Saturday, July 7, 2018

Project CRS Part 6 - The Last Ride

And finally the day came: after years of tinkering, planning and researching, few weeks ago I drove my BNR34 over to Omori Factory and handed over the keys. 

To say I am excited would be an understatement; over the past few months I waited in anticipation of the moment. And I also took advantage of the first summer days to take the car out for a couple of final drives around Tokyo. Ah, so much drama...

But seriously: driving around this city in a R34 Skyline GT-R is as close as it gets to any 80’s kid PlayStation-infused dream.

And so I woke up nice and early on a Saturday and headed to Tatsumi Parking for a morning coffee.

That’s when I thought it would be cool to get an up and close shot of the Sparkling Silver paint: in a few months there will be one less model in this particular shade on the streets.

A smooth trip towards Daikokucho and its massively intricate expressway junction.

And finally the familiar sign; I have been here so many times that I wonder if the guys would rent me a room.

Once inside I was greeted by Morita-san, one of the chassis mechanics who, over the years, has earned the title of “BCNR33 Meister” due to his leading role in both the full ground up restoration of the 400R and the BCN33 Grand Touring demo car project. He ran a preliminary inspection of the body, looking for damages, scratches and dents, which will be later cross-referenced by the bodyshop.

This felt liberating: the car is in great shape, but obviously collected a couple of dings and a bit of stone chipping over its 16 years of life - invisible in photos, but they are there. If you have OCD, you know what I’m talking about. He then proceeded to apply the Omori Factory covers on the license plates, which is when I ticked another little childhood dream box off my check list.

And another sentimental moment when I realized that this would be the last time I would ever see my car in its original stock form. 

A quick look around the workshop helped stopping the sobbing and weeping fairly fast: now I finally have the chance to build my own car according to my own specifications, instead of driving what somebody else ordered at a Nissan showroom in 2002.

Some of the specs have already been decided, while others will be added and fine tuned as the works progress.

Although I will further update the car in the future with two more steps, I almost feel like I want this process to last as long as possible. There is so much to choose from and it’s honestly as exciting as driving the car itself. 

Now that I’m officially without the GT-R I must admit that the need of a second car is stronger than ever. The Grand Touring BCNR33 demo car was as tempting as ever!

And this is it, but I had to turn around for one final look. 

Looking forward to documenting and sharing all the process step by step!

Until next time.

Why Everyone Should Visit Japan Once in their Lifetime

As of last month I have been rolling into my 11th year living in Japan: I moved here when I was 21 and basically spent my whole adulthood on this side of the planet - time flies. Let me start by saying that, whether you are into cars or not, everybody should visit this place at least once. However, if you happen to have been bitten by the JDM bug, Japan can easily turn into the trip of a lifetime. Whether you need extra motivation to start planning, or a convincing argument (in photo format) for your other half, this post is for you.

Tokyo can be extremely frenetic, but it didn’t take long before the craziest aspects of living here became daily routine. However, earlier this month I had my family visiting for a holiday. That, combined with the several recent trips to get my car project started, revealed to be a great opportunity to slow down and rediscover the little things that really makes this place so special. 

To begin with, Tokyo is as diverse as it gets: in a matter of minutes you can move from that urban jungle and neon chaos that is Shibuya.

To the absolute quiet of Hamarikyu Gardens, planted in the middle of the city.

You can experience the most amazing modern architecture blending in with traditional style buildings.

I am Italian and I’ve never seen old and new co-existing so well together in one place.

Now, whether you are GT-R owner or overall JDM enthusiast, understandably, you will want to check out car related stuff as much as possible. Good news are that automotive culture is deeply rooted in Japan and it’s not difficult to run into cool places worth taking your DSRL out for, like Nissan Crossing.

Today it’s a state of the art showroom filled with all the latest tech and styling exercises, but you would be interested to know that Nissan very first Ginza gallery dates as back as 1963.

Tokyo and its surrounding offer plenty of things to see that can be easily paired up with city sightseeing, starting from the artificial island of Odaiba.

Definitely pay a visit to Toyota History Garage, where classic racers are regularly displayed. Currently, to celebrate Toyota challenge to the Le Mans 24 Hours, a very cool selection of endurance racers is on display.

You will also find plenty of classic cars from all eras and makers, not just Toyotas.

Now, if you are visiting in summer, go and spend a weekend trackside at a Super GT race, easily the most advanced GT series in the world. The cars have an incredible presence and the sight of watching them lap the track with Mount Fuji in the background is worth the trip alone.

Round 2 and Round 5 usually take place in May and August respectively, which makes Fuji Speedway the only circuit to host two rounds of the series in one year, as well as R’s Meeting and Nismo Festival later in the year.

If you are around autumn, then a visit to Twin Ring Motegi in Tochigi prefecture for the final round of the series could be part of your plans. This area is famous for its hot springs and mountains.

You can easily put together a great weekend, spending a day touring the area, including Edo Wonderland (a real life reconstruction of a Edo period village with actors playing as local characters), before you head to the circuit.

Twin Ring Motegi is a great track, very easy to get around.

Besides, the Honda Collection Hall alone is worth the visit.

Here you’ll find some of the most iconic cars and technology that ever came out Japan.

The collection is incredibly vast and diverse and includes some of the most legendary machines.

If you are in Yokohama for the day, then you are definitely at the right place for all things Nissan.

The new Global Headquarters  building is huge and usually hosts at least a few racer or classic sports models that are worth checking out.

This is an obvious statement, but, the next logical stop from Nissan HQ is Daikokucho, direction Nismo Omori Factory.

