Saturday, October 29, 2016

R's Meeting 2016: Pure GT-R Passion

I know this comes a little late, but as I was browsing through my phone I thought it would be a shame not sharing some of the photos I took in September at the R's Meeting at Fuji Speedway. By now the event has been covered by many famous websites, but hopefully my content will be a bit different.
R's Meeting 2016
2016 was my first time attending the R's Meeting as I purposely passed on the 2015 edition. It just happened that last year I picked up my GT-R the exact Saturday evening before the event. Despite several friends inviting me I thought that getting on a 400km round-trip in a right-hand drive car I didn't know at all, with zero experience on Japanese roads and after an almost 10 years break from driving cars in general wouldn't be the best idea. So I passed.

Keen not to miss out this year, I arrived at Fuji Speedway nice and early: despite the clouds the weather was decent and we enjoyed one of the last summer days. Upon my arrival I met with Dino, whose BNR34 was on display at the Do Luck stand. If you are into parts and mods and keen to learn about the latest bits and pieces available for the Nissan icon we all love, you can read all about it on his coverage on Speedhunters.com.
Not an everyday sight
I must say that the scene that presents once the parking lots start filling is pretty impressive: this is by far the largest GT-R meeting on the planet and you'll find everything from the old Hakosuka to the latest MY17 R35. If you are a GT-R fan this event is a must.
A classic
Besides the exhibitors' stands, talk shows, track sessions and photoshoots for the upcoming GT-R magazine coverage also took place. A big part of the event was just the joy of chatting with other owners, soaking inspiration from all the different car flavors on display and just breath in the passion that brings the community together.
Track action
Looking back at the photos I realized that what really caught my attention the most were the cleanest/unmolested unicorns or the tastefully modified ones. I am not a fan of profoundly altering the nature of one car, both exterior-wise and mechanically: wide-body kits and 1000ps set-up never did it for me. Yes, yes, to each its own, but I've personally yet to see a kitted GT-R that looks better than one with a genuine Nismo aero package. Performance-wise I have a feeling that many tuners and owners are pushing their cars in an attempt to fill the gap between cars of more recent generations, which is something I really don't get: the older cars are supposed to have a little turbo-lag, a robust (and slower) manual transmission and the old-school Nissan interior. It's the perfect mix of a unique generation of machines that combined excellent mechanical properties with early stage, yet refined, electronics. Why bastardizing them with sequential transmissions, impossible to maintain engine set-ups and badly assembled interior mods with plastic leather and horrid shiny carbon fiber bits? If these are the qualities you are looking for then I would suggest picking up a very affordable secondhand R35: it does all these things incredibly better. Ok, ok: end rant and back to the cars. 

During the event I had the opportunity to admire in the flesh some of the rarest color modes, like this incredible Silica Breath M-spec Nür.
1 of 9 ever made in this color
Or this pair of ultra rare Lightning Yellow and Active Red V-spec, both sporting the same BBS wheels model.
Lightning Yellow
Active Red
I could also admire for the first time the famous Midnight Purple III color: definitely very interesting and it has to be seen in person to be truly appreciated, but I felt it's something I could get tired of once the initial "wow" factor fades.
LX0
On the other hand the darker Midnight Purple II looks a lot more mature and better matches the lines of the car in my opinion. This specific V-spec example sported Brembo F50 brakes too!
LV4
But it wasn't just BNR34s: this beautiful Marine Blue BCNR33 was on display next to the talkshow stage - I loved the darker shade of blue and I bet it would look amazing on a set of black Nismo LM GT4 wheels.
Marine Blue
This V-spec II Nür in Millennium Jade was the talk of the meeting: advertised with 4.050km on the clock, was on sale for JPY 17,000,000. A worthy investment, or the final escalation of a ridiculous spike in prices pushed by inflation and greed? I'll give my take on this in another post.
For sale!
Yes, it's real
I did actually do some tuning coverage and, amongst all the demo cars, it was Mine's that grabbed my attention. This is the tuning I like: understated, not overdone, and well balanced.
Definitely my favorite tuner
I obviously had to stop by the Omori Factory stand to take some photos of the finally unveiled BCNR33 demo Acar. The concept adopted by Nismo was to create a balanced GT machine with road driving in mind: the car sports a progressive S-tune engine and a long list of factory fresh bits and goodies, including a new carbon fiber air cleaner duct. I had the chance to see the car weeks before, during a visit at Nismo HQ in Tusrumi, Yokohama, but I must confess that seeing it up and close really made me want to buy a R33!
This was incredible
Engine bay: it doesn't get any newer than this
The BNR34 CRS was also there with a few newly developed parts like a rear bumper carbon fiber protective cover around the exhaust surroundings. 
BNR34 CRS
These two models were by far the nicest and cleanest one on display and had a incredible "brand new" feel and look. On my way back home I couldn't help but thinking what it would have felt like taking delivery of one of these cars brand new from the dealership 15-20 yeas ago.

