Sunday, August 30, 2020

Midnight Cruising

Midnight Cruising - this was the title of a Japanese blog I used to follow over 15 years ago when I was still living in Italy. The author was a master builder of Tamiya scale models and used the platform to document the progress of his projects - I remember an incredible build of the 2003 Xanavi Nismo GT-R. One day he had enough and just simply shut the blog down, everything was gone overnight. I wonder what he’s doing now.

Tokyo, 00:03 AM - I just came back from a night cruise in the CRS around the bay area and a quick stop at Tatsumi after fitting the new parts (thanks, Occhy!). I ran into a guy with a camera who later sent me some nice shots of the car. I rarely post photos that are not mine, but the hell with it - they look awesome.

Another hot summer night in Japan and I’m now back home, sipping on what is probably one too many glasses of white wine. What a time to be alive: the world is literally upside down, I haven’t seen my family in over a year, work is hectic like never before and we hang on anything we can to savour a glimpse of normal life.

Yet I can’t help but look back and smile, realize how all the dots connect in the end. 15 years have gone by so fast. Coming here at 21, getting lost somewhere in Tokyo, no smartphones, no Google maps. Just stop a stranger and ask - you’ll get home. Late nights ramen in a dark alley, God knows where. 

It’s late, still very hot, but there is a light breeze. Life is a crazy ride - drive your car.

Until next time.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Created with Art and Passion

Visited Pagani again few weeks ago - I just couldn’t help it. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing comes closer to the definition of art on wheels than these cars; you just have to see it in person to fully understand.

The words in the title can actually be found on a plaque inside almost every Zonda that left the Pagani atelier in San Cesario sul Panaro, Italy. 

Yes, there is a lot of carbon and other fancy materials, but the hand-made finish is what really sets these cars apart - something that is very hard to come by in the automotive world today.

I have come to appreciate all of it even more after visiting the Pagani factory last summer: this is the definition of handmade at its finest and, without drawing any dumb comparison, the ethos I embrace in everything I do with my own car.

My total lack of mechanical skills does not allow me to have any input on technical topics, plus DIY mods without proper R&D are usually a bad idea, unless you enjoy undoing your own damage. So, for anything of that nature I gladly leave it to the pros and luckily I couldn’t be in a better place.

But for everything else I absolutely love taking the creative side in my hands - something I obsess to no end about. And with shaken and maintenance coming up in March I have started thinking...

Until next time.



Until next time.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

CRS Drive & Engine Bay Detailing

As I mentioned in my previous post, between maintenance at Omori Factory and PPF application it took over 3 months to get the GT-R back. Finally time for a long overdue drive! All was well in the world until I realized just how much dust can accumulate in the engine bay after a mere few kilometers of gentle driving. As you can guess this triggered my OCD beyond imaginable levels, but let’s start from the beginning.

First of all - yes, I don’t drive the GT-R as much, but I have always maintained that it’s about the experience rather than the quantity (or the price tag). With the Fairlady on touring and track duty I can enjoy the CRS on the smooth and debris free highways around Tokyo bay. I know it may not sound like a lot, but trust me, driving this thing in its natural habitat turns everything up to eleven. Who knows, I guess my approach would be different if I wasn’t living here.

Some asked if I don’t feel like I missed out on the fun of tuning it step by step, but to me it’s rather the opposite: jumping from a 100% stock R34 to a freshly rebuilt CRS allowed me to appreciate how good these cars really are in their ultimate form. It feels complete and robust in a way the stock car never did: maybe it’s a placebo effect, but all components work perfectly in tune with each other in a way that only a car hand-built by a single individual can feel. Different tuners have different philosophies (and use parts from makers they are affiliated with) and I have always maintained that having too many hands working on one machine can be detrimental to its character, not to mention potential future reliability issues. It’s all about balance.

I’m not going to attempt to write a review, but personally this is the most immersive and engaging driving experience I can ask for. The increased body rigidity makes the GT-R so much more responsive to steering inputs, while the BNR34-specific Öhlins cope beautifully with the smooth conditions of Tokyo asphalt. The car feels so planted yet much more nimble compared to its stock version and the R35 brakes deliver that peace of mind that OEM calipers and rotors never could. I am not going to digress much on the engine, but whoever claims to need more than 500ps on normal roads is simply boasting. All hell breaks loose after 3,500 rpm and the R2 catapults the car to speeds that would get you in trouble faster than you can say “V CAM”. 

