Sunday, January 22, 2017

New Parts and a Special Tour

My parts collection quest continues as I'm storing as many brand new and soon to be out of stock items as possible. My friend Aki makes fun of me, but having to pick up parts is the perfect excuse for visiting Yamazaki-san and the guys at Nissan Prince Motorsport almost every other weekend. This Saturday was no exception... 
Yes, another visit
This is a great way to kill time while learning more about the BNR34 and its secrets; the mechanics and staff at NPCT are arguably some of the best and most qualified in the world, having serviced thousands of cars and honed their skills in Super Taikyu races and even Le Mans. Every time I visit I always learn something new and pick up ideas for my car.

Building relationships in Japan is a delicate affair that requires time and deecultural understanding; mastering the local language is also an essential skill if you really want to get into the inner circle in Japanese society. My frequent visits (combined with dropping quite a bit of money in their register) have helped getting close to some of these guys, especially Yamazaki-san.

So, Saturday looked like just another day at NPCT as I picked my two new boxes...
See the brown box? Thats's the very last one left in the whole Nissan inventory
...and got some coffee while a BNR34 V-spec II with a S1 engine was being serviced.

Sticker = 500ps
Business as usual, until Yamazaki-san asked me if I wanted to have look at a special engine they had stored in the garage area upstairs: "Just a quick look" - he said - I was on the elevator platform before he could even finish the sentence.
The tension was palpable
The view awaiting for me on the second floor is the stuff dreams are made of: around 40 customer cars from all generations and an original Group C Prototype V8 engine.
Where to start from?

Although Yamazaki-san couldn't exactly remember which racecar it belonged to, the engine is definitely part of the VRH family, likely coming out of one of the late 80's prototypes, like the Nissan R90CK. A 3.5 liter twin turbo V8 easily capable of developing over 800ps, depending on the boost level. These engines are usually preserved at various Nismo locations, by this particular unit was gifted years ago to NPCT by Nissan Motorsport: very cool.
Yamazaki-san then proceeded to show me around the garage, where GT-Rs and Nissans from all eras were neatly stored awaiting service.

Not a bad view, uh?
Starting from this BNR34 M-spec with 1,300 Km that will soon undergo a S2 Engine transplant.

To the new MY17 R35 Track Edition.

An old Fairlady Z in a gorgeous shade of blue.
I love this car!
A R34 V-spec II Nür with a R1 engine.
Some serious money right there
And a R35 GT-R Nismo fitted with the prohibitively expensive N-attack Package.

Yamazaki-san was kind enough to allow me to take some photos, but this area is technically "off limits" to customers, so after a couple of final shots we had to head back. I couldn't help but wonder about the total value of all the cars combined!
Midnight Purple III on a set of magnesium BBS
Last shot, sadly...
Once downstairs the owner of the V-spec II was ready to roll out and made space for another Midnight Purple III R34 (this time a standard model) that came in for service. 

It's always great to see such a rare hue on the BNR34.

This never gets old
R35 GT-R '08: future classic?
The hours flew by and, again, what was supposed to be an ordinary Saturday afternoon, turned in a great day filled with awesome machines and stories: arigatou, Yamazaki-san!

Until next time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

An Unexpected Surprise

If you are in the market for a Skyline GT-R chances are that you will never meet or know its original owner. A thorough condition check before the purchase and full service history from the same Nissan Prince dealer reassured me that my car had been cared for, but a part of me has always wondered about its previous life. 
Was the owner a car guy? Was he a GT-R enthusiast, or somebody who bought the car just because it was "cool"?

Yesterday I might have found answers (or hints) to some of these questions in...the trunk of my BNR34.
Garage encounters
Ever since I bought my GT-R I must have opened the trunk just a handful of times and, obviously, never paid too much attention to it. As parts boxes from NPCT have been piling up in my apartment, last night I decided to store a couple in the trunk of the car and casually noticed this:
Trunk liner?
Rear wiper motor cover?
These photos will look completely normal if you have a zenki (series 1 standard or V-spec) model; however, as some of you may know, in an attempt to shave costs, Nissan didn't fit the kouki (series 2, including V-spec II and Nür) version of the BNR34 with the trunk liner and rear wiper motor cover, nor these parts were offered as an option. I actually came to learn about these minor differences only after buying the car, as shown on the image below.
Zenki (top), kouki (bottom)

This means that the previous owner must have fitted them at a certain point during his ownership. Now, you may wonder, are those parts so special to deserve a post of their own? Of course not. 

