Friday, June 12, 2020

Z-tune Proto Ver. 2000 Full Spec List

The Z-tune is arguably the most recognizable GT-R of them all: the iconic silhouette, the KY0 Silver and red alcantara color combination, and the Z2 engine are features all well known to everybody. However, the story behind its development and consequent changes between the original prototype and final version are still obscure to many. I thought it would make for an interesting story. 

In early 2000 Nismo decided to develop the ultimate road-going version of the BNR34, fittingly naming it after the Japanese word kyuukyoku (究極, literally “ultimate”), hence the choice of the “Z” letter, as the last in the alphabet: the Z-tune. During the following 5 years the project went through as many different iterations, with the last one being 95% true to the production model, thus named Z-tune Proto Ver. Final. The early Z-tune Proto Ver. 2000 however was the fastest machine ever built by Nismo, and also the only to ever be fitted with the Z1 (Z-tune Concept Spec1) engine. 

The Z1 was based on a bored N1 block fitted with forged con-rods, pistons with revised cooling channels, 1.5mm (11044-RRR47) head-gasket metal, prototype camshafts, a balanced prototype crankshaft, high capacity 600CC/min fuel injectors (16600-RRR60), high capacity fuel pump, N1 exhaust manifold, Nismo GT Le Mans turbochargers and racing spark plugs. The intake collector surge tank was left standard. A bigger intercooler, radiator, engine oil cooler and oil catch tank were fitted to preserve the health of the powertrain. A dedicated ECM and dual type titanium muffler were also fitted, but the exhaust system didn’t include a catalytic converter.

The chassis (minus the carbon-fiber reinforcements) is probably the area that saw the least changes between the original prototype and the customer cars, with development spec of the Sachs suspensions, arms, stabilizer, strut tower bar, and harder bushes and engine mounts. The LMGT4s were shod either in radial Bridgestone Potenza RE01R or softer RE40S for time attack, all in 265/35 size.

The brakes of choice for the original prototype were Brembo 4 pot calipers at the front and 2 pot at the rear, mated with 355mm and 296mm rotors respectively. Interestingly, up until 2003 Nismo played with the idea of fitting a stronger input shaft in the 6-speed Getrag transmission, but eventually reverted to OEM for the final production model. The carbon propeller shaft was installed from the very beginning, as well as the Nismo LSD at the front differential. The clutch, however, was the older twin plate G-MAX Spec II, later upgraded to the Super Coppermix.

Not only the original Z-tune prototype was more powerful of the final production car, but tipping the scale at 1,480kg was also significantly (120kg) lighter. Besides being air-con and audio-less, the car was fitted with the famous carbon aero parts, carbon-kevlar Recaro bucket seats, a Nardi steering wheel and a carbon passenger door straight from a Super Taikyu race car. An aluminum roll-cage and 4-point harness were also installed for circuit driving duties.

Between 2001 and 2004 Nismo developed 4 other versions of the Z-tune prototype, all with minor modifications, but less dramatic performance changes, before releasing the Z-tune to the public in 2005. Ironically, the final version of the car dubbed as the “ultimate GT-R", was over 100kg heavier and almost 20% less powerful than its older sister. Still, a bedroom wall poster car for many 80's and 90's kids.

Thank you for stopping by today, hope you enjoyed the trivia.

Until next time.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Nismo Carbon Parts Disappearing?

Few people have reached out recently as the Nismo carbon inlet pipe is rumored to be discontinued as well as other more popular parts, like the Z-tune FRP bumper. The pipe is actually listed as “currently not on sale” on Nismo website, which doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t make a return. Just keep in mind that certain things may take time (remember the GT shift knob?)

Same for the carbon airbox (apparently disappeared from the website), although, despite what most people think, it’s not the same as the plastic OEM one. The internal profile has been re-engineered and the ECM needs to be re-programmed for correct installation. Nismo goes through an inventory check at the end of every fiscal year in March, so part numbers and code changes are not unusual. Moral of the story: I wouldn’t necessarily rush and pay double to get these parts right away - maybe just a bit of patience? Hope this helps!

Until next time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

CRS Maintenance Log

The GT-R is back! Hard to believe, but it’s been 3 months since I left it in the capable hands of the guys at Omori Factory. So, why did it take so long, and wasn’t it supposed to be just regular maintenance? Well, sort of.

Besides a mandatory fluid and oil change, Ochiai-san expressed the desire to have a more through check to make sure that everything was holding up as the day it left the factory - an important process for a car that has been entirely hand built without the aid of industrial machines. This is where the Japanese attention to detail really shines, with 70 components individually checked and 6km of road test by one of the best GT-R mechanics in the world. 

