Friday, February 9, 2024

The Making of "The GTR Run Tokyo" by HartnettMedia (and my role in it!)

 A few months ago, my friend Dino contacted me - "hey you want your 33 to become the most famous 33 in the world?" with "Pennzoil wants to do a little something, so I am working on a project"

Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about. But the end result was this:

Ok so here is some background information.

First, Dino and Alec had me show up VERY early to the Hakone Turnpike. That is where Dino introduced me to Ben Hartnett and Chris Hofstaetter.  The guys drove a Nissan Serena minivan that Nissan had lent them, and Dino of course came in his 34.  A few minutes after I arrived, Sudo-san pulls up, NOT in his 32, but driving a flatbed truck that carried his 32! 

Then our first challenge of the day - it turned out that the original section where Dino and Ben wanted to film was closed to the public - apparently Ferrari Japan was renting it out for their own video shoot! Undeterred, we took some side roads and found some other good places.

Then, we had to also find a place for Sudo-san to park his truck where he could unload the 32. But after that, the magic happened.  

Here are some photos I took while waiting to be told what to do and how to drive.

Closer up, but without Mt Fuji in the background.

After a few back and forth scenes, we parked. This is where we tried to choreograph getting into our cars at the same time. Clearly, we are neither actors nor coordinated.

Same shot, I was experimenting with the exposure setting. Was hard to balance getting the background to show while keeping the foreground coloring accurate. 

Trying another angle...

Around noontime, I actually had to go back into Yokohama as I had meetings at work. Lucky for me, the cars were running out of gas and so we headed into Atami to get gas.  It was then when I decided to not bother driving back but have Chris take over - turns out he is a 33 fan so was THRILLED at being able to  drive my car.  All the evening shots of the cars on these roads, that is him driving, not me!

And of course, having been dropped off at Atami station as they went to look for a gas station, I  took this train back into Yokohama:

But of course, this was only part of the plan.  The next day, Friday night, I found myself driving my car at night, meeting up with Dino and crew at a Parking Area outside Tokyo.  Somehow, several random Japanese Skyline GT-R owners were also there, so we invited them to tag along and include them in the night filming.

All I will say is, it was FREEZING cold... which made for great turbo boost of course. But the Japanese guys were super excited about their luck, and one youung guy just happaned to be an avid Ben Hartnett fan and was literally gushing with joy at being able to shake Ben's hand and take a photo with him.

Ben and Alec plotting

Yep, we have seen this 33 before... original LM paint, too!

Lots of waiting. It reminded me of the one time I was an extra in a movie.  Many retakes, from various angles, with most of my time spent waiting.

Staying inside the car to stay warm!

Obviously no shots of me actually driving at night since of course I was boring and followed all the speed limits, driving in a safe, controlled and mature manner, as befitting my job and position in society. Right...

Anyway, we called it quits at about 0500 just as the sun was about to come up. I can see from the finished project that a lot of what we did not make it into the final cut, but that is to be expected in the editing process.  Still, I had fun and it really is nice to be memorialized in this way by a real professional cinematographer.

Thank you Ben, Dino, Alec and Chris!! Hope to meet up with you guys again soon!

Sunday, February 4, 2024

OEM Look LED Series 3 Headlights by VELENO! (@Tokyo Auto Salon 2024) - Part 2 (Q&A with Nakakuki-san)

 So as promised, I called up Nakakuki-san at Garage Chikara this past week to follow up on some questions I had, as well as several everyone was asking me, after my first post.

Question - this is too expensive! Why?

Answer - according to Nakakuki-san, those inquiring customers who have owned GT-Rs for awhile have all agreed that the pricing is fair or even inexpensive (note - I myself agree), with most of those who are complaining about the price being too high, either new GT-R owners or non-owners.  The price is high but on par with the OEM part; plus because of the limited numbers of the product being planned, there cannot be economies of scale like with an OEM company like Nissan.

Question - will this be available for vehicles in LHD countries?

Answer - the product/bulb already has the E-mark, if that helps; I did not get a direct answer but if your country requires, by law, the proper cut-mark (light pattern), I think it will depend on how many requests the company gets. This link has a nice diagram of the difference in light patterns.

Question - If your current headlamp housing is in good shape, why not just replace the current bulbs with LED bulbs?  

Answer - As you may know, the OEM Series 3 unit uses a D2 Xenon bulb for low beam and H1 for high beam.  However, in their research they could not find equivalent LED bulbs that satisfied their requirements. Also given the higher output of modern LEDs it is likely that you would want the lens to be precisely made in order to prevent excessive glare to oncoming traffic.

(see the Veleno IG page for the photo that shows how clean the cut line is)

Question - is it possible to buy the same new Veleno Mortale LED H11 bulbs and install in your current headlamp housings?

