Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Problems Solved... With a Smile!

So as I indicated in my latest Speedhunters post, the guys at Nissan Prince Tokyo Motorsports Factory were able to fix the leak in the transfer case, despite NISMO's apparent refusal to acknowledge any liability. And, they did so without charging me. So a word to the wise before spending lots of money in the belief that name brands will have good customer service. I'm hoping I just got unlucky, but I was in turn lucky that the dealership did the right thing.

With me trying to learn how to take photos, there were bound to be some that ended up on the Speedhunters cutting room floor. But this is my blog, so I though I'd share some here.

Clearly Mr. Dalle Carbonare has been in Japan too long, with the school boy "V" sign during photos
So at casual glance, you see a boring standard Nissan dealer, complete with EV charging station out front
Look closely and you see the sign suggesting goodies within
Here I jumped out, trying my hand at being a Speedhunter. Ok never mind.
And yes Dino's two way turnsignal/daylight  LEDs are acting up
I like this shot because it shows that BNR34s only had the outside only brake lamps that lit up.
So the Kohki/Series 3 R33 GT-Rs are an anomaly, as it does this also, different from all other 33s and all 32s.

Anyway, once we parked we inspected my car. Although I didn't bother mentioning in the Speedhunters post, I was more concerned about the left wheel wobble, than the leaking transfer case. I had another photo I took of the underside, simply because it was so clean underneath, with all the new GETRAG related parts. But as I discussed in the Speedhunters article, that problem was fixed, with a smile!

About the wheel wobble though - turns out I also didn't have to worry. The Nissan techs figured out what was wrong that caused the wheel wobble - turned out that the bolts (circled in red above) holding the Do-Luck roll-center adaptors in had loosened up. So, they tightened them up, on both sides for good measure.

Here is a close up of the Do-Luck roll center adjuster - you can see the red circle contains what other roll center adjusters look like, but the rest of the part is designed to allow the tie rods to be raised back up to OEM spec. This results in lighter steering, with less stress on the steering rack.

So now that I have the rebuilt Ohlins on, with a laser wheel alignment, all wheels balanced, and the roll-center adaptors solidly bolted on, how does the car feel?

In a word - amazing. The roll center adjusters keep the steering light, but with everything squared up and tight, the feel through the wheel is amazing. I still feel a slight dead spot straight on, but even so it's much less than what I recall from before. So, it's been a long journey with many mods and parts but I am finally very close to what I believe to be the best handling, feeling wise, my car is capable of (despite the wide tires and relatively heavy chassis - it will never be like an NSX, unfortunately).

I did drop a hint in the Speedhunters post, however, about what I want to do soon to further improve the handling. The only things stopping me at the moment are time and money, which hopefully I can figure out a work around to...

Meanwhile I may have some other stuff on the horizon. Stay tuned and thanks as always for reading this blog!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Uh-Oh... Is this Serious?

As I hinted in my last post, when I picked up my car from Ninomiya-san after he had installed the rebuilt Öhlins DFVs, he had some disconcerting news: the NEW transfer case was LEAKING OIL!  Since this is a brand new BNR34 transfer, part of the NISMO GETRAG Transmission Conversion Kit for the R32/R33 which I had had installed just last August, I was not happy to say the least, hoping that it would be just a matter of tightening a few bolts or sealing it up.

So I took the car back to Nissan Prince Tokyo Motorsports at the Nissan Prince dealership in Sakura-Shinmachi, about a 30 minute drive from my house.
Indulge me, still learning how to use the camera...

The technicians immediately rolled the car onto the lift, and found this:
Otherwise, was really, REALLY clean underneath!
A clear leak. They admitted they had never seen this before, and were just as puzzled as me as to what the cause could be. Maybe not bolted up tight enough? Maybe a gasket? Maybe the transfer is bad? In any case, they took a whole bunch of photos of the area and the car, so they could email them to NISMO. Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday, no immediate response would be coming.  While they had the car up, I asked about the main driveshaft, whether it was the same as the BNR34's... the answer is no, apparently it's a bespoke NISMO piece. Oh well, so much for getting that carbon fiber driveshaft...

Also, while they had the car up, I remembered that a few months back Dino had mentioned something about a slight shimmy in the steering wheel.  Turns out he was right!

Luckily it was only on this side...
Their initial diagnosis was either a bad tie rod bearing, or the bolts attaching the Do-Luck roll center adjuster needed to be tightened, but only on the left side.

In any case, as I don't need my car this week, I decided to leave the car with them for a few days so they can discuss with NISMO what to do about that transfer case leak.

So I watched them lower the car and pull up in front of their car elevator:

Before watching the door come down, and saying goodbye.

Hopefully, the phone call I get, won't be an expensive one...

