Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Falling Back in Love

Once I permanently moved back to Japan in 2009 I took an unwanted 5 years break from my passion for cars. Actually I am not sure if "taking a break" is the right way to put it because, while I always loved cars in video games and magazines, I never had a car of my own up to that point. Moving to Japan at the age of 21 meant that I completely missed out on the early fun that my Italian friends were having with their first rides (mostly Fiat and WW hot hatches); as a matter of fact the only car I really drove was my mom's Fiat Punto.

Now, this is a point worth mentioning because it heavily influences the type of content you will find on this blog: because I never had the chance to play around with cars and bought my first one at 30 years old, I have very limited technical knowledge. This particularly shows when I talk with friends who are working on their project cars: I just nod like an idiot and pretend I understand what they are talking about while I am actually completely lost in translation (gaskets, fuel rails, engine management - what?).

While I know the basics and enjoy learning and catching up with the technical aspects, my fascination for cars is a lot more romantic and visual: I can literally spend hours looking at shapes and drinking in all the body details and I simply love the act of driving, the man-machine bond that only driving your dream car creates. This means that, while I have a LOT planned for my BNR34, this blog will be more focused on my experience living Japan's car culture rather than tech-heavy posts about fuel management and final gear settings (hopefully they'll come too in the future).

So, back to my unwanted break: Tokyo is famous for being one of the most expensive cities in the world and owning a car is considered a luxury even by wealthy people. When I landed my first job in 2010 buying a car was something I didn't even dare thinking about, but Japan never stopped reminding me that something was missing, like this V-spec II parked every day in front of my first office.
This was a daily driver - thumbs up!
Or this black R35 that I would see on my way back home.
Sorry, super blurry photo
Fast forward to 2013: visit to the Tokyo Motor Show where the GT-R Nismo was unveiled - something was hitching...
Interesting matte finish

And the bug finally bit me again when I went to my first Super GT race at Fuji Speedway in spring 2014: my first time at a racetrack and it was nothing short of amazing.
Gates to motorsport heaven
Starting grid
My desire for owning a car was strong, but I have to confess that, at that point, I had almost "forgot" about the BNR34: you wouldn't see many in the streets and the R35 was the latest and greatest toy around. But things were about to change when, later that year, I paid my first visit to the renewed Nismo Omori Factory in Yokohama and met face to face with this:
Nothing could match the aura of this car in the whole showroom
The BNR34 Clubman Race Spec: which is basically all the best bits and pieces from the Nismo catalogue, thrown into a completely rebuilt from the ground and refreshened R34 Skyline GT-R. Repainted in a super gloss dark metallic grey it looked like an absolute weapon and made the R35 sitting next to it looking almost soft and domesticated. 
7'08 at the Ring and still managed to look "soft"...
...compared to this!
Later in December I also visited the Nismo Festival where I stumbled into more BNR34 goodness, including legendary historic racers like the Pennzoil GT-R that took the JGTC championship in 1999.
Some serious machinery here
And her sister that won the crown in 2003.
2003 All Japan Gand Touring Car Championship Winner
I also rode shotgun in a Super Taikyu Z34 (amazing experience), and met face to face withe the legendary Z-Tune, arguably the ultimate BNR34.
Z tune
The badge says it all
It was a massive childhood throwback and, as silly as it sounds, felt like taking a walk through a real-life Gran Turismo menu. But it did it for me, as all clicked in together and finally made sense: I was going to buy a R34 Skyline GT-R.

So the hunt begins...

Saturday, September 24, 2016

In the Beginning Part 3 - Tokyo at Last

Fast forward to 2007 and, as graduation was approaching, I was in the midst of a full-on "quarter-life crisis" as I had no clue of what to do after university. Mind you that Italy boasts a staggering 45% unemployment for new grads and, unless you are very well connected or very smart (I was neither of them) your career prospects are virtually inexistent; forget about cars.

My major was International Trade and in order to obtain mandatory credits we were required to do an unpaid three months internship abroad. While I was far from being a role-model student and my grades were pretty poor, I decided to apply to an internship in Tokyo and, despite having no work experience and zero qualifications, I got accepted overnight (!). I still pat myself on the back every morning for sending that e-mail, which I refer to as THE best decision of my life, EVER. 

Now, in 2016 this may not sound like a big deal, but back in 2007 it actually gained me my five minutes of glory as I was the only student out of 500 to go to an Asian country and the first ever in the history of my university to go to Japan; so much so that I had to do the paperwork myself. For a few months I was known as "the guy who was going to Tokyo" and even had a couple of people confessing me that they "admired my courage" for going so far away (you know, we Italians like to stay local).

I landed in Tokyo on a humid morning in July and will sum those three months up in one sentence: summer 2007 was a blast and one of the best, spiritually intense (I'm sentimental, I know) and most rewarding periods of my life. 

