Thursday, December 3, 2020

Analog Life

Dropped by Akihabara almost by accident a couple of weeks ago; ended up taking a trip down memory lane and a bit of impulsive shopping.

It all started with a lazy Saturday afternoon, when I took the Fairlady for a quick spin around the bay and stopped at my “secret spot” in Shibaura.

Great location for a cup of (7-eleven) coffee while the sun sets over Tokyo. That’s when I thought I’d try a different route to return home and joined the C1 instead of using Rainbow Bridge. 

I kept driving for a while, just enjoying the road and the lights, especially the section that cuts through Ginza, when I thought it would be cool to drive all the way to Akihabara as I couldn’t even remember the last time I visited.

It must have been at least 5 years, if not longer, since my last visit. Lots has changed and while it’s undoubtedly true that Electric Town has lost a bit of the magic it had in the 90’s and 00’s, it’s still a unique place to visit.

So, I parked the Z (just to be handed an incredibly expensive bill upon my return, one mere hour later) and roamed around a bit.

I still remember my first visit in summer 2007, when I came here after work to buy a Sony portable camera on a budget, which I used to take my first photos of Japan. Many of the smaller shops haven’t survived the real estate takeover of the past 15 years, and today it’s mostly large chains like Softmap and Laox that dominate the landscape.

But look in the right alley and you’ll find some of the older boutiques, still carrying video games and consoles from bygone eras.

Just like with cars, Japanese have mastered the art of taking care of their possessions and the shelves were loaded with fully working gems that are now 20 years old, some even older.

Luckily, unless you are looking at rare time-capsule gems like the Ceramic White PS2 that I bought on Yahoo! Auctions earlier this year, prices haven’t hold up much and you can pick up a perfectly functioning original PlayStation for about 7,000¥.

The truly shocking part however were the games, sold pretty much at a loss. Here is a copy of Gran Turismo 3 priced at 100¥ - less than an onigiri or a candy bar! And to think that back in the days we had to pinch pennies for months in order to be able to buy a copy.

The aftermath? I ended up picking up a PlayStation 2 with a handful of original games for a few thousands yen. And while realistically I won’t use it, it’s just something cool to have and boot up from time to time.

2021 is around the corner, but sometimes is nice to stroll down memory lane, as I did with a high-school friend over FaceTime just few days ago. Hours spent with our PS2, followed by pickup basketball games on a hot summer afternoon. Who’s cutting onions?

Until next time.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Pagani Huayra BC

Stopped by Pagani Tokyo in Akasaka today to take some photos of the only (I believe) Huayra BC in Japan.

Limited to 20 examples, this was a performance oriented version of the Huayra - the second model produced by Pagani and successor of the mighty Zonda. 

The initials “BC” stand for Benny Caiola, Pagani’s very first customer. Horacio decided to dedicate him this variant as an homage to their friendship after he passed away in 2010.

Curious how a manufacturer has pretty much become one of the most prestigious marques in the world by producing only 2 models in 20 years.

But anybody who has been lucky enough to witness first hand the craftsmanship and sheer sculpture of a Pagani won’t be surprised to learn about their success.

The attention to detail is incredible: everything just looks so much better than one would expect from any automotive-grade material. And the quality of the paint is by far the best I’ve ever seen on a car.

The carbon weave is quite unique, too, definitely way thicker than most manufacturers and really looks like it has been hand-woven, as each thread is beautiful, yet slightly irregular.

The way every panel matches with each other is a work of art, something that Pagani pioneered in the early 90’s with the first fully-exposed carbon body Zonda.

Unfortunately most owners tend to overcomplicate things when it comes to specs and most Pagani are often overdone in the name of a “1 of 1” badge (and possibly, some internet kudos).

This specific example was actually quite nice, but I think the red stripes are out of place and it would have looked much better with a bright silver or a different shade of blue instead.

Living in Tokyo I am as jaded as they come when it comes to exotics, but if there is one brand that truly deserve the definition of “art on wheels”, that is Pagani. The only complain I have is that it looks like I won’t be specc'ing mine anytime soon...

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Omori Factory Circuit Lesson

At the end of last month, after a proper oil and brake pads refresh, I finally ventured into the second and final Circuit Lesson event of the year with Omori Factory. Some good, some bad, but all in all a fun day and an opportunity to learn something new.


First things first, a mandatory early rise, which this time clearly wasn’t early enough as I found myself stuck in a packed Aqua-Line on my way to Chiba.

I managed to arrive just in time for preparation, although most people where already there. This time the event was restricted to 10 participants only.

Tyre pressure lowered to 200 kPa, spare wheel and number plate removed, radio and timing device set-up and car number attached (as straight as I could): all check and good to go.

Once again we were very lucky with the weather and really couldn’t have asked for a better day. There is something extremely special about getting around a racetrack on a crisp early morning while sipping on a coffee. 

But with no time to waste, we deep dived into the briefing at 9:30am, courtesy of Super GT driver Tomonobu Fujii and Nismo legends Masami Kageyama and Tetsuya Tanaka.

After practicing a slow-in-fast-out hairpin attack technique (simulated around some cones in the parking area) we moved towards the infield for some laps around turn 5, 6, 7 - a tricky section with 3 apexes - under Fujii-san’s supervision.

This time Omori Factory very own Morita-san (who usually coordinates the event) joined us as a participant in the Z democar. I’d like to say that we were close, but that would be a lie: he simply was infinitely better. Oh well, step by step.

After almost running out of gas (I did leave my tank at minimum level on purpose, underestimating the thirst of the VQ) it was time for lunch. 