Monday, July 25, 2016

Öhlins DFV Rebuild (Part 2) and Factory Tour!

Note: The following began as a post for another site. Unfortunately, that fell through. So, please enjoy this "exclusive" post, which I've modified and added to provide more detail than what would have ended up on the other site.

1.     In the Beginning   2. Rebuild Time   3. Factory Tour.   4. Reinstall and Impressions

1. In the Beginning
Rolling on the S-Tunes...
Soon after I bought my BCNR33, seeking a more sporty ride and wedded to the idea of “close to OEM as possible,” I replaced the OEM (“GT-R” labeled!) shocks with Nismo’s street focused, steel bodied S-Tune shock absorbers, which looked great and had a slightly firmer, sportier ride. 
Like these
After a few years however, I found performance on the track to be a bit lacking.  At the same time, I began reading about rebuildable, customizable “proper coilovers” and then found that Öhlins had come out with their aluminum bodied “DFV” coilovers (incorporating their Dual Flow Valve system) for the BCNR33 and BNR34. 

Developed by Öhlins AB in Sweden, the DFV technology uses two sub-valves, one on the compression side and the other on the rebound side, to supplement the main piston.  These valves allow for high speed (not car velocity, but how quickly the dampers react to the road surface) damping, while the main piston handles low speed damping. This means, while maintaining the characteristics of the main piston (which can be paired with a fairly stiff spring, as is often the case for cars that might see the track), DFV equipped dampers respond almost immediately to minor road imperfections, thus maximizing tire traction while giving a smooth, compliant ride.
Despite the DFV coilovers being relatively new to the market back then, I managed to find and buy a used set online for a great price.  The seller claimed he had bought them new and then used them for a few thousand kilometers before switching back to something softer, only then to have his car stolen! Thus, he was divesting himself of all of his leftover GT-R parts.  Anyway, once installed they were indeed like new, and I immediately noticed the difference between the S-Tunes, with the ride being much firmer, but also, and quite paradoxically, extremely smooth.

2. Rebuild Time
Flash forward six years and several thousand kilometers later, the ride had gotten progressively worse, but I didn’t really think anything was off until on a recent journey to the back roads of Chiba Prefecture with Mr. Dalle Carbonare, when we both agreed that something seemed off, that the suspension seemed to not have enough rebound. It was a reminder that my gold DFV coilovers were long overdue for a rebuild.

Looks great, but the ride was actually not as good as it should have been.
As I don’t have the garage space to do a coilover removal and reinstall, I asked Ninomiya-san (my neighborhood mechanic) to do the work at his shop, “BeAmbitious.”  Once removed, the actual rebuild would take place at Öhlins’ authorized Japanese manufacturer and distributor, Labo Carrozzeria in Adachi Ward, Tokyo.  Turns out, as an ex-NISMO race team mechanic, Ninomiya-san has plenty of contacts in the industry, and so knowing I wanted to see how a rebuild was done, he called Labo Carrozzeria and arranged for me to visit them for a private tour of their operations.

3. Factory Tour
Outside Labo Carrozzeria, where Öhlins are built and serviced.
Upon my arrival, I was greeted by Hiroshi Shitakubo, Group Leader for the Sales Department.  After exchanging pleasantries (turns out we know people in common in the car world here!), he gave me a short history lesson on Öhlins AB and how they had begun in Sweden making shocks for 2 wheeled vehicles. He also discussed their current product line-up, including their racing, rally and offroad, and Build To Order (BTO) applications, their JDM-only models, and of course their DFV coilovers, now silver in color (due to environmental concerns) and sold worldwide as their “Road & Track” models.

One question I was curious about – the difference between the Road & Track models versus the Öhlins models with remote-reservoir tanks, such as the Flag-R series for GT-Rs.  Shitakubo-san explained that the remote-reservoir models do not have DFV technology, but they do have more fluid volume and adjustability, so in a nutshell, the Road & Tracks are more street (with the occasional track day) focused, while the external tank models are more track oriented, given their increased adjustability along with the smooth pavement of the race track. Plus, he mentioned that many GT-R owners love how the reservoir tank model “looks cool.”

Shitakubo-san then invited me to tour the factory/workshop floor with him.  On entry, he pointed out that most the workstations are dedicated to the automotive line-up, with the motorcycle section in a segregated space in back.
Shitakubo-san leading me onto the workshop floor...
Unfortunately, it turned out that they had already finished rebuilding my DFV coilovers so I wasn’t able to watch them do that.  However, I was able to witness various coilovers at different stages of overhaul, as well as new Road & Track sets being built.

