Sunday, June 25, 2017

Nismo Works Special: F-Sport Engine Explained

The F-Sport engine has always been surrounded by an aura of mystery due to lack of reliable information both online and from Nismo part itself. Subject to numerous speculations, its origins date back to many years ago when Nismo was in the midst of refocusing its business and approach to customers.

In the early 2000s the company started pushing the brand promotion to new heights: for years Nismo had been releasing tuning parts and even complete cars like the 400R, but lacked focus in its approach. It's no secret that the management had been watching closely European brands like AMG and begun modeling its branding after them. Nismo celebrated its 20th anniversary fresh of back to back victories in JGTC in 2003 and 2004 and, as Nissan was coming out of financial troubles thanks to Carlos Ghosn, the company had extra bandwidth to develop new exciting projects. It's during this era that the iconic red, black and white stripe motif was released - a trademark that is still highly recognized today.

Nismo released the first complete engine concepts with the S1 and R1 powerplants, leaving to customers the option of mating them with comprehensive chassis and suspension tuning - the famous S-tune and R-tune packages. 
S-tune complete car recognizabke by the chrome logo (left)

In 2004 Nismo really kicked things into higher gear, releasing engine tuning and parts for almost every Nissan production car: from the Firlady Z to the new Skyline V35, all the way to the March. In the same year, the release of the legendary BNR34 Z-tune marked a milestone in the Nismo brand development, becoming the most powerful and expensive complete car ever released to the general public.
Z-tune prototype testing at the Nürburgring
We are all familiar with the unique specs of the car: tested at Fuji Speedway and the Nürburgring, its 2.8 liters Z2 engine produced 500ps and was bespoke to the Z-tune. The engine block, the camshaft, the con-rods, the crankshaft and many other parts were specifically developed for this limited edition model only. While all these components monumentally increased the allure of the machine, they also created an issue that has been probably overlooked by most outside the company: Nismo had invested significant amount of money in R&D and production of parts that, commercially, were going to find application in only 19 customer cars - a figure too low by any standard to fully justify the spending.

Additionally, industrial production rules and economies of scale meant that far more parts were produced than the ones necessary to the Z-tune production itself. Nismo kept a good stock to cover replacements and maintenance needs for the 19 vehicles sold, but was still left with plenty of spares in the warehouses. Releasing the Z2 engine to the general public was obviously out of question as it would have stained the value and desirability of the Z-tune. So, what to do? Most of these questions found their answers in the F-Sport engine concept.

Unlike the R1 and S1 engines the F-Sport never really made it on the Nismo catalogs and was mildly promoted, main reason being that Nismo was going to use some of the leftover spares they had in stock, but with no intention of mass-producing these parts in the future. Again, not a very focused approach, rather aimed at keeping parts moving and bringing some extra revenue. But releasing very limited engines in trial-run production numbers wasn't something completely new to Nismo after all: ever heard of a RB26 Short Version or a RB26 Nür-Sport?

Where to position the engine within Nismo offer to customers was another question mark: the track-focused space was taken by the R1 and the S1 was doing a great job in offering extra performances to owners who had road-driving in mind. The F-Sport was designed to fill a niche in between, targeting more mature owners in seek of a boost in performance while maintaining a strong grand touring feeling and versatility. The engine was offered with a list of additional options called F-Sport GT Package. Made to order, the first complete car was presented at Nismo Festival in 2005 and all the customer cars were handled by ZELE International.
First F-Sport GT Complete Car

F-Sport Engine (2.8l)

Let's start with the comprehensive list of all the parts originally designed for the Z-tune that were sold as the part of the F-Sport package:

- GT Engine block
- GT Crankshaft
- GT Con-rods (Spec 1)
- GT Head gasket
- Sport air-filter
- Racing spark-plugs

While the list is inclusive of all the key parts necessary for the engine to work, it's worth noticing how Nismo decided to omit key components to avoid competition (or extreme resemblance) with the Z2. To begin with, the camshaft, pistons, intake collector and the custom-made IHI turbochargers were not included; as a result, the F-Sport produced similar power figures (500ps), mostly thanks to the increased engine displacement, but lacked the explosiveness and racecar feel of the Z2. Again, the concept was to create a smooth engine with generous torque with road use as its primary function. It's also interesting to notice how the F-Sport was stripped of the race-derived Spec2 con-rods (and GT pistons) and fitted with the Spec1 instead. Still made of the same SNCM439 nickel molybdenum they are 2mm shorter than the Spec2 (119.5mm vs 121.5mm) and mated to genuine OEM Nissan pistons for RB26 with 30mm compression height. The end result is a powerplant that pulls more vacuum at low RPM, which translate in better throttle response and low-end torque, exactly in line with the engine concept. 

