Saturday, July 14, 2018

(Another) Back up Lamp LED bulb... will this one be the one?

So as many of you readers know, I've been on a quest to figure out how to improve the back up lamp on my Series 3 BCNR33.  The Series 3 (English term) or more accurately, the 後期 ("kohki") cars in Japanese, came with only 1 back up lamp, the other corresponding one having been made into a rear fog lamp.

Showing how the rear fog looks.
Previously, I replaced the standard OEM incandescent bulb with an LED, but then decided to try something fancy, by replacing that LED with a cheap HID bulb setup, complete with a ballast.  And the result? To be honest, mediocre - the HID bulb required a few seconds to attain maximum brightness, so jockeying the car back and forth to park was not fun as the bulb would cycle on and off, taking a few seconds to reach maximum brightness.

Standard Bulb

HID bulb once warmed up...
So after a bit of research I found this new LED bulb:

The PIAA "超"(Extreme) TERA Evolution, in S25 size. It has a claimed output of 300 lumens. I picked this up back in February 2017 as even back then I was concerned about the longevity of the HID bulb - HID bulbs are known for not lasting very long if they are cycled on and off repeatedly.  Luckily I did, because it looks like PIAA no longer offers this bulb for sale.  Perhaps the 183 lumens version is bright enough, but when you only have one back up bulb, it's good to have almost double that from one bulb, I think?

In any case, just as I suspected, the HID died.

Check this out:

So in went the new PIAA bulb and:

And yes it doesn't appear that bright but at night, I was surprised to find that I could see very well... at least the back up camera appeared to be functioning better than usual once this bulb went in...

I really need to think about re-doing the tint on the rear glass...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

This device kept the peace in my neighborhood...

As I mentioned in my last post, I am going to take a break about fixing the issues caused by WORX Auto Alarm and instead, talk about a mod I made right after I got the car back.

As long time readers know, my car served as the rig for the Tomei Expreme Ti titanium exhaust.  One nice thing about offering my car was, I became one of the first (if not the first period) to have the commercial product installed on my car.

The exhaust is a masterpiece. And, if I owned my car out in the countryside with the closest neighbor a good kilometer or so away, it would cause no problems.

Unfortunately I live in a Yokohama suburb where I have neighbors to my left, right and across the (Japanese sized narrow) street. This means that every time I start up my GT-R, people notice. It also means that, if the Tomei is unbaffled, the noise is loud enough to wake the neighbors in the early morning or at night.

Clearly, I needed a solution, fast.  Initially, I simply used the bung that came with the Tomei. That, along with the Blitz E-ESC electronic exhaust valve, worked for awhile, until that eventful trip to WORX where somehow that bung came loose and was lost somewhere in Chiba.

So when I got the car back, I managed to park the car with the Blitz valve fully closed, but herein lies the problem. First, the valve is designed to close only when the engine is warmed up. That means that normally, starting from cold results in huge noise (ok, music :).  Second, I have to remember to manually close the valve to override the initial programming, which is probably not good for the engine.  In other words, a bung should be used, with the Blitz valve being a back up when ultra-silent running is needed.  While I could simply re-order the Tomei bung, I recalled a conversation with the guys at Nissan Prince Tokyo Motorsports about a superior product that was available from a third party.

A bit of research and I found this guy. Mr. Suganuma and his company, "SFC" (Suganuma Future Creation) - dumb sounding name, but very nice products, mostly all exhaust related.  I was interested in his "inner silencer" products like this one.

They come in different diameters to fit different aftermarket exhaust tips, and two color choices - the silver as above or anodized black. What's nice is that you can order the component parts separately, so if you lose a part or a part (like the muffling part) gets burnt/worn out, you can bring it back to "like new" condition quickly and inexpensively.

So I placed an order for a black anodized one in 112mm size (product number 117BK), and a few days later...

Cute, I guess? 
 So I unpacked it right away and found a thin steel tube covered by what appeared to be a thick fiberglass or similar sound baffling material. Presumably heat proof too.
The packing material is covered by silver colored paper (to protect during shipping I guess)
Of course, me being me, I have to clean out the inside of the exhaust tip before installing.
As you can see, it's a bit of a snug fit.

