Rugged and capable, the GQ Patrol is a firm favourite.
The fact that you still see them thrashed through the scrub and touring in the middle of nowhere speaks volumes for the enduring nature of the GQ.
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Nissan's GQ Patrol was around in Australia from the late 1980s to the end of the '90s. Tough, no-nonsense, and highly capable off-road it's getting rarer, but remains a firm favourite in the second-hand market.
Rugged and capable, the GQ Patrol is a firm favourite.
The fact that you still see them thrashed through the scrub and touring in the middle of nowhere speaks volumes for the enduring nature of the GQ.
The price of a vehicle as old as the GQ is entirely dependent on its condition.
Even the accessories fitted won’t trump overall condition and service history when it comes to a GQ.
The best thing about a GQ is its ability to conquer to bush on a recreational or work basis.
That means it’s the old-school construction and rugged engineering that are its best features.
Convenience and luxury weren’t really the GQ’s focus, so don’t expect to be lavished with standard equipment.
Instead, use the GQ for what it was designed for to get the most out of it.
In terms of factory accessories, things like a bull bar and side-steps were popular choices and can be found on many second-hand GQ Patrols.
Modern camping has dictated where the accessories market has gone these days.
Instead of mud tyres and winches, modern families are looking to add-ons such as awnings, fridges and roof racks to make the most of their vehicles.
The Patrol lends itself beautifully to these activities and accessories.
So, you could have a work-truck in the form of a pick-up or cab-chassis or a family wagon in either long-wheelbase four-door form or a short-wheelbase two-door layout.
These were one of the absolute best off roaders in their day and not much has changed.
The SUV and crossover markets might be where the action is these days, but neither of those will stay with a GQ Patrol in the rough stuff.
The GQ kicked off with a five-door station-wagon and a short-wheelbase three-door version of the same vehicle.
Trim levels started with the DX which was all about manual windows, manual locking hubs and vinyl trim and even air-conditioning was an extra-cost option.
The ST was the mid-spec model and got automatic front hubs, cloth seats power windows, central locking and came standard with air-con.
The Ti came along in 1989 in high-roof form with alloy wheels, fuzzy velour trim (typical of the time) and even air-conditioning outlets for the rear seat.
While the Ti model itself continued, the high-roof layout was short-lived and was gone by 1991. Why? Mainly because owners complained that the vehicle wouldn’t fit into underground car-parks.
A cut-price model with a smaller engine (a 3.0-litre petrol) and a code-name ST30 arrived in 1990, but you could also get a GQ Patrol in cab-chassis form.
Initially, those vehicles used a leaf-sprung rear suspension but in 1994, Nissan transplanted the Patrol wagon’s coils under the utility and cab-chassis to produce the Coil-Cab.
The leaf-sprung cab-chassis continued for those who still believed a vehicle used for carting big loads needed such a suspension.
The wildcard was the Ford Maverick which was a Patrol with Ford badges, sold as part of a government strategy to make carmakers more profitable. The Maverick could be had as a long or short wheelbase wagon, but not as a commercial. Mechanically, it’s identical to the Patrol wagons.
Engine-wise, the Patrol used a variety of diesel engines – non-turbo and turbo-diesel - as well as a large-capacity six-cylinder petrol motor.
There’s really only room for the seats in the cabin of the commercial versions (apart from the load area in the tray, of course) but even the wagons aren’t as big on the inside as they appear from the outside.
The short wheelbase is really tight on luggage area and won’t be big enough for camping families.
The long-wheelbase wagon is the pick, but even then, the old fashioned packaging means a roof rack is a common fitment, and towing a trailer for longer getaways is not uncommon.
The colour palette for the GQ was pretty sober.
Two-tone was in, though, so a lot of the higher-spec models were painted with a silver and blue or silver and black combination which still looks pretty smart if it’s in nice condition.
White was popular in lower-spec models and is a sensible colour for hot climates and bush work where the paint cops a hammering.
In terms of actual abilities, the GQ was on point right from the factory.
So the accessories people seem to need these days are all about comfort and keeping their ice and bait cold.
With that in mind, no camping holiday is complete now without a fridge.
Good tyres are a must for the bush, and an all-terrain style of tyre seems to work best with a decent compromise between on-road performance and off-road grip.
If you’re crossing rivers and creeks, a snorkel is a necessity, too.
The GQ Patrol had a towing capacity of 2500kg for a braked trailer and a correctly-rated tow bar.
That seems low by today’s standards where 3500kg is the new normal, but back then, it was top of the class.
