Thursday, August 30, 2018

Summer Break at Nismo Performance Center Tokyo

With Omori Factory closed during obon I took the opportunity to pay a long overdue visit to Nismo Performance Center Tokyo.

First of all, Yamazaki-san has been kind enough to keep some large boxes in storage for me, since I wouldn’t have where to fit them at home (Tokyo living issues). Additionally, buying Nissan genuine OEM parts is way more effective at NPTC than Omori, for reasons that I’ll get to in a second. Meanwhile I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful tip of the Mine’s titanium exhaust on a customer BNR34 parked just outside the shop.

Visiting NPTC never disappoints: it may not have the same state of the art design that you’ll find at Omori Factory, but exudes a real “artisanal workshop” vibe that is hard to beat. This is where real mechanics get their hands dirty.

Sugimoto-san was busy working on replacing pads on very clean V-spec II Nür fitted with a red-colored Brembo F50 calipers set-up. Interestingly, the very first car I inspected back when I was sourcing my own was in the same hue.

And I loved the super boxy look of the RS Turbo Skyline parked next to it: could it get any more 80’s than this?

The Nismo Fairlady Z is another model that I’ve been seriously considering as a good contender for a second car.

With this specific model being a Type 380RS: one of 300 produced, this version features extra Yamaha damping and chassis stiffening treatment courtesy of Autech and was fitted with a 3.8L version of the VQ engine.

The RS variation was only sold on Japanese market and, by looking at the massive Endless rotors that its owner fitted, looks like this one is regularly enjoyed on track as well.

This time I had to order just a few final bits, mostly for the interior, but also a couple for the chassis. Both Omori Factory and NPTC order parts through the same FAST system, but NPTC is also connected to the rest of the Nissan Prince network. This means that if a part is not in stock in the inventory, they can still check locally if it’s available at other dealerships.

Years ago I actually used to live around this area: Setagaya is a great place, very residential. For those not familiar with Tokyo it would be hard to tell that is located so close to the metropolis center.

Believe it or not, but this is literally 5 minutes away from Shibuya.

This summer is incredibly hot and humid and I’m actually happy that my car gets to spend it inside Omori Factory air cooled facility.

After leaving NPTC I joined a friend in Shimokitazawa to check out the local matsuri over a couple of beers. This is a great little town, definitely worth visiting for its local restaurants and hidden bars.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Project CRS Part 8 - The Engine Bay

In my last post of this series I covered how we throughly checked the underfloor and the rest of the frame to eventually decide for a new course of action and preserve the original zinc-based paint. We then moved on to examine the engine bay and dedicated single components.

Ochiai-san took his time to explain all the little intricacies and, again, absolutely blew my mind with his knowledge. He could easily tell on the top of his head all the differences between zenki and kouki items, which parts are discontinued and which are not, all down to the smallest nut and bolt - that’s the level of knowledge that over 15 years of hand assembling GT-Rs gets you.

Right away we started with what is widely known as the Achille’s tendon of Skyline GT-Rs: the strut towers. Rust here can require some serious work (namely cut and welding) to fix, but luckily, both sides were in perfect shape; surely dirty, but luckily with no trace of corrosion.

This is probably one of the biggest improvements that Nissan made between zenki and kouki models, with the latter being treated to color coded paint, clear coat and a thicker, more resistant sealant. Rust usually develops from beneath, coming form water that infiltrates between the metal panels of the wheel arches, but years of washing, rain and Japanese humid summers will likely see some water getting into the engine bay as well. This is where the sealant plays a key role: the formula used on zenki models is more prone to harden up and shrink in size over the years, especially due to the heat generated in the engine bay; it’s not uncommon to see that it has cracked up a bit or started to separate itself from the metal sheets it’s supposed to be permanently bonded to. Zenki owners - please look after your sealant!

I also learned that the car was sprayed with the side fenders bolted on as the non-colored sides of the frame revealed.

The fender itself is actually attached to a separated L-shaped rail that runs down the sides of the frame. The corrosion around the bolts is courtesy of the two metal surfaces rubbing on each other. This will be an easy fix as the whole front frame will be repainted, color-coded and clear coded; also, Z-tune fenders bolt on directly to the frame and do not required the metal rail (photo below) to be installed. Problem solved!

We then proceeded to move towards the inner part of the engine bay, where I was met by another pleasant surprise that reassured me that the previous owner not only looked after the car, but was surely a bit of a GT-R nerd himself. Months after I took ownership of the car I discovered that he had upgraded the trunk area with trunk top mold and wiper engine cover - two nice items that the kouki models were stripped of in an attempt to trim costs down. This time Ochiai-san pointed out how the washer tank bracket had been replaced by a newer item, leaving the bottom part of the frame corrosion free.