But of course, like most things Japanese, quality engineering means it fits perfectly!
Comes with these bits.
And the result? AWESOME! The car still sounds superb, but it's like everything was taken down 30-40%.  Yes of course for track days and Hakone touge runs I will remove, but for around town this is simply perfect.  In fact, it's so good I find myself not using the Blitz E-ESC, and I may end up removing it... we will see...

Ok next post will also be about a non-WORX issue, something I've been tinkering with for the past few years actually... stay tuned!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Fixing the Interior, Part 5 (Unwelcome and Dangerous LED Illumination for Gauges)

So this was something that initially appeared interesting and definitely modern, but in the end was executed not only improperly but also posed a safety risk!

As long time readers recall, I have experimented with using LEDs to replace the standard incandescent light bulbs in the gauge cluster, in an effort to modernize the car.  After trying several types of LEDs, I finally found these "flower" type LEDs that seem to do the best job of delivering a consistent, even level of light.

The second time I dropped in to WORX Auto Alarm to check in on progress (actually, lack thereof) on my car, Nakamura had told me about a new LED mod for the gauges that he had obtained from a fellow vendor - likely one of the ones who specialize in LED modifications. He told me my 33 would be the first 33 in the world to feature this mod, so I have to admit I was a bit excited.

Essentially, instead of simply replacing the standard light bulbs in the gauge clusters with off the shelf LED bulbs (which usually cause uneven lighting), this vendor had arranged to remove all of these bulbs, and replace with several small LEDs on circuit boards that could placed behind the gauges but within the gauge housing. Because the LEDs would be scattered about and in locations where the bulbs could not reach, the lighting would also IN THEORY, be more even and consistent. The look would be like those early Lexus instrument panels, if you know what I am talking about.
Those yellow things are LEDs - and look diffused to allow for incandescent bulb-like light diffusion

Further, because the LEDs are not simply wired into the OEM wiring, an additional element of control could be introduced - the LEDs could come on full brightness when the engine was started, but then dim when the headlights were turned on. Just like most modern cars! Sounds great, right?


I soon discovered a few problems with this set up.

First, the lighting was NOT even. In fact, the "flower type" LED bulbs I had used in the past (and again, which Nakamura had THROWN OUT without my permission when he did this mod!!) resulted in more even lighting. Check out this photo below from when I first installed these bulbs and tell me what you think.

The flower type LEDs I installed previously - Pretty much spot on PERFECT!

Compare this to these new LEDs which show uneven lighting.
I can't believe how spotty the lighting is.
You can see how the numbers like the "300" and the "MiNE'S" logo are not as bright as the surrounding numbers. The "R" in the GT-R logo has its right foot missing. The red needles are not consistent.  Further, when the lighting comes on, the redline portion turned pinkish (the photo above shows the dimmed setting with headlights on). FAIL.

Second, while the main gauges now looked modern because of the "full on daytime/dim when lights come on at night" feature, the three sub gauges (which were also modified with these LEDs) did NOT have the same functionality.  OOPS. During the day they were not illuminated. Then, when driving at night, the main gauges would dim, but the sub gauges would come and remain SUPER BRIGHT (i.e. same level as daylight brightness of the main gauges) at all times.  Completely distracting and potentially dangerous, I think.

Bad photo, but not having the centers gauges light up is distracting. 
Additionally, the lighting for these gauges turned out uneven.
See how the middle gauge is much brighter?
Third, when I got the car home and began to tinker by seeing if there was any way I could fix the uneven lighting problem, I took off the center panel to access the gauges, and found 3M THINSULATE had been stuffed into the space between the gauges and the bottom surface of the cowl.
Real nice.  So professional (NOT!) WTF...
At first, I thought it was to deaden any sounds that might be coming in from the firewall. But while I was turning the lights on and off in an attempt to see how bad the uneven lighting was, I discovered that the gauges were actually running SUPER HOT due to the LEDs!

I thought LEDs ran cool, but apparently these did not. Right then, despite the novelty feature I decided that these new LEDs would have to be removed. My biggest concern was that the heat might lead to fading/degradation of the printed areas of the gauges, turning white lettering, symbols or hashmarks to yellow or causing the white to fade (if that happened, that Mine's speedometer would be hard to replace).  Especially with the 3M Thinsulate bouncing heat back INTO the gauges.  If I remove the 3M, then the leather risks getting baked as well. Of course this is UNACCEPTABLE!

