Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nismo Steering Bushes and Rear Member Brace!

Third event for the day, installation of Nismo reinforced steering bushes, and the Nismo rear member brace.

Here is a comparison of the steering rack bushes, new (Nismo reinforced on top) and the old ones, removed. With firmer bushings, the steering is supposed to be more precise in feel, as the firmer rubber provides more direct feedback.

Hirose-san had a full shop, so had to work on my car on jackstands on the ground - being early evening did not help, but he got it done!

Then it was on to the rear member brace - this is a piece that had interested me for a long time. Two tubular steel braces on each side, which are supposed to increase the rigidity of the rear suspension links - developed for and used on the R34 Z-tune, but as the R33 shares the same rear suspension (or should we say, the R34 GTR shares the same set up as the R33??) they work on the R33 too. Benefits of these pieces is it is supposed to keep the rear links aligned better, for all around better performance of the rear suspension.

Here is the right side rear axle, and you can see the new piece being added (it's cleaner than the other pieces!)

Ok, here I am pointing at it, just in case.

Steering bushings - well I have to say I have mixed feelings. The steering feels LIGHTER than before, and yes, quicker to respond. On the other hand, the steering feels somewhat "numb" on center. Maybe it's the tires, I will have to see what happens at the upcoming track day with SSCT on April 25 when I put on S-tires.

As for the rear member brace - this DEFINITELY is an improvement. When I accelerate the car, I can feel the rear end more "planted" than before. This is probably working in conjunction with the underfloor bracing which gives the car more rigidity, but the power seems to be getting to the rear wheels better. Again, we will see what happens at the track day, whether my times improve...

Private Tour of Tomei Powered!

So how do I get so lucky? Clean living I guess...

Anyway, a good friend who works at Tomei invited me for a tour - yep these guys are working hard even on Saturday! Not being one to turn down such an offer, I made haste and drove to the Tomei Powered headquarters building, and parked my car outside... and had to of course take the obligatory photograph to share!

Walking inside the lobby, my friend Allen greeted me, and immediately gave me a history lesson of the company. And then showed me some of the products they make - this was somewhat of a review for me, because any one into cars in Japan knows about Tomei.

Here is a cutaway of their new design turbo for the Evo. Apparently they no longer use ball bearings, for increased reliability. The ones for the GT-R are being developed as we speak!

Speaking of development work - here is a Subaru engine in the dyno room - the blue covers give it away as a custom built Tomei Genesis engine...

According to Allen - "this is the actual race engine for the Tomei Cusco Time Attack Impreza that will be shipped to the World Time Attack event in Sydney Australia.

Expect it see it in action with the worlds best on May 21st and 22nd!"

When the Tomei engineers assemble the engines, they ensure first that all the parts to be put together are at the exact same temperature, in order to avoid expansion/contraction problems. Here, Allen demonstrates by showing me with the infra-red thermometer pointing at some cylinder heads - all 21 degrees Celsius!

Or, as Allen better put it - "here you can see how the parts are left to sit in the room to all become the same temperature before final measurements and assembly. Here you can see these pistons are at 21 degrees celsius. When all the pistons, rods, bearings, crank etc. are all the same temperature then the magic begins."

Outside, we found a Nismo Z33 with a Tomei engine. Apparently a demo car, but beautifully put together - it had a roll cage, but the seams were seamless, and the cage itself was so carefully worked into the interior, you could barely tell it was there!

Here is an old lathing machine - apparently older than me, on which one of the founding brothers still custom makes camshafts.

Here is an old Nissan 6 cylinder engine head, showing rust(!) as well as 4 valves per cylinder. Originally built in 1968, it was delivered to Tomei to get some refreshing work!

Here is an example of what happens with too much boost! Not even a forged Tomei piston head can withstand excessive abuse!
Additional info from Allen - "that was an SR20 with the exhaust valve sticking out of the top of the piston!"