My car was given a clean bill of health, but there were issues. For starter, my Optima battery had reached the end of its life, struggling to hold charge, so a new one went in. Additionally the tires had lost a bit of pressure and Ochiai-san scolded me for not driving it enough. However the biggest issue of them all was the invisible to any mentally sane person’s eye, but oh-so-annoying to me stone chip on the carbon front lip that I collected on the expressway. Finished in clear carbon it wasn’t going to be an easy fix.

After one attempt to fix it in a way that likely would have been deemed acceptable by any reasonable person, my OCD took over: I took the plunge and decided to redo the whole splitter. This is when things got interesting. Several texts and two weeks later the paint shop came back with the idea of mixing just a tiny bit of color in the new clear, giving the carbon a deeper, glossier finish with a slight metal sheen. I liked it so much that I decided to redo the rear carbon flap to match. As a final surprise they even painted free of charge the Jabroc (wood) protection guard that sits in front of the lip - an idea that I had thrown at Ochiai-san during a previous conversation. 

Needless to say, I am incredibly happy with the result, although less ecstatic about the bill that was handed to me. But in the end it’s all worth it: every visit I learn something new, discover details that can be improved or touches to make the car more unique and bespoke to me. Many people asked why I service my GT-R here, but if you had the opportunity, where else would you do it? Driving on the Shutoku to the factory, chatting with the staff, looking at other customers cars: simple maintenance is an experience in itself and doing it here surely adds to the vehicle history. After all, how many BNR34s are regularly maintained at Omori Factory?

Now, I know that some of you will be disappointed by the lack of driving comments and photos, but after a 3 months process for some fresh lacquer on the front splitter and rear wing that costed like a new set of LM GT4s there was no way I was going to take any chances. So I hired this fantastic flatbed waiting for me at the back entrance of the factory. 

You know you hired the right company when they tell you that the flatbed is never rain driven and on air suspension to preserve customer cars alignment. I let Ochiai-san carefully load the GT-R and took a couple of photos to commemorate the event. If you follow the paint/clear coat theme of this post you will probably easily guess what’s coming next.

I then got behind the wheel of the Fairlady and drove along on the expressway; there is something nerve wrecking about watching your car bouncing on the top of a flatbed as it goes through curves and elevation changes! Once in Tokyo I caught another only-in-Japan kind of moment as we approached a gunmetal grey R35 riding just next to my car with Skytree in the background: how cool is that!

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Virtual Reality

Another rainy Saturday in Tokyo, which means another weekend without proper driving (well, except a much anticipated visit to Omori Factory tomorrow). Oh well, that’s when technology come in handy: time to boot up my PlayStation 4 and Gran Turismo Sport.

These days I’m far from being an avid gamer, but wow, the graphic on the latest generation consoles is absolutely incredible. After playing with the settings and recreating the closest possible version of my car in virtual reality (plus the original CRS stickers), I spent a good couple of hours driving around Tokyo Expressway.

The circuit layout is a mix of real and fantasy sections of the C1, with Hakozaki PA and a few tunnels around the Ginza area pretty much a carbon-copy of their real life counterparts. The R34 also very much behaves like the real car, especially the traction, body roll and boost feeling.

I also tried my hand at Spa Francorchamps, this time with a Pagani Zonda R. This is a combo that must be absolutely incredible in real life.

After a few track session under my belt I can honestly say that games can hardly substitute actual driving, but they are definitely a lot less expensive and excellent to learn track layouts. Plus Spa is not exactly behind the corner...

Lastly, it’s hard to ignore the nostalgic factor: GT was by far my favorite game as a kid and sometimes, between a global pandemic and a financial crisis, it’s good to relax and feel 17 years old again for a couple of hours.

Japan has prematurely lifted the state of emergency from 39 prefectures and it’s very likely that Tokyo will follow suit at the end of the month. This means that it’s time to lose a couple of kilos that I gained since February, so today I tried some sushi from a new spot I recently found.

Not bad for only 880¥! Going for a proper sushi dinner at my favorite spot in Tsukiji is pretty much on top of my to-do list as soon we go back to normal.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Escape to Lake Miyagase

Like most of you I have been weathering the COVID-19 storm for almost two months now.  But after weeks of social distancing last Saturday I felt the need for a bit of an escape. My location of choice was Lake Miyagase in Kanagawa prefecture; however, given the circumstances, I decided to plan things a bit differently than usual.

