Sunday, July 30, 2017

Coffee & McLarens

Thanks to the upcoming Olympics Tokyo is going through a major renovation and, just when I thought I knew everything about my neighborhood, I keep discovering cool new places. Starting from this coffee shop just 10 minutes away from home: in my books their coffee gets full marks and holds its own against some of the best espressos and cappuccinos I've ever tasted in my home country. It has quickly become the go to place for my weekend caffeine fix.

Now, back to cars: a couple of weeks back I ran into McLaren Tokyo new showroom. It's a pretty spectacular facility, located between Ariake and Odaiba. I know, as an Italian it might sound blasphemous, but I'm a big fan of the latest creations coming from Woking. 

As my attire wasn't exactly appropriate I didn't have a chance to visit inside, so I settled for admiring the two models on display in the parking area.

The 650S especially is a mighty machine and - here I said it - looks better than the Ferrari 488 in my opinion. 

Speaking of new locations: I've recently discovered a brand new parking area on the other side of Tokyo bay. 

The view is pretty spectacular and, as always, I had to take the Nür for some mandatory shots. No matter whether I drive cruising around the bay or blasting through the Wangan, I really can't get enough of this thing. 

Passing through Tsukiji on the way back home I managed to pick up some fresh sashimi for only 800¥: another reason for loving Tokyo. 

I've been driving quite a bit recently and it's time perhaps to give the car some rest; the next half-year service is scheduled at Nismo for October.

Until next time.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Tokyo JDM Hunting

When I'm not driving, cycling around Tokyo is easily one of my favorite pastimes and, no matter whether I try or not, I always end up running into some cool cars. From old JDM machines kept in pristine condition all the way to the most exotics brands and everything in between - you'll never know what's hiding behind the next corner. I'm a bit of a photo freak and always end up taking way too many photos, so I thought I'd share some, even if not BNR34 related. This weekend I ran into a few goodies, like this Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V.

Call me nostalgic, but they really don't make machines like these anymore. The successive iteration of the Evo looked more and more domesticated, but this one was absolutely bonkers. From the massive fixed rear wing to the huge openings on the bumper and the round fog lights, all the way to the NACA duct and louvers (holes would be more appropriate) on the hood. It looks like Mitsubishi didn't even try to make it look even remotely domesticated and was handling to customers keys of a roadworthy WRC Group A car.

Again, perhaps the years are starting to kick in and I'm really getting older, but there is absolutely nothing on sale today that looks even remotely as "in your face" as this car. The Ralli Art stickers on the fenders combined with the yellow paint job bring back memories from the original Gran Turismo days: god bless the late 90's. And let's not forget the price: the Evo V costed about 3.5M ¥ when it was launched in 1998! Mitsubishi, where have you gone?

The combination of a lightweight construction and the famous rotary engine make the Mazda RX7 the ultimate street/track machine for many. Personally I have always been more intrigued by heavier GT machines with generous power, but every time I run into a well kept JDM I just can't help myself, regardless of the model: I have to take pictures.

This RX7 looked absolutely fantastic and, if ever needed, is testament of how much Japanese owners care about their cars.

Running into R35 GT-Rs in Tokyo is quite common and, I must admit, a huge temptation as well. The high production volume and worldwide availability have basically destroyed any chance of appreciation, thus leaving an incredible number of cars available on the second hand market for prices sometimes equal or lower than the BNR34.

This really is the best bang for your bucks out there. Could it be my next car?

Until next time. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tatsumi Nights

Year 2006, we all watched in amusement The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift - a movie that for most part was so incredibly bad that actually resulted fun to watch. The scene where Sean gets introduced to Japanese underground racing culture was trash in its most glorious form: a bunch of pseudo Asian-looking, skimpy dressed girls partying in pure American fashion around weakly tuned, tier 2 JDM machines - awesome. Fast forward 10 years and I had my own induction into the real Japanese car culture on the very same day I took delivery of my BNR34, as I found myself chasing my friend Dino in a press Corvette C7 Z06 all the way to Tatsumi Parking Area. Tatsumi has been one of my preferred locations to visit at night ever since.

Located in Koto-ku this PA is a must visit if you want to have a glimpse and a taste of how awesome the local car culture is. The parking area is much smaller than Daikoku and also much closer to central Tokyo, making it a preferred location for local residents who want to take their rides out for a spin.

