Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Made in Japan

I haven’t done much driving since my last outing to Hakone in November, but few days ago it just felt the right time to let the CRS stretch its legs for a few laps around Tokyo bay.

Crisp winter skies, cooler, thick air feeding the turbos and those magic couple of hours before the sun sets over the city are the perfect recipe for a fun afternoon with my all time favorite car.

It’s been a bit over one year since it was completed and every single time it delivers the same thrill as the day I picked it up at Omori Factory. To think that 20 years ago I had a 1:43 scale model of a Bayside Blue R34 in my room in Italy and now I get to drive this thing in Tokyo still blows my mind a bit to be honest. I guess that’s further validation that I really did buy my dream car, but it’s crazy how life goes sometimes.

It’s interesting how everything is amplified, yet still retains the original BNR34 feeling. Engine and brakes power are obviously the most immediate upgrades one would notice, but when driving at speeds that won’t get you in trouble with the authorities the sharpness of the chassis is what gets me the most.

The Öhlins DFV and revised arms geometry (especially at the front), the chassis/strut bracing, stiffer bushes and mounts combined with the ultra-low Recaro bucket seats and 340mm steering wheel make the 34 feel so nimble and responsive, yet still has that GT feeling that you would expect from a car that, all trickery aside, is not light by any means. 

Talking with the guys at Nismo and attending the track lessons go hand in hand with becoming a better driver and learning how to appreciate the car at a deeper level, but sometimes, especially after a year like 2020, all you want to do is just drive, park and enjoy the view with a cup of coffee in your hand. 

Obviously this is not a car I drive too often, but if I had to make an analogy I would compare it to visiting my favorite sushi restaurant: one of those places with no menu, hidden in an alley in Gaienmae, serving nigiri pieces that look like jewelry pieces. As incredible of an experience it’s not something you’d want to do every week, but every time it really is an occasion. 

In the same way, the wait, the prepping on drive-day, the tinkering, the visits to the factory and chats with the guys, all come together when you are behind the wheel. I can’t wait to send it back to the factory next spring to see how it’s holding up and find new ways to improve it.

Eventually, as I was lost in my thoughts, in typical Tatsumi PA fashion a Lamborghini owner decided to park his rather loud Aventador finished in Oro Elios alongside my GT-R.

The cars couldn’t be any more different (well, actually they’re both 4WD...), but we both thought they looked great next to each other and stopped to take a few photos of some of the best automotive craftsmanship that Japan and Italy have to offer.

With the sun almost completely gone we both started warming up our engines, getting ready to leave, when some very aggressive downshifts surprised us from behind and... 

One of forty Pagani Huyara BC Roadsters in the world just casually pulled up: yes, that’s Tatsumi Parking Area on a Sunday.

Last post for this year, thanks for stopping by today and see you in 2021!

Until next time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Christmas (Parts) Shopping

Happy holidays, everyone! I have been on a break for the past week and, for the most part, just caught up with some sleep and relaxed after the craziest of the years.

And no Christmas would be complete without some presents, so last week I headed over to Nismo for some shopping and season’s greetings.

When I arrived a R35 owner was busy taking photos of his car, making the most of an empty parking area: nice angle!

With just one week left before a well deserved break the guys were busier than ever with final touches on some customer’s cars.

First things first, I picked up some BNR34 spares as well as some parts that I will need for a little project next spring, when the car will be back to Omori Factory for maintenance. And since I was there I pretty much booked my appointment slot for shaken, which is coming up as well.

Then I ordered a few more parts for the Fairlady Z: my goal with this car is to reach 100,000 kms of Japan gran touring in the next few years, so I want it to be in perfect shape. It’s also serving as an occasional track toy and, truthfully, probably deserves more attention than the GT-R.

Speaking of Z parts, besides ordering the new ones, I have also finally got delivered the big boxes I ordered this summer - Autech labeled! This is because they contain parts exclusive to the Nismo Version model: a fresh pair of side skirts (since I cracked and chipped mine during the track lesson back in January).

Hope everybody is doing well and enjoying the holiday season: this is the perfect time to relax, tinker with our beloved cars and (unless you live in the southern hemisphere) treat the engines to some cold air!

Thanks for stopping by today.