The new silver colored Road & Tracks being assembled
For rebuilds, all the incoming coilovers are thoroughly cleaned, inspected and then disassembled.
Total concentration there...
All disassembled, ready to be rebuilt
Certain parts are always replaced, whether or not the wear is obvious or not.  Those parts include the various internal seals, and of course the oil. 
Where the DFV magic resides
On occasion, they will spot damage to the main piston, or other areas including the exterior, and when this affects performance they will change out those parts as well.  Never having seen the innards before, I was surprised to learn how many pieces make up the valve assembly:

Lots of pieces...
Close up of the valve
The coilovers are then reassembled to the customer’s order, which might include changed springs and compression/rebound rates, as well as the addition of optional features. Finally the coilover undergoes several QC checks before being shipped back to the customer. In my case, as you can see below, I chose to swap out the standard pillow ball mounts with rubber mounts, but kept everything else standard to the recommended Öhlin spec.

Here is a pair of newly rebuilt BTO DFVs for a Lexus IS-F (not mine unfortunately):
They really don't replace external parts for cosmetic reasons... this IS-F sees a lot of action I guess
And a close-up of new Road & Tracks ready to get shipped out.
So they no longer make the gold ones... hold onto them as collectibles!
4. Reinstall and Impressions
When my schedule finally cleared up a few weeks later, I dropped into BeAmbitious where I had the pleasure of removing my rebuilt DFV coilovers from their protective bubble wrap packaging.
The anticipation was too much...
I tore off that bubble wrap in no time!! Then starting drooling.
Interestingly, Labo Carrozzeria also sends back all the used parts, mainly to give picky owners peace of mind that they did the rebuild.

Obviously I can't tell what is worn out... but I've heard it's those rubber rings...
Here you can see how the top mounts are now rubber (compared to the old solid mounts).  Shitakubo-san told me these were developed in order to absorb the noise that normally gets transmitted via the solid mounts, even when new.  I've since learned that there might be a loss in feel but...

Old solid mount on left, coilover now hos the rubber mount.
This photo also reminded me that the set-up uses Eibach springs too... quality throughout!
Once re-installed on my GT-R, I could not believe how amazing the ride was. The ride was extremely smooth, quiet and comfortable but at the same time firm and stable, with no weird body movements, whether at low or high speed.  The entire car feels very tight, but without any harshness. Loss of feel due to the rubber mounts? None that I could detect, really!

Given that Öhlins markets the Road & Track series as improvements to the OEM suspensions on high performance German cars, I think that gives you an idea of the kind of performance I am trying to describe.  If you do a search on the web, I see so many comparisons between the DFVs and other very famous brands, and almost always the verdict is in favor of the DFVs. So I'm happy I stumbled onto them.

Oh, and now, after having driven the GT-R with these rebuilt, I know why Öhlins recommends a rebuild every 2 years or 20,000 kms.
What I saw when I went to pick up the GT-R...
"Anyway, now with these as-new DFV coilovers, along the stiffened chassis and NISMO suspension links, I’m pretty happy with the handling characteristics of the car.  However, I’m not done yet as I have several projects in mind, all aimed at seeking further refinement on various aspects of the car, and not just in the handling department.  Thanks for reading this and next time I hope to showcase one of those refinements."

And so with the quote above, I ended the original post... but it turned out that Ninomiya-san had spotted something odd on the car when he was doing the reinstall... stay tuned and I will post an update on that!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Smallest, Quickest Mod Ever?

So of the 3 parts I got (as I mentioned in my last post), 2 require some disassembly of my car, so I will deal with them later; but one is a 15 second affair.

Just this one little piece...
If you recall I now have a brand new cowl piece, for some reason this part was missing.

A while back, I had replaced the cowl on my car, with a brand new part. Looks great, but I noticed one part that seemed to be missing. You can see in the photo above that it looked like there is supposed to be a square plug?

Anyway, took what - exactly 1 second to push it in...excuse the dirt there...
So I am guessing that, this might prevent some water from getting in there, but remind me to go back and ask the guys at Nissan if it's supposed to be round like this. Little things like this bother me.

Although from a far, you really can't tell anyway...
You may have noticed that these photos seem a bit different than those I usually post here. That's because these were taken not with my usual iPhone, but this time with my Nikon D90 DSLR, and with a fixed, non-zoom 35 mm Nikkor lens (can you tell I have very little experience with photography?...)

Anyway, with my car now being featured on Speedhunters, I've been told that I need to use a proper camera and also learn about "bokeh" and such to take the photos in a way that I focus on the subject. So was told to fool around with the camera, set it on Aperture mode, etc.  And so this is what I've been doing. Any tips?

By the way - it turned out the Ohlins had been done for a few weeks, and have already been sent back to BeAmbitious for reinstallation. However both myself and Ninomiya-san have been too busy to deal with this, but we finally did last week. My next post WILL be about the Ohlins, and very soon...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Most Interesting Visit To Nissan Prince Tokyo...(The Ultimate Garage?)