Answer - no, as the original housing is not designed for H/8H11 bulbs fitment.

Question - will there be a harness adaptor to allow use in Series 1 (Zenki), Series 2 (chuuki), as well as Series 3 (kohki) cars?

Answer - unsure about what method at the time of my call, but yes they will ensure the unit works with all variants of the BCNR33.

Question - where is the English language ordering website?

Answer - coming soon! (I will insert link here when it is up!)

Question - what is the origin story of this product?

Answer - it turns out that Matsuda-san and Nakakuki-san were at the 2022 Veleno end of year party (bonenkai) where they started to discuss how an LED product for their R33s would be a good thing.  They proposed the idea there to Veleno president Yumi-san, and one year later...  And meanwhile they also learned that the ballast units used in the Xenon D2 headlights are no longer available new.  Meaning that if the ballast unit dies, people have to find another source of lighting anyway (apparently this is happening on a frequent basis with Lancer Evos, which Nakakuki-san also services).  So further justification for this LED project.

Question - is this the same unit that Garage Active had advertised, briefly?

Answer - no. Apparently some guys from GA did make inquiries with Veleno to check this one out, however...right before that post was taken down...

Question - what about the R32 and R34 GT-Rs?

Answer - based on how well the 33 units have been received, they are in the planning stages for products for these cars as well.

Question - any other LED products for the 33 in the future?

Answer -  maybe...

Did I miss any? Let me know if any of you have any follow-up questions!

Monday, January 15, 2024

OEM Look LED Series 3 Headlights by VELENO! (@Tokyo Auto Salon 2024) - Part 1

Happy New Year friends!

Having seen some social media posts (and an advert in last month's GT-R Magazine) about a new product from LED specialist Veleno (working together with Nismo Super GT racing driver Tsugio Matsuda) - namely a completely new Series 3 (kohki) headlamp unit incorporating LEDs for both low and high beams, this year I decided to make the 90 minute train ride from Yokohama to Makuhari Messe in Chiba where Tokyo Auto Salon 2024 is being held this weekend.

I quickly made my way to the Veleno booth, and finally saw Matsuda-san's R33 GT-R in the flesh! I've seen this car in GT-R Magazine, as well as on YouTube (with Matsuda-san driving in it) so it was cool to finally see it in person.

But looking more closely, I was really surprised to see that IF this car had the new LED units, it did not look like it had LEDs in there at all.

Ok here is a close-up. 

I asked around and was introduced to Nakakuki-san of Garage Chikara, who was co-hosting the event (turns out that Nakakuki-san owns a Series 1 R33, is an R33 GT-R fan, and has long been itching to upgrade the headlights on his 33 to LEDs - so this project made it happen!) with Reiz Trading (the company that sells the Veleno brand bulbs). This answers why Veleno did not come out with LED headlights for the 32 or 34... 

So - and I will update in a future blog post with more on the back story about how all this happened, but meanwhile, here are the particulars that Nakakuki-san shared with me. I am also following up on some technical questions as well, so if you have any, please do leave a comment and I will follow up on those too! For example, I was told by Nakakuki-san that both bulbs for low and high beam are H8 bulbs, but the Japanese website states the high beams are H11. And yes, I know that they are very close to the same form factor and that there are slight differences, but what is the actual situation here?

Anyway - first, an English language website (for ordering) is coming in the near future - probably next month. So yes, you will be able to order and purchase these units from outside Japan, and yes they will have no problem sending these out by international post. No need for a middleman service.

Second, the projected run is about 200 sets initially, but if there is more demand then of course they will continue to produce more.  It is important to note that the current retail price is an "early bird" special, in that the high and low beam bulbs - valued at 66,000 yen (with Japanese VAT) are included for no additional cost. The units will be ready for sale sometime between March and May, likely during April. After the initial run, it seems the bulbs will be an extra cost.

Third, the harness for these kits is plug and play for Series 3, but the displayed red car is actually a Series 2, so obviously a retrofit is possible.  However, if you watch the demo video before, you will see that when the high beam is on, the low beams shut off, which is consistent with what the Series 1 and 2 OEM lights do - but NOT the headlights for the Series 3 cars, where the low beam stays on - because of the Xenon bulb. I will find out more details on whether any harness modifications are needed (but IIRC, he said there were not, so...)

I managed to capture these still shots during the video. 
Low beam - incredibly bright, although I wish they had kept one side the original Xenon for comparison

Blinding high beam! But low beams turn off just like the Series 3 OEM units

There were a few other cars on display too. There was a manual Z sporting a Nismo body kit (i.e. hint hint Nissan this is how the Z Nismo should be...) As well as this very clean Autech 4 door GT-R.

Turns out this Autech is also one of Matsuda-san's cars...

I still don't know what purpose this half clip served, other than to allow the models to sit down behind it.  

