Saturday, February 25, 2012

DIY LED Courtesy Lighting, Part 2

Continuing from my last post -
Part 2 - LED Interior Door Handle Courtesy Lights.

At the same time I was working on the outside door handle courtesy lights, I happened to see a picture of a car with interior courtesy lights, illuminating the inside door handles. Doesn't really make too much sense, actually, since the interior lights up, but heck maybe there is a time when I purposely turn the interior lights off? And would need to find the door handles in the dark?

Ok, there is also the cool factor. This project involved some experimentation but in the end was actually easier than the outside light.

But I first ordered some white and red LEDs:

Then, a close look at the door handle assembly (this has the rods extending out connecting to the door lock, etc. - and is visible once the door card is off) showed that, there is a small gap on top - it is as if a notch has been cut into the top lip of the assembly. Perfect for securing the LED body (tape and silicon sealant) and having just enough space for the LED lighting to show through.

Initially I tried to be clever and drilled a hole in the detachable back cover to the handle, and inserted an LED to shine directly into the interior, but then realized that I could not remove the cover (which is needed to remove the door card) without damaging the LED. So, the decision was made to mount the LED in the place I found as shown above, shining indirectly down, without interfering with removal of the back cover plate. When removed, the door handle looks like this (with door card still in place):

Wiring was simple, it is the same circuit as that of the outside LEDs. As I mentioned in my previous post, however, I wired in a resistor for the "dim and fade out" effect (a luxury car touch? LOL), otherwise the LEDs inside and out were just going to turn on and off, like that.  Luckily, it turns out that there is an easy solution:

Part number 1851, a resistor designed especially for LED lighting, from Amon Kogyo, a supplier of various DIY car parts in Japan.

Turns out, that actually the most difficult part was drilling a hole in the back plate to allow the light to shine through. After some experimentation - in other words drilling a hole too large and having the light spill out past the door handle and onto the arm rest, I used some electrical tape to cover up the excess hole, as you can see in this photo:

I plan to try to find replacements on Yahoo Auctions and drill more accurate holes later, but for now this will do.

Here is how it looks when complete and the door is unlocked. Note my choice of RED LEDs, to complement my red themed interior.

So what do people think of my LED courtesy lights? Cool? Tacky? Interesting? All comments welcome!

PS Still more to come later in the future with LED interior lighting - maybe (have to use those white ones somewhere!) - so stay tuned as I'm still plotting...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

DIY LED Courtesy Lighting, Part 1

Can a sports car have luxury touches? Why not? The R33 GT-R has power windows and mirrors, air conditioning and a stereo with power antenna all as standard equipment, so the answer should be YES! Although these items add weight, unless you're driving a Caterham or Lotus, I'm hard pressed to find a modern sports car without these amenities.

Anyway, I've recently begun to think about how I can make my car MORE comfortable and modern, yet still remain a sports car. But what kind of modifications could I do that are relatively easy, don't add too much weight, and don't cost too much?

With the car having been made in the late 1990s, I naturally have looked at the modern cars of today for some inspiration.

Enter LED lighting. LEDs are great, they don't draw too much current, and last longer than regular incandescent bulbs. Which means I can easily wire them into places where it would be a pain to have to change a bulb occasionally.

The problem seems to be, most people go completely overboard with LED lighting - using LED tape strips to line their doors, daylight running lamps, rings for the BMW angel-eye look...Nope, not happening on my car. It has to be subtle, and something that Nissan probably would have installed as standard on an upmarket car.

So here's what I ended up doing:

Part 1 - LED Outside Door Handle Courtesy Lights:
As I had the door cards off when I was adding noise dampening and sound insulation, it occurred to me that it would be a good time to do this DIY install. Installing the LED itself turned out to be pretty easy, with the right parts.

The hardest part of this was figuring out how to wire the LED into a circuit that would turn it off and on at the same time. Luckily, in fooling with the ignition key light surround, I realized that I could simply tap into this circuit, as it is on exactly the same circuit as the one the interior lights are on. Once the doors are shut, a few seconds later when the interior lights dim, so does this bulb. And when the doors are unlocked, this lights up. Perfect.