The GQ wasn’t the first Nissan Patrol to offer diesel power, but it really took the concept and ran with it.
Both were six-cylinder units and neither had a turbocharger, which sounds odd today, but back then was actually the normal way of things.
Both engines also displaced 4.2 litres, but they really couldn’t have been more different in how they delivered.
The petrol six was good for 125kW of power and 325Nm of torque and would propel the Patrol to well over 160km/h in the Northern Territory back then. It was available with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.
The diesel, meanwhile, could muster just 85kW on a good day and 264Nm of torque. The automatic was also offered, blunting performance even further.
And that diesel was s-l-o-w. Combined with the relatively heavy Patrol body and the lacklustre numbers, you really had to plan ahead for overtaking in a diesel Patrol.
In 1990, Nissan slotted a budget Patrol into the bottom of the price-list, fitted with a 100kW 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine and a five-speed manual.
The engine was basically a Nissan Skyline (or Holden Commodore of the time) engine with a carburettor instead of fuel-injection and while it did use a bit less fuel than the bigger six, it was underdone given the job it was being asked to do.
For 1992, Nissan fitted the 4.2-litre petrol six with electronic fuel-injection (it had been carburetted up to then) and while power crept up to 129kW, fuel economy was the big winner.
Then, in 1994, Nissan revisited the diesel engine and gave it lightweight internals, in the interests of getting it to spin a bit more freely and use less fuel.
Which it did, up to a point, but the changes also meant it was suddenly no longer the bulletproof unit it had been.
Like the 3.0-litre six, the advice with a post-94 diesel Patrol is not to tow anything heavy with it. The later diesel doesn’t take too kindly to aftermarket turbochargers, either.
The final under-bonnet fiddle came in 1995 when Nissan offered an alternative diesel engine in the 2.8-litre six-cylinder turbo-diesel.
Although it had a similar power output to the bigger, non-turbo unit, it was a cheaper alternative by thousands of dollars
Hardcore off-roaders continued to buy the 4.2-litre diesel and then spent a bit more having an aftermarket turbo kit fitted.
When it comes to fuel consumption diesel usually wins hands down.
That’s especially true in the bush and when using low-range as the diesel will just plod along while a petrol engine will be churning through fuel.
On the highway, though, neither engine option will be frugal by modern standards, and you can expect a diesel Patrol to use around 12 or 13 litres per 100km, while a petrol version can use half as much again.
Around town, that relativity changes a little as the diesel will use a bit more, while a petrol will use a lot more.
Either way, have lots of cash ready for fuel and expect to pay lots per litre in remote areas where $2.50 per litre (or more) is not unheard of.
The Patrol sits you very upright in the front seats and, with a big, bluff dashboard, the impression is of being in a big, truck-like vehicle.
The rear seat is less impressive with thinner padding and a too-upright backrest.
There are plenty of instruments and gauges, although none of the frippery of some of the competition such as altimeters and inclinometers.
There is, however, plenty of plastic trim bits and pieces and some of these can be relied upon to look and feel pretty second-hand nowadays.
The exterior of the Patrol, too, seemed a bit tinny (it actually shared some pressings with the previous MQ Patrol model) and the doors clanged when they should have thudded.
Again, time and kilometres won’t have helped in this department.
From the driver’s seat, the bonnet was also long and flat and restricted the view forward, particularly when edging over drop-offs or down steep hills off-road.
As with any elderly off-roader, the first thing to ascertain is just how the car has been used (and abused) in the past.
It’s very unlikely that a car as old as the GQ Patrol has never been off-road, so be suspicious of adverts that make that claim.
That said, there might be a handful that have never ventured beyond the bitumen, but they’ll be few and far between.
Check underneath for evidence of damage caused by boulders and trees, and check the sills and side-steps for dents and twisting, indicating serious off-road work.
Bent axle housings and suspension arms are possible, too. The front Panhard rod seems especially prone to damage.
Mechanically, anything that can go wrong with a vehicle this old, probably will, or already has.
Worn engine mounts is a common complaint and there have been reports of some 4.2-litre petrols cracking cylinder heads.
Owners who towed with either the 3.0-litre petrol or the later, post-'94 4.2-litre diesel may well have experienced broken gearboxes in the former and broken engines in the latter.
So, the service record is a critical document, especially since big heavy four-wheel-drives are hardly low-maintenance vehicles in the first place.
The big complaint from owners in a recurring problem sense is leaking axle seals which don’t seem to have a long shelf-life in-service.
