Sunday, August 18, 2019

Farilady Z Shakedown at Hakone Turnpike

After a rainy season that felt endless, the past couple of weeks have been nothing but summer blue skies and proper hot temperatures. Clear weather and a set of freshly scrubbed Michelin’s means it’s time to enjoy my Nismo Z for what I bought it: touring Japan’s best winding roads.

Last Saturday I set my alarm nice and early at 4:30AM with a clear plan in mind: drive from Tokyo all the way down the Izu Peninsula for a 400km plus round trip through the mountains and down the coast.

After beating the morning traffic on the Tomei Expressway I reached the true starting point of my itinerary: Hakone Turnpike. Source of inspiration for endless anime, video games and illegal drifting/street-racing, Hakone is widely regarded as one of the country’s best driving roads. 

And for good reason - the turnpike offers the typical out-of-a-movie Japanese scenery combined with a sequence of bends and turns that are a pure pleasure to drive in a sports car. Being privately owned, the tarmac surface, guardrail, signals and road markings are all kept in absolute perfect condition and offer, in true Japanese fashion, an incredibly smooth driving experience.

Whether you are pushing your car or just cruising through the bends, the drive is nothing short of fantastic. Reach the top at 1,011 meters and you’ll be rewarded with a view of the valley below, including Hashinoko Lake and Mount Fuji on the horizon.

This is an ideal place to put the Fairlady through its paces, although the overly conservative traction control kicks in more often than one would wish. The weight of the Z is definitely noticeable, as well as a slight loss in power due to the altitude and the exhausting summer heat. Nonetheless, I climbed the turnpike twice without any issue and I’m sure that the car would be way faster in more capable hands.

After a quick coffee stop to refresh and let the engine cool off a bit I headed towards the second stage of my itinerary - Izu Skyline.

Way longer than Hakone Turnpike (40 vs 15 kilometers), the Skyline leads through the mountains of the Izu Peninsula and connects Atami-touge to Amagi-kougen.

Besides a few stretches the road is considerably more twisty compared to Hakone and the lanes definitely narrower. As always, the impeccable Japanese manners shine through, with many drivers on slower cars pulling to the side to let you pass. As all sort of vehicles, including bikes, travel the road it’s important to keep in mind that this is not a circuit. Safety should always come first.

Eventually I reached the other end of the Skyline, almost at the bottom of the Peninsula. I then decided to park just to realize that, for some reason, the pearl white (or the heat) of the Z is a magnet for Japanese giant hornets! 

With a few of them plastered on my doors and bonnet I decided to steer clear and take a break. As funny as it might sound, if you have ever ran into one of these monsters you would probably share my decision.

Now, what are then chances of driving your 2008 Fairlday Z 130 kilometers away from Tokyo, park it on the top of a mountain, and run into a 1969 Farilday 2000? 

Very slim - one could say - but here I was standing in front of this example, built exactly 40 years before my car and looking absolutely fantastic. Despite not sharing much except the badge I couldn’t help but think how incredibly cool of a coincidence this was. 

After chatting with the owner for a bit it was time to get back on the road for the final stint of my trip. The drive down the coast to reach Shimoda is fun, but the closer you get to the beach the more the traffic intensifies. Nevertheless, it was great to reach the sea through the mountains; the diversity of sceneries that Japan can offer within a relatively small radius never ceases to amaze me.

Driving through these roads is both rewarding and inspiring at the same time. Cruising through Tokyo expressway at sunrise, sipping a hot coffee on top of Hakone Turnpike, the sweaty palms as you push the car through the tight bends of Izu Skyline all make the early morning rise well worth it. Looking forward to the next adventure.

Until next time.

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