Thursday, June 20, 2019

Shutoku Encounters and More Zondas

One of my goals for 2019 was to spend more time enjoying the car hobby and, as we are halfway through the year, I can say that I’ve been true to my resolution. The CRS is back home and (almost) complete, I finally bought the Fairlady Z and I’m off to the Nürburgring for the 24 hours race this week; these were the three big-ticket items that I just had to to this year. On the side, however, I’ve been able to enjoy the smaller bits and pieces of car culture that make driving and owning a car in Japan so unique.

Starting with finally driving again around Tokyo and stopping at the famous parking areas on the Shutoku Expressway. As simple as its, driving on the perfectly smooth roads while taking in the view of Tokyo bay and its iconic skyline is just a great way to spend half an afternoon. 

On a sunny day there won’t be shortage of interesting cars and the owners are always cool and open to chat. I’m not a huge fan of driving through traffic, but on the right day nothing beats a lap around the C1.

Another unique aspect of Tokyo car culture is just how easy it is to run into some of the rarest cars on the planet. Japanese are great collectors, but they do take their rides out, or sometimes even display them to the public, which is exactly what Yusaku Maezawa (a Japanese billionaire and art collector) did with his Pagani Zonda “Zozo”.

Yes, I just love the Zonda so much that I had to go and see this car in person. Visually is not too different from the other Zonda 760 that I wrote about in a previous post, albeit it’s finished in an unique shade of purple that really compliments the lines of the car.

Purple is one of my favorite colors, yet an incredibly difficult one to get right when it comes to painting cars. This very Zonda was one of the sources of inspiration that I used to formulate the hue for the details of my CRS. Although they look different from certain angles, I studied how this color behaves and responds to light as this is the number one factor that ultimately affects how purple looks in real life.

Getting the right shade while eliminating the presence of the red/maroon sheen often produced by color shift paint was a bit of a headache, but also one of the most enjoyable parts of the project as I could give full input on the direction. The other challenge was to engineer the color in powder coat paint to prevent it from darkening due to heat cycles. The Zonda was the main inspiration when it came to hide touches of purple on the car: this is something where you really don’t want to overdo things.

Other than that, the past couple of weeks I have been busy preparing for my Nürburgring trip and just enjoying summer in Tokyo.

I made sure to hit a restaurants before I’ll leave, as much as I look forward to indulging in German food I will miss my local sushi spot.

Can you think of a better excuse for a last visit before leaving? I couldn't.

And that’s it for this month: I’ll be off to Europe soon and look forward to documenting my trip!

Until next time.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Rookie Mistake

If you have read my previous post you probably noticed the visible cracks on the (original) Bridgestone tires that my Fairlady was delivered with. A quick knock on the tire wall would confirm that the rubber had basically turned into plastic. In circumstances like this common sense would suggest either immediate replacing or to cover absolutely minimal distance before the worst will happen. And so I thought I did, but you can probably guess where this is going.

While I did enjoy a couple of drives around the Shutoku loop and a few stops at Tatsumi, I really did keep the distance covered to a minimum and at very moderate speed. During my visit at Omori Factory I enquired right away about tire replacement and new wheels (I really don’t like the stock Rays), but after a few weeks of wait I was told that the Rays TE37 SL that I wanted to order wouldn’t become available until October. Sure, I could have just bought new tires first and then swap the rubber, but as I planned to upgrade the front size this would have meant buying a set of new fronts again just after few months. 

The TE37 SL also weren’t my first choice of wheel as what I really wanted was long out of production. In short I was about to spend quite a bit of money and time just to settle with something that I wasn’t really convinced with in the first place. And so I took a few days to think my options over and paid a visit to Nismo Performance Center in search of alternatives when, on my way back and just a few kilometers from home, the steering wheel started to vibrate in a way that surely wasn’t normal. I knew right away what had happened and pulled over.

My front left tire had literally crumbled under the weight of the car, forcing me to stop in the middle of a pretty dangerous junction on the expressway. Both the police and highway patrol arrived right away and let’s just say that they weren’t exactly stoked to see me and my car “parked” in such an unsafe place. From there, however, the famous Japanese efficiency took over: the highway patrol towed my car to the nearest exit and just 20 minutes later a flatbed provided by my insurance company showed up.

