Monday, May 27, 2019

Fairlady Z Update & Supra Launch Event

Besides taking delivery of my GT-R, in the past couple of weeks I’ve been busy with a few trips to Prostock Racing to finalize the registration of my Fairlady Z.

Believe me, the amount of paperwork necessary to register a car and parking space in Japan is absolutely shocking. Luckily I went through this process already once, so this time I was able to dodge unnecessary hiccups. And customer cars, like this Mine’s tuned BNR34 in Midnight Purple III, helped killing time during my visits.

Summer is just around the corner and I’m excited to have both cars; hopefully I’ll be able to enjoy them before going to Europe later next month. In the meantime I decided to make a quick stop in Odaiba (a big artificial island in Tokyo Bay) to check out an event.

And the event was none other than the launch of the new Supra in Japan! Yes, I previously criticized the car for being almost identical to the BMW Z4, but I have to tip my hat off to Toyota for organizing something cool and original.

While most launches are usually very sedated and corporate-looking, Toyota decided to take a much fresher route and finally acknowledge the elephant in the room by displaying a selection of tuned cars and racers that truly contributed to make the Supra the icon it is today.

Some of these cars barely looked street legal, but it’s great to see a large manufacturer finally acknowledging aftermarket tuning. After all, who knows anybody who thinks that a stock Supra looks cool?

Some of the cars were even owned by Toyota factory racers, like Max Orido's famous “Ridox Supra”.

The A80 Supra was clearly the main star of the event, but there were also a few older models on display. 

Unlike the GT-R family tree, the difference in styling between the different generation of Supras is quite remarkable.

There were also a few historic JGTC racers; if you have played Gran Turismo at least once you are probably shedding a tear too.

Can it get any more nostalgic than this? The silhouettes, the liveries, the decals: these are the perfect GT machines in my opinion.

Lastly, I visited Omori Factory to book a maintenance check for the Z. With only 19,000km on the odometer the car has been largely unused for most of its life and will need a bit of love before it can be enjoyed with peace of mind.

Could this be the start of a cool little project? Maybe a Fairlady Z CRS? We’ll see. In the meantime I was shown one of the many boxes full of parts that came out of my GT-R. Talk about a nut and bolt restoration! 

Stay tuned for the reveal post coming on June 1st!

Until next time.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Finding Inspiration - Zonda 760 Kiryu

So, what else happened over Golden Week? Besides picking up my GT-R (post coming up on June 1st) I just had to get up and close with what I consider the ultimate expression of automotive craftsmanship: the Pagani Zonda.

The R34 might have stolen my heart forever, but putting sentimental value aside for a moment, nothing quite compares to the share presence and sculpture of this car.

Long term readers of this blog will be familiar with my passion/obsession for hand-made, and the ethos behind Pagani is the perfect embodiment of all the things I love when it comes to craftsmanship and attention to detail.

The imperceptible irregularities, the hand stitching, the small variations on one-off parts never produced before are not to be mistaken with flaws in any way. Quite the opposite, they blow life into what would otherwise be a rather unanimated object.

Cars like these exude an aura of their own and they have to be seen in real life to be truly appreciated.

Owned by Pagani Japan, this particular model is the Zonda Kiryu (“Kiryu - 希竜” roughly translates as “rare dragon” in Japanese); a complete bespoke project based on the 760 series, which is the final, most extreme evolution of the Zonda. The car was unveiled during a special event at Fuji Speedway in 2016.

It’s said that Horacio Pagani personally specced this car himself, choosing a combination of naked and blue tinted carbon highlighted by matte anodized details all over the body. 

At a time when everybody seems to endlessly chase Nürburgring lap times and claims for the title of “fastest this” and “lightest that”, Pagani preferred to take a less travelled route, and a way more fascinating one in my opinion.

While these cars are incredibly sound from an engineering and mechanical point of view, Pagani was never interested by outright performances. However, he was rather intrigued by Leonardo Da Vinci’s quote that say “Art and science can walk hand in hand”. The smallest part, down to every single nut and bolt had to be not only functional to the highest standard, but also beautiful.