Nismo Super Coppermix Twin Clutch

Released in February 2005, this is a Nismo part we are all now familiar with, but back then was a necessary add-on to handle the extra power since the single-plate Coppermix clutch was developed and optimized for set-ups up to 420ps.

Nismo HA S-tune Suspension Kit

In line with the grand touring car concept, the F-Sport GT Package was fitted with Nismo HA (Height Adjustable) suspensions.
While maintaining the conventional balance of comfort and performance of the famous S-tune, Nismo added the possibility to adjust the ride height (± 15mm) to allow users to tune them without lowering the car too much. In order to differentiate the from the standard S-tune, Nismo changed the color of the shock absorbers to black.

Nismo LM GT4 Limited II 05Ver

All customers were offered the optional LM GT4 aluminum wheels manufactured by Rays. The 2005 model came with a satin dark silver finish.

Nismo Sport Airbag Steering 

Looks familiar, right? This was the exact same steering wheel fitted on the Z-tune, albeit reupholstered in silver instead of the premium red Alcantara.

The F-Sport package was offered as an aftermarket option: Nismo fitted them on customer cars with mileage up to 60,000km or bought limited numbers of used vehicles on the second-hand market with mileage up to 55,000km and then sold them as complete cars through ZELE International. Due to the change in the engine displacement all cars had to be registered as modified vehicles to comply with the authorities. 
Nismo complete cars at Nismo Festival
Depending on the specs, final prices would range roughly between 6,000,000 and 7,500,000 Yen. Final production numbers an dates are unknown, but, clearly, this set-up was offered on a made-to-order basis rather than volume-produced. During one of my recent visits to Omori Factory I spotted one F-Sport engine on display with a rather jaw dropping price-tag of 7,150,00 Yen, more than 4 times the original (1,680,000 Yen) price.

It is unclear whether Nismo has capacity to still produced them, but judging from the pre-facelift (2009) logo on the engine cover my educated guess is that some spares are still available, albeit several years old.

Nismo history is surely fascinating; although its strategy hasn't always been fully clear it's cool to see how the company has evolved over the years and, most importantly, how their commitment to support older models such as the RB26-powered GT-Rs hasn't faded one bit.

Until next time.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

R2 Engine BNR34 V-spec II Nür Walkaround

Stopping by for a coffee at Nismo Performance Center is one of my favorite choices when it comes to kill random Sundays afternoons. During one of my recent visits Yamada-san was installing a set of refurbished Öhlins suspensions on a BNR34 and I snapped a few shots while he was carrying out the finishing touches.

This particular model was equipped with a R2 engine as well and, considering how much fascination and curiosity there is around this powerplant, I thought I'd indulge with some extra photos.

Finished in Pearl White (QX1), it was sitting on a set of Rays LM GT4, completed by R35 brakes and rotors: a combo that is really hard not to like.

The car was fitted with other goodies as well, such as a Nismo titanium strut tower bar, intake plenum and airbox intake.

The owner is surely making good use of his prized possession, as confirmed by the tick layer of dirt on the body. Personally, given the tendency of this particular hue to yellowing over the years, I would recommend owners out there to keep it clean.

A final check and the car was ready to roll out.

Speaking of goodies, Yamazaki-san showed me this freshly overhauled Nür RB26 engine awaiting to be installed back into a customer car.

The powerplant looked like it just rolled off the production line, especially thanks to the brand new N1 block, recognizable by the "24U" code. During last year Nismo Festival a Nismo representative mentioned that the latest generation N1 blocks are stronger than the old ones, thanks to a revised production process; a claim that I'm curios to investigate a bit more. Total cost of the overhaul: a whopping 3,000,000 JPY!