Actually, upon learning about the difference I just assumed that my car hadn't been fitted with them and never bothered to even check; after all they don't add anything in terms of performance and I don't mind the more spartan look. What they do instead, is telling me a thing or two about the previous owner.

To begin with, he must have been into GT-Rs or at least passionate about them: these are details that you will never notice just out of curiosity (especially the rear wiper controls cover), but rather learn about on specialized magazines, like I did.

This leads to my next question: who spends time and money to go the extra mile and buy these parts aftermarket and have them fitted, so that the car looks more "complete" and refined in areas that will go absolutely unnoticed? Obviously an owner who cares a lot about his car and is probably a bit of a GT-R geek! While retrofitting parts is not completely uncommon (lot of V-spec owners have had their car fitted with the V-spec II aluminum pedals), you would recognize that it must take a certain level of passion and perfectionism to fit such insignificant kind of parts. These are the same people that will likely not drive the car in the rain (I don't).

So, here you have it: if you have a kouki model that has been fitted with a trunk liner and rear wiper motor cover, rest assured that its previous owner either cared about it...or was a GT-R otaku!

Until next time.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Visit to NPCT, New Parts and Nissan FAST

Earlier in December I ordered some additional parts from Nissan Prince Motorsportbut never had the chance to pick them up due to a busy work schedule. In Japan the second Monday of January is Coming Of Age Day (成人の日 Seijin no Hi), which also means a much welcome longer weekend right after the holiday break and a chance for me to go visit Yamazaki-san and the guys at Nissan to pick up my parts and exchange New Years greetings (very important in Japanese culture).
While Yamada-san and the rest of the mechanics were having a normal busy day, Yamazaki-san (as the Tuner Advisor) didn't have lots of customer visits booked, which meant that I ended up spending two hours at the Factory and...ordered few more parts! This is becoming a bit of an addiction, but the reality is that parts are disappearing so quickly that I rather see it more as a worthy investment. 

So, how does ordering fresh OEM parts in Japan work? First of all, you will need to find an authorized dealer where you can register your car. Each chassis number and VIN can be cross referenced on FAST (a humongous digital directory of all parts that every Nissan model is composed of), which guarantee that the parts you order are the correct ones for your model. 
Nissan FAST
While same parts are interchangeable, many differ based on the spec (zenki, kouki, V-spec, V-spec II, M-spec, Nür): this is crucial to get right if you want to maintain your car factory true. Items can be ordered either based on their number alone or the one assigned to your model through a cross referencing matching system. In my case, my car being a Nür spec, parts are coded GTR/V2. Some online version of FAST (limited to the parts catalog only, not connected to the ordering system) are available on the Internet, but can be quite a headache if you can't read Japanese.
Register your VIN (not my car)
The catalog is truly amazing and contains all the CAD schemes of the car, each broken down by category (interior, engine, transmission, etch), allowing you to track down every single nut and bolt of your model.
Choose a part group, in this case "Engine, Fuel"
Choose your part
The second step is the more thrilling (or frightening) one: checking availability! 
Yamazaki-san's system is connected to Nissan warehouse network, which means that he can check in a matter of seconds whether the part you are after is still available and how many pieces are left in stock. Sometimes parts are out of stock, but still in production: in this case the system will display the release date of the new batch. This, unfortunately is becoming less common, especially for interior parts, as they are both out of stock and no longer in production. Yesterday I was lucky enough to order the very last piece available in the whole Nissan stock of a rather rare part!
Part number and price confirmation
So, what happens if there is strong demand for a part that is no longer available with no plans of further production? Yamazaki-san explained that, in same cases, if they receive enough orders, they can submit a request of production to the manufacturers, a sort of petition to analyze the feasibly of producing a limited amount of pieces. The factories are able to provide an answer after two weeks of research, however this is usually the very last resort and, unfortunately, rarely successful as the molds of many parts have been dismantled. 

Sounds very complicated, right? It actually is, which is why I did recommend in my guide to buy cars with clean interiors and as close as possible to their stock form. On the other hand, I must confess that the excitement of finally sourcing that hard to find, last-in-stock part is rather addictive! 

Time flew by, and what was supposed to be a quick "pick and go" visit turned into a two hours chat, coffee and my usual sneaking around the workshop. 