Yes, I should have known better, but the most important thing is that nobody got hurt and the car was left unscathed. The following weekend the insurance company offered to deliver my car to NPCT where Yamada-san and Yamazaki-san got to work right away with their usual professionalism in front of some amused customers.

Oh well, it’s a lesson learned for the future and, for once, there was a silver lining: not only this gave me the perfect opportunity to put the car through its first serious maintenance cycle, but, in an incredible turn of events I also managed to come across something special.

The car will be ready just in time for my return from the Nürburgring. Where should I take it for the first proper shakedown?

Until next time.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Fairlady Z Ver. Nismo Delivery

Right after Golden Week I also took delivery of my new Fairlady Z Version Nismo. That’s two cars in two weeks: you can look at it as the poor man’s version of those YouTubers who pick up thier new Ferrari in a McLaren.

The Version Nismo sports a series of modifications over the standard Z33: extra spot welding to stiffen the chassis carried by Autech, Yamaha performance dampers, Nismo suspension arms and S-tunes, larger brakes, revised aero all around and the more refined, higher-reviving VQ-HR engine.

Just like with the GT-R, I followed my instinct over the spec sheet: sure there are “better” cars out there, but this one does it for me. In every day, real life situation it has enough power to deliver plenty of fun on normal roads and, most importantly, it’s an easy car to drive and own.

I touched on this point before: I wanted something that I could jump in and drive anytime, anywhere with peace of mind. A great sign that I picked up the right car is that discovering small scratches and parts that need replacing didn’t bother me anywhere as close as it did with the GT-R. I remember the excruciating pain of finding out swirl marks and small dents on my BNR34 (pre-CRS transformation), while with the Z all it provoked was a shoulder shrug.

Due to the incredible high volume of units produced and the relatively younger age of the car parts availability won’t be an issue for many, many years to come, and all the expertise I need to maintain the car in perfect shape is just a drive away from Omori Factory or Nismo Performance Center Tokyo. With only 19,000km on the odometer the car is very low mileage, but, as often is the case, it was neglected a bit and will need a full fluid change and some parts to be replaced before I can enjoy it with peace of mind. The tires especially are the original Bridgestone Potenza RE that the car was delivered with: dangerous!

For the sake of safety I had to hold off from taking it out for a proper test drive. As I’m leaving for the Nürburgring next week time has also been limited, so my experience so far has been restricted to quick visits to Super Autobacs and Tatsumi PA. As always there is no shortage of cool car encounters on the Shutoko Expressway.

I did venture once all the way to Omori Factory to show the car to the guys. The overall verdict was a thumb up, although the car could have been cared for a bit better. Oh well, I’ll take care of it from now on!

For the past month, along with the original Pennzoil R34, the Xanavi Z from 2007 was on display at the showroom. It’s so cool to see the racing version of your own road car, especially when it looks like something out of a videogame.

My Nürburgring trip couldn’t come at a better time: the monsoon season is almost in full swing and we just enjoyed the last few days of clear skies before the rain. After over a year without the GT-R I missed driving around Tokyo so badly and tried to make the most out of the early summer weather.

I have a lot planned for the Fairlady and look forward to exploring the best winding roads and circuits that Japan has to offer with it.

Until next time.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

BNR34 V-spec II Nür - Clubman Race Spec

And finally the day came, after a couple of last minute road bumps I received the much anticipated phone call telling me that the car was ready. I thought long and hard about how to approach this post: what do you write when you take delivery of your childhood dream car after it has been rebuilt to your exact specification? 

Should you write a summary of the build process? List the technical details? Or maybe go sentimental and talk about turning dreams into reality? To be honest I wasn’t really sure, but I do remember taking the train and walking to Omori Factory for one last time. After all the past visits it didn’t feel particularly special, yet it had a sense of occasion.

Before I go any further I owe a huge thank you to everybody at Omori Factory for their hospitality, friendship and infinite patience. A sensible approach to a project like this would be to spec your build, pay a deposit and maybe make a couple of changes along the way. My original spec consisted of a simple respray and Nismo aero kit, just to eventually snowball into a project where the frame, a few interior panels and windows are all that’s left of the original car. This unorthodox step-by-step approach demanded an amount of visits, phone calls, photo exchanges, samples, late night texts and sheer man-hours that I am ashamed of and I can’t thank them enough for allowing me to do so while coping with the million changes of direction. I vowed to never do it again.