Did you know that Tomei makes some of the best exhausts? Their chief exhaust engineer (ex-Yoshimura) handcrafts prototypes (some of the most beautiful welding I've ever seen), then constructs his own jigs to ensure perfection. To the uneducated, a Titanium exhaust is a Titanium exhaust, but Tomei ones have NO seam... which means that all of their tubes are punched out, rather than welded. Take a good look at one if you get a chance!

Finally, downstairs, lo and behold, we found the car Tarzan Yamada will be driving soon to attempt another speed record. Amazing the lightening techniques being used.

Alarm Shop, and previews of the rest of the day... (full reports next 2 posts)

So today (Saturday March 27) turned out to be a pretty busy day.

First, the door opening solenoid linked to the alarm had died some time ago, and so I had been manually opening the doors - call me a lazy, but when you get used to a convenience, it becomes hard to go back to the "old" way. I had taken the driver's door apart, and figured out that no current was reaching the solenoid - and suspected something in the main alarm brain unit, but there was no way I was going to fix that on my own. Plus, how do these Japanese do it? Impossible to find the brain unit. So I had made an appointment with the shop where I had the alarm installed, almost 5 years ago! And it turns out that they are much closer to where I live now, than before.

Mirage Tokyo is the Tokyo branch of a well known Kansai-based auto alarm shop. They advertise in GT-R Magazine, which is where I found them. Here is the outside:

Here's my car being worked on. When they installed my alarm, they blocked off the license plates from view from outside, just in case, I guess (didn't see if they did it this time...). Turns out that GT-Rs are no longer on the top 10 list of cars that get stolen in Japan, however! It also turns out that I was smart to purchase the top of the line model when I did - although there have been some tweaks, it still is one of the best models out there!

The alarm guys ended up replacing the internal relay. So not a big deal, although it did take about 2 hours. But nice to have everything functioning smoothly again! Thank you guys!

Then, at the invitation of a friend who works there, I was offered a private tour of Tomei Powered! Yes, the very famous engine/engine parts maker. See my next post for full details.

After that, as I was closer to Hirose-san's shop - I went over and had a few more parts that I had ordered installed. See the dedicated post for details.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mine's front pipe, Nismo underfloor brace

So...after having successfully passed the bi-annual shaken, first order of business - have the Mine's front pipe put back on!

As I had wanted to also get the front Nismo underfloor brace - and Hirose-san of Three H Tuning -
- had gotten one for a good price, I decided to try out his shop - and have the Mine's pipe put back on at the same time. So good timing!

Three H is a one man show - Hirose-san's own shop. He's a former Nissan mechanic, and his shop specializes in Silvias and RB series Skylines and GT-Rs. My friend Alex had somehow heard of him, and found his shop. What's great is that, despite it being a one lift shop, it has plenty of the right equipment - as you can see from these pictures. As he is located in Sagamihara (near the Zama and Atsugi military bases) - for those of you who live near the area - definitely worth checking him out!!

Including, of course, a spare RB26DETT engine!

So here is the standard front pipe:

After removing it, looking up towards the exhaust outlets...

On the left - the Nismo front underfloor brace. On the right - the standard front pipe!

Here is Hirose-san spot fitting the Nismo brace under the Mine's front pipe - as the pipe had been deemed too large - thereby being too low to the ground (min is 9cm, apparently - and with this pipe I am only 7cm off the ground - you can see where I've been scraping!), we were worried that the underfloor brace would not fit.

But guess what - it fits! Just barely, with only about 1 cm to spare! Whew!

The standard underfloor brace only ties the left and right sides together. This Nismo piece - just like the rear Nismo one - not only ties the front back together, but it also attaches to the steering rack! Here is a close-up.

Another shot:

A shot showing the two places where the brace attaches to the steering rack.

Anyway - got back in the car - and wow - the Mine's front pipe sure makes a difference. Engine seems to respond "just" that much better. Sounds deeper, too. For some reason, with the stock pipe on, the engine felt a bit jittery... too much back pressure? Anyway, I'm happy that the Mine's pipe is back on. Definitely breathing better.