This time they had a BCNR33 and a R35 in (almost) matching shades of blue being serviced next to each other.
Choose one
Or BCNR33?
A Fairlady Z 380RS was undergoing some serious engine work as well.
Japanese craftmanship at work
More cars rolled in, including this R32 sitting on a set of BNR34 wheels.

It was a rainy day, but that didn't stop the owner from taking the car out.
Gun metal grey + raindrops = awesomness
So, what did I buy? Well, all in due time, but I'll leave you with the picture below (2017 Nissan calendar courtesy of Yamazaki-san).
My new parts
I also have 3 more parts coming next week, so stay tuned!
I couldn't resist and had to take an extra shot
Until next time.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The World's Cleanest BCNR33

So, after months of texting, chasing, cancelling and rescheduling, I have finally made it: I managed to get up close and personal with Aki's BCNR33.
It all began in late summer 2015, when I casually ran into Aki and a group of BCNR33 owners at Daikoku Parking Area during a night out with Dino. Shortly after sending the nowadays obligatory Facebook friend request I started learning more about the car and Aki's ownership philosophy on his blog. As we both have a pretty serious case of OCD, we connected right away and it quickly became obvious that we share similar views when it comes to owning our cars. 
My car and Dino's at Daikoku
New Years is one of the few times when Japan really slows down and we took advantage of our empty schedules to work on his car. As Aki is throughly documenting the works on his own blog (and we haven't finished yet) I won't mention much about it, however it was a good chance for me to take a close look at his R33.
Aki bringing out his car
Aki's BCNR33 is a superb Series 3 in Sonic Silver (KR4) that he has owned for now over 10 years. After enjoying it in its stock form for a while he started slowly modifying it to his tastes, improving both look and performances. While it is no secret that the BNR34 is my dream car, I always had a soft spot for the smoother, elephantine lines of the BCNR33. However, I would be lying if I didn't admit that both models look a bit goofy in their original stock form (at least today).

Aki's car is the perfect example of how few tasteful exterior touches, combined with a spotless paint job and a great set of wheels can make a Skyline GT-R look so right. This is what actually grabbed my attention that night at Daikoku: while we were surrounded by all kind of JDM goodness, one car stood above all with showroom-grade detailing on the body and an aggressive, yet understated look. 

So, let's start with the exterior: the car sports Nismo 400R side skirts, a rear spoiler carbon blade, custom colored semi-matte black Volks TE37 (18x9.5) and sits on a set of freshly rebuilt Öhlins DFVs. Like I said, just the few right touches: less is more.
The closer I looked the more I discovered new details or hints at important mods, like the presence of R35 GT-R brakes and rotors that Aki had installed long before they were released by Nissan to the general public.
R35 380mm rotors and brakes
One of the biggest surprises lied on the back  of the car, or better, underneath it: Aki has managed to fit a genuine BNR34 carbon rear under diffuser to improve handling and aerodynamic efficiency. I have seen few BCNR33 fitted with similar options, but never a BNR34 genuine part and it really adds to the character of the car.

Talking about hints, what about this subtle Mine's sticker that never went on sale?

This is no sticker-tuning: the car does actually have an original Mine's works engine that produces around 500ps. This is an unique spec, in between Stage 1 and 2, that was configured to Aki's needs and tastes.

The Mine's signature engine cover is not for sale and reserved to genuine works engines only.
Mine's RB26 
Aki's signature touches can be found all over the engine bay as he spent years selecting the highest quality parts making sure that, not only they improved function, but also looked right, like the lovely Nismo titanium strut tower bar.

I did have the chance to start the car on a different occasion and was absolutely impressed by the engine response and sound courtesy of the full titanium Tomei Expreme Ti exhaust: weighing in at a mere 7.35kg it saves an enormous amount of weight and is a real thing of beauty.

Other features include a long series of rare Mine's and Nismo parts as well as a Getrag 6-speed transmission fitted by the takumi at Nissan Prince Motorsport.

Like every, true Skyline GT-R lover, Aki's car is a continuous work in progress, a quest to achieve the ultimate driving feeling and look. The list of modifications and improvements that Aki has made over the years is virtually too long to be covered in this post, but this is the type of tuning that I like: functional, tasteful, understated and refined in its smallest details.

I really believe that the ownership of RB26 powered GT-Rs has acquired a new dimension now that these cars are getting older, making the process of keeping them fresh and in shape as enjoyable as driving full throttle.

Aki has plenty of things in the works for his BCNR33, you can follow his journey on:

Until next time.