Sunday, March 29, 2020

Touge Run & Aki’s BCNR33 Collection Day

After three weeks of working from home and not going out much last Sunday I decided to take a break and leave Tokyo for a day. 

While I usually organize my touring days around specific locations I want to visit, this time the plan was to simply drive as much as possible. Aiming to beat the morning traffic I reached the summit of Hakone Turnpike just a few minutes past 7AM!

Being so early there was absolutely no traffic and I barely ran into a couple of car during my first hill climb. After a quick walk around to stretch my legs I jumped back in the car and decided do it all over again and headed downhill for a second run.

During my second climb I decided to stop for a few photos (and really the only ones I would take during the trip) by the small parking lot halfway through the turnpike.

This is a popular location where many owners stop by to take photos of their cars or just chat. 

Mindful of not taking too long I decided to continue my trip and headed straight towards the Izu Skyline: 40.6 km of absolutely perfect tarmac and incredible sequences of bends and turns.This was easily one of the best drives of my life: besides being a lot more comfortable behind the wheel and (I feel) a much improved driver from a few years ago, the roads where absolutely empty.

I found myself on the south side (Amagi-kougen) of the skyline way faster than I thought. This time I did take a little break and caught up with a R35 owner who was coming from Shizuoka. Despite the age (he must have been in his late 50s) he surely didn’t hold back and I quickly lost him as he pulled away, including some very bold overtaking maneuvers that made me hold my breath a coupe of times! Will I ever see Aki do anything similar? 

Speaking of the devil, there was one specific reason why this time I didn’t indulge in sightseeing and headed back to Tokyo before lunch: we had an early afternoon meeting planned in Yokohama to pick something up. 

But first, lunch! I just recently rediscovered this amazing maguro-don and ramen place just in front of Tokyo bay.

This time I went for their “rich seafood” special ramen bowl. Just 1,000¥ and worth every single yen!

So, what was the meeting all about? This photo of me waiting in the parking area at Nismo (for over one hour) for Aki to show up might give you some clues.

Yes, Omori Factory is currently closed to the public, but when you enjoy VIP status like the grumpy old man there is no such a thing as “off limits”. As you might have guessed, it was delivery day for his BCNR33, as we headed inside a dark showroom - surreal!

After being abused by Aki’s kids for the best part of one hour as he was nerding out on the bespoke details that R33 Meister Morita-san had fitted on his car we were finally ready to go.

The more we went on the more it became clear why I was “invited” to the big event. After babysitting was over Morita-san called me outside to load some of the old man’s spare parts in my car. At least I could snap a photo of my car sitting next the Z-tune prototype - seeing it parked inside the workshop is always super special!

Back to Aki: it was finally time for delivery as Takasu-san drove his car out of the workshop. 

Finally reunited with his beloved R33, almost one year and one very thorough chassis refresh and underfloor restoration later: the smile says it all! 

As I was in charge of hauling his parts back I followed him on the expressway, where a few pulls clearly showed that the VQ35 is no match for a tuned RB26. Talk about cruising into the sunset...

One thing that surely is better on my Z though is the ETC reader as Aki’s one decided to stop working at the first toll booth, much to the irritation of the other drivers behind us.

A short 10 minutes drive later we were finally back at Aki’s freshly built new house where he is in the process of building the ultimate man cave. He’s not finished yet, so please excuse the boxes on the right. Ah, the a struggle...

We popped to bonnet (I was surprised by the huge amount of heat that came out) and, much to Aki’s satisfaction, the coveted Nismo plaque revealed itself in all its glory. 

Now the big question is: will he ever take it out for a shakedown?

Until next time.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Back Home - お帰り!

Time flies! It’s been a bit over nine months since I took delivery of my GT-R and during one of my visits in December Ochiai-san suggested that it was time to perform a small inspection to make sure that everything is holding up correctly. After all, this is a fully hand-built car and there is always a little margin for error or potential small imperfections that might arise as the car starts to break in. So, after waiting a few weeks for a spot to open, I was finally able to drop it off at Omori Factory for a check up and a bit of work to be done. 

I must admit that seeing the GT-R back where it was born, this time along with my Z, felt pretty special. Regular maintenance can really be performed anywhere and there are plenty of great shops and mechanics, but I like continuity, and who could be more qualified than the person who built the car in the first place? I think it also adds to the story and character of the car; living in Japan definitely has its perks.

So what needs to be done? Firstly we agreed on going through a small checklist (engine, chassis, transmission, etc) to make sure that the everything is holding up as the day it left the factory, as well as a mandatory engine oil change. Then it will be off to the paint shop (again, same shop where it was originally painted) to fix two small stone chips on the rear left arch fender cover and a tiny scratch on the side step that was done before delivery. 

Ochiai-san scolded me for letting dust sitting on the car as it could damage the paint, but luckily it was covered with Echelon glass coating and, after checking with the body shop, they assured me that a good wash and detail will bring back the original gloss shine. They will also re-apply a generous layer of Echelon for good measure. 

Lastly, I will have three parts fitted: one are the Nismo Multifunction Blue Mirrors (bling!) that were out of stock when I bought the car, while the other two should be finished in the coming weeks. I’ve been working on having these made for almost one year now - just a bit more patience! 

Omori Factory is currently closed to the public until March 18th due to the coronavirus. Without new cars coming in this should allow plenty of time to the staff to work with calm and I look forward to having the GT-R back just in time for spring.