Oh and it was also hooked up to show off what could be possible, strobe light-wise?

Meanwhile, as I was talking to Nakakuki-san in the back, a crowd was forming outside - so when I looked out I saw this:
Models posing with the half cut. One way to draw a crowd I guess...

Veleno also had their other products on display, including the "Impact Blaster" which was apparently some kind of anti-bacterial ozone generator for your car...

Anyway, rest assured I do myself have a set on order already, and will post my impressions once I get them installed. Maybe do a video showing the difference between the LED and the Xenon (I know I am going to miss that "warm up blue" effect...).

Finally, this being Tokyo Auto Salon - well there are a bunch of other websites and social media platforms showing more content.  For me, this is a shot of how it looked when I first entered the main area of Makuhari Messe (the convention hall that hosts Tokyo Auto Salon). Me being me, somehow I found myself entering exactly where CraftSports (GT-R specialists) had their display...

Stay tuned for more updates!

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Nismo Festival 2023 - Some Random Photos...

Friends, as I was volunteering my time to help out at the Nismo Omori Factory dispaly (with their 4 CRS demo cars) I did not have have much time for photos, but my friend Henning also sent some over to share so...

Well here is the one I took:

I spent most of time there trying to figure out why so shiny...

And these are his - thanks Henning!

Nissan CEO Uchida-san and Nismo CEO Katagiri-san

Love the classic dumbbell motif there around the headlights and grill

Argh! Actually, that should be "Nissan Motorsports International"...

Nice R31, not sure why it has the 33 license plate though...

Henning says this is his favorite photo of the day, hard to disagree...

So what next... I have a couple of ideas, but not sure quite yet...

Saturday, December 2, 2023

CONSULT to the Rescue/Benetec Dry Carbon Rear Wing

Some of you may have seen me on social media paying more than one visit to Nismo Omori Factory recently.  And in fact, just a couple of weeks ago my friend Matt met me at Omori Factory where we picked up my car for our trip to Trust Kikaku. (Thanks for the photos, Matt!)

But why was my car there, and what work was getting done to it? Two things actually...

First, about a week earlier I had removed the RAPFIX II steering wheel boss for my old Daiki one, which somehow caused my Airbag warning lamp to blink continuously.  So the day before Matt and I visited Trust Kikaku, Friday, I dropped the car off before heading into work so that Ochiai-san could hook up the CONSULT to my car and figure out why. 

Seems like each time my car has a problem, it's raining...

A Short 24 hour stay this time!

Incidentally, I have been told that replacing my ECU with something more modern like a Haltech or MOTEC, would result in not being able to use this CONSULT tool for stuff like this. Not sure if true, but if so it sure explains why so many Japanese tuners stick to using the stock Nissan engine ECU as the basis for their tuned ECUs (such as Mine's VX-ROM, HKS' F-Con, etc.). Anyone know if I can use CONSULT with a MOTEC?

But in any case, Ochiai-san told me that CONSULT showed that my taking the airbag resistor out and replacing with the older one during the steering wheel boss swap had triggered the ECU to record an error, hence the flashing warning light. Via CONSULT he reset it and the flashing was gone.

Second and more substantively, Nismo Omori had gotten one of their paint shops they work with to apply a clear UV coat to a dry carbon wing I had been lucky enough to pick up through sheer luck.

Last December another friend alerted me to a stock clearance sale at Benetec.  So those of us who know, know that Benetec is a small shop in Shizuoka specializing in dry carbon fiber products.  Some car stuff, some industrial things, but most interestingly, wheelchairs as well (makes sense actually). So I was curious to see what part Benetec might have on sale - and it was the BCNR33 rear wing

Here is the description, as translated by me:

"BCNR33 Rear Wing, Normal Shape Specification"

Wing outer surface 3K twill weave, UD fiber, adhesive film FVE9, Foamac, Wing attachment surface has AL2017 inserts
Wing under side 3K twill weave, 12K flat weave, adhesive film FVE9, honeycomb 3mm
Weight 1.19kg

So yes I got a crash course into carbon fiber terminology thanks to this other company's website but to be honest I was getting tired of the "old style" carbon fiber bits on my car.  Even Nismo has upgraded their B pillar carbon sticker pattern from the 1K flat weave to the 3K twill.  And their exterior parts that are genuine carbon fiber, use the 3K twill weave.

Hard to make out but it is not the old style weave

So already, with the install of this license plate frame front and rear, there were 2 patterns of carbon fiber on my car, this new weave but also the old pattern which I have been running forever.

The 1K flat weave matches my old Yahoo Auction wing and
 the "Carbon fiber" Nismo Stickers on the B pillars...

