Saturday, April 28, 2018

Project CRS Part 3 - Condition Check

As a first step in the process, before going ahead with the works, Ochiai-san suggested that I’d bring over the car for an inspection and overall condition check. Since I have ordered a full body restoration and respray, this is also required for them to issue a final quotation, as price will vary based on the condition of the car. So I found myself en route to Omori Factory, quite excited for the afternoon ahead.

Once arrived I just had to take the routine photo in the parking area, this time next to a very yellow Fairlady Z.

Upon my arrival, I was greeted by Ochiai-san, who went ahead and began registering my GT-R on Omori Factory database: this way they can keep track of all the builds and modifications of road-going customer cars. This is a mandatory step, as the car will be tested on Japanese roads before delivery I was requested to provide all the necessary documentation that proves that it is compliant with Japanese laws, including tax receipts and the shakenshou (車検証 - Japanese automobile inspection certificate). Without these documents, they simply won’t work on the car. For good measure they even made a copy of my Japanese driver license!

Once all the paperwork was completed we could finally move to the fun part, so I handed my keys to Ochiai-san and let him move the car inside the workshop area. I know, I know - bit of a fanboy moment, but watching my car being driven inside the ultimate GT-R tuning facility was too cool not to go all out with the camera!

If you are OCD this is what workshops dreams are made of: this place is so clean and neat that makes you wonder if it is staged.

Back to my car, Ochiai-san has parked it inside one of the designated inspection bays equipped with an hydraulic lift, and got to work.

Again, I couldn’t help by notice the state of the art equipment. Nismo surely did not spare any expense when they designed this place and went all out, including ordering Omori Factory custom-branded air tanks!

In the meantime Ochiai-san had begun his inspection, starting from the wheel arches and front strut towers: two areas where the BNR34 is famously prone to rust and corrosion.

Since I already had my GT-R inspected several times by Yamada-san at NPTC, I wasn’t expecting any surprise; nonetheless, I was very happy to hear Ochiai-san’s positive remarks about its cleanliness. Big thanks to the previous owner, who had parked it indoor for 14 years!

Moving on, we lifted the car a bit more to address one of the most critical areas of the chassis: the underfloor. After the strut towers, this is the second Achilles’ tendon of the Nissan Skyline: old technology and a few cost-cutting shortcuts in the assembly process made this a very sensible area.

Again, no surprises here, as this was something that I carefully checked during my pre-purchase inspection, but Ochiai-san couldn’t find any trace of rust or corrosion. Interestingly enough he observing that perhaps ,since the car spent its whole life on stock suspensions, a higher ride-height might have helped a bit preserving both wheel arches and underfloor. Additionally, the previous owner had care to have the car treated with pre-delivery protective foam, which surely helped shielding those areas. 

So, good news: the car won’t need any special treatment. Nonetheless, and this might come as a surprise, I decided to also have the underfloor restored and resprayed. This is because, according to Ochiai-san, once major components like subframes and transmission are removed, there will surely be some hidden rust. I also thought that it wouldn’t make sense to come this far and leave this not cared for. I remember inspecting a customer car that underwent a complete body respray, looking absolutely stunning on the outside, just to find the worst corrosion possible spreading on the underfloor. Surely it adds up on the price, but I think it’s details like this that really make a difference.

In typical Japanese fashion, Ochiai-san was kind enough to keep his schedule open for the whole afternoon so that we could take our time: I tried my best not to sound like the typical annoying customer and bombard him with a ton of questions. Not sure if I succeeded.

We then lowered the car and opened the hood for the second part of the inspection.

Until next time.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Project CRS Part 2 - Prologue

The response to the first post of this series, where I announced my plans to rebuild and tune my GT-R, has been overwhelming, with lots of comments both on this platform and the Facebook page. A big thank you to everybody who stopped by and showed support! With almost two months to go before I will leave my car in the hands of the Omori Factory guys, I though I’d share a bit more background and the philosophy behind the project.

If you are an early follower of this blog you might remember that, during my first years in Japan I took a break from my passion for cars as I was busy exploring the country and settling here. Additionally, owning a car in Tokyo is a rather expensive hobby and back then didn’t look like a realistic possibility. Things eventually turned out well and by the time I was toying with the idea of buying a car, I was obviously looking at the newer R35: with ‘08 models going for 5.5M ¥ it just looked like the bargain of the century. This, until I paid my first visit to Omori Factory in 2014.

The freshly restored R34 Clubman Race Spec was sitting in the middle of the impeccably clean workshop area, looking sharper than any other car, including the R35 Nismo. Needless to say it didn’t take me long before I ended up buying my own BNR34.

Now, if you live in Japan and happen to pay attention to the nuances of the local culture, you might have noticed that Japanese people are great at taking care of their possessions. From the old businessman carrying a pristine suitcase that he has cleaned and treated for 20 years, to the car owner who has religiously collected every maintenance receipt, I have always been fascinated by such a level of care. This is a philosophy that I genuinely share and I love the idea of preserving things of sentimental value in great condition. Besides the obvious mechanical benefits, this is one of the main reasons behind my choice for such an in-depth restoration: what if I can bring the car to a new life, in better than new condition, and create something unique that I can treasure for the years to come and eventually pass on to my kids?