Right off the bat I was impressed by two things; first and foremost, the impeccable respect of the owners. Forget about nasty comments, dick measuring competitions and the bitterness that you can experience on the daily on the web with Western users: everybody is super cool, polite and chilled, whether they are driving an exotic or a kei-car. That's my kind of place.

The second aspect that blew my mid and truly makes Tatsumi an awesome place to visit is the incredible variety of cars that pull over throughout the night. Last week was no exception. I arrived nice and early at around 10pm just to find this jade green NSX parked next to a Ferrari 599 GTO: this right here is more than you will ever find in Italy on any weekend of the year!

The Ferrari was rather impressive: we Italians are a mess at almost everything, but we surely know how to make cars!

Talk about diversity: a 500,000$ Ferrari parked next to a Skyline RS Turbo! This is why I love Tatsumi, no matter the pricetag you can definitely sense the passion that each owner has for his car.

As time went by cars came and left the PA, including this very clean Mazda RX7.

I remember buying a used Honda CR-X del Sol as my first car in Gran Turismo: pretty cool to see these little machines still in good shape.

For some reason last weekend there was an unusually high number of exotics around, like this Ferrari 348.

And this Porsche GT3 with track focused modifications.

This yellow NSX looked all business.

And sported a pretty cool engine bay.

While this vintage Fairlady Z quickly became one of my favorite cars around.

And one of the cooled surprises arrived just before I was about to leave: this pristine vintage Skyline painted in a racer replica livery!

Taking photos at night with an iPhone is definitely not ideal, but I hope you enjoyed the share.

Until next time.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Frozen in Time - Random Ownership Thoughts

"Is it stock?" - this is the question that, by far, I get asked the most whenever I park my GT-R around other fellow car enthusiasts. More than the spec itself, people are curious to know how (and why) my car has survived 16 years in its almost pure stock form. 

Almost because it left the Nissan Prince dealer with a few options fitted such as the Nismo Spec-Pro exhaust, Kenwood navigation system and Pitwork parking lamp and turn signal LEDs - some very welcome and tasteful upgrades.

The only real aftermarket option that the previous owner installed are the Nismo GT taillights: another upgrade I'm glad for since they look absolutely fantastic and are now discontinued. Other than that the car is exactly in the same conditions as it rolled out of Nissan Tochigi factory in 2002.

So, why is it still stock? Well, if you have been following this blog you'll know that the 34 is the very first car I've ever owned. After moving to Tokyo in 2007 it took me several years before I was able to afford a car, resulting in a 9 years hiatus from driving; to top it all, most of the driving experience I had to that point was behind the wheel of a 70ps Fiat Punto! Saying that by the time I bought the GT-R my driving skills were sub-par would be an understatement. With the car appreciating I decided to take it slow and figured out that enjoying it for a while as it was originally built by Nissan engineers would help me truly understand its spirit. 

It's a strange feeling, like I'm traveling inside a small time capsule, stuck in the mid-2000's: while everybody is running the latest turbos and V-cam setups I wanted to drive around Tokyo experiencing what owners must have felt when they took delivery of their cars back in the days. 

Not being in a hurry is the greatest feeling and living long term in Japan definitely come with some perks: being 30 minutes away from both Nismo Performance Center and Omori Factory gives me peace of mind that I will be able to take care of my car forever. 

Almost two years into my ownership I am starting to feel that man-machine bond that only driving you dream car can create: the deep sound of the exhaust, the torque surge and engine pull after 4,000rpm, the 300km/h scale speedometer and the glorious PlayStation-looking MFD gauges - everything is just so right about this car. Call me biased, but, in my very unimportant opinion the BNR34 is one last and greatest analog sports car aver produced.

Driving a proper sports car required refining my driving skills (from a Fiat Punto to a BNR34 is quite a leap!), which is something I've been working on without taking unnecessary risks on the road. Still far from being a fast driver I'm quite happy with my progress. In a recent track day at Ooi Matsuda Kartland on super fast 2-strokes karts I managed to clock consistent times just 0.2 second slower to the ones of my friends who come from amateur karting and single-seater racing backgrounds and many, many more years of experience behind the wheel of proper supercars (i.e. Porsche GT3 and Ford GT).

Karting is arguably one of the purest forms of driving and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to refine their driving skills in controlled safety. It's also a great way to go all out, as you can push those machines in ways that you would never dare with your own car.