When I arrived they were still busy finishing the pre-delivery inspection and removing some of the wraps. After spending about 30 minutes going through paperwork and warranty we moved inside the workshop. I did see the car 98% complete just few weeks prior, but this time it was sitting in front of me in its final state.

Yes, some of you guessed it: it’s grey - it had to be. From the launch version of the Lamborghini Murciélago LP640-4 to the 350Z and Mitsubishi Evo VIII FQ-400, all the way to the Zonda 764 Passione and the original BNR34 Clubman Race Spec, this is a color that seems to recur on all my favorite cars. 

In my opinion, it’s the perfect hue to compliment the lines of the R34 and has a beautiful hand painted finish that makes each car unique. The paint shop was the only place I wasn’t allowed to, but thank you, S-san, I wish I could have seen you at work.

I recollect taking delivery of my GT-R in its stock form 4 years ago and looking at it as a blank canvas from day one. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, but it took a long time to define which direction to take. One thing I was adamant to avoid was drawing inspiration from other road-going GT-Rs. Even the incredibly special Z-tune was built over a decade ago following a very defined philosophy: surely iconic, but not my car, so why trying to make a copy of it?

Obviously I had to start from a base, and that was the Clubman Race Spec tuning concept. The ever-evolving ethos of the program seemed to perfectly fit my desire to build something personal that didn’t have to conform to the strict guidelines of complete cars. The only restriction I posed on the project was that every single modification, no matter how small, had to be carried out at Omori Factory and approved by Nismo.

And so I started to slowly come up with ideas. Technology, for example: parts finish and assembly have come a long way since my GT-R left Tochigi assembly plant in 2002. Are there ways to incorporate modern production techniques on a BNR34? How much of the R35 finish can be carried over?

Another recurring topic on this blog is my fascination for craftsmanship and bespoke: I hinted about this on previous posts as well as during my recent encounter with the Zonda Kiryu. Does a spartan car like the R34 Skyline GT-R allow for a bit of creativity and some unconventional choices?

Can artisans turn old OEM parts designed two decades ago into unique accents without making them look out of place?

I also wanted to celebrate my original V-spec II Nür: I owned the car for 4 years and, after a ground-up restoration and tuning process, it was now off to a new life. I thought it would be something worth commemorating.

But most importantly, I wanted to honor a place and group of people that not only I become close to on a personal level, but also sparked my imagination as a kid, partially influencing the course of my life as I ended up moving to Japan.

Being able to visit the factory and document every step of the process was really the icing on the cake and eventually made the car what it is today. Perhaps it took away a bit of the “wow” effect of finally seeing the end result, but made for an incredible experience that I will treasure forever.  

In this sense, I have to admit that taking delivery came with a slightly bittersweet feeling, as it meant the end of such an enjoyable experience.

Nonetheless, it feels great to have the GT-R back and now that the bulk of the project is complete I can spend time planning small (or not so small?) upgrades for the future. The Nür spec 20th anniversary is coming up in 2022 after all...

Truth is that I am actually still waiting for three parts: one has received the green light and is currently in production, while the final verdict on the other two will come in a few weeks. As a result the car will probably be back at Omori Factory around June, and since I’ll be at the Nürburgring during that time it will likely be on display at the showroom for a while. Hopefully somebody will be able to spot it!

A huge thank you goes again to all the people at Nismo and Omori Factory involved in the project, I will make sure to enjoy the car the way it was meant to and will take great care of it. A big thanks also goes to all of you who have stopped by sharing interest and words of appreciation, I hope that reading this blog will get you a bit closer to Japan.

And so, after loading the trunk with all the spares boxes and documents, I was finally handed the keys. I hopped into the ultra tight Recaro and did the only right thing to do: ditched the trailer and bubble wrap and blasted towards the expressway, direction Tokyo bay.

Or so I though, because 15 minutes into the most exhilarating drive of my life my phone started ringing - “please come back, I’m not sure we tightened the last two bolts of the front under spoiler!”. Yep, hand-built.

Until next time.

P.s. Yes, I did go back and, you guessed, of course the bolts were tightened!