The second philosophy at the base of my project draws inspiration from the concept of tetsukuri (手作り) - literally, handcrafted - which truly embodies the attention to detail that Japanese artisans are known for. If you have ever experienced a dinner in a high quality sushi restaurant, then you have probably witnessed first hand one of the maximum expression of this concept. Every time I visit my favorite secret place I am always in awe by how the restaurant looks brand new and spotless, despite having been open for more than 15 years

This is one of the concepts that Nismo has clearly incorporated in designing the Omori Factory showroom, with perfectly clean customer cars rigorously aligned in a spotless environment. Finding a mark of dirt or an oil drop on the shining, epoxy-coated floor is basically impossible, which is rather impressive considering that, after all, you are in a car workshop area.

The second aspect is the attention to the finest details, like Koizumi-san, who presents his customers with old and pregiate chopsticks rests made of kiriko (切子) - Japanese cut glass - that he cares to change according to the season.

The same little details can be found in the best workshop areas, like these toolboxes with carbon fiber handles.

And lastly, the craft itself. Years, decades spent perfecting the same movements over and over again, an endless quest to master something that looks so simple yet is so difficult. 

I have enormous respect for those who dedicate a lifetime to their craft. 

Some of the senior staff at Omori Factory have built over 1,000 RB26 engines throughout their career and Ochiai-san has literally hand built the original CRS by himself. When asked if he had needed a manual to complete the task he smiled and pointed a finger towards his head. Watching him inspect my car was a fantastic experience.

I remember going through some of these thoughts during my last visit at Omori Factory just to eventually run into a very well travelled customer car. A full stock Midnight Purple BCNR33 whose owner, after enjoying it for the past 20 years, decided to send all the way from Kyushu in southern Japan to have completely restored and give it a second life.

I always thought how cool must have been to pick up a brand new BNR34 from a Nissan showroom back in the days, which is also one of the reasons why I chose to buy a stock model in the first place. With the rebuild project and the spec selection not only the car will be completely refreshed from the ground up, but it will also feel like finally picking up my own GT-R instead of somebody else’s used car.

The main specs for the first half-year of work have been decided and the GT-R is now in storage until June, for what it will be its last drive of the year as I won’t have it back until 2019. I will spend the coming months documenting the progress as well as studying ways to further improve the project. The ultimate goal is to create a unique spec that honors the original essence of the car.

Until next time.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Motorsport Japan in Odaiba

Today I opted for a different spot for my Saturday morning caffeine fix and headed to Odaiba, where day one of Motorsport Japan was taking place.

This is a cool little event that I always try not to miss; it blends a displays of modern race cars, like Super GT machines.

Or this replica of the Toro Rosso Honda competing in the current F1 championship - the aero on these things looks like something coming from outer space.

There are also some demo runs in an improvised short track.

And promotional activities like pit stop games using retired racers.

One of the coolest cars of the event was the hybrid Supra HR-V.

This specific car began life as a retired JGTC 2004 racer and was consequently fitted with a regenerative braking system and three electric motors

One of the very first high-performance experimental hybrid machines, this Supra enter the Tokachi 24 hours in 2007 and took the overall win.

In a way it paved the road for future hybrid technology, like the one found in current LMP1 cars.

Now, I am sure you know that I’m a total nerd for GT racers, but what really makes this event interesting is the great selection of replicas and vintage cars.

Owners from far away travel to exhibit their rides and some of the are absolutely perfect replicas of the original.

The variety is great and not confined to JDM models, like this fantastic Lancia Delta testifies.

It’s not just replicas, some of the cars are authentic models with racing pedigree.

The vintage section is really what I came for - like this selection of old Skylines.

Some of them are obviously not fully original, but it’s great to see the owners pouring so much passion into their joy and pride.

I have to be honest: I am was not  familiar with all the models I came across with. But that’s really what I like about the event I guess: getting to know cars that otherwise you would hardly see in real life, like this beautiful Galant FTO.

I absolutely loved the boxy lines and details.

As well as this little Mitsubishi.

The AE86 is a platform I am not too familiar with.

But this example was in great condition and it does look like a fun car to drive.

Such a contrast with the muscular lines of this old Celica.

But my absolute favorite car of the day is this Datsun Z.

Fully restored and regularly enjoyed by the owner it looked great in this non-standard dark shade of blue.

The owner was kind enough to pop the hood.

And reveal a properly clean engine bay.

Now that’s a cool oil cap!

And a nice collection of commemorative stickers.

And if racers and vintage cars are not cool enough to impress you, this real-life size Gundam standing just few meters away will probably do the trick - yes - you’re definitely in Japan!

Until next time.