Project Nissan Frontier Crew Cab D40 navara

Text & Photos: Mark Stephens

Project Nissan Frontier Part 5: SHIFT_organize
Custom bed cap, modular drawers, Engel Fridge/Freezer, Yakima Load Bars and bike mounts

Project nissan frontier crew cab expedition vehicle d40 navara

Recently I was told a story about a woman who purchased an old van for $700 and set off to drive the length of the Western Hemisphere.  She succeeded.

Well that put the kibosh on my Nissan Frontier project.  Mentally, that is.  I’d dumped hours and dollars (many dollars) into this project.  Come to find out, if you’ve got $700 and a good ol' fashioned desire, you probably don’t need fancy gear, fancy suspension, or expensive gadgets drawing power and taking up space.  Fill the tank, hit the road, keep a journal.  Could it be that simple? 

Now that I’ve confessed, I feel better and can continue with a clean conscience as my Nissan project is winding down.  For this leg, I’ve mostly refined and tweaked what I already have.  Mostly.  I’ve also listened to my wife for her opinions on what she would like done to the truck.  In the summer of 2006, we’d crossed into Sonora, Mexico, listening to Led Zepplin IV with Bahia Kino set as the destination on the GPS.  She turned to me, smiled – which absolutely melted me – and said, “Everything on the truck is great, don't get me wrong. I love it. But, uh, you’re going to get us a fridge, right?”

Making way for that fridge birthed the need to get the truck organized beyond using a pair of Rubbermaid bins and a couple of backpacks.  The only sensible place for the fridge would be in the truck bed, rather than inside the cab.  The space needed to be saved for our baby-on-the-way and her other needs: diapers, blankets, etc, plus space for one person to sit in the back in case she needed company while on the move.  My aim was to keep the cab useable for people, and in turn here are the components to this part of the series:

  • Custom rear deck (or bed cap)
  • New roof tent mounting with Yakima bike racks
  • Modular drawer system

Discussed products include: Eezi-Awn roof tent (1200); Yakima Cross Bars, Landing Pads, Control Towers and SprocketRocket bike holders; Engel 35 fridge/freezer; TwoZone accessories.

Playa Chacala, Mexico Journal Entry June 29, 2006

Nissan Frontier camping playa chacala mexicoWhile Brooke was napping in the tent this afternoon (looking cute-as-can-be wrapped in her pink beach towel and her blond hair stringy from swimming in the Pacific Ocean at latitude north 21), a lady walked by toting a huge wooden tree-thing for her homemade jewelry. She tried to sell me some, which I thought it would be a nice surprise to buy an ankle bracelet for my wife and place it on her foot while she slept. But I couldn't do it. I was fighting through our rubbermaid bins looking for the plastic knives for my peanut butter sandwich. The disorganization of using frickin' plastic bins and the amount of sand that crept in had me all pissed off. I was on a mission to get the bins cleaned up and re-organized and didn't feel like looking for my pesos. Jewelry Lady smiled but I barked at her "no gracias," sent her on her way. This whole ordeal reminded me of the Peacemakers song that goes, "And to me the sunset is sinkin' in the sea / looks like my own bleedin' corazón."

* * *
If nothing else, we needed to organize just to help us enjoy our trips better. I'd rather enjoy the details - the chipper jewelry peddlers and such - when we travel, not get annoyed by them. Prior to establishing the organizational systems, we would constantly ask one another where the napkins were, or where the matches were. "Oh, in the light blue bin somewhere. Probably at the bottom."

Forget it. Let's get this stuff under control.

About The Custom Deck
The custom bed cap creates an enclosed space for cargo, which keeps out dust, water, and thieves.  This enclosed space, then, would be filled with modular drawers and fridge/food compartment. A consequence to building the modular drawers was burying the factory Nissan Utili-Tracks on the bottom of the bed.  So I unbolted them from the Frontier and planned to install the aluminum tracks to the top of this deck. 

On top of the entire contraption would be Yakima cross bars with custom mounted Landing Pads and Control Towers. The Eezi-Awn tent would mount to the bars, as would two bike holders.

Click any image for a larger version (opens in new window)
custom bed cab for nissan frontier rivets hold the aluminum to the steelHere's the deck in process. 1" steel tube frame is welded together and painted black. Aluminum 6061 sheets cover one side.

I had the frame welded together by a friend, but I handled the painting, riveting the aluminum sheets, and mounting the finished product to the Nissan Frontier.