However, for me to justify spending money on something that is otherwise for cosmetics only, I had to have a functional reason - and this time, the functional reason was weight savings, because the Yahoo Auction special carbon wing I had been running for quite a few years was a wet carbon product.  

Of course, I quickly emailed, got a response that it was still available but that it had not been painted with a clear coat with UV protection.  I figured I could easily have it professionally sprayed so I completed the transaction and then a few weeks later it arrived! 

I was right! The wet carbon wing with the same style and dimensions weighs 1 kg more! 

In anticipation of an eventual installation of the new wing, I had gone ahead and also picked these new Yahoo Auction carbon fiber wing end caps from the same company where I had gotten the previous end caps.

It didn't quite fit... so....

Unfortunately, the Yahoo Auctions special did not quite fit - barely too big but ALSO slightly too thick, so out came my Dremel...

There was a LOT of dust generated, I had to wear a mask to keep this epoxy dust from going up my nose.

Did I mention there was a LOT of dust?

Anyway, shortly before I removed the RAPFIX II, Ochiai-san at Nismo Omori Factory had called me to tell me their paint specialist shop had finished clear coating the Benetec wing. Naturally, when the Airbag light started going off after I removed the RAPFIX II, I scheduled a time to drop off the car on a Friday to be picked up on Saturday.  I was hoping that the flashing light could be reset via the CONSULT tool, and meanwhile, the properly clear-coated dry carbon wing could be installed. I also dropped off the slimmed down wing end caps to be fitted as well.

And that is why I am inspecting both the new wing and the side cap here.

But the final result - wow! I cannot complain...

Tapping on it makes a different sound too... Anyway, tomorrow is the 2023 Nismo Festival and I have to get up early - I may do a post on it so stay tuned, although I am sure there will be several other people with many more pictures to share...

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Removing My Most Annoying Mod Of Choice

 So after removing the crap car alarm and stereo that WORX Auto Alarm had installed in my car, I decided that without an alarm, I needed to figure out some ways to make my car harder to steal.

Enter the removable steering wheel idea.

This required changing the after market Daikei  boss I had installed several years ago to fit my steering wheel and replacing it with the WorksBell RAPFIX II wheel lock system.  

Installation was easy, but there was one problem - it moved the steering wheel a few centimeters closer to the driver, and in my case, made using the turn signal lever a bit of a stretch. Oh and given my short legs, I had to recline the seat to give my arms some space too. Anyway, it always felt unnatural.

It was a good idea otherwise, with removal of the wheel very easy - just pull on the silver tab (green arrow pointing) and the entire wheel unlocks due to the very clever mechanism - in essence a column side "male" steel column and the steering wheel with a matching "female" coupler.

Unlocked, it looks like this. And yes, WorksBell sells a steel cap that locks on top of this, with a key lock, to prevent thieves from walking around with their own steering wheel with the matching coupler. (I have one but no photos sorry...)

Anyway, I went into my cabinets and found the previous non-lockable/removable Daikei boss, along with the packaging for the RAPFIX II.

And then took the wheel up to the work bench, to begin the surgery.

Pretty easy actually. Just undo the allen bolts...
The female coupler on the right - note the wiring for the horn button

Next was to remove the steering column side coupler.

Again, super easy, just undo the allen bolts - here you can see the electrical coupler, along with the round metal ground between then column and the coupler.

And yes, this one was a bit of a struggle to remove. Despite using this breaker bar, I kept applying so much torque the front wheels kept moving on the epoxy floor...

Alas success was soon found, but it did cause me to wonder what I would do if I was unsuccessful in getting that bolt off...
Note the green arrow pointing to the resistor which came with the RAPFIX II - I removed it and put back on the resistor that came with the original short boss. This becomes important later...

This is a very chunky piece of aluminum...

So now, I had to reinstall the old boss.  And this time, I want to make sure I do not over or under torque. Enter one of my newest tools, a KTC electronic torque wrench!

I had picked it up a while ago but had no reason to use it, until this project!
Packaging is beautiful, as can be expected of Japan.

And yes, thanks for pre-charging this for me so I had no down time while charging it back up!

So the owner's manual gave a range, 29-39 N-m.
I decided to go on the higher side

Then it was making sure the wiring for the horn and the resistor isn't pinched.

The black coupler is for the horn. The resistor has been tucked underneath the sleeve that slips on over the boss.

And here is the metal plate that is needed to act as the ground for the horn button.

The Ital Volanti wheel fits nicely over this plate


So it was super nice to get this back on - the wheel position felt natural, I could easily reach the turn signal stalk with my pinky finger, and my arm and seating positions felt natural again and not cramped. Nice!

Except... there was one small problem. The Airbag warning light kept flashing. I tried the driver's side door switch trick, yes, and even tried switching the resistor back to the one that came with the RAPFIX II. Nothing worked.  So guess who I called....