We thought we’d put together a little write up on our very own ‘Project Pajero’ and our opinions on setting one up for some off-road fun. Whilst some of the info and opinions will be Pajero specific, a lot is applicable to any 4×4 being setup. So whether you have a Pajero or not, hopefully there will be something for everyone!
Having owned two of this 3.5litre V6 ‘Gen2’ spec Pajero now, we have a greater appreciation for the ‘bang for your buck’ they offer that is arguably not comparable to any other 4×4 on the market. We can’t comment on the 3litre V6 or diesel variants although some of this does cross over to them. You will find the 3litre V6 and 2.5 diesel have the most specs in common whilst the 3.5litre v6 and 2.8 diesel are most alike (e.g running gear size and the 3.5/2.8 models actually having a ‘from factory’ style body lift). If you’re interested in comparing specs of Pajero’s from Gen1-4, check out this great link:
Just what kind of off road wheelin’ is a Pajero good for? In our opinion they make a great entry level 4×4 through to medium-hard trips depending how kited out you go. The 3.5 (6G74) quad cam V6 packs some good punch out of the box (153kw, 300nm) and all we’ve done to ours is delete the catalytic converter and fit a performance muffler to give it a little bark.
This good performance comes at a cost – it has a drinking problem. It likes fuel and it likes it in bulk. We daily drove our first one for a little while and wouldn’t recommend it. As a weekend toy though, who cares about economy? We’ve happily travelled to Taupo in ours multiple times to go wheelin’ and you just have to stomach the fuel bill.
We actually had Prestige Tuning & Motorsport put it on their dyno for a ‘dyno inspection run’ (DIR).
We saw 112.5kw & 117nm at the wheels on this DIR. That’s 40kw/26% lost through the automatic transmission and that big rear diff.
Speaking of diffs, perhaps one of the strongest points (pun intended) is the Pajero’s huge 9.5” rear diff with 33 spline axles and one of the stronger IFS (independent front suspension) around with an 8” hi-pinion front diff and 28 spline axles. We’ve had no drive train failure to date.
Our truck has been running 33” tall x 12.5” wide x 15”rim Mickey Thompson MTZ P3 with our own beadlocked rims measuring in at 10” wide plus the beadlock that adds another ½” or so.
We’ve been impressed with these tires and they suit the Pajero well.
Beadlocks become mandatory when you want to be dropping down much below 15psi reliably. Dropping tire pressures increases your footprint and therefore grip and is a great way to make your 4×4 go further. Whilst reducing the pressure inside the tyre it also reduces the force holding the bead to the rim and makes it more prone to spinning on the rim or de-beading when getting hit by banks or ruts.
Most people with beadlocks at some point have ‘been there done that’ when first learning about them and it’s not much fun being ‘that guy’ on a tough trip when you keep blowing tires off rims.
For a muddy type trip we will start at a max of 10psi and drop from there as necessary. On a soft sandy beach trip 5psi makes this truck pretty unstoppable as it nears floats on the sand!
The wheel setup looks big for what they are, and they aren’t particularly light but that hasn’t phased the Pajero’s drive train. What it has phased though is the steering. When driven hard with these ‘big’ wheels in ruts or hitting the odd bank idler arms are the weakest link and do begin to bend and become a consumable. The main steering drag link can bend too but is usually easily straightened in the press. Our solution is cycling between two drag links and always carrying a spare idler arm if needed. We’ve begun developing an idler arm brace as our next mod to offer some additional support.
Fitting 33” rubber, we found, is not quite a true bolt on as some suggest. The body sits higher from the chassis on the 3.5 v6 model, which of course helps and maybe our wheel choice and fitment is quite aggressive but during hard off-roading and suspension flex the tires would rub significantly enough to begin to cut themselves out.
Rolling the rear guards and trimming the steel and flare back in the front easily solved this.
33” rubber does look good on the Pajero but it comes at a cost – it really exacerbates the poor gear ratios. 4.636 diff ratios aren’t terrible but the 1.90:1 low range transfer case ratio is. This combined with taller tires gives next to no engine braking which can lead to some scary moments coming down hills. The automatic transmission obviously doesn’t help the cause either.