As for the Nismo front underbrace - yes, there sure is a difference. The car has good rigidity to begin with, but with this brace, you can FEEL the body a bit better, and the steering feels a bit more direct. At least to me, the car seems to respond a bit better...

Anyway - future mods will include the Nismo/Yamaha Performance Dampers
- more body rigidity improvements - along with, possibly - the Nismo Rear Member Brace - which are additional bracing that go with the Nismo Circuit Links which I have on my car.

What's cool about the Rear Member Brace is that it was developed for the Z-Tune R34, but made available for all R33 and R34s with the Nismo link upgrade.

However, at least one person in the know has said his lap times got worse when this piece was fitted, giving me something to think about.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Getting ready for Shaken (last belated post) and changing out my wheels

Anyone who's owned a car in Japan knows about the bi-annual (every two years) Shaken (車検)(mandatory safety inspection)process. What a farce, and a pain.

At its core, you have to pay various taxes, based on the size of the car and its engine size. Then, mandatory insurance in case you hit someone. Then, the car has to be in "safe operating condition" - which really is a chance for dealerships and repairshops to get rich doing minor work that normally would not cause a car to blow up on the road. Like mis-aimed headlights or old wiper blades. Or wheels and tires that stick out past the fenderwells (this is illegal in Japan).

So I found myself at the Camp Zama auto shop on Saturday, with my good friend DCD. Apparently he's somewhat known in the rice rocket world for his work taking photos of certain flashy J-cars. Whatever. Talk about exploiting a niche! Lucky bastard!

Anyway DCD had offered to come with me to change out the wheels and tires of my car, back to the standard 17in alloys, with new tires (the superb Dunlop Star Specs). As Alex had already taken the tires off for his son to use (my donation), all we had to do was to install the new tires and balance the wheels!

Here is my car in the shop, right before we changed the wheels.

Once we had the car up, I started cleaning the underside (phone call to Nissan and they told me that they do this for the Shaken!). Meanwhile, DCD and Alex decreed that, the rubber strip I had added to the front spoiler was a hazard as it was hanging off a bit, so they proceeded to remove it.

I next decided to wash the car - what the heck. After I pulled the car back inside and started to towel dry it off, it hit me - why not use compressed air to PROPERLY dry the car?

Then DCD discovered the air hose was good for cleaning interiors, too! Here he is, hard at work...

On Saturday, took my car to a local shaken specialist. Unfortunately, they decreed that my front pipe was too big - the ground clearance was LESS than the required 9cm... so on Sunday, went to Yokota base to borrow a standard front pipe from my friend James, and drove back to the shop in the Toyota Cresta they lent to me so they could install the standard pipe. Talk about a real hassle. The shop also said the left front CV boot was torn, necessitating replacement (which they did).

Picked up the car last night - all in all, a relatively good experience, as I'm pretty sure I saved lots of $$$$ in the process! But this weekend, I'll have to put the Mine's front pipe back on...

Belated post #3 - March 10 Daikoku PA gathering

Just some random photos. Got there late, and had to talk to everyone, so unfortunately didn't have time for decent photography. But it was good to see everyone, Nick, Dan, Dave, Dino, James, Thomas, and some new faces - and my new Japanese friend Narita-san was there too!

Here's my car (again, see how perfect the paint is now) next to Thomas's flashy purple machine!

Oh yeah, the 310 club was there... some very, very cool cars...

Much belated post #2 - Fuji Speedway Short Course - in the pouring rain!

Date: Thursday, February 11, 2010.

So the SSCT had its track day at the FISCO short course. What a crazy day!

I was running S-tires - which made for a handful, as I drove onto the track, I was clearly not the fastest, as my car was overpowered and the car slid everywhere! Nevertheless, based on my last lap time here, I was placed in the "most advanced" group...

Several cars slid off the track. Here's an Evo that got lucky and came to a slow stop next to the (soft) tire wall.