The 4.2 diesel was also a bit underdone in the cooling department and that can show up when you’re constantly loading the engine such as when driving in sand or mud.
Aftermarket turbo systems don’t help this one bit and many Patrols have been fitted with larger, aftermarket radiators.
A pyrometer to keep an eye on exhaust-gas temperatures is a good thing to have in a Patrol with an aftermarket turbo.
On the factory-turbocharged 2.8-litre diesel, pay close attention to the turbocharger bearings and seals when shopping, as these are likely to be getting pretty old by now.
A noisy turbo or an engine that blows smoke are sure signs that all is not well in this department.
Given that the GQ was sold in an era before SUVs and crossovers, it’s a fair bit more agricultural than passenger cars of the time.
But compared with the models from other makers it was competing with, the Patrol was regarded as absolutely one of the best options on the market.
The fact that you still see GQs in the bush and in outback towns says all you need to know.
While Nissan did offer the GQ Patrol as a pick-up model, the vast majority of GQ’s in commercial-grade trim were the cab-chassis type of vehicles which were typically fitted with a flat tray, often with hinged drop-sides.
Beyond that basic layout, the aftermarket soon stepped in with everything from service bodies and canopies to refrigerated bodies for food transport.
Basically, if you can think of a purpose for a GQ Patrol cab-chassis, there will be a tray or body to suit.
Common these days are camping bodies, often with a roof-top tent fitted.
Both, in fact, but only on some models.
The commercial range was manual only (a five-speed) but petrol wagons could be had with a four-speed automatic for extra money.
The diesel version was available with a four-speed automatic as an option, but only if you specified the bigger, 4.2-litre unit.
The smaller, 3.0-litre petrol in the ST30 model was strictly a five-speed manual vehicle.
The Patrol was considered a very large vehicle in its day, but these days, a lot of SUVs and dual-cab utes are much, much bigger in every direction.
The commercial range and the long-wheelbase wagon all had a wheelbase of 2970mm, while the two-door short-wheelbase wagon had 2400mm between the axles.
The cab-chassis was the longest at 4970mm, the four-door wagon next at 4810mm and the two-door was just 4240mm long.
The one size dimension you need to consider is the height of the high-roof Ti model which may or may not fit under your car-port or garage and is marginal for many underground carparks.
If you’ve grown up thinking that a modern SUV is what a four-wheel-drive feels like to drive, you’ll probably be horrified when you drive a GQ Patrol. At first.
The body-on-chassis construction means the vehicle doesn’t feel all that 'tight' and the thin panels Nissan used at the time were a bit floppy in their own right. Rattles and clanging noises are all part of the deal, especially these days when an early GQ is well into its fourth decade on the road.
Those big, live axles at each end also give an impression of lots of unsprung weight, and the three-link front suspension can contribute to a bit of wandering, particularly at highway speeds where you might find you’re chasing the nose down the road.
Both the front and rear suspension are slow to react to bumps and the long travel means it does well off-road with lots of articulation, but it’s no sports car on the bitumen.
For all that, though, the Patrol is no armchair ride. In fact, the ride is quite firm and, even back in the day, there were questions over just how Nissan had managed to combine so much body roll with so little ride comfort.
Performance varies enormously according to what engine is under the bonnet, and for everyday use, our pick would be a fuel-injected 4.2-litre petrol six.
The bigger diesel is okay if you can live with the relaxed acceleration, and the 3.0-litre petrol six (if any are still out there) is slow and hard work.
The turbo-diesel hardly seems worth the bother in hindsight, but if you find one cheap enough, it is an alternative of sorts.
If you need an automatic (and they’re very good off-road and make the hulking Patrol more manageable around town) you need to buy the bigger-engined versions, as the 4.2-litre twins were the only versions that got a two-pedal layout.
Commercial versions have just two seats while the wagons have either five or seven seats.
The third row of a seven-seater is mostly only for kids, though, as it’s tight for space and pretty small.
If you option up to the Ti model, you’ll even get leather seats in later versions.
In the day, the larger petrol version was considered to be quite quick for this type of vehicle.
Even so, don’t be expecting 0-100km in under 10 seconds, because this is still a 2.5-tonne commercial vehicle, after all.
The diesels – even the turbocharged ones – were pretty slow and slow revving, but they do tow well and thanks to the low-range gearing on offer, low performance doesn’t inhibit their off-road skills.
There’s really no limit to canopy choices.
Lots and lots of aftermarket companies designed and built canopies for the GQ, and it’s quite common to find them advertised second-hand now for reasonable money.
