Introducing our 2003 Nissan Xterra XE, Codenamed “Gamora”

I purchased Gamora in October of 2019 after looking at several makes and models of vehicles. Wranglers were too expensive, and didn’t have enough storage space for my needs. Towing was pretty abysmal as well (we eventually want to have an offroad trailer). I didn’t like the seating position of the 4Runner, and they were at least double the cost for the same condition and milage Gamora had. 

After deciding on the Xterras, I had to choose between the first gen models (2000-2004) or second gen models (2005-2015). I ultimately decided on the first gen due to it’s reliability, simplicity, and cost. 


After doing a LOT of research, I learned that the first generation Nissan Xterras have what many refer to as a “bullet proof” motor. The VG33E is known to be good for well over 250k miles when properly maintained. There’s really only two things that have to be taken into consideration with these motors. 

  • Change the Timing Belt every 105,000 miles
  • Watch for oil leaks coming out of the valve covers

I’ve had it for a year so far, and it’s not given me a single problem, other than a code for a catalytic converter, which was promptly taken care of back in May of 2019. 



Simple mechanical components, and an older engine design mean that it’s easy to maintain, and easier to repair on the trail if something happens. Front torsion bars add a bit of adjustability to the front suspension, and allow for a little bit of lift without buying any additional components. 

A built in roof rack and integrated basket allow me to put things up top if I need to free up space in the vehicle. 


After doing my homework, having a full pre-purchase inspection done, and looking over the 6 pages of carfax maintence records, I knew I was getting a good vehicle. I paid $5800 for Gamora, with 135,000 miles on the odometer. 

Most of the 4Runners and Wranglers in this price range were either super high milage examples (200k+ for 4Runners), or already modified wranglers that I had no idea if it was done properly (chances are it probably wasn’t). 

I also looked to see what the aftermarket was like before purchasing, and while it’s no Toyota of Jeep (or even 2nd gen Xterra, which has even more available aftermarket accessories), it had all the options I would need to be able to mod



Build So Far


As of right now, she’s mostly stock. I’m still sitting on 265/70R16 Toyo Open Country AT/II tires. Using stock brakes, suspension, and whatever shocks were on there when I bought it. I’ve added’s adjustable rear shackles, and an idler arm brace to the front steering. 

I’ve got some projects in the works for the channel, including building a new roof rack, adding a lightbar to the bumper (because my headlights don’t cut it for any sort of night overlanding), and building a new rear storage system that includes drawers. I also need to redo and clean up the wiring for the electrical system, which will be part of the drawer system build. 

Build Cost

Vehicle Purchase$5800
Rear Shackles$100
Roof Storage Box$175
Midland MXT275 GMRS Radio$115
Used ARB 2000 Awning$200
Lumber and hardware for rear platform$100
Secondary Electrical System$150
Rock Sliders$300
Rear Bumper and Tire Carrier$400
Total of Listed Parts$7340

Purchased Parts


I’ve purchased a couple of parts that I have yet to install. I scored a Lokka automatic front locker for the front differential for $200. I plan on having that professionally installed at some point, which will cost me around $400, but I’ve not needed it yet, so I’m holding out. 

I plan on having the HD tie rod adjusters installed the next time I need an alignment (which will be soon). 

Purchased Parts

Front Lokka$200
4x4Parts HD Tie Rod Adjusters$100
180A Alternator$70