Curbside Classic: 1989 Nissan Terrano (WD21) – The Path Less Found

Once again, we are faced with a familiar Japanese car whose name doesn’t quite match the CCollective memory. Yes, this is a Terrano, and yes, you probably know it as the Pathfinder. And some of you, the ones in Europe and Australia, might know a Nissan Terrano that doesn’t look like this. Because that one was called Mistral in Japan. Confused? Are Nissan in cahoots with some major headache medication manufacturer, by any chance?

To be fair, Nissan are hardly the only carmaker guilty of playing fast and loose with their nameplates. This game was played – and is still being played, though perhaps to a lesser degree nowadays – by nearly all major carmakers, really. The ones that use names for their car lines are certainly all guilty of this, given that certain markets / languages and certain words don’t mix. Not sure why “Terrano” wasn’t deemed usable outside of Asia for this particular Nissan, but that’s neither here nor there. Or rather, it is over here, not over there.

You would think that using much more succinct nameplates, e.g. just a couple letters perhaps coupled with two-three numbers, would be a good solution, but it’s not necessarily. Even Audi, BMW and Mercedes were a little wobbly with the alphanumerics on occasion, for pretty obscure reasons. Offhand, I can only think of Peugeot as a reliable exception to this particular rule.

Anyway, enough flights of numeracy and illiteracy, back to the Terrano firma at hand. Based on the near-immortal D21 Hardbody, the Terrano/Pathfinder was launched in 1986. It filled a different niche in Japan than it did in most other markets, given the country’s strict size and displacement regulatory tax structure. Given that it was over the limit, it was marketed in Japan as a luxury SUV, which is not exactly the image it had in foreign markets.

In fact, unlike the Hardbody, which usually made do with engines under the 2-litre mark, Nissan’s big 2.7 litre 4-cyl. Diesel (90hp, or 100hp if turbocharged) was the default motor for the Terrano, although many were equipped with the optional 3-litre petrol V6 (initially 140hp; 155hp from 1989) found in the carmaker’s high-end saloons and sports cars – your Cedric/Glorias, your Leopards and your Fairlady ZXs. So Nissan sold the Terrano as an AWD Fairlady (Terranos were always AWD in Japan) and took a kitchen sink approach to the cabin, again very much unlike the Hardbody.

Here’s what the interior of this particular Terrano looks like – power everything, a gloriously colour-coded dash and upholstery, floor-mounted automatic: we’re looking at something approaching a Range Rover. But with a bit more quality and a smidgen less pretension.

And it’s strange because, to me, this truck’s very plain external appearance and its plush interior kind of clash, albeit in a rather pleasant way. One would have expected Nissan to add a dollop of chrome here and there, to have piled on the plastic trim – e.g. wing extensions, door guards, enlarged bumpers – or grafted needless “hairy-chested” 4×4 accessories, like additional fog lamps, roof racks, metal bumper guards, but no. The plain Hardbody-esque exterior remained, in this JDM version at least, quite unadorned. They didn’t even think a pair of running boards might be useful, it seems.

This Terrano definitely is not meant to be used on any kind of rough terrain, for sure. It’s a city-dweller and either meticulously restored or miraculously preserved. But these are rugged as they come, with sturdy body-on frame construction, bulletproof engines and famously durable transmissions (well, the manual ones definitely…). They were raced in stock form in the notorious Paris-Dakar back in the day and did very well – that’s trial by fire (and water, mud and sand) for any vehicle.

The four-door variant, as seen in the above 1990 brochure excerpt, only arrived in late 1989. Having their clientele wait that long for the obvious family SUV form of this vehicle was a clear oversight on Nissan’s part, but one that helped cement the model’s popularity, at least in its Pathfinder guise. This led to a thoroughly revamped two-door in 1992, whereby the trademark triangular window went away, which is a pity. Japanese sales ended in 1995, but the WD21 Terrano got to retire in the tropics, being produced in moderate numbers in Indonesia, albeit in 2WD form, with a smaller engine and a manual gearbox only, until the end of 2006.

I guess this proves that the old WD21 still had a fair amount of life in it, but the old Hardbody was on its way out anyway, leading to bigger but not necessarily better Nissan SUVs, known as Terrano, Pathfinder or other denominations. Frankly, anything newer than these first-gen Terrano/Pathfinders just looks utterly anonymous to me compared to old brickface here. They’re getting a bit rare now, but if you take the right path, you can still find the odd survivor.


Related posts:


CC Outtake: 1987 Nissan Pathfinder – The Long and Winding Path Started Here, by PN

COAL: 1994 Nissan Pathfinder – A Change in Direction, by Stephen Hackett