Monday, May 1, 2017

Aki's Mine's BCNR33 Driving Impression

As some of you may remember, in January I helped my friend Aki fixing some details on his Series 3 BCNR33 and managed to squeeze a small coverage of the car in the process. 

Over the past months we then caught up another couple of times during which, not only I could see the progress on his one-off handmade leather interior project, but also drive the car for a bit on our way to Nismo Performance Center Tokyo.

This Saturday we took advantage of the Golden Week festivities to bring the car to Worx Auto Alarm to have the final step of the interior completed; this meant that I finally had the chance to spend some proper time behind the wheel of Aki's prized possession. As he planned to drop off the car at Worx for a while we drove separately in his BCNR33 and Lexus ISF.

Since the 33 had been sitting for a while (not good!) Aki preferred to drive it himself for the first leg of the trip, just to check that everything was running properly. The ISF is a great cruiser with plenty of power, but nothing that could prepare me for the experience I was in for once we stopped to switch rides at Hamada Parking Area in Chiba.

Aki and I spent a good ten minutes trying to take the exhaust silencer off in vain, but it simply wouldn't come off, so we decided to get back on the road. I must admit that I was a bit gutted as I wanted to experience the car at its absolute best. Jumping from a spaceship like the ISF, equipped with all the latest technology, into the GT-R is quite an experience as the BCNR33 is the quintessential analog sportscar.

Where do I start? Well, it has to be from that Mine's stage 1.5 works engine. Combined with a titanium Expreme TI exhaust, it makes the experience of starting the car up alone an event on itself: you are greeted by a small gas explosions that turns into a deep, guttural roar that invades the cabin - very satisfying.

The sound produces a fairly noticeable vibration inside the cabin that really gives racecar vibes and, since the car was already warm, I decided to leave the PA in style with a proper acceleration. What happens once you floor the pedal in 2nd gear at 4,500rpm is the stuff dreams are made of: I found myself slammed onto the seat as the car brutally accelerated towards law-breaking speeds.

Aki claims around 480ps and, to me, this is close to the perfect figure. There are plenty of people chasing much higher power numbers, but I truly believe that horsepower is not all equal: half of the experience comes down to how the power is delivered and Aki's car is just fantastic at that.

The car has plenty of torque and enough power to generate explosive acceleration, but it's far from being just raw power: the delivery is very progressive and smooth, and you can really feel the power band across the whole acceleration range.
Pick-up from lower rpms is excellent and you have just the right amount of turbo lag to play with. You can really feel it at around 3,000rpm: floor the accelerator aaaaand go!

Mine's philosophy - "Simple is best" - is truly reflected on the character of the car: responsive, refined and extremely well balanced. In this sense, 480ps feel more like 500 or 530. Ironically, turning the engine off was one of the most impressive things for me and truly showed how much refinement has gone into it: the powerplant shuts down immediately and the rpms drop instantaneously, with almost no inertia left, just like a racecar.
Compared to a standard RB26 engine it's a completely different experience: everything happens at 2X speed and I was alert the whole trip, even when stuck behind traffic. Surely my driving skills are not up to par (plus the fear of crashing a 10M+ Yen car that is not mine), but, if I really have to point something out, I felt a very slightly excessive drop of rpms in between shifts. But maybe it's me and I need to shift faster?

And speaking of shifting, this is definitely not a common BCNR33 as Aki had Nismo Performance Center fit a brand new 6-speed Getrag transmission that has been just broken in. Gear selection is very precise and very satisfying as the lever offers that characteristic "brand-new tightness" and almost no vibration at high speed: fantastic.

From a dynamic prospective the car is just a pleasure to move around. It feels very stable and planted on the ground and I could really feel its mass rolling down the expressway. Body rigidity is excellent as expected since Aki fitted a long list of meticulously selected braces, Nismo Performance Dampers and a thick titanium strut bar at the front. The BNR34 carbon rear under spoiler offers extra downforce and the combination of the freshly rebuilt Öhlins DFVs with Advan Neovas tires give the driver extreme confidence in high-speed cornering situations. The steering is direct and transmits plenty of feedback, while the chunky Italvolanti wheel has just the right diameter and is a pleasure to grip.
We encountered quite a bit of traffic of the way to Worx and, at a certain point, an identical Lexus ISF lined up with us.

Traffic also meant that I had plenty of opportunities to test the R35 brakes. A complete fluid change solved a little dead-feeling issue that I previously experienced with the car and the pedal now feels smooth and progressive. Comparing this setup to a standard BNR34 (even my Nür with the oversized rear rotors) would be almost unfair: they are simply on another level, plus the massive drilled rotors and gold Brembo calipers look absolutely stunning.

The only thing that, in my opinion, needs fixing is the clutch pedal, with its extremely high engagement point it makes stop-and-go situations a bit tiring. You keep wondering if first gear is actually in place or not as the pedal has almost completely been released, but the car is not moving yet. Sure, I got used to it fairly quickly, but the first time I drove the car I actually stalled it a few times (as Aki was watching me in horror from the passenger seat).
Between over two hours on the expressway and countryside roads I made sure I'd enjoy the last kilometers left on our trip before we reached our destination.

And it was during one of my final blasts that I thought - "actually the Expreme exhaust sounds fantastic, even with the silencer on" -, just to realize, once we arrived at Worx, that the silencer actually fell off somewhere on the expressway! We forgot to put the screw back on and the heat expansion and vibration did the rest...
I was excited to arrive at Worx, but this also meant that my time behind the wheel was over. 

Aki has spent over 10 years enjoying every aspect of his BCNR33 ownership, from driving the car, tuning and maniacally cleaning it. Unlike lots of owners who build their project cars in few large steps, Aki has taken the longer route and fine tuned his car over years of reseach, pursuing the perfect balance between looks and performance and taking no shortcuts in the process. This is something you can really feel behind the wheel and the end result is a refined and incredibly well balanced machine, full of little secrets and touches that really make it one of a kind.

A big thanks to Aki for letting me drive his prized machine and I look forward to seeing the final result, I'm sure it will be amazing.

Until next time.

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