Sunday, December 31, 2017

End of the Year Car Spotting in Ginza

2018 is just few hours away here in Japan and I hope everybody is having a great holiday break. This post wasn’t really planned, but the holidays are an opportunity for a lot of wealthy Tokyoites to take out their rides and yesterday turned out to be a great day for car spotting in Ginza; starting with this Mantis Green McLaren 675LT.

Ginza is a renowned luxury shopping district in Tokyo and it’s definitely worth a visit even just to admire the architecture and iconic lights.

The newly opened Ginza Six is a high end shopping mall that does very little to hide the opulence and amount of wealth at disposal of the elite.

What about a handmade katana set for 32,000,000¥? Contrary to what you might think these things do actually get sold in places like this.

In the span of a few minutes I must have ran into at least 10 exotics and it just didn’t seem to stop.

The color choice for this Lamborghini Aventador is definitely bold, but I personally liked it a lot.

The designers flagships stores make it for a great background.

Nissan had on display a really cool vintage Datsun Fairlady, adorned with traditional Japanese decoration.

Eventually, it didn’t take long before I ran into a fellow BNR34 owner.

And, as I was walking down the main street, it just so happened that Dino was in the area.

So I jumped aboard of his new RS4 (so much for a “daily driver”, uh?) for a quick stop at Super Autobacs, the Japanese equivalent of Costco, but for car parts.

So, this is it, thanks for stopping by this year and wish you all a great 2018 ahead.

Until next time.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Z-tune Prototype at Omori Factory

It’s been a month since I picked up my GT-R after the full fluid change and water pump refresh at Nismo Performance Center, last week it felt like a perfect day to let the car stretch its legs on the expressway - destination, Omori Factroy. I know I’m going into full blown “fanboy mode”, but this is the place that re-ignited my passion for cars: visiting it’s always special and you’ll never know what surprise you may run into.

It’s been a while since I last drove and I almost forgot how much fun the 34 is. Winter is in full swing and cooler air means happier turbos: it wasn’t long before I found myself in the parking area.

Omori Factory had a test session planned for the next day at Fuji Speedway. Specifically they were going to test some of the cars used in the Driving Academy, like the new GT-R Nismo.

The quality of the carbon construction of the front splitter is top notch: I can only imagine the pain of scraping something like that.

The Nismo Z, this time with an interesting livery, was also out. Omori Factory recently purchased this model on the second hand market to utilize it in their driving lesson program. The more I come across this car, the more I like it.

Although the Nismo version never made it to Europe, I clearly remember when the standard model was launched (named 350Z) back in 2002. The R34 was an absolute unicorn 15 years ago, with probably just a handful model in the old continent, and the 350Z became a bit of a (realistic) dream car for me back in the days.

Once inside I suddenly recognized a familiar display.

The staff temporarily re-arranged the Heritage Parts Program set-up that we saw at Nismo Festival. The parts will be on display until early January.

The rotation of historic racers never disappoints.

And, incidentally, they had the last championship winning BNR34 on display in its full glory.

The workshop area is always spectacular to look at; obviously I had to send this photo to my friend Aki.

After wandering around for a while I ran into Ochiai-san and, since we didn’t have chance to meet at Nismo Festival, we took advantage of his break time to catch up a bit. He joined Omori Factory 14 years ago straight from Nissan Technical College and, beside having worked on hundreds of customer cars, he has been involved in key projects, such as the Z-tune, Clubman Race Spec and now Heritage Program.

Speaking of which, looks like they are yet to decide what to do with the BNR32 frame that was on display, but it’s likely to be restored to factory-true conditions with very light tuning. Whether Nismo will develop a similar program in the future for the BCNR33 and BNR34 is yet to be confirmed, but, according to Ochiai-san, it’s very likely that the parts selected for productions will be mostly mechanical, with very little to no focus on interior and cosmetics. 

As we were talking a BNR34 painted in and unmistakeable shade of light silver started rolling out of the workshop space.

Turns out that Ochiai-san was responsible for stripping this car apart before the rebuild process begun. At the time he just had a couple of years of experience under his belt, so the amount of work he carried on was limited. So we went outside and waited for the test drivers to come back.

At a first glance this might look like a Z-tune, but a welded roll-cage, BRIDE bucket seats and R35 brakes will tell a different story: this is the original prototype and development mule that Nismo used to develop the Z1 and Z2 power plants and all the components that made on to production for the final spec. This specific car was the one used for testing at the Nürburgring and is currently being used as a development mule for new parts. 

A quick look at the interior (no photos, sorry) will reveal that the car is stripped of the red alcantara interior and is fitted instead with the same black and red leather panels used on UK machines. Although deprived of the VIN plate, the car is based on a development V-spec II model and is currently fitted with a S2 engine. A closer look underneath will also reveal that it has been stripped of the additional differential oil cooler. Those with sharp eyes will also notice the absence of the Z-tune badge!

Once back from the test run it disappeared again inside the workshop. Of course I asked what was currently being tested on it, but the answer was, as expected, quite vague.

In the meantime, we also spotted the BNR32 demo car coming back from a test drive without the front bumper fitted on!

The R32 is another classic that I really wouldn’t mind to own.

Time flew by, so I got back on the road, opting for a quick stop at Tatsumi PA before returning home. 

This is where I had the chance to catch up with two other GT-R owners and we spent a good hour chatting, mostly about maintenance and restoration, two popular topics these days.

