia. But it got us to the MQ Patrol and the off-road recreational scene would never be the same again.
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