Sunday, October 21, 2018

GT-R50 by Italdesign

Yesterday I took advantage of a day off to head towards Ginza and check out the now famous GT-R50 by Italdesign.

Built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the car we all love, this one-off (at least for now) made its debut in front of the Japanese audience a few weeks ago during the Morning Cruise event at Daikanyama.

It surely has presence and, beside a new carbon fiber skin, it packs boosted performances thanks to new turbos straight off the GT3 racer as well as other engine upgrades. When it’s all said and done it boasts 110ps more over the “normal” GT-R Nismo.

Italdesign and Nissan are considering the idea of actually build 50 tailor-made models with a sticker price of $1,000,000.

Personally I am not too fond of the design: just my very personal and unimportant opinion, but the lines and colors - while interesting from certain angles - just don’t do it for me. 

Regardless, Nissan made it clear that this is not a preview of what’s to come for the next GT-R, but rather a design project to celebrate the occasion - and what an occasion it is. Think about it for a second: prestigious design and engineering teams in US and Europe get together to re-design and celebrate an iconic Japanese sports car; if anything this is a testament of the global phenom that the GT-R has become and its incredible reach to a truly global audience.

What’s really, truly bonkers however is not the GT-R50, but the limited edition Grand Seiko wristwatch that the Japanese maker will release in just 3 production models: with a starting price of ¥20,000,000 it costs more than a brand new GT-R Nismo!

The GT-R50 will be on display at Nissan Crossing until November 25th, an unique occasion to see it in pair with the Vision GT 2020 concept located on the second floor. 

Definitely worth a visit if you are in Tokyo.

In other news, the iconic Tsukiji Fish Market (just minutes away from Ginza) has closed and been relocated after over 80 years of activity.

Luckily most of the local sushi shops are still alive and healthy, so I decided to pay a visit and enjoy some of the best local food Tokyo has to offer.

Sushi is often regarded as the very high-end and most sophisticated part of Japanese cuisine, but it doesn’t have to be always pretentious and expensive.

Those little shops are fun and serve generously portioned food while maintaining a relaxed atmosphere.

Until next time.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

LX0 - Celebrating Midnight Purple III

Midnight Purple III is arguably the most iconic color amongst BNR34 aficionados, and rightly so: it screams 90’s like few other hues and truly makes look the R34 Skyline GT-R like something out of a PlayStation videogame.

So, when I ran into a proper stock looking model at R’s Meeting this past September, I had to indulge and take a few extra shots.

While not fully original (the engine bay had been resprayed and the engine itself some work done), the exterior of this model looked pretty much the same way it rolled out of the assembly line in the year 2000, down to the controversial zenki yellow winkers.

In order to accentuate the contrast, cars finished on this color were fitted with the OEM wheel finished in light silver and a matching rear spoiler flap.

This car, being a V-spec, is one of the 132 ever produced in the higher spec trim.

Allegedly, all the allocations of this limited edition color sold out in a matter of hours at Nissan dealerships back in the day.

And looks like the original owner of this one went all out with the specs, as the car was fitted with the optional oil cooler system as hinted by the asymmetrical vent on the left side of the front bumper.

Personally I truly love the brilliant purple glow of the paint, but this can be truly appreciated only when standing almost perfectly parallel to the car; otherwise it shifts to a maroon-ish tint that is really not of my liking.

Regardless LX0 really must be seen in the flesh to be truly appreciated. Supercar makers such as McLaren are taking color-shift paints to the next level today, but hats off to Nissan for releasing such a crazy hue on a production car 20 years ago.

Love it or hate it, Midnight Purple III is truly the most iconic BNR34 color right next to Bayside Blue.

Until next time.

Project CRS Part 9 - The Interior

While for all mechanical aspects I can safely rely on the capable hands of the Omori Factory guys, there is one aspect of the restoration process that I thought it would be fun (and maybe better) to handle myself: the interior.

Back in 1999 Nissan managed to keep the cost of the BNR34 below the ¥6,000,000 figure, which meant that, while the car was packed with cutting edge technology, a complex AWD system and a superb engine, costs had to be cut somewhere else. 20 years later the cheap and easy to scratch interior panels easily show where Nissan engineers focused their cost cutting efforts.

No matter the mileage, it’s literally impossible to find a car that hasn’t collected a few scratches or developed that slight surface patina typical of black interior panels. Sure, nothing too terrible and that can’t be fixed with some dedicated products: it’s all part of the ownership experience. My car, being stock, doesn’t have any of the hideous gauges, LEDs or emblems that most Japanese are fond of, but I couldn’t help to think: can I make it better?