Topic that, again, took the center stage in the latest GT-R Magazine issue.

Tatsumi makes it for a great location, especially in winter as the sun sets over Tokyo and the Wangan.

Until next time.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Nismo Festival 2017 - Part 2

So, what about the parts and demo cars at this year’s Nismo Festival? Well, since I was gifted a press pass I must have spent close to 70% of my day hanging around the pits, spending quality time with iconic racers and legend drivers. So much so that I almost forgot about the rest of the event, but eventually had to take a walk around and indulge in more photos.

One of the great things about these events is the fact that even parking spaces are mini attractions on their own, like this white and red pair of Nismo 400R testifies. Eventually Aki and I spotted these very same cars coming out of a parade run.

Once you cross the main gates, that’s where the real madness begins, with dealer and tuners showcasing and selling complete cars, parts, gadgets, memorabilia and everything in between.

One of my first stop was the GT-R Magazine booth, where the editors had on display their own cars. Believe it or not, but the white V-spec II Nür has almost 300,000 km on the clock. It serves as a sort of guinea pig for all the latest maintenance products and parts that are reviewed in the magazine and, as such, is in excellent shape despite the mileage.

Right next to it there was an immaculate Hakosuka Skyline, which Dino reckoned easily being worth over 40M yen.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what to choose as a second car; both Dino and Aki have recommended the Fairlady Z33 in Nismo trim as a reliable and solid FR platform to have fun and learn the basics of circuit driving. Tempting...

We spent quite a bit of time walking around this immaculate R31 by R31house - as Aki pointed out this is a quintessential example of 80’s car styling. If I had unlimited parking space I’d buy one in an heartbeat.

From parts on sales to limited time bargains, making it through events like this without spending money is almost a feat, but I’m proud to say that I (and my wallet) made it through unscathed this year.

Back to the tuners scene, Top Secret had on display a R35 with a slanted nose bumper that wasn’t really my cup of tea - certain things are just better left stock.

Speaking of which, this BNR32 from Garage Active had very little left in factory trim. Unfortunately I forgot to take some close-up shots, but it had some very serious work done, pushing upwards of 600ps.

The Mine’s BNR34 demo car, based on a N1 platform is always a crowd pleaser.

We all remember that Best Motoring review by Tsuchiya-san who eventually praised it as one of the ultimate “response-machines”.

I and Aki parted ways as he was off to the warm and heated Olympus also known as the Guest Area, which was obviously off limits to us mortals. So, I had to set for some yakisoba bought at one of the many stands.

Back from lunch and, of course, no Nismo Festival would be complete without a mandatory visit to the Omori Factory booth.

Difficult to argue with the presence of the three demo cars finished in matching dark metal grey.

Probably also not too difficult to guess what catches my attention the most.

Every single time.

This year, however the R35 GT-R took the center stage at the booth. 

The original MY08 model is now a 10 years old car and is starting to show a gap in both power and finish when compared to the more recent MY17 models. As such, Nismo has decided to release a S1 engine menu and RFP/carbon aero parts set to bring performance up to par.

The aero parts are actually high quality and give the car a more modern and aggressive look; they are also not too badly priced considering the OEM fit, construction quality and the obvious “Nismo tax” that comes with the brand.

The S1 engine produces power and torque figure slightly superior to the MY17 model thanks to a series of upgrades.

Like cams straight out of the GT3 racer.

Upgraded turbos from the MY11 models.

And, obviously, new ECM units for both the engine and transmission.

The only issue - and hold on tight - is the price of the complete package: you see, the whole S1 engine upgrade and complete aero package will set you back around 9,100,000 yen. Yes, you read it correctly: that’s almost the price of a brand new R35 GT-R! 

On the other hand, right in the next booth, Nismo prepared a preview display of parts that, in my opinion, are worth every penny: the first batch of Nismo Heritage parts for the BNR32.

While, obviously, Nismo and Nissan are in business to make a profit just like every other company out there, I must applaude the fact that they have listened to customers voices and decided to embark in a project that, as important as it could be for owners, will be likely limited to the Japanese domestic market.

The display was rather impressive and really looked the part: Nismo is clearly making an effort to evolve its brand into a proper high-end tuning and restoration business, bringing out the best of the famous Japanese craftsmanship.

The first selection of around 80 parts is quite comprehensive and includes major mechanical components.

As well as complete body panels and chassis components that are particularly prone to being damaged in accidents or by rust.

The program also includes full body restorations from the ground up.

Nismo dug deep in the archives to select the right parts and ensure a period-correct finish.

There are also a number of parts listed as “under consideration” for future production.

Customers will have the option to pair up the new parts with upgrades, like this S2 engine and Nismo intercooler that were linked to brand new brake lines, rotors and fuel tank. Expect a hefty price tag if you decide to go this route.

There were plenty of Nismo mechanics and salesmen to interact with visitors, answer questions and, obviously, gauge the interest level of the crowd. The Heritage booth was clearly one of the most visited and, judging by the response, I would say that the success of the program looks promising.

After taking the last shots trackside we decided to head back a bit earlier than usual in an attempt to avoid traffic.

Attempt that miserably failed as a series of accidents on the Tōmei Expressway brought the total time of our return trip to Tokyo up to 6 hours - an all time worst for all of us!

Until next time.