Today the Zonda is a 20 years old car that, even in 760 spec, is likely outperformed by entry-level supercars at a fraction of the (multi-million dollar) cost. However, owners appreciate them for delivering the ultimate driving and ownership experience. Numbers are not everything after all.

In 2016 I was able to meet the Mr. Pagani himself during the very first owner’s meeting in Japan. The event culminated with his birthday party held at Gonpachi in Nishiazabu and, believe it or not, we are born on the same day! How many people can say that they crashed Horacio Pagani’s birthday on their own birthday? That was actually the line I used to introduce myself.

My interest for the Zonda dates as back as my passion for the R34, and while many might laugh at the comparison, I think they share a few things in common. Albeit in their own distinct universes they are both cars that, 20 years on, just seem to keep endlessly evolving and living on.

Sure, you won’t find any blue ostrich-leather in the interior, or tinted carbon fiber air snorkel on the roof of my GT-R, but the Zonda was that one car that more then others inspired and influenced the ethos behind my build. Actually, now that I think about it, they do share one very similar component: can you guess which one?

Until next time.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Golden Week - Super GT Round 2

Golden Week is a period of consecutive holidays that falls between late April and early May, allowing people to enjoy one of the longest breaks of the year. 2019 is actually even longer than normal thanks to the new Imperial transition. As per motorsport tradition, it’s during this week that round 2 of the Super GT series takes place at Fuji Speedway.

To some of my friend’s amusement, attending this event is a small tradition of mine: a day spent trackside watching the best GT racing in the world, enjoying spring weather and Mount Fuji - I’ll take it! The problem with this year’s race is that the weather wasn’t very nice. At all.

I arrived at the circuit in the morning, greeted by clear skies and a nice breeze, grabbed some tempura soba at the restaurant and enjoyed the Porsche Cup sprint race that leads to the main event; everything seemed to go according to plans. 

However, by the time the cars were lined up on the grid, clouds had arrived and rain started to drizzle on the track. Fuji tends to be quite unpredictable when it comes to weather, but the main takeaway here is that things can get nasty very quickly. 

Few minutes into the race a full blown storm was upon the circuit and, after a few laps under safety car, officials eventually decided to call for a red flag and a temporary stop. Talk about timing. Eventually the race resumed, but strong wind combined with a significant drop in temperature made the whole event a lot less enjoyable.

So I decided to move to the more sheltered area behind the main stands, where a few cool cars were on display, starting with this McLaren 720S GT3. 

Very impressive piece of machinery and this particular model was chassis nr.3 that left the customer racing division in Woking. A sister model is currently competing in the GT300 class.

Nissan and Nismo were obviously also present, but there wasn’t much worth to look at besides the new 2019 GT-R in Wangan Blue, this time without the horrendous white stripe: definitely a much better look.

The Lexus stand definitely had the most impressive cars on display. 

The LC500 test mule car is incredible to look at, especially in naked carbon. I am no composite material expert, but the construction on these cars seems to be on the same level as Le Mans prototypes and Formula 1 machines.

The true surprise though, was the LFA parked next to it; and not just “any” LFA, but on of the 50 final Nürburgring Edition in existence.

Finished in the signature orange bespoke for this model the car features a series of upgrades compared to the standard model: 10 extra hp, improved aero, a carbon fixed wing and lighter, race-spec forged Enkei wheels.

It is said that, despite the $375,000 sticker price, the LFA was sold at a loss by Lexus and it’s not difficult to see why. The quality of the carbon construction, the materials and overall finish is a perfect representation of the finest Japanese craftsmanship.

And so, after roaming around the track for a bit longer, I decided to beat the traffic (or at least try to) and left a bit earlier, but not without picking up a few magazines.

Not the day that I hoped for, but sometime you just have to make the most out of it.

Until next time.