Nissan utili-trackA peek the inside of the Nissan Frontier bed with the deck installed. Yakima landing pads are bolted straight through the 1" steel bars and fastened with bolts and nylon-locking nuts (seen protruding through at left).

You should be able to see that the factory Nissan Utili-Tracks are removed. See photo at right to see how they fasten in the bed from the factory.

Nissan frontier with yakima load bars, control towers and landing pads custom install With the deck installed on the truck via bolts through the c-channel, we're ready to put on the tent and bike trays.

This photo shows the Yakima load bars, control towers, and landing pads as well as the factory Nissan Utili-Tracks mounted on the sides.

Materials/Products used
1" square steel tube 1/8" wall Aluminum 6061 sheets
Nissan Utili -Track Duplicolor truck bed coating
Assorted bolts, nuts and rivets Garage door weather stripping
Yakima CrossBars 66" (8000410),
one pair
Yakima Landing Pads #6 (8000226),
two pair
Yakima Control Towers (8000214),
two pair

Nissan frontier expedition vehicle D40 navara with roof tent and mountain bikes

I love the way these Yakima products come together to clean up my organization, tent mouting and ability to carry two bikes on the Frontier. In addition to the bars and towers being robust, they have a finished and professional look, and were a breeze to put to use. Even better, they've benefited me by creating a solid mount for the roof tent that:

  • Lifts it higher, thereby making it easier to open/close the tool box
  • Allowed space for two mountain bikes
  • Made a sleek and clean installation that is simple to remove and refit to the vehicle

Plus, the products are modular: I can remove the tent from the Nissan Frontier and install a gear basket, kayak holders, more bike mounts, and so on. Listen to Coach, he's got it right: indoors = hooey.

Click any image for a larger version (opens in new window)
Custom yakima mount for nissan frontier navara d40 Nissan frontier custom install Yakima racks for bikesRock solid mounting of the Eezi-Awn 1200 roof tent upon Yakima Cross Bars, and secured to the custom deck by Landing Pads and Control Towers. The tent rests a few inches above the deck yet is still below the cab roofline, which maximizes aerodynamics and keeps the center of gravity low.
Eezi-awn roof tent 1200 mounted on Yakima bars nissan frontier navara d40 Yakima universal snap around snaparoundThis side view displays the factory Nissan Utili-Track that I fastened to the deck. With the Nissan cleats, I can strap a load on top of the tent, or onto the Cross Bars without the tent.

The image to the right shows how the Universal Snaparounds affix the Eezi-Awn to the bars.

Nissan frontier navara yakima bike holders cycling Yakima sprocketrocket bike mounts sprocket rocketThe sharp design of the Yakima SprocketRocket allows fat- and skinny-tired bicycles to be hauled to the trail in style. A hefty clamp bites down on the steel cross bars, a thumb-actuated set screw adjusts tension on the fork mount, and a ratching mechanism holds the rear tire in the tray.

I've purchased two SprocketRockets and placed one on each side of the vehicle with the tent in the middle. We're ready to enjoy areas where motorized vehicles shouldn't go, while lowering our cholesterol.

Materials/Products used
Eezi-Awn 1200 (series 2) roof tent Yakima Universal Snaparounds
set of 4 (8810135)
Yakima SprocketRocket (80002090),
two each


Engel fridge freezer You didn't actually believe that all I do is whip out mods for the Nissan Frontier Project, write about them and get paid gobs of money for it ... did you?

Ol' Mark has a day job working in the hardwood lumber industry. So I've got access to this industrial woodworking shop, outfitted with the latest Powermatic equipment. This is where I manufatured a pair of modular drawer cabinets for the truck.

Here was the plan: two carcasses, one for the fridge, and one for the storage drawers. I elected to use Baltic Birch plywood, a void-free product featuring 13 plys and hailing all the way from Eastern Europe. My choice was based on availability and economics - it was already in the warehouse and didn't cost me much. If forced to get material the retail route, I'd probably try to locate CDX plywood. It's used for outdoor signs quite often, so it's a good material to use for something that will be subjected to the elements.

I searched, probed, and asked hundreds of people about the best way to waterproof my cabinets. The overwhelming advice was fiberglass resin epoxy. It's what boat makers use. That was going to cost me quite a bit, though, and be a little overkill - I'm not trying to float a boat, just trying to keep these cabinets from falling apart after getting wet in some storms.