Until next time.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Hunt Part 3 - Follow Your Guts

After requesting an online quotation I proceeded to book a visit at Prostock Racing to inspect the Sparkling Silver model they had on display.

Located in Saitama, this is a well known dealer in the GT-R community: a regular exhibitor at the annual Rs Meeting, they specialize in sourcing unmolested RB26 powered cars. They also provide full maintenance and tuning services, high-end aftermarket part sales as well as building track-oriented demo cars.

I had some very positive feelings about this visit and the legitimacy of the shop: for starters, they are the only dealer I have seen posting online detailed pictures of all the cars underneaths, as well as service history receipts and manuals. They also religiously document all the work they do through daily updates on their blog and have been featured by specialized press many times.

Upon my arrival I was greeted by the Manager, Takada-san, who promptly showed me the garage. And the lineup that presented once I entered the storage area just confirmed my first impression: a BNR34 V-spec II Nür (the car I came to inspect), a white BNR34 M-spec, a blue BCNR33 LM version and a plethora of R32 in tip-top condition, including a 35,000km immaculate V-spec II and some rare Nismo editions, all sitting under the same roof. Now we are talking!

Nice lineup
BCNR33 LM Edition
"My" car was obviously the main attraction and I immediately proceeded with the inspection. The exterior was in excellent shape with no retouch on the paint and no accidents; although it was listed as "full stock" the LED Nismo GT tail lights were a welcomed bonus. The car was advertised as garaged by the previous owner: the spotless NACA duct on the dry carbon bonnet, the still soft window rubber seals and absence of whitening on the plastic window pillars and front diffuser clearly supported the fact.
Sparkling Silver in the flesh
NISMO GT Tail Lights
Spotless!
One detail that caught my eye was the massive IMPUL exhaust: not that I am a fan of the stock OEM one, but I was wondering about the nature of its presence. Takada-san promptly informed that this was actually an option offered by the Nissan dealers to owners that wanted to upgrade without voiding the warranty. To my delight the previous owner kept the receipt and certificate of authenticity from the dealership - now that's a nice touch!
Dealer option exhaust
Original NISMO certificate: note the old school logo!
The front bumper presented some stone chipping, which at the beginning obviously bothered me, but eventually turned into a "positive". The more I looked at the car, the more I thought that most of its kilometers were done on the expressway rather than during short stints of spirited driving. Although this is purely my personal speculation I did notice how the shift knob was still in decent shape despite the 79,000km on the odometer (less shifting due to highway driving perhaps?) as well as the seats and carpets; I have seen these parts in far worse shape on many lower mileage models.
300 km/h scale meter
Interior check
The car was equipped with a Kenwood infotainment system and a very handy back camera: again, these are Nissan dealer options.

The engine bay (as well as the whole car) was perfectly cleaned and, although this may have not allowed me to assess the car in its actual condition as kept by the previous owner, it helped exposing potential flaws. To my relief I couldn't find anything wrong with the engine bay: it was perfect and looked almost as new.
Engine bay
Only one thing needed fixing: the turbo boost sensor was broken and the MFD couldn't display any activity in that area. Other than that and a few minor scratches on the cheap 90's Nissan interior plastic, the car was really spotless.

