Sunday, December 29, 2019

Autumn Touring

Winter is here and it won’t be too long before the famous Japanese winding roads will be covered in snow and salt. Two weeks ago I felt obliged to make the most out of these final days and got up nice and early for a long drive.

My morning started out the right way as I found myself chasing a BNR34 before sunrise in the proximity of Hakone. The afterburner taillights, the iconic Bayside blue and Mt. Fuji in the background: can it get any better than this?

This time I reached the top of Hakone Turnpike so early that the sun was till rising from below the valley and through the morning mist.

After a much needed cup of coffee I just waited around a bit for the sky to clear up.

It didn’t take long before other owners began to show up at the top of the turnpike. The variety of the machinery makes wandering around the parking area always interesting.

I then jumped behind the wheel for the second leg of my trip and drove another 50 kilometers up north to reach lake Yamanakako. Waking up at 5AM on a Saturday is not easy, but definitely rewarding.

On my way back I decided to stop by Hakone Shrine - possibly one of the most famous locations in the area.

As much as I love Tokyo places like this offer a unique opportunity to unwind, away from the chaos of the city.

Early morning hours are definitely the best to visit places like this as they tend to get flooded by tourists towards noon, which inevitably spoils a bit of the experience.

This time I felt it was a good opportunity to buy a small amulet at the shrine; I picked up something for protection and well being - hopefully it will keep me safe during my long drives!

Before lunch I headed towards Yugawara-machi, a small town famous for its hot springs and waterfalls.

The local park is definitely worth a visit and the small waterfalls combined with the autumn foliage make for an incredible backdrop. 

It’s in situations like this that I really wonder if I should invest in a proper camera.

The only thing that holds me back is the fact that I will need to carry it with me at all times, since I often don’t really plan shootings but rather just take photos as the day unfolds.

Speaking of which, after over 3 hours behind the wheel and quite a bit of walking I started to get really hungry. I ended up visiting Momiji-tei, a very famous soba and tempura shop in Yugawara. Unfortunately they had ran out of soba, but I managed to get one of the very last tempura bowls they could make for the day.

With the roads noticeably more slippery than usual (especially before sunrise) and some areas already covered by a thin layer of ice this was probably my last outing to Hakone for the year. Time to look for some more FR-friendly roads for my next trip!

Until next time.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Holiday Mode: On

Happy holidays! I hope everybody is enjoying a well deserved break before we kick off a new decade. Personally I’ve been off since Friday afternoon and spent the last couple of days just relaxing in Tokyo.

On Friday afternoon I decided to head to Odaiba for a bit of shopping. Timing couldn’t have been more perfect as I reached to top of the parking lot in Divers City just in time for a fantastic sunset. 

I might have mentioned this before, but Toyota History Garage is a must stop if it’s your first time visiting the artificial island. Of course I had to indulge and take some photos of this 1971 Fairlady Z.

Today I headed to Minato Mirai - Yokohama’s most famous district, known for its incredible illuminations and amusement park.

The name literally translates as “Port of the Future” and used to be a shipyard a few decades ago. A big part of the waterfront area pays homage to its history and roots.

This part of Yokohama can get really crowded during the holidays, but luckily I could find parking within minutes.

Nissan Global HQ and the local Chinatown are both within a few minutes radius by train and I would definitely recommend visiting them as well if you are in the area.

I don’t have much planned for the coming days, but I look forward to catching up with a few posts here as well as taking advantage of the less crowded expressways.

Until next time.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

New BNR34 Parts Testing?

Yesterday I stopped by Omori Factory to quickly check about some parts I had on order for the Fairlady and just happened to run into the Z-tune prototype as it was about to leave the facility.

The car was loaded with diagnostic devices and wiring taped on the lower side of the body. Upon its return it quickly disappeared inside one of the two hidden bays at the very bottom of the workshop, which is where the cool stuff is kept away from curious eyes. What could it be? Not many new BNR34 parts were released in 2019 and hopefully something interesting is in the works for 2020.

After being announced at R’s Meeting in September the now famous LM GT4 in 19” were also on display at the showroom. Personally I’ve never been a fan of this upgraded size: it’s simply redundant and makes the car look funny (especially without upgraded R35 brakes), plus the almost flat shape of the spokes is a bit ugly in my opinion. 