So I immediately contacted the seller of the flower type LEDs I had used in the past and ordered another full set, for both the main and sub gauges (to ensure even coloring and brightness).

This guy is nice. Sends the LEDs in little sealing plastic boxes and lots of bubble wrap.

Anyway I then went ahead and fitted these back on. The most difficult part of this was taking both instrument clusters apart, undoing the circuit boards with the LEDs, then installing them back into a spare one which I sent back to Nakamura (because he was trying to charge me 80,000 yen for this mod, if I kept them).

When all was done, I was back to this:
Not a great photo but to the naked eye, it's MUCH MUCH BETTER and near PERFECT!
So am I finally done with all the issues caused by having left my car at WORX Auto Alarm? Not quite, unfortunately. And the work I need to get done to get it back 100% is going to take some time and effort... so stay tuned... meanwhile I have some other posts of other stuff I've done since I've had the car back from WORX.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Fixing the Interior, Part 4 (DEFI Heads Up Display)

So one unique item I've had on my car for many years is a Heads Up Display (HUD) unit made by DEFI called the VSD Basis (no longer in production but here is the English instruction manual!) that displays speed or engine revs (it's a primitive system) on the lower right side of the windshield.  I got this because for the longest time I did not want to change the OEM speedometer, which only displays up to 180kph, but of course the car is capable of much more (especially after installation of the Mine's built engine) and I needed a way to figure out how fast I was going on the track. Since unlike some other GT-R owners here in Japan (especially a certain rich millennial BNR34 owner), I actually track my car. (or used to, anyway - and will again soon - that's what the car is designed for!).

Control unit on left, display unit on right.
The control unit for the Defi had previously been attached by double stick tape to the fuse box cover - right above my right knee and readily accessible so I could change not only between speed and engine revs, but also brightness depending on time of day.

So of course when I got my car back from Nakamura of WORX, I was SUPER PISSED OFF to find out that the control unit had disappeared. When I asked where it was, he told me he had placed it BEHIND the driver's side kick panel - out of sight, out of mind.  WTF?? UNACCEPTABLE!

Now, I understand he didn't want to tape or glue it to the leather covered fuse box cover (and THANK GOD he didn't - or worse BOLT it on...), but could he have not made a bracket? He had shown such creativity with the additional fuses in the trunk, and the bracket in the glove box which he had even covered in matching Alcantara (but then proceeded to ruin it by drilling two screws into the leather... sigh...)
Custom fuse box for audio items in trunk by Nakamura. Nice, right? Except now that I've uncovered his errors, I'm worried about this. Will have to go and double check there aren't any problems...
At least he didn't damage anything this time. I should be grateful, but now it was up to me to figure out how and where to place the control unit.

So I decided to take a look. When I removed the cover, I discovered that he had used various zip ties to secure the unit, and at the same time, had used shrink tubing to shorten the length the wiring going into the unit. This meant that I would not be able to relocate to the left side of the dash nor next to my left leg - the control unit would have to stay relatively close to its original location.

After re-routing the wiring to its maximum length, I found and bent a piece of thin aluminum in an effort to make a bracket.  My idea was to use one of the bolts securing the dashboard as the base to which the bracket would attach.

Unfortunately, after a few tries I discovered that my solo DIY efforts were not going to work. And, unless I was willing to be very patient and have a very special bracket made, a quick solution was not going to present itself.

In the end, I decided that the original fuse box cover was indeed the correct location, not only because I was used to it but ergonomically it works very well. So, the next step is then to decide how to affix the control unit.  Clearly, I do not want to use glue or super strong double stick tape, which would likely damage the leather.

So, the only solution I could come up with was to use rubber bands to literally strap the unit to the cover. But, that is ugly and ghetto (excuse the term).  Time to get creative.

What I ended up doing was to finding a small black rubber work glove at the local hardware store, and cutting off the fingers and using the rest of it (essentially the wrist portion). Luckily, that wrist portion fits snugly around both the cover and the control unit. Once the control unit is inserted, just need to make the wiring is zip-tied out of the way.