Electrical source problem solved, I simply ran leads off of the wiring leading to the bulb, wired/soldered in the appropriate resistor in between (for the "fade out" effect), and ran lines from this area towards the doors. At the junction between the body and the doors, I found I could not run the wires alongside the factory harness. Luckily, Nissan provides a separate opening (there is a rubber grommet that blocks out the elements), so I simply pushed the grommet out, ran the wire outside the body this way, and then joined the wire to the factory harness that ran into the door (with judicious use of zip ties, and some silicon sealant for the holes that had to be sealed).

Mounting the flat LED:
It turns out that the door handle is an inverted V shape - one ("A") side being the painted side that you see, the other ("B") side the side that rests against the body when the handle is not used. And, there is about 5mm of space between the body itself and the B side of the handle. Just enough space to mount this:

A 3chip SMD led, with flat side that already comes with 3M adhesive tape. I chose the white color, even though other colors are available - remember, what would Nissan do?

First though, I had to drill a small hole into the B side of the door handle, for the LED illumination to come through.

Then, I drilled a small hole in the door itself near where the hinges of the door handle are, for the LED wires to be inserted into. After that, it was simply a matter of peeling off the sheet on the 3M tape, making sure the mounting surface was clean, and sticking the LED on. For good measure, I used some silicon sealant to weatherproof.

Here is how it looks lit up (note messy sealant job)

And here it is at night, you can seen how it looks better than during the day.

Check back soon for Part 2!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mini-DIY: Red Illumination Ignition Surround

Turns out, on the R33, there is a small light bulb situated in a clear plastic bracket that surrounds the ignition key. I have been told that the R34 did not have this feature. Too bad (and whatever, they got the ignition immobilizer!)

Anyway, when lit, the clear plastic extends the light all the way around.

I never did like this white color. It seemed so out of place in a car with a red themed interior. (Did Nissan forget to change this for the Series 3?) I briefly toyed with the idea of changing this to one of those red "Ignition Start" buttons, but decided that I would have to figure out a way to lock the steering wheel and provide a lock for the ignition, and so that idea was quickly rejected.

Anyway, all I had to do was pop off the steering column cover (there are about 8 screws on the bottom side), and then the illumination ring simply lifts out.

Here is how it looks, without the cover:

And here is the ring, detached:

And here is the bulb, with the stock white light.

Going with the red theme, I went ahead and replaced this bulb with a red LED.
However for some reason the LED was not as bright as the bulb, so I had to get creative and use some reflective film that my buddy Russ had given me for another project:

The end result was:

One interesting thing I noticed when doing this is, this light turns on when you unlock the doors, and turns off when you lock the doors. This proved useful in another project, which I plan to detail in my next post. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 3, 2012

How a Series 3 BCNR33 is Different From the Other R33 GT-Rs

Lately, from various people there seems to be some interest in the Series 3 R33 GT-R. For those who don’t know what a Series 3 is, the informal nomenclature refers to the 1997 and 1998 R33 GT-R models, ie the last 2 years of production. During its production, the R33 GT-R evolved, with various (mostly cosmetic) changes being made both for the 1996 model (Series 2), as well as the Series 3 models. I was going to write only about the Series 3 on this post, but decided as I was writing this that it would be best to highlight all of the changes throughout the production, to demonstrate the differences clearly.

For example, one well known difference is the rear fog light that replaces the right side back up lamp:

Obviously, the Series 1 (or “zenki” [前期] model in Japanese) is the R33 GT-R in its original form. Introduced for the 1995 model year, the comparisons being made at the time were naturally against the R32 GT-R (how it was larger, heavier, but faster and better handling, etc). It is important to note for all R33 GT-R fans that, it was this zenki model R33 GT-R that set the under 8 minute record at Nurburgring. The modifications made later are obviously not those that required significant capital and resources for Nissan to implement. Which really is another way of saying that the Series 1 models were so good that, most improvements in the Series 2 and 3 were really only cosmetic!

Some General Stats:
Total number of R33 GT-Rs ever made: 16,250
(compare this with 43,934 R32 GT-Rs, and 12,175 R34 GT-Rs)

Standard cars: 9,871
V-Spec cars: 6,551 (including N1 versions)

Number of cars by model year:
1995: 8,446
1996: 4,093
1997: 2,708
1998: 1,175

Note: These numbers I copied out of GT-R Magazine. Don't ask me why they don't add up!