Until next time.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Final Autumn Touring - 2 Days, 700 Kms

With December behind the corner last month I decided it would be wise to make the most of the final weeks of autumn and embarked on a two-days touring. The first day, Saturday, was all about driving and I headed straight to Hakone Turnpike.

The colder air is definitely kinder to the VQ and overall the engine feels “happier” and bit sharper. A quick stop for a croissant (yes, I brought one all the way from Tokyo) and an espresso at 1,000m altitude on top of Mount Daikanzan.

As always there was no shortage of nice cars in the parking area, like this white V-spec II Nür, apparently tuned by Midori Sebi Center, at least judging by the sticker on the passenger-side window.

After a mandatory photo of Fuji-san I got back on the wheel, headed towards the Izu Skyline. As it’s getting colder is not uncommon to find some slippery, wet tarmac, especially under the trees shadow, so caution and knowing your own limits are key here.

I drove all the way down to Amagi Kogen Toll Booth, which marks the end of the Skyline and rewards you with 45 kilometers of the best mountain roads you can find in Japan. This concluded the first day as I returned back to Tokyo before lunch to avoid the usual traffic.

The next day I got up nice and early and headed towards Nikko in Tochigi prefecture. It’s all smooth expressway driving to get there, with way less traffic compared to the Tomei. Nikko is famous for its temples and is arguably one of the best locations to admire the famous Japanese autumn leaves.

While Saturday was all about proper driving, Sunday I decided to just enjoy the long morning cruise and then relax while visiting the area.

I’ve been to Nikko quite a few times, but it’s always a spectacular location, incredibly rich and filled with historical places.

I’ll never get tired of preaching this to GT-R enthusiasts who are planning to visit: Japan is a lot more than PA gatherings and visits to Nismo - don’t miss out!

A drive down to Nikko and a visit to its beautiful shrines and surroundings are worth a million trips to Daikoku in my books.

Two days, over 700 kilometers: not bad for a final autumn touring!

Until next time.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Analog Life

Dropped by Akihabara almost by accident a couple of weeks ago; ended up taking a trip down memory lane and a bit of impulsive shopping.

It all started with a lazy Saturday afternoon, when I took the Fairlady for a quick spin around the bay and stopped at my “secret spot” in Shibaura.

Great location for a cup of (7-eleven) coffee while the sun sets over Tokyo. That’s when I thought I’d try a different route to return home and joined the C1 instead of using Rainbow Bridge. 

I kept driving for a while, just enjoying the road and the lights, especially the section that cuts through Ginza, when I thought it would be cool to drive all the way to Akihabara as I couldn’t even remember the last time I visited.

It must have been at least 5 years, if not longer, since my last visit. Lots has changed and while it’s undoubtedly true that Electric Town has lost a bit of the magic it had in the 90’s and 00’s, it’s still a unique place to visit.

So, I parked the Z (just to be handed an incredibly expensive bill upon my return, one mere hour later) and roamed around a bit.

I still remember my first visit in summer 2007, when I came here after work to buy a Sony portable camera on a budget, which I used to take my first photos of Japan. Many of the smaller shops haven’t survived the real estate takeover of the past 15 years, and today it’s mostly large chains like Softmap and Laox that dominate the landscape.

But look in the right alley and you’ll find some of the older boutiques, still carrying video games and consoles from bygone eras.

Just like with cars, Japanese have mastered the art of taking care of their possessions and the shelves were loaded with fully working gems that are now 20 years old, some even older.

Luckily, unless you are looking at rare time-capsule gems like the Ceramic White PS2 that I bought on Yahoo! Auctions earlier this year, prices haven’t hold up much and you can pick up a perfectly functioning original PlayStation for about 7,000¥.

The truly shocking part however were the games, sold pretty much at a loss. Here is a copy of Gran Turismo 3 priced at 100¥ - less than an onigiri or a candy bar! And to think that back in the days we had to pinch pennies for months in order to be able to buy a copy.

The aftermath? I ended up picking up a PlayStation 2 with a handful of original games for a few thousands yen. And while realistically I won’t use it, it’s just something cool to have and boot up from time to time.

2021 is around the corner, but sometimes is nice to stroll down memory lane, as I did with a high-school friend over FaceTime just few days ago. Hours spent with our PS2, followed by pickup basketball games on a hot summer afternoon. Who’s cutting onions?

Until next time.