This is a less known issue amongst BNR34 owners: a small flaw in the design of the washer tank, combined with age and owners filling it above its maximum level are the main causes for small drops of washing fluid leaking during driving. This is also because the “MAX level” line of the tank is deceivingly set barely in the middle of the tank itself, making it very easy to overfill even by just a bit.

This is nothing catastrophic in itself, but, when the drops of fluid end up reaching the bottom of the tank, they meet the steel bracket that anchors the tank itself to the frame, causing a corrosive reaction that can lead to either paint damage or even medium or severe corrosion as shown in this post on Kanazawa Body Repair blog.

Turns out that most of the reaction is triggered by the bracket itself which, like most of these items on the BNR34, is finished in a gold-like color and was installed on all models (albeit kouki cars presenting a shinier and more resistant finish). Over the years Nissan realized the issue and started producing replacements for the bracket in a silver-like finish that is a lot more resistant to corrosion, as shown on this Minkara review post. To my surprise, the previous owner had already proceeded to replace this item - awesome! Both the washer tank and the bracket itself will be replaced with new items, but it was great to see that the previous owner had paid attention to the smallest details. I would recommended every owner to check the status of their engine bay under the washer tank and, if necessary, invest in an upgraded bracket (Part Number 28925-24U00).

Overall I was happy with the condition of the engine bay: besides some obvious yellowing on plastic components, the frame and the rest of the components are in great shape, both damage and corrosion free.

Time for a look at the rear.

The trunk area was completely stripped of all the surrounding molds, as Ochiai-san had already begun removing most of the electronics.

While the ATTESA reservoir was still in place.

The A-LSD and ATTESA modules had actually already been removed, as well as the upgraded Optima Yellow Top battery that I had installed during the last shaken at Nismo Performance Center Tokyo.

At this point rears seats had also been removed, leaving the car naked inside - you can appreciate the amount of electric wiring and how much the harness extends through the body of the car.

As of today the total amount of new parts that will be fitted on the car has surpassed over 300 items, with still a lot more new options and parts to be discussed!

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Japan Touring & New Resolutions

700km: that’s how much I’ve driven my car in the past 15 months - not a record to be proud of, but I thought I’d come clean about it. How did it happen? Well, I guess I’ve fallen into the “let me garage-queen my expensive GT-R” trap hole. Jokes aside, it is hard to drive the wheels off of something that, not only is expensive, but also means so much to you. While this may be understandable, it should never reach a point where you are limiting the experiences you are making in life. Life is short and can be very unexpected, as I’ve been reminded by some recent events in my personal sphere. But, as far as it concerns the car itself, two events have contributed to give me an extra kick in the rear and a final wake up call, with one of them being the latest GT-R Magazine issue. 

Every year the staff takes their cars for a tour through different regions of Japan, meticulously documenting the route, main stops and sightseeing spots, all while taking beautiful photos of the cars in some of the most dramatic locations you can imagine. It looks amazing and I can only imagine the pleasure of driving a R34 on these roads. How stupid would it be not to do that at least a few times a year? I’m obviously biased, but I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a big part of the world and Japan has some of the most amazing roads and sceneries I’ve seen. Being it the natural habitat of the GT-R probably contributes to increase the allure I guess.

And then there is the car, which is probably every collector’s nemesis: a 300,000km R34 V-spec II Nür - likely the highest mileage model in the world. At the same time, it is also probably the most serviced model of its kind out there: through years of meticulous services at top local tuning shops, I guarantee that you wouldn’t guess it has even one fourth of its actual mileage. It’s kind of sad that most of these cars today will never be driven in such a way ever again and I’ve been guilty myself for letting mine sit for a while.

An additional lesson is the one that I’ve been learning as I am documenting the work in progress on my car at Omori Factory: 16 years later it’s in fantastic shape, even before the restoration - these cars can (and have to) be driven and still be in top condition. They are not as fragile as many owners end up thinking and can last forever as long as they are well maintained. It would be extremely dumb for me not to drive my car once I’ll get it back, especially when I can go back to Omori for a service in less than 40 minutes.

Finally, the last, small wake up call came this Wednesday, asI found myself crossing a pedestrian bridge in Akasaka and took the photo below. If you are a 90’s kid and have played Gran Turismo, you’ll recognize this view: it’s the main straight of Tokyo Route 246, a track that is a perfect virtual reproduction of its real-word counterpart (albeit you can’t actually race in Tokyo). I must have spent hours lapping this circuit as a kid, fantasizing how would it be to drive in real life, now I’m actually here and own my dream car, but don’t drive it as much to “preserve it”. It doesn’t make any sense.