Here is a friend of mine (Hiraga-san) in his very unique and beautiful LeMans edition R33, getting ready to go onto the track!

On a day like this, the clear advantage went to the fully computerized cars - ie the R35 GTRs. They didn't seem to be having too much trouble.

alas, my driving skill is lacking... right before lunchtime, I was on the track, and came out of the last left turn onto the straight...and applied power a bit too soon. Later pro racer Tominaga-san told me I should have been a bit more patient! Because I applied the throttle a bit too aggressively, and the rear end swung out. I corrected but the car did not respond, the rear end HIT the guard rail with a CLANG!!!

I was too shell shocked to take any photos, but I ended up with a fist sized dent in the rear quarter panel, but luckily the rear bumper took most of the impact - it had to be replaced. Not so lucky were the 2 guardrails I hit - the FISCO staff declared them a loss - and had I not had my FISCO license, they would have charged me the full amount for them! These small guardrails are 40,000 yen each!! Luckily, I ended up paying only 5000 yen each for them.

So the lesson here is, get a FISCO license!!

So I immediately took the car (curtailing the rest of the day's run) to my favorite body shop in Yokohama.

10 days later, I went to pick the car up.
PERFECT!!! Look at this, can't even tell.

As a bonus - I had two severe door dings removed too, while the car was in the shop. One was a dent on the driver's door that I think had always been there. The other was clearly done by a tall SUV door, sometime when I lived in Tokyo, located on the C pillar.

And now, PERFECT!!

At this rate, the only parts left are some scuffing on the side skirts (next time I will apply clear 3M material), the hood/bonnet - some idiot apparently sat on the hood, giving it a slight crease...and of course the various chips from actual driving... and a slightly off color front fender (I was told by the body shop that they think the previous owner did a repair there).

Not that I'm looking for an excuse to have my car in the bodyshop again, but wow, the work is spectacular!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Much belated post #1 - getting ready for Fuji Speedway - NISMO Underfloor Brace

Date: Sunday February 7 (I think):

So I decided to pop into Camp Zama (courtesy of my friend Alex) and work on my car, get it ready for the upcoming SSCT Track Day at Fuji Speedway ShortCourse on February 11th.

I had previously ordered the NISMO Under-Floor Reinforcing Bar - there are two pieces, front and mid-section. Unfortunately, the front was out of stock, so I just went ahead and purchased the midsection pieces only.

Here is the site to the English Nismo products page:

After doing an oil change, I proceeded with the install - unfortunately, both lifts were being used, so I had to make do with a quasi lift thingy, which meant that I had to crawl under the car, which was raised only a meter or so:

So here are the pieces, left and right:

Here is a comparison of the Nismo piece and the part that came standard off the car.
Not only is the geometry different, but the Nismo piece feels about 1/3 of the weight of the stock piece!

It's hard to tell from the Nismo website exactly what these pieces do. What I learned is that the stock pieces provide rigidity laterally (side to side), but the Nismo pieces, in addition to being lighter, also provide longitudinal rigidity (front back). That's what the Y-shape does - the arm sticking out provides support/rigidity on the front/back axis.

In other words, it ties these two bolt holes together - the black standard piece is replaced, and the Y-arm then also bolts onto where the rear suspension bracket is (the bolt on the top of this photo):

The stock piece, left side (taken from rear of car):

Stock piece, right side (taken from rear of car):

Here is how the right side looks after install.

All in all, a very simple mod to make. NO holes that need be drilled for these center pieces - although the ones for the front require holes to be drilled.

And the difference? Yes, there is one. The car definitely feels flatter and yes, more rigid when driving. Maybe I'm not the most sensitive driver, but even I feel an increase in how the car feels.

I then went home and took out the rear seat - easy enough, here is the rear bulkhead with the insulation still hanging:

And here it is after I removed it (not even bolted on, just hanging off some hooks).

I had planned to lay this with an Electra Dry Carbon sheet that I had bought, but in the end, it was too much hassle.

Check out how gorgeous this dry carbon is though!