Until next time.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Souvenir from Sodegaura

Last week I was browsing through Omori Factory blog and found a cool shot of me driving at Sodegaura during the last Circuit Lesson event in January. This time, instead of letting Morita-san loose behind the camera, they hired a professional photographer and it’s nice to have a proper photo to commemorate the day.

Speaking of track driving, I recently watched a fantastic video of Mark Webber cruising around Estoril that perfectly summarizes what Kageyama-san taught me (or rather tried to): smooth steering inputs, progressive clutch release during heel and toe and rapid yet gentle operation of the shift lever. Still a long way to go!

Until next time.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Lake Kawaguchi & Tatsumi

Final post of what has been pretty much a full coverage of my past weekend, but as I mentioned I fitted the GT Shift Knob planning to test it out over some long distance driving, so here we go.

I ended up hitting Hakone turnpike as a first, easy starting point. This time I was with female company, so opted for a cruise at moderate speed and enjoyed driving as smoothly as possible. The gear changes felt crisp and precise and the Z is just an awesome car to cover distance on the winding roads with. 

From Hakone we drove an additional 65 kilometers up north and headed towards Lake Lawaguchi. There was a bit of traffic, but as you can see from the opening photo it was all worth it; this place must look even better in summer!

We then headed to a famous local udon restaurant for lunch: the building was constructed using traditional Japanese techniques with no tiles or extra insulation in the roof. I love discovering little gems like this.

The whole town surrounding the lake is pretty much themed around Mt. Fuji, so did the spice and toothpick containers.

The food, as expected, was fantastic. I had cold soba with a side of braised pork and vegetable tempura.

Monday I took advantage of an extra day of national holiday (courtesy of the Emperor’s Birthday) to cruise around the C9 and explore new routes around Tokyo.

Tatsumi PA is the perfect spot, especially during late afternoon hours when lots of owners show up to take photos of their cars at sunset and enjoy the view of Tokyo skyline. 

I used to go a lot at night during weekends, but with the police cracking down on meetings and the generally louder audience I think I’m really starting to prefer earlier hours.

Thanks for stopping by today, I hope you enjoyed discovering new parts and aspects of Japan.

Until next time.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

One-off - The Perfect BNR34?

Ok, I promise this the last post for the week, but yesterday I ran into what is probably one of my favorite GT-R ever, so I had to blog about it. This particular car was hand built by Nismo in a unique specification many years ago, way before the CRS, and resides in southern Japan. It visits Omori Factory for shaken and maintenance every 2 years, so it's quite rare to see it in the flesh. 

I first ran into it when my car was being built: incredibly tasteful spec finished in Spark Silver Metallic with plenty of unique details and, most importantly, maintained to perfection. Looks like a Z-tune, but the V-spec sticker and R35 brakes say otherwise. To my knowledge this was one of the very few one-off built by Nismo before the CRS program. No photos of the engine bay were allowed, so this is all I can share, but I hope you enjoyed it.

Until next time.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

GT Shift Knob Fitted!

Well, that escalated quickly: I just posted this morning about the re-release of the Nismo GT Shift Knob and by late afternoon I ended up with one fitted on my Fairlady Z. So, how did it happen? 

As I wrote in my earlier post I was actually playing with the idea of dropping by Omori Factory to take a closer look. After a quick text from Ochiai-san confirming that they were already available I jumped in the car and cruised towards Yokohama. 

The current selection of cars on display is probably one of the best I have seen in recent times.

Especially the trio of Group C cars in matching liveries: epic. I guess they were on display to commemorate Nissan’s participation in the 24 Hours of Daytona as the 2020 edition took place just few weeks ago.

Back to the topic, believe it or not, this was one part that I was eagerly awaiting and a functional mod rather than just some Nismo bling. The shift feeling on the Z is already short and precise, but it’s incredible how much it can be improved with this part.

After all shifting is one of the main events that occur while driving and any improvement that can be made is well worth it. As I’m planning to drive over the long weekend (and wanted to avoid having to wait for restock in the future) I thought it’d make sense to just go ahead and buy it. I chose the titanium model and also bought one for the GT-R.

Fitting the knob is really a 5 minutes job, however the proper tools are needed and this is when Ochiai-san came to the rescue by lending me the necessary wrenches to get the trick done. 

It really only takes 2 tools, so I moved the car, lined them up and got to work.

Step 1: remove the OEM shift knob. All I had to do was firmly rotate it counterclockwise and it came off with no issues. Surprisingly it’s quite heavy (and a bit ugly)!

Step 2: fit the steel sleeve on the shift lever. Pretty self explanatory (why am I writing a tutorial?).

I tightened it up a bit, but to be honest it was already firmly in place once I bolted it on by hand.

Step 3: fit the knob. I just made sure that the vertical Nismo logo was in the right position and then proceeded to tighten the bolt with a hex wrench.

I then removed the protective film that was still in place on my brand new shifter surrounding which Ochiai-san had replaced a couple of weeks ago.

Along with the inner cover of the interior door handles - ah, the beauty of factory fresh OEM parts!

Step 4: fit the shift pattern sticker. This is mandatory and required in order to pass shaken (Japanese biannual roadworthiness test). The Fairlady requires the 10mm version of the knob, which comes with patterns for both 5 and 6 speed cars.

Done! I’m actually pretty surprised by how well I managed to fix this right in the perfect spot. 

The verdict? It was well worth it and a fun Saturday afternoon! The titanium feels great, the shifts are more rapid and precise and the lever is now just the perfect length. 

Looking forward to some long touring this weekend.

Until next time.