Lots of owners seems to love carbon fiber and alcantara re-trims, but personally I never minded the spartan look of the interior and felt that it does its job very well, keeping the look simple and clean. I always thought that certain materials have to be “engineered” in the design of the car in order to make it work and can’t just be implemented by replacing. In the end, originality wins the day, at least for me. And after sitting inside the BCNR33 Grand Touring democar at Omori Factory, fitted with a complete brand new interior, I decided to take the same route and replace every single panel with a brand new OEM one in my car as well.

The difference is really night and day: no scuffs, no marks, no patina and that brand new car smell! 

As exciting as it is, this project posed some challenges that can easily be summed up with three words: “out of stock”. Lots of interior bits are now long discontinued or rarely come up on Yahoo! Auction, which means that it took me almost two years to source every single panel and button. This was the main reason behind most of my visits to Nismo Performance Center Tokyo and I owe a lot to Yamazaki-san for his help and patience.

Over the past several months I manage to collect pretty much everything that gets touched, moved or covers the interior of the car. While still cheap plastic, the look and feel of brand new parts is so much crisper and clean.

This was a fun project and I used 80%  NPTC and 20% Yahoo! Auctions to track down the parts. 

Was it necessary? Probably not, but again, this is something that is best appreciated when you compre old and new items next to each other and the final result is greater than the sum if its parts.

Some of the trim bits are still available and can easily be found online, while others took quite a bit of time to track down, like the side air vents for example.

In the end, everything except the floor carpet, roof liner, door inserts and back seats will be replaced, which means that I have stashed away a good number of boxes in my apartment.

As the preparation for the build continues, Ochiai-san asked me to bring the parts over, so I found myself collecting all my boxes and rent a mini-van. But first, I had to make a stop at NPTC: some of the boxes are so big that there was no way I could store them at my place.

The biggest one was the main dashboard: I was lucky to find one of the very last brand new ones in Nissan inventory last year and I bought it right away. Yamazaki-san was kind enough to keep it in storage for me for the past 12 months!

So I quickly stopped by last Saturday while en route to Omori Factory. 

As always there is plenty to see, but I had no time to play around.

I proceeded to load the dashboard and other boxes on the van, just to realize that at this point it was almost completely full!

I then headed straight to Daikokucho, where Omori Factory is located, and ran into what looked like an improvised owners gathering in the parking area. Everybody looked a bit puzzled when I showed up and drove inside the workshop with the mini van. Oh, and please don’t mind the ultra rare yellow 400R in the background.

I then helped the guys to collect the parts and roamed around a bit until closing time.

I still have a couple of boxes at home and the guys at the Factory have been kind enough to keep a few more parts on the side for me which I think will make for some great final touches once the car will be ready.

Until next time.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Holy Grail of RB26 Engines

The Omori Factory guys have recently added one more piece to their engine display collection in the showroom: one of the last RB26 DETT used in the JGTC GT500 class.

I am not exactly the kind of guy who gets too excited over technical details, but it’s always cool to get up and close with special things like this one. Hard to believe that this engine was buried for years inside Nismo facilities!

This engine was used to compete at the highest level in the top class of the all Japan Grand Touring Car Championship (later rebranded as Super GT in 2005) and is a complete development prototype spec. 

Starting from visual cues like the orange ultra light magnesium cam cover.

To the carbon fiber timing belt cover - every detail was clearly done with weight saving purposes.

The capacity of the engine was increased to 2,700cc and the block itself was cast from iron, but with a much higher nickel content.

The built on water and oil exchanger on the side of the block is surely noticeable in size and it served its purpose of keeping temperatures in check under the rigors of racing competitions.

On the right side of the engine there is an extended oil pump that looks heavy duty pretty much as you would expect on a dry sump power unit of this caliber.

As per former regulations the engine runs a twin turbo setup - next time I visit I have to ask more info about these two units. Maybe I can convince the guys to have them installed on my car? Well, at least I can dream on!

The fuel rail and intake plenum also look very much in development spec.

These engines were capable to produce incredibly power figures, but series regulations limited their output to 500ps with the use of air restrictors, so a big part of the efforts was focused on pick up and responsiveness.

I’ve been lucky to sit for a couple of passengers laps in the famous Pennzoil car at Fuji Speedway and the acceleration of these machines is absolutely brutal, not to mention the noise!

Nismo won championships back to back in 1998 and 1999 with the RB26 engine, but switched to the more compact and lighter VQ engine in the midst of the 2002 season. This was a tough decision and there are interviews floating around of Nismo engineers (as well as competitors) being asked about their feelings on a Skyline GT-R not running a RB26 engine and having mixed feelings about it. Eventually the choice paid off as Nismo reclaimed the title in 2003 with the famous #23 Xanavi livery car.

Luckily for the fans there are still 5 JGTC GT500 class car running these beautiful engines and Nismo does a great job in keeping them in tip-top condition and regularly display them at Nismo Festival. Preparations for this year’s edition are already underway, so make sure not to miss it!

Until next time.