Monday, May 6, 2019

New Project Car

Four years ago, shortly after buying my BNR34, the desire for a second car kicked in pretty much right away. I am not going to adventure into the eternal debate of “should you drive the wheels off of your dream car or not”, but I have always looked at the GT-R as that old bottle of Japanese whisky that you open on special occasions. The second car project is something I mentioned about a few times in the past and, along with finishing up the GT-R at Omori Factory, was one of my resolutions for 2019. 

My search started about two years ago, when I began to play with the (short lived) idea of buying another BNR34. I thought this would be a cool choice for somebody who runs a blog named after the model, but quickly realized that it wouldn’t really add anything new to what I have already experienced. The BNR32 and BCNR33 are also too similar and too old to be enjoyed with peace of mind, while the mighty R35 lacks that third pedal and shift lever that I love so much. Other JDM classics like Supra, Evo, Impreza, S2000, etc. haven’t really aged too well in my opinion and, while I always appreciated them, were never cars that I truly desired to own.

Personally I tend to become attached to things: I’d rather own a few selected items that are truly mine and bespoke than flipping through a lot of stuff and never build a real connection with it. This is something that I have found especially true with cars, which is why buying a model that I truly wanted was my single number one priority as, like with the GT-R, it will be a car that I’ll keep forever. Decent power, a manual transmission and reliability were the three other “must” items on my list, which further narrowed the search to very few cars available today.

There is one car, however, that back in 2002 caught my imagination more than others. On the same year when Nissan announced the end of production of my beloved BNR34, they launched a two-seater with captivating, modern lines, a torquey 300ps V6 and, most importantly, a very reasonable price point and a global market release: the Fairlady Z (or 350Z for us Europeans). The Z quickly became my realistic “dream” car at that time, as I spent the next 2-3 years reading favorable reviews on Evo Magazine and watched it capturing two series title in JGTC and Super GT. Priced around €30,000 and with a design that clearly broke away from the late 90’s boxy Japanese looks, it was something that normal kids like me could really see themselves owning one day.

Today the standard Fairlady Z looks a bit dated and rough around the edges, but in 2007/2008, Nismo (through Autech) grabbed a few hundred models, stiffened the chassis with extra spot welding, fitted the newest and better performing VQ-HR engine, a set of Yamaha dampers, Nismo suspensions and an aero kit with a generous front splitter and rear wing that, when matched with a nice set of wheels, makes the car look incredibly good.

The Fairlady Z Nismo Version was released in limited numbers only in Japan and US; being built at the very end of the Z33 lifecycle it was basically the most refined version of the model and, besides the extra tuning, contained all the improvements made over the years. I know, some of you might be disappointed for it being “just a Z”, but reality is that the Nismo Version is probably faster than a stock BNR34 on most circuits. Besides, I do really like it and it has all the qualities to become the perfect Japan tourer and occasional track-day companion.

Being naturally aspirated and rear wheel drive the Z also offers a fairly different experience from the BNR34 and, from a design point of view, I think it looks fantastic: definitely better than the 370Z or - here I dare saying it - the new Supra. It’s also a robust car that given its production numbers is very easy to maintain. And while it might have ended up as a cheap “beater” overseas, in Japan the Z enjoys a good following, so much so that Omori Factory is still releasing parts and tuning menus for it, as well as supporting a one-make series named “Z Challenge”. 

I ran into a few models at Nismo Festival and Omori Factory and had the opportunity to check the car up and close before making up my mind. The final bit of news is that, after months of looking around, few weeks ago I ran into the perfect example: an unmolested, 19,000km model and pulled the trigger right away. A quick drive around the block confirmed my suspicion that, as always, the internet experts have been too harsh in slamming it as “old and unrefined”: sure, it’s not a modern 911, but it delivers a nice lower torque range punch, looks great and it’s a ton of fun! More importantly, it’s a car that can be enjoyed with peace of mind and looks like the perfect match for my GT-R. The only question is: will I resist the temptation and leave it stock, or should I add my own touch as I did with the R34? Let me know your thoughts and stay tuned!

Until next time.