We’ve found clicking the shifter into 1st low is the place to be for all tough obstacles, but the stock gearing still doesn’t quite allow it to pull to redline when attacking a hillclimb or bog etc.
The diesel model has slightly lower 4.9 diff ratios which can be fitted to the 3.5v6. We did this conversion earlier this year to ours. Whilst only a 5.7% reduction it helps towards correcting the larger tire size. From the seat of the pants we could really notice this small change; it made the truck more punchy and responsive.
We did two McKenzie trail beach trips over January, swapping the diff gears between them which proved a good comparison test. Obviously tires smaller than our 33” rubber would make this not such an issue but that comes with reduced ground clearance and capability. What type of trips you have planned will help dictate your tire choice but really you don’t want to go any bigger than you have to as performance, economy and gearing are all affected the larger you go.
The real solution to the poor gearing is fitting aftermarket 2.7:1 transfer case gears from Marks 4wd that will give a 40% reduction in low range. We have these in the workshop to be installed soon, and with this reduction it will be nice to be up a gear or so and provide a broader range of gear selection depending on the obstacle. Some more control and engine breaking will be happily received.
This is not a cheap or particularly small exercise to a) purchase the aftermarket gears and then b) pull the transfer case apart and fit them. Most Pajero owners don’t end up doing this and just learn to live with it as it’s a significant cost to invest vs the value of the vehicle.
On the flip side, and not focussing on solely negatives, the factory rear LSD – if you’ve got one – is really good, with no need for a diff lock.
We purchased this truck through a Wellington Cross Country Vehicle Club member wanting to get into a newer model Pajero and some easier type trips. To his credit it had been well looked after by a reputable local workshop. This is important in our opinion with a Japanese import of this era and leads us onto one of the Pajero’s weaknesses. We’ve seen a few too many Pajero’s run bearings or have other catastrophic engine failure and the common issue we saw on these was terribly blocked oil passageways with gunky or crsytalised oil. Whilst the low entry price into a Pajero is a positive, it’s a double edged sword. As a fairly low value vehicle they can cop some neglect in terms of service and maintenance. Knowing your truck has been frequently serviced helps you feel a little better when your foot’s not lifting from the floor coz you’ve just gotta make that hillclimb on Foxton beach’s awesome McKenzie trail.
We’ve gone to the extent of a few engine flushes and only running good quality Motul oil in our rig. Whether you’ve just purchased an offroader or a performance car the best first thing you can spend your cash on is not infact big wheels or a sound system but making sure your servicing and maintenance are all up to spec.
The other thing to consider is barwork and a winch. Protecting your panels, sills and gas tank are quite important. We’ve been through a few iterations of rock sliders, front and rear bars to what the trucks wearing now. Our winch bar has been a work in progress since we first purchased the truck. It came with a nice ARB bar but this just wasn’t our desired look for this truck nor offered the amazing approach angles we dreamed of.
We went a little crazy here trying to achieve the best approach angle possible. This involved recessing the Warn 8274 hi-mount winch well back into the grille. Sounds straightforward right? Kind of, but you have to relocate the engine oil cooler, trans cooler and ditch the air con heat exchanger. Oh and add bonnet pins too, the winch wants to live where the catch was…..
Custom barwork gives you the abiity to create something truly bespoke and to suit your purpose which we are constantly reminded of with the ongoing stream of positive comments.
The bar is built strong and has taken a few hits. It’s now complete with the most recent addition being the ‘angry eye’ headlight bars and a powdercoat.
A winch is a great investment for any 4×4, being able to self-recover whether out exploring on your own or on a trip makes it money well spent. Being able to help recover others is also nice.
We had this Warn 8274 kicking around from previous builds; they’re a popular winch that have been around forever. Plenty of upgrades exist and ours is sporting an upgraded motor and an air free-spool drum. This is operated through solenoids and an ARB air-compressor mounted in cab. It makes winching a quick and easy process and life a lot easier for your ‘winch b!tch’ as you can engage and disengage the drum from the driver’s seat. The air compressor also serves tire pump up duties – something you’ll need if dropping tire pressures.