There is also plenty of good reading material on the subject and I have recently enjoyed Michael Krumm's book "Driving on the Edge". The now retired German Super GT driver is the last ever Nismo factory driver (with Satoshi Motoyama) to win the JGTC series in a BNR34 based machine and was one of my childhood heroes. The book mostly focuses on racing techniques, from basic to advanced, but is fascinating nonetheless and its theories can certainly find application in road driving as well.

Summer in Tokyo goes on and I look forward to many more drives.

Until next time.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Racing GT-Rs, LM GT4 2017 and Oil Maintenance

Yesterday I got a call from Yamazaki-san who notified me that the parts I ordered finally arrived; he also asked if I would be interested in having an early look at the new Nismo LMGT4 that are due to release in September - an invitation that I was happy to accept as I had nothing planned for the day. The lineup ready for customer delivery never disappoints.

But, let's start from the LMGT4 first.

The wheels are the exact same spec we are all familiar with.

This year Nismo has chosen a matte black finish that I actually quite like.

While picking up my parts I had a very interesting chat about maintenance and future parts production with Yamazaki-san and Koyama-san; it turns out that last year Nissan gave the green light to restart production of the N1 block only once they had logged-in over 100 backorders from customers. 

The guys were clearly having a rather busy day and, after sticking around the office for a while, I decided to get around the workshop.

Main reason for the unusual number of customer cars was a recent SSCT (Skyline Sports Club Tokyo) event, which is basically a track day for Skyline GT-R owners.
While lots of owners (myself included I guess?) relegate their GT-Rs to mild road usage it's refreshing to see others driving them hard on track, as the pair of zenki BNR34 testifies.

The paintwork on these machines might not be perfectly detailed, but you can rest assured that they push some serious power and are put to good use.
The black model was fitted with R35 brakes.

While the owner of the Athlete Silver car took things one step further and had installed a Recaro bucket seat, racing harness, AP Racing brakes and a full Nismo aero-kit. The extended rear spoiler mounting brackets also had a very purposeful look.

Most of the customers were returning to Nismo for post track day maintenance and oil changes. I remember reading something about this in the latest maintenance special GT-R Magazine: experts recommended changing engine, transmission and differential oil right even after just a single track day or a hard driving session on the winding roads, especially on layouts with plenty of tight corners, as they put a large amount of stress on the differential. I orginally found the recommendation a bit extreme, but seeing these guys getting their fluids changed made me think. This also reminded me that I should probably go for a full fluids change sometimes after summer.

The third car that came in from the SSCT event was probably the most extreme of the trio.

The owner of this BNR32 had even removed the backseat and fitted the car with a whole lot of goodies for circuit driving; starting from a carbon fiber bonnet.

And Nismo intercooler.

The engine bay looked all business, although I'm not sure the powetrain is a complete Mine's works.

Cars moved out of the workshop quite quickly and, as soon as the two BNR34 were delivered back to customers, Koyama-san prepared this rare 4-door BCNR33 Autech Version for final inspection and delivery.

I am not sure about the look of this car, but given its rarity prices are skyrocketing and are now very close to BNR34 levels; definitely a collectors item.

And finally, I guess that the car that everybody wants to see is the one that was in the back of the workshop.

You guessed it: 1 of the 122 BNR34 M-spec ever produced in Silica Breath.

The car was undergoing some air-condition unit maintenance; a process that seemed rather complex as Yamada-san couldn't finish it during my 4 hours visit.

I'm not sure about the look of the matching Volk Racing TE37, but the car was fitted with lots of nice touches, starting from genuine carbon fiber Nismo front fenders.

These are the real deal, entirely made out of dry carbon, for a total cost of almost 4 times the standard Nismo ones. Lots of people mistakenly assume that the standard Nismo fenders found on lots of BNR34 are carbon fiber - they are actually made of FRP (Fiber Reinforced Plastic).
The owner survey likes the carbon look, as he also installed a lightweight rear spoiler flap.

As well as dry carbon inlet pipes.

The rest of the engine bay looked rather clean.

With hints of mild tuning courtesy of Omori Factory.

I always had a soft spot for the M-spec leather seats, especially the Alcantara inserts on the shoulder support; definitely a rather nice looking machine.

The rainy season hasn't been too bad so far this year, but with rain in the forecast almost every day my car has been in hibernation for a while now. Luckily we still get some nice days from time to time and Tokyo never ceases to amaze. 

On a different note, last Friday I celebrated my 10th year anniversary since I first arrived in Japan: looking forward to the next 10!

Until next time.