About a month ago, while still waiting for the Ohlins DFVs on my car to be rebuilt, I got a call from Nissan Prince, telling me that a few more parts that I had ordered for my GT-R had come in.

Now, I knew that I had ordered something, but basically forgot what they were. So, there was no burning desire on my part to visit them. Plus, I'd feel awkward rolling up in the Lexus... but a couple of weekends ago, I had nothing to do, so said what the heck and paid a visit.

Pretty EPIC photo actually... probably have to be a REAL F car to park a Lexus there...
I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there. Despite my 10 years of patronage, I had never seen this kind of line-up:
Where to begin? Check out this line-up!
An R31 GTS,  BNR32, BCNR33, BNR34 (and a V-Spec II too), and a Stagea RS260. All under the same roof, it's like a Nissan fanboy's dream garage!

I love the boxy shape... but then looking closer I saw something under the front bumper...
The GT AutoSpoiler!
So if you want to know why I got so excited with this: Check out from about 0:26 to the end, where they should you the AutoSpoiler in action.

That is just TOO cool....Active aero.... hmm... gives me an idea for my car!!

Oh man that is mid 1980s goodness (except for the nice Nardi wheel there...)! Boxy and square, no airbags!
Yeah yeah ok a V-Spec II. Yawn. Seen several before...
Now THIS is more interesting. I had never seen one up close before, or maybe it's because I have a family now that I'm more sensitive to more "practical" transportation!
And yes of course the 33 had some interesting bits as well:
Note the optional front bumper oil cooler intake/exhaust. 

The 33 had the optional Nissan engine oil cooler and the funky bumper mounted intake and exhaust... on the later cars like mine (the kohki or Series 3 as they are called in English), the left turn signal actually had a built in cut-out, compared to the earlier cars.

Like this:
Note the cutout for air going to the oil cooler that MIGHT be installed on the left side of the front bumper.

Finally, right when I was about to leave, this pulled up:
Not a real Z-tune, but a very good copy.
For some reason the guy left his car idling, stinking up the entire place. I had to roll up the windows in my Lexus as my son was asleep in the back. Oh, and never mind the exhaust particles getting everywhere (and yes on my Lexus' paint...)

So what did I pick up, spare parts-wise?

Just 3 small things...
Stay tuned as I show you what I got, and for what!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Yes On Speedhunters Now... But Don't Worry....

This Blog Isn't Going Anywhere...

So by now, you've seen that my friend Dino has managed to convince me to begin posting on Speedhunters.  As I stated in that post, the main reason is to show everyone how great a car the R33 GT-R is, despite the lack of attention compared to the R32 and R34. What better way to reach, and educate, the masses?

And yes, I expect the haters to come out, but I also expect the fans to come defend the car as well. We shall see. No doubt this will be interesting, but it won't stop me.

In any case, what you will begin seeing is that the Speedhunters posts I do will be photo intense, as befitting the Speedhunters theme.   Since I know nothing about photography, and I have no intention of aspiring to be a "pro" like some people out there, I am hoping the "full auto" setting on my Nikon DSLR will be able to produce some nice photos.

I will continue to blog here of course, and here I will go into more detail about the mods I do and the adventures I have.  In addition, I expect there to be some posts that are not featured on Speedhunters at all, either being too nerdy/OCD or historical pieces like the one I did comparing the R34 GT-R with the R33.

For this first Speedhunters post, Dino and I actually took advantage of our trip to visit Nakamura-san at Worx Auto Alarm earlier this year.  After our visit, there was a beach nearby, so with daylight fading we found a place to park and for Dino to take a few photos. Here are some photo I took of Dino at work:

I think this shot didn't end up making it...maybe because it shows our two kids in the back seat?

He forgot to remove the extra clear floor mat covering the GT-R floor mat...

This one came out beautifully. I can see why it isn't just point and shoot.

So far away, but the photo that resulted looked just right! Must be a lens thing...

Dino's camera bag was HUGE. Took up most of the space in the trunk! So much pro stuff...

So yes, the fact I have these photos means that, back in April I knew something was up. Believe me I'm happy to be able to post on Speedhunters, I'm sure many would give their right arm to do so. So, I have to thank Dino for the opportunity.  But now, the pressure is ON. Not only to post, but to find more new and interesting parts to fit to my car in my quest for "balanced refinement" which as you know has always been my theme.

So if you guys, my loyal and original readers, have any ideas, please let me know! Better yet, if you know of someone or some company itching to get their product featured on Speedhunters, AND of course it works on the R33 GT-R, send them my way please! Of course will give proper credit for ideas and referrals on Speedhunters, so long as they let me!!