If you are reading this blog, this place needs no introduction.

The Mecca of everything Skyline and GT-R related, this place represent the ultimate expression of Japanese automotive craftsmanship.

From here you have multiple options: you can stop by the famous Daikoku parking  area, visit Minatomirai or, if you plan ahead, head down to Zama to visit Nissan DNA Garage (you’ll need to book in advance on their website).

Japan offers a virtually endless menu of options: you can hop on a Shinkansen and reach some of the most amazing locations in a matter of hours, or just stay local.

Spring and summer are my favorite seasons and, as long as you avoid the heavy rain in June, you should be fine.

From cherry blossom viewing to local matsuri, you can rest assured that there is plenty to satisfy whoever is tagging along with you.

The country has a lot more to offer than just cars, which is why I’d recommend to go and explore as much as possible. 

If time and budget allow, visit Okinawa and the surrounding smaller islands.

Easily my favorite place on Earth; if it’s your first time, you are in for a treat. 

Lastly, and this is pretty obvious, you’ll finally have a chance to taste one of the most refined cuisines in the world.

Forgot the California roll, this is the real deal.

And there you have it: as somebody once wrote, you just have to see, feel, taste, and hear everything on your own to truly understand the Japan experience. Some people end up returning, even multiple times.

I ended up never leaving. 

Until next time.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Rarest Production BNR34 in the World

One of the reasons for my very regular visits to both NPTC and Omori Factory, besides picking up parts, is that I just really like roaming around the workshop areas. Watching these artisans at work is always educative, fascinating and allows me to get up and close with cars that often carry some very nice touches. Skyline GT-Rs are not a rare sight in Japan, but the cool thing is that some of the customer cars are simply a bit more special than others. I have already published dedicated posts to the Nismo 400R and the Nismo Z tune, but last week I ran into what is, from a production standpoint, the rarest BNR34 in the world.

Like most of us, during my first visits to Omori Factory, I have literally glued myself to the glass walls that separate one of the most beautiful workshop areas in the world from the rest of the showroom. Pristine democars, Z tune prototype and all sort of Skyline goodness are sitting just mere meters away, yet inaccessible - so frustrating. Think of the annoying kid knocking on the walls of the dolphin tank at sea world: I’ve been that guy. Luckily - as we say in Italian - “tutto il mondo è paese”, which roughly translates to “the world is just a big town”: once you become a regular paying customer the invisible barriers are lifted and the guys will happily show you around (if you have an appointment).

Last week I stopped by the factory to discuss a few more options and, as I am always seeking new ideas and inspiration, I prefer doing so in the workshop area rather than at the consulting desk. As always there was no shortage of car goodness, including a street focused BNR34 CRS based on a V-spec model. But what caught my attention the most was this Pearl White car with R tune livery.

As I previously mentioned, Omori Factory offers maintenance service only to works cars, which means that all the vehicles in the workshop are either having some Nismo bits fitted or have had, at some point, some serious work done either to the engine or chassis. The car surely didn’t look like a knock off: besides the Nismo stripe livery being period correct, it looked very well travelled, with some evident yellowing on the rear FRP bumper, typical of the Pearl White finish. The color itself looked a bit unusual, but the intense lighting and shiny epoxy coated floor can sometimes play tricks on the eyes.

Besides the R tune front bumper it also had some early production LM GT4s which suggested that this was a very early works car. The bonnet is also a early production model, with no exposed carbon on the inside. It didn’t take me long before I asked if I could get close and this is when Ochiai-san said - “this is a car we are very familiar with: we owned it for many years”. He went on and explained how this was one of the first development mules for the R tune engine, Sports Resetting ECU and suspension packages. Remember the Best Motoring video where Keiichi Tsuchiya tested both the Z tune prototype and a white R tune R34 at Tsukuba? This is the car!

But the biggest surprise came when we opened the hood: despite being a V-spec II model the car was fitted with a zenki blue VIN plate, typical of Series 1 cars. That in itself makes this one of the very last BNR34 produced at Murayama plant, which was later sold and dismantled in March 2002. Nissan still owns BNR34-010107, which is the very last one produced at the site; sort of pre-production, but some of them were actually sold to customers. These cars were fitted with a number of different parts compared to the normal V-spec II, such as V-spec carbon diffuser (the carbon construction was later revised) and some interior trim bits. Those with sharp eyes will recognize the zenki fuse cover box on the left (with white lettering instead of yellow). Some of these cars were also fitted with the old Nissan logo badge, before it was updated in 2001. After the R tune packages were finalized Nismo went on and started testing the N1 engine on this car, including sending it to the Nürburgring for data collecting purposes. In its current form it runs a development spec hybrid R1 engine with Sports Resetting based on a N1 power plant. 

So, lots of cool anecdotes, but what earns this car the title of “rarest production BNR34 in the world”? Well, a closer look at the VIN plate will reveal that this is the only model ever finished in QT1 Pearl White, a very similar shade to the QX1 hue, maybe just a touch less pearlescent. As you can see the koujo (工場 - factory) code reads 5, for Murayama. What happened to this color and why is this the only unit ever produced in it? Unfortunately I do not have the answers, but my best guess is that Nissan just slightly revised the paint formula and renamed it once they moved the R34 production to Tochigi plant. 

The car was owned by Nismo for several years and even featured on the Sports Resetting brochure, before being sold to somebody “within the family”. It is regularly driven and maintained at Omori Factory where is still revered as the grandmother of Nismo works BNR34s. As always, a special thanks to the Omori Factory guys for the hospitality and I hope you enjoyed this little piece of R34 history.

Until next time.