Our custom rear bar does a few things. It helps hold the rear panel work and taillights away from trees or banks by protruding out far enough to protect them. It also wraps all the way under the gas tank, incorporating a protective skid plate. The gas tanks hang low in the back of these trucks and receives a hammering when dropping off ledges and banks etc. Most people put up with their tank capacity gradually decreasing till it ends up near halved and fuel pump pick up becomes an issue. The more radical people opt for a gas tank lift which involves chopping the rear chassis and lifting it and the tank higher. Our skid plate design has compromised some ground clearance but being at the rear of the vehicle it doesn’t generally hinder forward progress, and this is a less drastic (and more cost-effective) approach than raising the gas tank.
Our custom rock sliders serve a few purposes too. Firstly they’re a step in and out of the truck. Secondly, they stop the sills getting dented from both underneath or the sides. Ours incorporate a ‘kicker’ at the rear. The kicker is pretty cool in that as you’re negotiating and sliding along a tree the first ¾ of the slider’s working hard saving your panels and glass from impending doom. As you hit the kicker, ‘pop’ the rear is pushed away from the tree allowing the truck to skip past and carry on, the rear bar ready and waiting to help if needed.
Thirdly they’re built strong enough to be a great hi-lift jack point, in-fact all of our barkwork is built with this in mind. We have attatched to the chassis with 3x U-straps per side which offers huge strength with no welding to the chassis – An important aspect for WOF’s – Welding to a chassis technically needs certification.
With any custom barwork we’ve found you can’t go past sandblasting to really etch the surface and prepare it to ensure the paint or powdercoat really sticks well. Whether the metal has come ‘primed’ or varnished to stop rust neither coating is made to last or have paint adhere really well. Our 4×4’s live in an extremely harsh environment so for barwork to stay looking good this process helps give coatings the best chance possible. We’ve opted to rattle can our sliders and rear bar so we can easily touch up as necessary as for our kind of wheelin’ they are a ‘contact point’, our front bar is powder coated to keep it looking smart.
To complement our custom barwork we couldn’t just fit an off the shelf Polyethylene type snorkel so we fabricated our own 4” stainless one. It wants to suck your hand in, looks cool recessed into the guard and most importantly keeps the air intake sealed and up high for those deep water crossings. A snorkel is a great idea if you intend to do the above as water in the combustion cylinder is pretty hard to compress and can lead to a hydrauliced motor, most especially with diesels. We’ve put a serviceable K&N air filter in the stock airbox as its surprising how much bush and dust gets caught when out 4x4ing so allows us to wash it out, re-oil and reuse – call us environmentalists if you like.
One of the last mods we wanted to mention was our rear shelf setup. It allows us to strap a spare tire down onto it and safely store our gear under it. If a rollover was to happen the last thing you want is loose items flying through the cabin.
Ours also has a built in extension that folds out to make a platform. While not as long as a normal bed we’ve slept on it on multiple away trips and it’s pretty cool.
We’re pretty happy with where this truck is at currently, with the only things left on the list being an idler arm brace, transfer case reduction gears and a rollbar for additional safety. It’s still road legal so we can travel to trips, it’s capable, and self sufficient that we can do the harder end of club level trips and tracks.
Maintenance and upkeep are forever ongoing so keeping on top of general servicing, torn CV boots or similar will always give us something to do!
If you need expert assistance in setting up your truck, from family tourer to hard Yakka or competition get in touch! We have the experience, knowledge and parts to help complement your off roader!
- Custom Kaizen Works front winch bar
- Warn 8274-50 hi-mount winch, air free spool.
- Custom Kaizen Works rock sliders w/kicker
- Custom Kaizen Works rear bar w/gas tank protection
- Custom Kaizen Works 4” snorkel with K&N filter
- Interior shelf unit/fold out bed
- Custom Kaizen Works beadlocked 15×10” rims
- 33×12.5×15 Mickey Thompson MTZ mud tires
- 4.9 Diesel diff gears
- Custom Kaizen Works de-cat pipe and performance muffler
- Steering idlers and arms can bend in extreme use
- Tall gearing – 1.90:1 transfer case
- Rear gas tanks hang low
- Low initial purchase price can mean lack of maintenance and up-keep
- Poor fuel economy
- Strongest IFS driveline?
- 8” high pinion front diff with 28 spline axles
- 9.5” rear diff with 33 spline axles
- Really effective LSD’s (if fitted)
- Fit 33” tires fairly easily.
- V6 has decent power stock