The government launched a “stay home” campaign for this year’s Golden Week, calling for citizens to avoid gatherings and extended travel. In order to not add to the problem I opted for a very early rise to ensure I could reach my destination before any significant traffic would occur.

I ended up arriving at the lake before 6AM and, as you can see by the photos, my decision of waking up so early truly paid off: the scenery was absolutely incredible with the emerald water of the lake mixing with the forest at sunrise. 

One could argue that giving up on the trip altogether would have been a more sensible choice, but truthfully there were almost zero vehicles on the road before 7AM. Additionally, the area surrounding the lake is pretty much uninhabited, making it almost impossible to run into unexpected encounters.

I drove around for a good hour, exploring the bridges and tunnels and getting out of the car only a handful of times to take a few photos.

With the exception of some sequences these are not necessarily the best roads to drive fast, but rather more suitable for a gentle cruise while admiring the scenery. 

This doesn’t mean in any way that you can’t have fun and surely there were a few moments when I let the Fairlady stretch its legs.

The tunnels were great, but I must admit that a RB26 would have probably produced a much better symphony over the VQ35HR. But, again, this time wasn’t about driving fast or practicing my heel-and-toe, but rather an opportunity to unwind and enjoy the incredible location. 

Around 7AM the traffic had started to increase a bit, slowly transforming the feeling of the area, with cars and trucks moving around. This pretty much meant that it was time to go back to Tokyo. As short as they were, those 30 minutes of absolute calm when I could park the Z in the middle of the road with no other vehicle in sight felt almost surreal. 

This quick trip was exactly what I needed and an encouraging reminder of all the good things that are awaiting us once we’ll go back to normal.

Until next time.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Golden Week

Golden Week, finally. With so much going on so far this year I was really looking forward to a break. I will try to enjoy the holidays while being mindful of the current situation. Thankfully driving around alone is harmless, so I started my day with a morning cruise around the bay.

This is by far one of my favorite areas of the city: the skyline from Rainbow Bridge is incredible and you really get a feeling of what makes Tokyo so special when it comes to roads and urban design.

The asphalt is incredible, so smooth; nothing beats the feeling of cruising in 4th gear, playing with the torque band around 3,000 rpm while the chassis is rolling effortlessly through the bends and progressive changes of elevation.

After a quick lunch I decided to visit my old neighborhood in Setagaya, where I lived in when I first moved to Tokyo. 

While my apartment was a lot more modest than most houses, this is a residential area with an incredible mix of designer’s architecture, nature and traditional Japan.

Hard to believe that it’s just 5 minutes away from that madness that is Shibuya. I picked up a latte to go at a new coffee place before jumping back in the Fairlady.

After cruising around the C1 for the best part of one hour I headed towards one of my favorite spots in the wharf area for some photos.

The weather was just perfect, it was properly hot and you could almost smell summer in the air. Who knows, this could be the turning point that we are all waiting for.

Thank you for stopping by today; stay safe.

Until next time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Quarantine Cleaning

Plenty of time at home means that I could finally do some long overdue cleaning inside my memorabilia closet.

Over the years I have accumulated a pretty large amount of books, pamphlets, magazines, die-cast models and car parts. Some of them were acquired at events like Nismo Festival (see the air restrictor?), some are gifts and some just outright bought online or at small shops in Japan.

The die-cast collection of JGTC Ebbro miniatures takes by far the most space, last time I counted them there were over 100 pieces.

The reason for them being so many is that I collected every single model of the GT500 series from 2000 to 2004 (after which the championship was renamed to Super GT), which is when I really fell in love with Japanese motorsport.

This was, in my opinion, the golden era of GT racing, with more traditional chassis and aero that gave the cars an appearance still quite close to their road-going counterparts. The liveries were also incredible, with sponsorships changing almost every year.

Hard to believe, but I acquired the first piece in 2002, the championship winning Esso Ultraflo Supra. This model is now worth around 30,000¥!

Back then I picked this specific one over the GT-R as Juichi Wakisaka was my favorite driver. 18 years later he is now retired and a successful team principal for Toyota in Super GT.

I don’t own many models from other series, but the Nürburgring 24h winner Porsche GT3 one that I bought at Manthey Racing during my last year’s trip at the ‘Ring is by far my favorite.

I also managed to put some order in my DVDs, mostly vintage JGTC races, Nismo Festival and a few others.

And this is pretty much it, up next is time to put some order in my OEM and Nismo spare parts closet. 

Hope everybody is doing well and staying safe.

Until next time.