Whether is hitting the winding roads or drive through some of Tokyo’s best streets, I promised myself that I’ll do a lot more driving moving forward and I hope I have inspired a few owners to do the same. You can’t make memories out of a low digit odometer.

Until next time.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Tokyo to Fuji in a Note

Obon season it’s finally here: Omori Factory is closed and I won’t be able to see my car for a while, and so will be Nismo Performance Center, which reminds me that I need to do an emergency run to order some extra parts before next week. Other than that, this is the season to enjoy Japan summer: matsuri (祭り - festival), fireworks and local food. And, of course, the main summer racing event: Round 5 of the Super GT series at Fuji Speedway.

This time I rented the little blue Note on the left, which I made sure to park next to this awesome Fairlady - a car I was absolutely in love with as a kid thanks to Gran Turismo. Although I don’t have the GT-R with me at the moment, truth is that I always use rentals to go to Fuji, a choice that’s proven to be an endless source of laughter for Aki and Dino. While I do recognize that driving to such an iconic circuit in a little 1.3 liter rental may seem a ridiculous choice when you have a R34 parked in your driveway, hear me out first: the choice is backed up by science. Call it a curse if you want, but every single time, either due to a massive accident or traffic, the measly 80km ride back on the Tomei Expressway turns into a 5 hours bumper-to-bumper affair. That’s how long it took us to return last time from Nismo Festival: now, who in his right mind would want to do that in a Skyline GT-R? I’ll stick to my CVT rental, thanks.

With the Suzuka 1,000 km race no longer in the calendar, the organizers decided to modify the formula for Round 5, extending the length of the race from the usual 300 kilometers to 500 miles, which amounts to 177 laps! This time I didn’t take as many photos and just focused on enjoying the race, mostly also due to the massive heat and humidity. This summer is absolutely brutal in Japan, with temperatures that feel like 45 degrees Celsius and 70% humidity: several people (mostly elders) have died due to heath strokes in the past weeks. The whole circuit, which sits inside a small valley, was completely immersed in mist, making the iconic Fuji-san impossible to spot.

As always, the race was great: Super GT 500 machines are absolutely mental and on a completely different level compared to the GT3 class when it comes to cornering and braking. The circuit wasn’t as packed as during the Golden Week race, which made it a little easier to get around. The Audi stand, with the fully working e-tron Vision Gran Turismo car on display was easily my favorite.

Next to this Lexus LFA, a car that looks unmistakably made in Japan and oozes an incredible hand-built vibe.

This reminds me of the older days, when Japanese car makers would come out with super limited edition runs like the Z tune or the NSX-R; I wonder if the status of the modern automotive industry will allow us to see similar projects ever again.

The new NSX, on the other hand, is slowly growing on me, but its computer-sculpted lines are a far cry from the beautiful, organic curves and shapes of the original one.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A BNR34 GT-R Online Store?

This coming September will mark the second anniversary since I started writing this blog; besides becoming a great pastime and learning platform it has also helped me connect with thousands of readers around the world. I have to admit that watching the monthly visit counter log in data from so many different countries feels great and I hope is a sign that my work is appreciated.

One of the collateral effects that I didn’t anticipate is the number of people that would reach out privately, either with a message here or on the dedicated Facebook page, to inquire about everything BNR34 related: from buying advice, technical questions, or requests for help to source specific items in Japan. I never started the blog for commercial purposes, but simply as a way to keep a small journal of life with my car and to share bits and pieces of Japan living. After all, there are plenty of importers and online shops out there offering all kind of services - I never thought there would be any extra demand. What I have noticed, however, is how unique most of the requests that I usually receive are: either related to very specific advice (such as condition check or restoration), or inquires about hard to find OEM parts or memorabilia that the usual names online don’t offer. One of the things that I appreciate the most is the fact that people reached out in light of the attention to detail and care that I put in my work, both on my car and this platform.

This made me think: while I don’t see myself quitting my day job to start shipping containers of LM GT wheels around the world anytime soon, I am also intrigued by the idea of starting a small side business tied to my biggest passion. However, the only way that I would ever do it, is if I could apply the same philosophy that I instill in this blog and into everything I do with my car: extreme attention to detail, care and a bespoke approach. So, I would like to ask to share your ideas: if I were to offer some of these services, what would you be interested in? Bespoke restoration consulting? Hard to find parts sourcing? Rare memorabilia? Tuning services and consulting through direct connection with Nismo? I’m still evaluating the feasibility of some of these options, but I’m curious the hear your feedback, so please feel free to leave a comment! Who knows, a BNR34-GT-R online store may pop up in the near future!

Until next time.