I was super lucky to share an apartment in a residential area in Setagaya-ku and during my stay I repeatedly stumbled across some of my teenage years unicorns, like this zenki NSX NA1 parked next to the supermarket where I used to buy my groceries.
Not bad, hu?
Owner could have used a cover though
Or this black BNR34 V-spec II: my very first encounter with the mighty GT-R, of which I took as many photos I could before running away worried that somebody would call the police.
First encounter (but didn't like the protective silver lining on the door)
Yes, I used the flash
One of the highlights was the fact that my boss gifted me a press pass to the Tokyo Motor Show and allowed me to visit it during working hours as long as I'd write a coverage report (yes, paid to visit a car show - where do I sign?!). This was actually the 40th edition of the show and a pretty special one as well since it was during this event that Carlos Ghosn revealed the R35 GT-R to the world. It was all over the news and everybody was talking about it; I remember our receptionist - a petite lady in her late 30s clearly uninterested about cars - asking me right when I stepped back to the office: "did you see the GT-R?". Yes I did.
40th Tokyo Motor Show
The "new" GT-R
Up-close and personal

Below a few extra shots that I snapped with my sakura-colored Sony camera bought in Akihabara, of which, of course, I was pretty proud of.
Not only Nissans - F430 Scuderia, beautiful spec!
Murcielago Lp640
So much technology
This was before the global economy collapsed in 2008: the show was still at Makuhari Messe in Chiba and all the European makers were also present; hopefully it will regain its prestige in the future. 

Anyways, I was hooked: I loved Tokyo and Japan surprised me beyond my expectations - I was on a mission to stay. I guess I'm just another gaijin who ended up living in Japan, but if you do too, you know what I'm talking about. 

This is the last post of my introduction series to this blog and, since it's a car blog and so far I wrote a lot about myself and very little about cars, I won't annoy you any further: I basically left Italy and never looked back. Next year will be my 10th year in Japan and life is good - arigatou, Nihon!

From the next post I'll start cover the journey of how I bought my GT-R. 

Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In the Beginning Part 2 - Internet Overdose

Games were fun, but the real game changer was the release of ADSL internet connections to the general public. Still incredibly slow by today's standards it opened up a whole new world to kids my age: everything was now just one click away.
Nights spent watching Best Motoring

This meant two things: our household phone bills went to the roof (billing was tied to usage hours) and I literally spent an insane amount of hours searching and downloading every bit of information about Japan car culture and motorsport. Endless nights spent downloading every episode of Best Motoring and collecting thousands (literally) of pictures of Japanese cars on my hard-drive. I even bought a small scale model of a Bayside Blue R34 V-spec II.
Vintage JGTC years
My interest for cars quickly translated in a much bigger interest for visiting Japan: the lights, the buildings, the landscapes - everything was so cool and light years away from what you'd get in a small town in northern Italy. 
This is where I grew up
Another planet...
Still, information weren't as available as today, with very little material in Italian or English - getting to Japan seemed an obscure feat that only few selected could achieve. This, combined with money: the flight price alone was enough to kill all my savings and pretty much unaffordable for the average Italian family.
Year 2003, we all start somewhere (I still own this model).
As the university years rolled on it was time to stop dreaming about Japanese cars and start getting a job. Tokyo seemed far, far away...

Monday, September 19, 2016

In the Beginning Part 1 - The Playstation Years


As a first post on this blog I thought I'd share a little bit of background on how I got where I am now and what led me to buy my GT-R in the first place. Hopefully this will make it easier to understand why I focus on certain things and make certain choices, so bear with me while I take a stroll down memory lane with this short 3-posts series.

If you are born between the mid 70s and late 90s and call yourself a "car guy" you must have heard of or played the Gran Turismo video game series at least once. By the time the first episode on the original Playstation came out in 1998 I was 14 years old and, after convincing my mother that spending half a month worth of her salary on a videogame console was a good investment, I could finally grab a copy of the game everybody was talking about.

1997: the hype was strong
The game was absolutely impressive for the time it came out: great graphics, a ton of fun and an impressive amount of details. The way each car was meticulously reproduced down to the smallest details/options strongly appealed my OCD - the whole game felt like a little encyclopedia.

BCNR33 vs NSX Type S Zero
But the biggest surprise (at least for European and American players) was the car selection: the game was clearly developed for the Japanese market and Kazunori Yamauchi (the main developer) couldn't afford buying the expensive copyrights for the prestigious European makers. The car lineup was filled with names unheard of and machines that most of us had never seen in real life: NSX, GT-R, Supra, Lancer, Impreza, RX-7, FTO. The cars not only looked super cool, but boasted performances that could compete with the more rarefied European exotics. 

Beautiful replay camera
An excellent sequel (Gran Turismo 2) followed and, in July 2001, the third installment, GranTurismo 3 A-spec, was released on the newest Playstation 2. The graphic details made a quantum leap from the previous versions: everything looked super-sharp, with real time reflections on the cars bodies and a very realistic (for its time) physic engine. The game also exported Japan motorsport tradition to the rest of the world with the JGTC machines. 
Nothing looked more futuristic than this
By the time I was 16 I had literally spent hundreds of hours lapping the various tracks, reading the car manuals and becoming a self-proclaimed JDM guru. This, combined with my passion for basketball and adolescence-inducted idiocy, led me to fail at passing my first year of high-school and barely make it through the next years. Let's just say that my mom wasn't a Playstation fan. At all.
Gorgeous graphics
But it was the early 2000s and more cool technology was becoming available to keep us away from the textbooks. More on the next post.