One of the biggest selling points of the car is definitely the fact that it was serviced at Nissan dealerships for all its life: the service book folder is filled with pages and pages of receipts ad all the service history, all done pretty regularly at a Nissan Prince dealership. This gave me peace do mind the the car has been looked after by competent technicians and that all the parts installed are OEM. Having witnessed the quality of the  service at Nissan Prince myself I can't be anything but happy with it.
Pages on pages!
Certificate for the Kenwood infotainment system
So, despite the pretty long post, I have to admit that I pretty much bought the car on the spot: after a second inspection I proceeded to pay the deposit and collect the car few weeks later, completed with tire alignment, oil change and the turbo boost sensor replaced.

The night of the collection day I met with Dino, who was test driving a Corvette Z06, and chased him down to Tatsumi Parking Area. Amazing memories and I still can't believe that I could finally tick the box of a 15 years old childhood dream!
Not bad for a first night ride uh?
And one final surprise was awaiting for me upon my late night return home: as I entered my building garage area I spotted a BNR34 M-spec Nür in Millenium Jade parked just 4 slots away from mine. Talk about coincidences!
Small world!
Welcome home
Love how the color bcomes darker under certain lights

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Hunt Part 2 - Mileage Is Not Everything

As hinted in my previous post I naturally proceeded to set up an appointment to inspect the car with less km on the odometer first, in this case a 65,000km Black Pearl V-spec II Nür.

The car was located in Saitama at A-route, a surprisingly common dealership and not a sports-car or GT-R specialist. However, it happened to be owned by the son of the dealership owner, which explained the presence of an ultra rare BNR34 amongst a collection of beat-up Toyotas and kei-cars.
The coveted badge
I was greeted at the station by a friendly young staff, whose awkward attempts to put some pressure on me by informing that this was "a rare car limited to 100 production units", brightened up my morning. I later learned that trying to instill fear of "missing out" is a pretty common technique (at least in Japan) used by weak car salesman to attempt closing deals. I didn't even try to pick on him and just politely pretended I was listening while waiting to arrive.

Since it was raining the car was put inside a small garage for my inspection (which also meant that it had been sitting outside until the day prior). As I mentioned, I had very little knowledge to assess mechanical parts, so I decided to rely on my OCD as a gauge of how well the car could have been treated by the previous owner.

Note: please excuse the bad pictures, I just snapped them as a quick memo with no ideas that they would have ended up on my blog one day.

Finished in Black Pearl, the car was sitting on a set of Nismo S-tune suspensions and 19" BBS LM rims. At a first glance it appeared to be in great shape.
Not a fan of the colour, but still looked great.
The car sported a stock exhaust and a stock engine bay, which automatically gained it some extra points in my evaluation. The engine started and revved with no issues and all the lights and electronics seemed to be healthy.
Stock OEM!
One detail that did bother me, although it was meant to be an improvement, was the aftermarket security system, with its red LED installed on the steering column instead of using the OEM slot next to the windshield defogger vents. 
Pretty much 66,000km and, yes, that light is bothering me a lot.
What's that!?
Anyways, besides that, all the main things seemed to be in order; however, at a closer inspection, I found a few things that bugged me a lot and I interpreted as signs of carelessness.

First and foremost a cigarette hole in the drivers seat (!). Albeit small it was definitely noticeable and, with the original OEM seat covers now out of production, a problem not so easy to fix.
A closer look
The glorious MFD was also showing signals of tiredness, with a white stripe in its middle and the overall image misaligned, signal that it needed replacement (although this is a very common issue amongst BNR34).
MFD looking tired
Additionally, I found some bad scratches on the (cheap) plastic center tunnel, probably produced when it was removed to fit the navigation system. Upon inspecting underneath I also noticed that one of the fins installed on the carbon fiber rear under diffuser, were badly scraped and cracked, probably due to the low ride height.
Cheap plastic: lots of scratches!
So far nothing too terrible and mostly cosmetic issues, however I was a bit disappointed because the state of the car could have been best described as a bit "rough". Service history was also available, but nothing too detailed. It was a bittersweet feeling: the car wasn't bad at all, but, at the same time, didn't come across as a prized possession looked after by a proud owner. 