Being black, from a distance the black rubber looks like it's supposed to be there. Not the ideal and most permanent solution but since it cost me less than 300 yen, it will do for now until I can figure out how to mount the control unit without damaging the leather.

Incidentally, the green arrows point to the 1) alarm LED (blue) and the microphone (un-needed) for the Navi unit.
Ok so a couple of more posts left on stuff I had to fix due to damage done or illogical placement by Nakamura at WORX during the alarm and stereo install.  As you can tell from this post, these aren't necessary permanent fixes, but simply enough to get by without annoying the heck out of me everytime I get in my car.  One of these days I will find a proper shop and get everything properly sorted, but until then my fixes will work.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Fixing the Interior, Part 3 (Glove Box Door and Handbrake Boot)

So the mistake by Nakamura which upset me the most, was the damage to the leather interior that Cesar had worked on, taking several months to do so.  I mean, my car would be the first R33 GTR in the world to have a hand built, bespoke interior, and I was really looking forward to getting the car back and showing it off in its full glory.

Unfortunately, because Nakamura KEPT THE CAR 6 MONTHS!!! by the time I got it back, at least one tuner here in Japan had started offering a full leather interior as an option.

While I've previously shown the two bumps on the front, and explained why, I found these pictures on my phone which show you how those bumps came to be.

See those two small screws?  I took them out to find:

So you can see that these screws were actually cut SHORTER than they originally were.  In other words, Nakamura KNEW that they were too long, and instead of leaving the bracket loose or come up with some other way, went ahead and drilled away. Never mind that the screw tips were cut unevenly, thus resulting in a knifelike edge.

In any case, these two screws caused the glovebox front to gain these two dimples, likely due to plastic from the glovebox door being forced into the leather.

Anyway, once I had discovered these two screws to be the cause of the two dimples, I emailed Cesar (the guy who did the bespoke leather work for me, just in case you didn't follow the project earlier) for advice on what I should do, hoping maybe the application of a heat gun might be enough to fix the problem.

Cesar, however, immediately wrote back and offered to fix the glovebox door. One issue, however, was that he was worried that he might not have enough of the original "Cardinal" leather we had obtained from Wildman & Busby left. But, since we had not used the Bentley OEM leather due to imperfections, and we have two hides of material, we decided that might be an acceptable alternative. Being the perfectionist he is, he sent me the two follow photos showing the difference in leather, for my approval (left is the Bentley, right is the Cardinal):

And here is a close up of the texture:
CLOSE ENOUGH? I sure hope so...
But unfortunately, the glovebox door wasn't the only item that needed to be redone. As I mentioned here in my blog, while Cesar had initially used red stitching on the handbrake boot, after we consulted we decided to switch back to a boot using black stitching, in order to match the OEM look. In any case, Cesar had included both the red stitch and black stitch versions of the handbrake boot, just in case I later changed my mind.

Looks super OEM! But all REAL Leather... (OEM the boot is pleather)
Unfortunately, while Nakamura had my car in his custody, he THREW OUT this custom black stitch boot, presumably thinking that the above black one was the OEM one... AGAIN WITHOUT TELLING ME. FUCKER. So when I got the car back, it had the red stitch but no sign of the black stitch boot (I even looked in his pile of junk but couldn't find it).

Left side green arrow points to the red stitch handbrake boot. Right side shows unfinished key surround.
So, Cesar also kindly offered to redo the handbrake boot, using the Bentley leather, with black stitching.  Further, he offered BOTH A REDONE GLOVEBOX DOOR and HANDBRAKE BOOT at NO CHARGE.  CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW NICE HE IS?? Of course I wasn't going to allow that...(so yeah of course I paid him - totally worth it).

In any case, I sent him the damaged glove box door and the red stitched boot, a few short weeks went by and voila! A box from Mexico appeared at my front door.  Of course I had to wait for the weekend to open it up and enjoy perfection, but I was not disappointed.

And when I opened it:
Not only did he send back the Alcantara I had sent over in order to redo the glovebox interior...

The two handbrake boots! The red stitch one I had removed and sent over as a template, and a brand new black stitch one!

And of course, the redone glovebox.  Isn't it beautiful?
No more divots!
So of course, I jumped to fix as much as I could. First, I installed the black stitched parking brake boot.  Unfortunately no pictures of the install, but here is a better photo of the tab that I discovered had been snapped off when I removed the red stitched boot.