Add the fact that this is my car, bespoke to my own specifications, and that I’m lucky to drive it where it belongs and I really couldn’t ask for more. I’ll say it again: it’s all about the experience. Now - back to the title of the post - all was going great until I saw this photo that I took at Tatsumi PA, where I opened the R-tune bonnet to let the heat dissipate: look at all that dust! This shouldn’t be a surprise given that by design the whole front end is engineered to scoop up as much air as possible (not to mention the radiator fan), but I must confess that I had mini heart attack. Once recovered I started to map down a plan to make things right.

The following day I jumped behind the wheel of the Fairlady and headed towards Super Autobacs in Shinonome. I think I wrote about it before, but basically it’s a huge parts and car care center where you can buy everything from a simple sticker to HKS engine parts and everything in between. 

The parking area is also great for car spotting. You’ll run in all sort of JDM and exotics on any given day, and they even have washing bays if you feel like giving your ride a good cleanup. As much as I like the GT-R, I absolutely love the look of the Z, especially with these wheels.

Once inside it’s quite easy to get distracted and the place was recently redesigned, clearly with the intent to have customers spend as much time as possible in it. There is even a Starbucks and the selection of magazines and car-related books available is off the scale. Definitely stop by if you are around Tatsumi area.

I didn’t have time to check them out, but these reprints of old Hyper Rev issues were interesting. They did come with a price-tag to match though: over 3,000¥ each! Without wasting any more time I then moved onto the cleaning products area in search of the tools I needed.

So what did I buy? Since this is more about dust removal rather than cleaning actual dirt or oil I decided to keep it fairly simple: a can of compressed air, a set of super soft microfiber towels and some high quality wipes to dry things out. I also bought a soft brush (not in the photo). Following Ochiai-san’s advice I steered clear of all chemical products as they are never a good combination with the massive heat that engine produces, and rather opted for demineralized water.

The quality of the towels is actually rather impressive and you have to love the attention to detail of the packaging. Before using them on the car I conducted a scratch test on a much weaker clear plastic surface that produced reassuring results: no scratches whatsoever.

I also used this pretty handy LED torch that Aki gifted me for my birthday to spot dirt and make sure I wouldn’t damage the car due to poor lighting in the garage. I have to admit that this is probably the best gift the old man gave me so far, and besides being super helpful it also allowed me to take some pretty good photos - thanks, Aki!

For obvious reasons I wasn’t able to shoot while cleaning the engine bay, but after over 1 hours of blood, sweat and tears (ok, maybe no blood and no tears), I was finally satisfied with the end result. What do you think?

The process was actually quite simple; I first blew off the dust with compressed air and caught as much as I could with a damp cloth before it would fly away. I then soaked one of the super soft towels with demineralized water and gently swiped the surface making sure to use the weight of the towel alone and not my hand to avoid any damage. I repeated a couple of times and then dried up with the blue wipe.

The LED torch allowed to take some good photos of the engine with lighting and angles I never used before.The bespoke colorshift finish was one of the most agonizing decision and it took months to come up with the perfect shade, but is one of my favorite features of the car. While it might look like paint it’s actually a high grade powder coat, both heat and scratch-resistant, designed to endure endless heat cycles without fading or turning matte like the crackle finish does.

It felt a bit therapeutic: 1AM in the quiet of my garage, sipping on an iced Coke while cleaning, taking photos or simply enjoying the details and craftsmanship of the car. 

Discovering the pink torque marks on the various bolts reminded me of my visit to Omori Factory a bit over a year ago, when I watched Kosaka-san at work on my engine; it feels like yesterday. After over 1,000 RB26 assembled I hope he’s enjoying retirement.

Small details like this may seem irrelevant from afar, but the memories and people connected are what makes them so special and the reason why I love my car so much. Let’s face it, this was a futile exercise and the dust will reappear as soon as I’ll drive the car again. 

But with Kosaka-san spending the last weeks of his career building the engine and Ochiai-san having to keep up with my silly requests for over a year (and still today), I just feel obliged to keep it as clean as the day it left the factory. It’s the little things.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Visit to Nismo and First Summer Touring

And finally, after what felt like two endless months of absolute crap weather, the rainy season is over! I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I enjoyed a proper drive, so last weekend I made sure to make up for it.