I love spending time in this place: it's a great way to improve my technical knowledge and the guys are really cool. More importantly, they are genuinely passionate about their craft and, as somebody who spends most of his days wearing a tie during meetings, it's incredibly fascinating watching these artisans at work.

The past couple of weeks I've been trying to make the most of the last days of clear weather before the rainy season kicks in.

I did quite a bit of driving, mostly lapping the Wangan and stopping at Tatsumi Parking Area.

Definitely one of my favorite spots for a late afternoon coffee: cool cars and the sun setting over Tokyo - a combo that is really hard to beat.

As of this weekend heavy rain is in full swing and, like every year, it will be at least a month until the weather clears up. I guess the guys at Nismo will see me a lot more.

Until next time.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Time For a New Car?

No worries, the Nür is not going anywhere. I'm just a bit over 18 months (and 2,000km) in my ownership and it feels like a good time to sit back and appreciate the journey so far. 

In retrospect I must admit that the car has lived up to the toughest test of them all: expectations. There is a saying that goes "don't meet your heroes because you will be disappointed" and I think it fits the circumstances perfectly: chasing your dream car for 15 years and finally manage to own it in its pure stock form, and with no prior test-drive, in 2017 can easily set you up for some disappointment. I'm glad to say that this clearly wasn't the case.
Not that I have driven enough performance cars to draw a neat comparison, but the BNR34 has clearly surpassed my expectations in terms of pure driving pleasure and ownership experience (I must admit living in Japan definitely takes the latter to a new dimension). 

What I couldn't imagine back in the days is that, by the time I would own a R34, especially a Nür spec, the car would have become a highly sought after collectors piece, which obviously has brought me to reconsider the way I utilize it. Mileage is not really an issue as I plan to keep the car forever, but I'm rather looking at things more from a log term prospective, keeping in mind costs, value and what the car means to me. 

I want to be able to drive and enjoy the car, say for the next 15 or 20 years: when you look at things from this perspective it becomes obvious that, beside taking great car of it, I should relegate its use to well planned driving sessions, where I can drive it the way it's supposed to.
The latest issues of GT-R magazine covers in detail the latest development in the tuning and servicing world, where maintenance and restoration are quickly becoming a business as big as performance tuning.

Living in Japan obviously gives me a huge advantage in terms of parts availability, highly specialized know-how and competitive prices, but doesn't solve the main issue altogether: I'm not driving as much as I would like to and there are plenty of long drive road trips that I'd love to do, but not in a rare, limited edition machine that has doubled in value since I bought it.

This issue finds its solution in a rather obvious as well as expensive answer: a second car (or a project car). But what?
With Tokyo being one of the most expensive cities in the world I feel that I'd better invest in something that justifies the extra expense and can hold value against depreciation. After all, what's the point of bearing an additional 400$/month of parking expenses to park a 5,000$ car?

Tokyo is also a very tempting place, with all kind of goodness hidden behind every other corner, like this vintage Fairlady Z that I ran into in Odaiba the other day.

The lines are truly timeless and it exudes an elegance that is still very modern; the details are also exquisite.

But the big question mark would obviously be reliability: I'm not sure I would get on a roadtrip with peace of minds, not to mention track days. If I had the space I'd buy one in a heartbeat, but unfortunately not now. One day.

And every visit to Fuji Speedway usually offers a plethora of JDM goodness on display, like this old 300ZX: loved it and it's quite cheap too!

Or this zenki NSX, looking all business in silver, in the paddock area.

I have also heard plenty of praises for the legendary FD3S, especially for its lightness and chassis dynamics, but not so much for its reliability. This blue example that I spotted at Tatsumi Parking Area definitely looked the part.

Additionally, during my frequent visits at NPTC I have run into all kind of more modern and options, like this pristine BNR32 in a rare Red Pearl Metallic shade.

Or this stunning pair of BCNR33, including a LM edition with a S2 engine.

So, plenty of options out there and, with the tsuyu (Japanese rain season) approaching, the Nür will go in hibernation for a while; which means that I have plenty of time to look around and begin my quest for my second piece of JDM goodness.

Until next time.