Back to the original reason behind my visit, looks like the interior refresh of my Fairlady will have to wait until January: all the parts have arrived and now we just need to pin a date. With Christmas around the corner I couldn’t help it and indulged in a bit of shopping. 

This was my last visit to Omori Factory for the year as the workshop will close on December 26th for a well deserved holiday break.

Until next time.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Why I Love Blogging - Stills of Tokyo Life

Sometimes I am surprised at the fact that, four years in, I am still regularly writing on this platform. Over time I have planned in advance some posts or went out of my way to cover topics of public interest, but days like this remind me why I started in the first place.

Today I had absolutely no plans to take photos, nor to blog: it was just another regular Monday in Tokyo and I am running on fumes as we wrap up the year. But I so just happened to find myself in Ginza for a late afternoon meeting and was, as always, captivated by its bright lights and unique architecture - a perfect blend of old and new.

And as I was walking towards the station I inevitably passed through the famous Ginza Yonchome crossing, which has been home of Nissan’s most prestigious showroom since 1963. This is the same corner where Nissan Crossing is located today.

Ginza is a location close to my heart as I remember visiting the old Nissan building in 2007 and literally stumbling into my first encounter with a JGTC machine - a Fairlady Z GT500 racer that was on display at the time.

A R35 GT-R is really not a rare sight anymore, especially in Japan. However, this very red (actually Vibrant Red) MY20 GT-R caught my attention for a different reason.

It was a bit like a flashback and reminded me of the surprise, over 10 years ago, of seeing the crazy aero and red Motul livery of the Z appearing out of nowhere in the midst of Tokyo’s luxury district. 

This was before Google maps and YouTube took over, a time where the only way to find Tokyo’s hidden secrets was to get out and walk or talk with the locals.

Everything has been said and written about the R35, but is still a very mighty machine with a unique road presence. Personally I am a fan of more metallic paint finishes, but this hue is a good nod at Nissan racing colors (and the same reason why the Z-tune interior is finished in red alcantara).

The theme was also echoed upstairs, with the Leaf Nismo RC finished in the new scheme introduced for the 2020 season. A similar car was also on display last weekend during Nismo Festival at Fuji Speedway.

The interior has been heavily criticized, and perhaps rightly so, but who has ever bought a GT-R for its interior finish?

The only criticism that I really have to make is the steering wheel, or better, the huge badge placed right in the middle of it. For some reason I think it would look better without it, or maybe with something more subtle.

Other than that I think the finish on the post 2017 facelift model look pretty good considering the price/performance point of the car.

Nissan Crossing is also an interesting place for those interested in getting up and close with rare concept cars, like the Ariya that was presents at Tokyo Motor Show in November. Rumors are that the GT-R50 by Italdesign is due to make an appearance in January.

Despite the photos above I must have spent no longer than 10 minutes at the showroom, just before a nice lady notified me (in perfect English) that they were about to close. I thanked them for their time and kept strolling down Ginza.

And since I was close enough I thought that a quick detour towards Tsukiji for some sushi could be a great way to wrap up the day.

While sitting down at one of my favorite spots I started to go through my photos and decided to write this very post while eating dinner.

You won’t find any rare R34 photo or unheard Nismo story today, but impromptu posts like this are the very reason why I love blogging: unfiltered Tokyo life from the eyes of a guy who just love cars and Japan.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Nismo Festival 2019

Those of you familiar with Nismo Festival might have noticed that this is an event that doesn’t tend to change much. And rightly so. It’s a tradition, a celebration of all things Nissan/Nismo, and sights like the one below are what the day is all about. 

Driving towards Fuji Speedway on a crisp early winter morning is just a pleasure, and running into fellow GT-R and Nismo cars owners the closer you get to the circuit just adds to the sense of occasion. I chased this beautiful M-spec Nür on the last leg of my trip, just to end up parking next to it!

Call me a man of habit, but a nice cup of coffee and this view are more than a good reason to warrant a 5AM early rise on a Saturday morning.

While the event has stayed the same, certain things have changed. I remember making my first trip years ago and spending the day by myself; as time has passed I have connected and met with so many people (including blog readers) that this year I barely had a couple of hours to check out the cars.

I made my early morning visit to the pits with my South African friend Graham. Hearing these machines waking up on a cold start and watching Nismo racing mechanics preparing them for hot laps is always an experience.