R32 GT-R vs. R33 GT-R:
According to my resources, (catalogs and third party books), some of the less obvious differences between the R32 and the R33 are:
1) Elimination of telescopic steering
2) Smaller trunk space due to relocated battery to rear, and strut bar
3) Smaller gas tank – reduced from 72 liters to 65 liters
4) Elimination of the Active Sound System that came with the R32’s stereo.
5) ECU changed from 8 bit to 16 bit.

BCNR33 Series 1 (前期 or "zenki"):
For the Series 1, the available colors were as follows:

LP2 – Midnight Purple
BN6 – Deep Marine Blue
QM1 – White
KL0 – Sparkling Silver
KN6 – Dark Grey Pearl
KH3 – Black
AN0 – Super Clear Red (special order optional color)

The Series 1 chassis numbers range from BCNR33-000056 to 009270 (and apparently with numbers 000094-000100 missing!)

BCNR33 Series 2 (中期 or "chuki"):
For 1996, a few improvements were made to the car:
1) The addition of a front passenger airbag as standard (it was a factory option in the Series 1)
2) The change of the driver steering wheel from a large airbag type to a more compact and sporty type

(photo courtesy of

3) Changes to the shape (more 3-D) and material (cheaper feeling apparently) of the dashboard surround
4) Center console is shallow compared to before (could file CDs upright in the zenki one - reason why is the addition of an additional airbag computer underneath)
5) Deletion of coin slot next to power mirror controls
6) Rear antenna switch moved from above left knee to left of steering wheel behind wiper stalk (replacing the blanked off switch)
7) Changes to the rear finisher (the “Skyline” lettering under the trunk is more pronounced).
8) A special “LeMans” edition car was released in limited numbers – its color was Champion Blue and the car had N1 ducts in the front bumper, a carbon fiber center rear spoiler with adjustable flap, hood top molding, and special commemorative stickers on the C-pillars. These cars were offered for sale only over 2 months during the summer of 1996. [Note: a FAST look-up shows a total of 177 of these cars were built.]

Available Colors:
LP2 – Midnight Purple
BN6 – Deep Marine Blue
QM1 – White
KR4 – Sonic Silver (replaced KL0)
KN6 – Dark Grey Pearl
KH3 – Black
AR1 – Super Clear Red II (special order optional color) (replaced AN0)
BT2 – Champion Blue (for LeMans cars)

The Series 2 chassis numbers begin at BCNR33-021001

BCNR33 Series 3 (後期 or "kouki"):
But then in 1997, Nissan made more than a few improvements to the R33.

The Series 3 is the only one that came standard from the factory with:
1) Xenon headlights (which also means that unlike the others, once on they always stay on, even when using the high beams at night)
2) Larger front lip spoiler (an additional 20mm) – (but with an option to order the shorter one from the earlier models). This also means larger brake cooling ducts.
3) N1 ducts in the front bumper
4) Left side turn signal “grill” is cut out for maximum airflow to optional oil cooler.
Here is a photo of the front of my car, you can see all of these above changes:

5) ABS braking system actuator unit is smaller, with reprogrammed logic to improve stability in braking while cornering situations.
Compare the Series 1:

With the Series 3:

(both above photos courtesy of Global Auto)

6) Right rear back up light changed to a rear foglight (see first photo above)
7) On braking, only the outer rear taillights light up (not all 4):

8) Door window glass changed to “long life hydrophobic glass”
9) All glass received an anti-UV coating.
10) Interior (seat, door trim) with red accents instead of blue
11) Changes to dashboard facia material texture (somewhat rough tactile feel)
12) Additional bracing in the trunk rear floor area attaching the rear suspension mount to the floor in order to improve the car’s rigidity. Said to be the equivalent of adding another strut tower bar, and also has the added benefit of strengthening the rear crumple zone.

Available colors were the same as for the Series 2, except there was no BT2 color.
(Edit: As Sean Morris reminded me below in a comment, some of the very last cars were available in an R34 GT-R color, GV1 Black. Thanks Sean!)

The Series 3 chassis numbers range from BCNR33-040001 - 043743 (this includes the 4 door R33 GT-R produced by Autech)

So I think that's it! IF I missed something, please let me know. OR if there is a photo of something that should be added here, let me know!

References and Acknowledgements: (some of these links are no longer active) (photos of chuki model) (photos of kouki model)

R33 Skyline GT-R Best album (Cartop Mook)
I Love R33 Skyline GT-R (Neko Mook)

GT-R Magazine