First things first: a quick stop at Omori Factory. Yes, I know, another visit, but this time I had a good excuse, plus this was my last chance before they'd close for two weeks for summer holidays.

Truth is that I finally picked up the two parts for the GT-R that I’ve been waiting for over one year. I ordered them at the same time I took delivery of the car and I can’t wait to have them fitted. More on this an another post.

The guys seemed busier than ever, with several cars coming in and out of the shop, but also new products in development, including a new package for the RB26 that Kambara-san has been working on for a while, as hinted on this post.

Far from being a proper touring session, but it was such a long time since I drove on the Shuto Expressway that even a short 30 minutes run felt therapeutic. The sequence of elevations and curves that connect to the Rainbow Bridge is so smooth to drive...

Once back in Tokyo I stopped for a quick coffee in Ginza and with nothing but clear skies in the weather forecast for the following day I found myself planning my first touring of summer 2020.

Set on leaving as early as possible in the morning, I gave the windshield a good clean and headed back home for some rest. Driving through the Ginza lights at night is always fascinating.

So, where did I go this time? My destination of choice was Cape Ose: a renowned diving spot off the western side of the Izu peninsula, famous for its beautiful shrine and a pond located at its centre.

But there was a caveat - instead of driving straight to Ose on the Tomei Expressway I decided to take a little detour and pass through Hakone Turnpike. So here I am, sipping on an espresso at 7:30AM at the famous parking area at the top of the hill climb.

Truth is that Mount Taikanzan was immersed in a petty thick mist and, with barely 15 meters of visibility ahead, I drove the last section at minimal speed. This is not uncommon during very hours and it usually clears up, but didn’t really concern me as I had no plan to hang around Hakone.

After a quick climb down and a bit of traffic heading towards Numazu I finally found myself cruising through the south edge of the Nishiura coast. These roads are not the widest and require to drive through some of the villages, but sometimes the experience is not all about speed. There are some very nice bend sequences coupled with an incredibile view of Uchiura Bay: match them with the meaty torque band around 3,500 rpm of the Fairlady and a crispy Sunday morning and it’s pure driving heaven.

The last couple of kilometers the roads gets considerably narrower and a bit of caution is definitely required to get through, but I managed to reach the parking area of Cape Ose without any scratch or scrape. Surprisingly it’s quite big and fairly well shielded from the sun. So I let the Z cool off and started to get around.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here: this place is great and was worth every single one of the 160 kilometers that it took me to get there.

The beach perhaps is not the most beautiful (mostly gravel rather than white sand), but the scenery is fantastic and the tip of the cape alone is worth the visit.

The whole area is free to be explored, just be careful to use one of the many local professional shops if you are planning to dive.

After walking through the main torii gate I headed towards the entrance of Osezaki shrine. It was still around 10AM, so I was one of the first people to get there and I had a few good minutes to get around in peace.

After 13 years in Japan I lost the count of how many shrines I have visited, but I have to say that, as small as it is, Osezaki shrine is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.

What lacks in size compared to some of the major ones that can be found elsewhere, it compensates with an array of small little details. Times like this I really wish I had a proper camera.

The shrine itself is actually located on top of a small hill and you need to climb a short stairway to reach it. I spent there a good 15 minutes relaxing, taking photos and discovering the intricacy of the structure.

Interestingly, the following days I mentioned about the place to a few Japanese friends and long term residents and none of them had ever heard of it. This is the great thing about Japan: it’s filled with little gems like this one and I never get tired of discovering them. After a much needed break I decided to go back to the village in search of something to eat.

As always, Japan delivered again and I discovered a small local spot that served a pretty epic maguro bowl (fittingly named Ose-don) for a mere 1,100¥!

The soft-boiled egg added just a bit of richness to the maguro sashimi, yet was still very light and easy to digest (I am mindful not to stuff myself when I’m out on a long drive).

After a quick walk around I got back in the car and literally devoured the road back home. The Fairlady is an awesome cruising machine and Japanese expressways are absolutely fantastic when free of traffic.

Two hours later I was back in Tokyo (and ran into a very clean R32 after getting off the expressway). Cape Ose was a pleasure to discover and quick, spontaneous trips like this are everything I love about driving in Japan.

Another 315 kilometers of great roads, photos and memories are in the books. Looking forward to the next drive!

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.