I used some plastic epoxy type glue, hope it holds but even if it doesn't the leather keeps things together... for now.

The bigger problem, at least for me, was how the glovebox door had become deformed due to the wiring needed for the ETC reader and the boost controller, that Nakamura had routed in the back.  As a reminder, previously the ETC reader had been in the center console, and further the wiring for the boost controller did not have heat shrink wrap around it - meaning that those cables could be passed through into the glovebox in a fairly flat way. But Nakamura's method of bundling cables for both devices now caused the front right side to sag.

How to fix this...
Given the newly repaired glovebox door, I wasn't going to rush trying to figure out how to fix this panel gap.  Initially, I tried to be very gentle.
It worked, kind of...
First, I used some spare weights to hold up the sides while putting pressure on the middle section, where the latch mechanism is.  I left this in a sunny room, hoping that the warmth would gently allow the weights to deform the glove box back into the proper shape. I figured if the latch mechanism was pushed outwards, the ends would be pushed upwards. In other words, I wanted to purposely have the ends too "tight" so that the latch would how the door closed snugly.

Unfortunately, after about a week, when I tried out on the car I did not see much progress. There appeared to still be about a millimeter of give on the right side where the gap was.

So, I decided to use a heat gun. Being VERY careful not to melt anything. I would heat up, and at the risk of burning of my fingers, try to bend the sides back up. I repeated this, sometimes even removing the glove box door in order to put more pressure on the sides.

Eventually, I got this:

Ok I took the photo at night - actually just a few minutes ago - sorry about the resolution but I was too excited not to share this with everyone. Finally looks flush, and there are no rattles either !

So am I done with fixing the damage done by Nakamura at WORX? Not quite, and I have a few more posts coming up soon to explain.

Thanks for the patience and understanding, everyone. I am finally starting to feel a bit better about the whole thing, in that there are fewer and fewer reminders about the problems each time I get in the car... 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Breathing Better, Revisited

So let's take a break from the repairs to the interior of my car.

A few weeks ago, fellow R33 GT-R owner, OCD clean freak and buddy Tom Smith messaged me to let me know that, not only had he been inspired to do a mod for his car from something he had seen on this blog, but he had actually taken measurements to prove that, indeed the mod had beneficial results!
Tom's gorgeous 33!
So to review - 9 years ago(!!) in April 2009, inspired by the underside ducting found on the R34 Z-tune's bonnet, I posted this mod on improving airflow into the car's airbox.  Basically, I took a cheap aluminum radiator panel, made some cuts and folded down to create a channel for air to better flow into the OEM airbox.  Here are some photos from that post.

You can see the lines upon where the cuts were made
Added foam to prevent air leakage
You can make out the ducting from behind the grill
At the time of my post, I reported that I had better throttle response, but I had no way of measuring actual engine response.

Tom, on the other hand, runs a Power FC commander which measures intake temperature.  And he made a proper version of this air inlet scoop, as shown below - sides welded shut and the entire thing beautifully powder-coated.

First, as you can see Tom had the sides welded shut
And then powder coated matte black

That looks absolutely FANTASTIC! OEM like!
Likewise you can see the scoop behind the grill.
So, back to the numbers. In ambient temperature of around 16 degrees Celsius, in order to remove any variables Tom drove on a dual carriageway and for about 3 miles at 115kph in 5th gear. He then recorded the temperatures as he passed under the same bridge so as to allow the car to stabilize the temperatures.  First pass, without the panel was 38 degrees C.  Second pass, WITH this modified panel fitted, was 33~34 degrees C.

Doing the math, that's about 10% cooler!!

He also found "what is immediately apparent is how much more crisp it is on throttle response" - and yep this is exactly what I recall too.  It's as if the engine finally has the correct amount of air going into it in the first place.

So I suspect those who remove the stock airbox have similar thoughts - they can sense the instant response - but remember as temperatures rise under the hood, my thinking is that this kind of fresh air scoop is the only way to get the best of both worlds - more air volume but cooler.


Big thanks to Tom Smith for doing this and providing me with the photos and the numbers. I wonder if there are any other mods I did in the past that others can improve on. If so, PLEASE let me know!!