Due to COVID restriction the restaurant was closed, so we were served a high quality bento (Japanese assorted lunch box). Very OCD-pleasing, and delicious.

During the break I managed to get around a bit and look at other participants’ cars, but no surprises, as they are all regulars whom I met during the previous events.

While prices of Skyline GT-Rs have skyrocketed over the past 12 months, some owners in Japan still track them. I wish I was as brave. The BNR34 of the left is a almost CRS-like V-spec II, fitted with a R2 engine (upgraded from R1), upgraded piping and cooling, suspensions and R35 brakes. The Gunmetal Grey BNR32 has a freshly built 2.7L F-sport engine and similar setup - no engine bay shots due to privacy reasons, but incredible cars nonetheless.


The instructors, however, clearly had the better machinery: GT-R Nismo with N-attack Package, R35 CRS and Z-tune Proto.

And with the lunch break coming to a close we started preparations for the afternoon free lap session.

This time, instead of passenger laps, the menu included an extra 1 on 1 session during which one would first follow and then be followed by an instructor while receiving directions and comments via radio. I was assigned to Fujii-san with the Z-tune Proto. This is possibly one of the best ways to learn the correct lines, braking and clipping points and overall just observe a professional driving. 

Despite this being my third time admittedly I still struggled with focus and couldn’t help but think that I used to watch this car on Best Motoring videos 20 years ago and now I was chasing it down a track! All these years and I guess I’m still a fanboy...

Looking at other more experienced drivers is also a good way to gain knowledge. Some of them are participants in the Z Challenge one-make series and have years of seat-time under their belts.

As always the 5 sessions flew by way faster than one would wish and I found myself clocking the best time of the day on my second to last lap, albeit a second slower than my best to date, which I set in January.

The main lessons learned this time were to brake hard right away (rather than increase force on the pedal after initial pressure) and that braking hard enough and at the right timing is more important than nailing the perfect heel and toe. I also have a tendency to approach corners too close to the center of the track, rather than the optimal out-in-out, which led me to miss apexes in a couple of corners.

All very positive, but in retrospect I realized that I was never truly comfortable throughout the day. Perhaps it was having to adjust to the brake feeling of the new Endless pads fitted just the day before, or maybe was that slight slide on turn 2 (the fastest on the track - I though I was going to crash) early in the session that undermined my confidence for the rest of the day, but this time I just couldn’t get in the zone.

Oh well, it’s all part of the learning process of getting to know your car and, most importantly, your limits. The whole purpose of events like this is learn while having fun, but also return home without the need of a flatbed, which is exactly what went through my mind as I drove into a spectacular Tokyo sunset on my way back.

This time the event finished slightly earlier, so after a quick shower I headed to Setagaya for dinner with a friend.

La Befana in Simokitazawa delivers a pretty authentic pizza experience at a very reasonable price - check it out if you are in the area.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Z Proto

Bit of a late post, but a month ago I got to see the Z Proto up and close at the beautiful Nissan Pavilion in Yokohama, so why not share a few photos?


First of all, the venue: simply stunning. Hats off to the production staff for showing once again why Japanese urban design is truly second to none.

Located a few blocks away from Nissan Global Headquarters, the Pavilion was a fantastic blend of futuristic and minimalistic architecture, very much reflecting the spirit of many Japanese cities.

I wrote was, because it closed the doors for good on October 23rd after a mere two moths of service. Bit of a shame to be honest, but looks like it pretty much served its purpose as the perfect backdrop for the Z Proto launch and to showcase the new Arya to the public. 

The cars on display in the outdoor area were either EVs or performance-focused. I think you can guess which ones caught my attention the most. 

As expected, the interior of the Pavilion was also remarkably well produced, quite impressive for a location that was meant to be open for such a short period of time.

A 240Z was on display just right after the entrance: a fitting choice of model as the design of new Z clearly draws inspiration from the older generations rather than the cars from the 2000s era.

The Arya was also available on the other side of the building - a gorgeous car with an unmistakable Japanese feeling to it. If the technology and performances are as good as the design, then Nissan is surely on the right path of recovery. 

And here it is, the car most people came to see: the Z Proto. Nothing new anymore at this point, but it was very cool to see it in the flesh. It brought back memories of the GT-R Proto and the older Z Concept, when they used to make the headlines years ago.

As always cars look a lot better in person rather than in photo and the new Z was no exception. Very sharp and edgy lines combined balanced by an overall smoothness to the design set the car off; and while it’s probably the same size it feels more compact and nimble than the 370Z.

Although still al prototype, at this point we know that the design is pretty much 95% final. Unfortunately I have a feeling that the gorgeous carbon rear bumper, front lip and side skirts won’t make it to the production model.

Personally I’m not a huge fan of the bright yellow color, picked (as many other details) for historic reasons, nor of the retro-inspired design, but it’s an elegant car for sure.

However, I’m not too concerned with the current look or the one of the future launch version; this is a car that will likely have a very long lifecycle and we can expect it to receive different design upgrades, trims and Nismo editions as the years go by.


Performance wise the foundation is surely promising: with 400ps, a manual transmission and Japanese reliability, what’s not to like? And yes, it’s definitely based on the 370Z platform, but would you rather have this or something like the new “Supra”?  I know my answer.

About one year ago, during the launch of yet another GT-R facelift, I wrote about how Nissan needed to break a bit with the past by launching something new and captivating as it did many times before. I doubt any of the company executives read this blog, but they did just did that with the Z Proto.

Until next time.