My friend Pasquale, another woodworker, has custom boxes in the back of his Tacoma, and he told me that he used a trusty can of Herculiner - so I followed his lead. I managed to coat both boxes and drawer fronts twice and only used about two-thirds of the can. Herculiner is a polyurethane-based product, so it dries strong and hard. In a few years, I suspect the boxes will need another coat.

Click any image for a larger version (opens in new window)
Custom storage drawers on an expedition vehicle Custom drawersThe finished product, and in use. The Engel fridge drawer uses 250-lbs rated ball bearing 900mm (36") slides. The 35-qt fridge was the absolute largest we could fit due to the height of the cargo area: 18". It's an adequate size, but smaller than what most others use.

The other two drawers use 28" full extension slides (100 lbs rating), mainly because longer slides cost significantly more. Though the drawers are 36" long, the 8" of non-extension isn't any trouble to cope with.

Baltic birch plywood for custom drawers woodworking plan for drawer cabinetRight: Always start with a plan, they say.

Left: Glued and screwed . . . this is a close up of the joinery I used throughout the project. Rabbet joints. Benefit? Two surfaces for the glue to adhere.

Speaking of glue, I used Titebond II because I'm aware of it's ability to last in the elements. Another good choice would be two-part epoxy.

Hardware used in the cabinets, heavy duty slides and speaker box handles Drawer slides installedThe hardware used is quite simple: heavy duty ball bearing drawer slides and spring loaded speaker handles. Both items come recommended by Pasquale, and I love the handles. Spring-action keeps them from jiggling and making racket while driving down rough roads. On the right, the installation of the drawer slides. Ball bearing slides glide smoothly.
custom drawer boxes for the nissan frontier Drawers tested with the engel fridgeA quick dry fit of the drawers and cabinets before final mounting and I'm ready to coat, and then install the drawer fronts.

The boxes leave enough space in the Nissan Frontier on either side for other gear: Scepter water can, loaded garbage bags, camp chairs, etc. See finished photo.

power supply for engel fridge freezer twozone engel wireless thermometer for fridgesSome details about the Engel fridge in the Nissan Frontier D40: to the left, the power source comes through the rear of the box. I've hung the cord in a fashion that it won't get bound up or caught on the drawer as we slide it in and out of the Frontier's truck bed.

A TWOZONE wireless thermometer (right) allows me to keep track of the temperature inside the fridge - if a fuse blows or some other power issue arises I'll know well before the food spoils.

twozone baskets engel refrigerator expedition Engel fridge freezer with LED twozone light and basketsTWOZONE also makes a set of suspended baskets (left) for the Engel fridge, which turn out to be very clever for keeping things in order. Without them, I'd just have a mound of food-n-beer in the fridge. I suspect the baskets help cool down items quicker, too, since the cool air can flow around everything.

I've never seen a light so small as the TWOZONE LED fridge light (right). It comes with a sticky pad that just adheres to the lid (or anywhere).

Materials/Products used
Baltic Birch plywood, 3/4" and 1/2" 3/4" and 1-1/4" wood screws
28" full extention slides, 100#
two pair, black (
900mm full extention slides, 250#
one pair (
Speaker handles, HD 5"x7", black
H1065 (
Engel 35 Quart Fridge/Freezer
TwoZone wireless thermometer/clock
TwoZone basket set
TwoZone LED fridge light

Project Nissan Frontier expedition vehicleWith the fifth segment of Project Nissan Frontier wrapped up, I'm not even thinking about the next one. I'm thinking about sticking my feet in the sand, a warm beer in my hand, and watching the locals play a little fútbol on a quiet, remote Mexican beach at the end of a long dirt road.

I'm thinking about roasting up some fresh-caught prawns over the campfire, cutting a few firey jalepeños,tomatoes, bell peppers and onions, and mixing it all into fajitas on handmade flour tortillas.

I'm thinking about reading a book - a good one - while the waves splash up next to my chair somewhere south of latitude north 30 degrees.

I'm thinking that Project Nissan Frontier is about doing these things.

That's what I'm thinking.

What's the point of all these mods and gadgets if we're not going to take on the desire that someone else can muster up with a $700 van?


Thoughts, comments, questions?
Mark can be reached via email:

Expedition Portal 2006-2007 Project Vehicle: Nissan Frontier D40
Read the other parts in the series:
Intro Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

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