Not all cars run and some are just brought for display. Nonetheless, I’ve been told that almost 100% of them are pretty much in working condition and could easily race after proper maintenance.

It was great to see again the Nürburgring 24 hours R35 GT3 with its Kenwood livery. Earlier this year I saw this very car racing in anger on the Nordschleife during one of the coolest experiences of my life.

The organizers also never neglect older models and, while these are cars that I’m not too familiar with, it’s great to see them out as they probably spend most of their time at Nissan DNA Garage in Zama.

As much as the Festival is a celebration of the past, Nismo always makes sure to let fans know that it’s well projected into the future.

Thanks to my friend Justin’s kindness I was also able to get up and close with the soon to be released GT-R50 by Italdesign, which seemed to have pissed Aki off beyond imagination. The old man was smirking and flashing his VIP pass from far away, while hanging in the off-limit area and I could almost hear the “crack” his heart made the exact moment he saw me crossing the rope. 

In all fairness he eventually made it up and introduced me to fellow Italian, and one of leading member of the GT-R50 project, Andrea. Great guy and a long time R34 fan (another smack in the old man’s face!).

Once I parted ways with my new friend I headed towards the Omori Factory stand to chat with Takasu-san and Nagatsuru-san, while showing Aki’s friends around and walking them through the hidden details of the CRS demo cars.

This also turned out to be another refreshing experience because, unlike Mr. OCD, they both proved that R33 owners are actually very nice guys! Along with them I also met with fellow BNR34 owner and blog reader Neill, who rented a R35 to drive to the Festival! There was plenty to see at the booth, but this will have to wait for a dedicated post.

Once Aki decided that he had enough of mixing with regular paying peasants and climbed back up in his ivory VIP lounge I was free to roam around and check out the various exhibitors. 

Nothing really new here, but one addition to this year’s edition was the introduction of a small Tuner Time Attack session, where the likes of HKS and Top Secret took over Fuji Speedway for the fastest lap. You are looking at a combined 2,400ps in this photo alone.

And it didn’t take long before I’d run into another friend, this time was fellow Z33 Nismo Version owner Nitta-san, who also regularly maintain his rare Premium Passion Orange Fairlady at Omori Factory. He had participated in the Z Challenge exhibition race earlier in the morning.

As a Fairlady owner I’ve found myself becoming increasingly curious about the history of the model. The BCNR33 made Midnight Purple famous, but not everybody knows that it was an optional color available also for the 300ZX.

Global Auto was, as always, present with their Z-tune/400R combo. Interestingly, quite a few people have approached me asking about my opinion on the recent #15 Midnight Purple III respray. All that counts is that the owner is happy, but for me: KY0 all the way!

Colors are a pure matter of personal taste and, as you can see from Yashio Factory choice for their drift cars there is really no right or wrong. Or is it?

With the day slowly unwinding I moved over the main stand side of the track, where GT-R Magazine had set-up a pretty cool display for owners to take photos.

The parking area didn’t lack quality nor depth and, honestly, Nismo Festival almost makes R’s Meeting redundant as the number and variety of owner’s cars is incredibly vaste.

Ironically, most of the cars that are celebrated at Nismo Festival are long out of production. Nonetheless, there is definitely a huge commercial aspect to an event like this, and every year Nissan makes sure to display it latest models in the hopes that GT-R owners will stay loyal to the brand once the for need a more sensible family car will come up.

The R35 is now infamously 12 years old, but I must admit that the new Wangan Blue looks great. I’m sure the new GT-R wouldn’t look as good in the original Bayside Blue: it’s crazy how small differences in the paint can change the look of a car.

On this table there was comparisons display between the upgraded parts on the GT-R Nismo MY2020. The carbon-ceramic rotors look absolutely gargantuan next to the already massive steel ones!

With the sun slowly setting over the circuit I then headed towards the main stand for the final part of the day and the closing ceremony. 

2019 wasn’t particularly successful for Nissan, both in business and in motorsport, but I’m confident that 2020 will be better.

Old friends, new friends, the best GT machines in the world and the most incredible backdrop of any racing circuit on the planet. Sure, Nismo Festival hasn’t changed much over the past few years, but - as they say - if it’s not broken...

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.