Cab-chassis and pick-up versions of the GQ Patrol had standard 90-litre fuel tanks.
The wagons (both long and short-wheelbase) carried 95 litres, giving them just enough range for outback touring.
Many owners fitted aftermarket long-range tanks to maximise that touring ability, and it’s a worthwhile option to seek out when shopping.
In a word, no.
These cars were all sold new at a time when that sort of technology wasn’t even thought about.
What you might find, though, is that a previous owner has fitted an aftermarket head unit that will cope with Bluetooth and iPod connections.
And if you intend to fit an aftermarket stereo yourself, make sure you get one that incorporates a reversing camera.
The more you use your Patrol off-road, the more the service cost will spiral upwards.
Running repairs are often necessary to the driveline to keep everything working properly, and there are jobs such as greasing the front axle swivels that simply don’t exist on a conventional car.
Don’t forget, too, you have two differentials instead of one and a gearbox and a transfer-case to consider.
But even if you only drive on the bitumen, these are heavy cars so they’re hard on suspension bits, brakes and tyres.
Running costs for a GQ Patrol will never be what you’d call small.
Generally speaking they are.
Again, though, this type of heavy-duty vehicle requires regular and appropriate servicing to maintain that level of reliability.
Most reliability issues these days will be directly related to the age of the Patrol and how many kilometres it has covered.
So take each example on its individual merits.
Depending on whether it’s a diesel or petrol engine involved, the fuel filter either needs to be replaced in its mounting unit under the bonnet (diesel) or replaced from underneath the car from its position in the main fuel line (petrol).
But the point here is that the fuel filter is only one part of a Patrol’s servicing regime, and you really need to look at the big servicing picture and proceed accordingly.
Correct servicing might cost at the time, but it will save much more money in the longer term.
The coil springs on a Patrol are not difficult to change if you know what you’re doing.
But this can be a very dangerous job as the springs contain lots of potential energy that can quickly become kinetic energy if you get things wrong.
The best advice is to have a workshop perform this sort of work.
Not only will be done correctly (and suspension is a major safety factor in any car) it can usually be done in a single day, meaning the vehicle won’t be off the road for an extended time.
If only the globe has blown, the old globe can be removed form the back of the headlight and a new one installed easily and quickly.
If the whole headlight assembly is damaged, pretty much any universal seven-inch round H4 headlight assembly can be used to replace it.
Simple hand tools are all that is required.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the Patrol’s brakes or brake pads.
So changing them is not a big deal for anybody with the necessary skills.
But that’s really the point: if you don’t know how to do it, you’re risking compromising perhaps the vehicle’s most important safety system by fiddling with something with which you’re unfamiliar.
A good workshop will be able to change brake pads (and supply them) for very little money as well as check on the condition of the rest of the braking system at the same time.
Depending on what trim level you buy, a Patrol might only be fitted with a scratchy AM/FM radio and a single pair of speakers.
More upmarket models such as the Ti had better entertainment systems, but even on those, the standard speakers are almost certain to be junk by now.
And forget about a subwoofer, CD player or DVD player, as this stuff just wasn’t fitted to vehicles like the Patrol back when it was brand-new.
So it all comes down to what a previous owner has replaced them with and how much they spent at the time.
You can pretty much forget about modern levels of safety in an off-road vehicle as old as this.
The GQ was the Patrol model before airbags became standard on the vehicle (although rumours persist of a few very late-build Tis with a driver’s air-bag, we’ve never seen one) and you can forget about ABS brakes (anti-lock brakes) or stability control.
Really, the only thing in your favour is that the Patrol is bigger and heavier than most other vehicles on the road.
The Patrol scored two stars out of five in independent used-car safety ratings.
It breaks down like this: the RD28 engine had a timing belt, the petrol sixes used a timing chain and the TD42 turbo-diesel used a novel, and interesting set of timing gears rather than either a timing belt or chain.
For whatever reason, the Patrol hasn’t held on to residual value quite as well as its arch-rival, the Toyota LandCruiser.
That’s down to a few things, but mainly the public’s perception that the Toyota was worth paying a little extra for.
From most angles, that’s not really the case, especially now that you need to judge each individual example on its merits.
Be aware, too, that using the vehicle off-road will soon add those little imperfections that can really take the shine off resale value. Literally.
In pretty much every way, the answer is yes.
The GQ was tough, relatively well built, and rugged enough to cop the worst that most owners threw at it.
It’s capable off-road in a way that very few modern SUVs are and it’s now very affordable for families looking for a bit of weekend fun on a budget.
Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.
Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.
Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'