Some 30 years ago, this Nissan Frontier “Hardbody” was supposedly the first pickup truck built for off-road racing... with the engine behind the driver. Behold: the sort-of first “trophy truck”! Now it’s back in Baja, which you can watch live all week!
The 1991 Nissan “T-Mag” is No. 125 in the 2016 National Off-Road Racing Association Mexican 1000, which you can watch live from Mexico every day from Saturday, April 23 to Wednesday, April 27 right here:
The Nissan will “compete” as Vintage Era vehicle, which is anything from 1989 to 1996. I say “compete” and not compete because as one of the car’s techs told me, they’re just “here to have fun and get some great footage.” That’s kind of the whole point of the NORRA race for a lot of people, which is pretty much the main reason I love coming down here so much.
The driver of record is Michael Power, but supposedly “one of the guys from Top Gear” will be behind the wheel at some point this week. Don’t know which guy, or even which Top Gear, but this will certainly be one of the machines to watch.
That same tech told me that when this truck was first released into the battlefield, it had a transfer case—the gears that send a truck’s power to the front wheels, making it four wheel drive—behind the engine and a driveshaft that ran through the fuel cell and the co-driver’s seat.
Here I thought I had balls signing up to co-drive in a race car at all, now I hear some crazy co-pilot actually ran races with a steel shaft spinning inches below his ass?
Fortunately that cockamamie system has been scrapped for a traditional rear-drive step-up for this race.
Another industry veteran told me this particular truck “wasn’t very fast, but caused quite a bit of controversy” when it first came out to race the Baja 1000 about 25 years ago.
I’ve been told that it was originally entered in the “production truck” class, even though a rear-engined Frontier was obviously not a marketed product ever. Apparently it skirted the rule because the man who built it happened to be the same guy writing the rules at the time.
“So here was this tiny little lightweight buggy-style thing racing against big honking Dodge Power Wagons and Chevys,” my friend said. The other companies cried foul, and Nissan’s rear-engined pickup couldn’t compete against stock-style trucks anymore.
But legend has it the truck did inspire a new class of competition that would basically become desert racing’s bread and butter: the “trophy truck.”
A trophy truck is basically a rear-drive rear-engined buggy that happens to have a fiberglass body vaguely resembling a pickup. These are now the highest-horsepower, fastest, top-level competing cars at almost any given desert race.
It’ll be interesting to see how this little Nissan does after so many years in retirement, and you know it’s going to look cool on the course no matter what. Make sure to tune in with us at the live stream, some of which I’ll be commentating myself, all week long!