As I begun to inspect the paintwork, I stumbled in what turned out to be the main deal breaker. The thick layer of clear coat on the exposed carbon fiber of the NACA duct on the bonnet presented massive yellowing and cracking, which was clearly synonymous that the car was parked outside for most of its life.
Uh oh...
At a closer inspection also the roof lining on the top of the windshield showed severe yellowing. 
Can you see it?
The engine bay had no signs of rust, but looked a bit tired, with the plastics and rubber parts presenting a matte, hard finish.
Gold VIN plate and engine cover: it's authentic
I was bummed: here I was standing in front of a model of the most sought after BNR34 ever made, with great mileage on it, but unsure about its health status.

On my way home I collected my thoughts and decided to book a visit to inspect the other Sparkling Silver model for a comparison.

More on Part 3...

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Hunt Part 1 - Getting Connected

As I started my search in summer 2015 I quickly realized that I knew very little about the steps necessary to buy a used car in Japan and, most importantly, what to look for in order to avoid buying a lemon. The BNR34 is now a 15 years old car and, although most of the owners take good care of them, they didn't elude father time and the little (or not so little) issues that come with a used vehicle. While overall it's a very solid car, the mid-90s engineering shows and presents some flaws and weak aspects that is important paying attention to before pulling the trigger on the purchase.

After a few months browsing Carsensor.com, Kakaku.com and other popular Japanese used car websites (a word of warning: this will quickly become a highly addictive pastime!) I decided that I needed external advice, ideally from a BNR34 owner of which, of course, I knew none. This is when I summoned Mr. Speedhunters himself and fellow Italian, Dino Dalle Carbonare. Actually at the time we didn't know each other at all: I cold-emailed him asking for a meeting as I stumbled into some of his articles on SH. Dino is a long term Japan resident, Editor in Chief for Speedhunters and arguably the most famous foreigner BNR34 owner living in Japan. He bought his car, a Bayside Blue V-spec, at a Nissan dealership over 15 years ago and has then proceeded to fine tune it step by step while covering the progress on Speedhunters: who better qualified than him to ask for advice to?
Dino's BNR34
(Copyright speedhunters.com)
We ended up meeting in June over coffee in Hiroo: Dino is genuinely a super-nice guy, always available (when his schedule permits) and, most importantly, an all-out car nut! We had a good chat and he shared some useful tips about what to look for when buying, maintenance and cost of ownership. We agreed that the car was going to be at least a V-spec and not a standard model and progressed our chat through the evening. He then offered to drive me to Roppongi station (I obviously accepted), which turned out to be my first time ever riding in a R34.

TRIVIA: truth to be told, that night Dino, despite having just met me a couple of hours before, offered me to join him in a meet-up at Yokohama with some friends and a "famous Porsche tuner" of whom I couldn't clearly catch the name. As I had work the next day and no clue of who the guy was (remember my time away from cars explained in my last post), I declined. Turns out that the "famous Porsche guy" was no other than...Magnus Walker. I still punch myself to this very day for passing out on this. You can read an awesome article by Dino on that night here.
Yes, I passed on this...
(Copyright speedhunters.com)
The choice online was vast: usually around 50 BNR34 can be found on sale on the main websites, with, at the time, prices ranging from 3.5M (roughy USD 40K) for a high mileage V-spec up to 7M for more rare examples. One of the most important points for me was that the car had to be either very lightly tuned or, ideally, full stock (pretty rare). A hard-tuned car has been tuned for a very specific reason (to be driven hard!) and I assumed (although not always true) that an unmolested model would have been generally in better shape. Track cars completed with bucket seats, time log-in devices and crazy aero kits where an absolute no; same for models with the interior vandalized by dozens of gauges, neons and stickers (an unfortunate and very common trend in Japan). Selecting an used car can be a nightmare when you have OCD.
HKS Circuit Attack Couter? Avoid!
After a few weeks I was pretty set on what I was looking for: an unmolested V-spec II Nür. With 750 models produced, the Nür was the swan-song for the BNR34 and the model that made most sense to have, after chasing it for 15 years. While they were demeaning a premium compared to V-specs and V-specs II, the prices where nowhere close to what they are today and, after a few months searching two models surfaced online at the same time: a Pearl Black 66,000km and a Sparkling Silver 78,000km models. This was beyond lucky because these cars are incredibly rare to come up for sale and having not one, but two to choose amongst was an absolute luxury!
Actual screenshot that I sent to Dino
I proceeded right away to set up an appointment to inspect the black model first.

Stay tuned!