Monday, October 27, 2014

Update #1 from Mine's....

So I finally got a call from Mine's Takayanagi-san to update me on my car.

Here is what he told me that they've found so far:

Apparently, they found most of the water in the cooling system, gone! So they suspect a broken hose somewhere.   No visible damage anywhere, so likely they will have to lift up the car and/or remove the engine to be sure.

Luckily, I only drove for about 10 minutes once I saw the smoke so there is unlikely to be any damage due to overheating, however Nakayama-san will be inspecting the head of the engine to make sure there is no damage. (keeping fingers crossed, that sounds expensive!!!)

If the leak was from a hose somewhere, it would have happened very rapidly, as I don't recall seeing a puddle of coolant in my garage area.  So it would have happened that day when I drove to Yokosuka.

Additionally, they found that the water that remained, was rusty. This is probably my fault, I can't recall the last time I had the coolant changed - I thought it was a couple of years ago - and I've never had any cooling issues.  Takayanagi-san doesn't believe I need a new radiator, but it (and the whole system) will simply need to be flushed out thoroughly.

By the way,  I've circled where I saw the smoke/steam coming from:

In any case,  I will let them first diagnose exactly where the leak is coming from, but assuming that it is a hose that gave way,  I think I will have to replace some of those hoses back there with something stronger.  Steel braided looks nice, but my understanding is that silicon hoses are just as strong and reliable (so long as you use the proper clamps) and steel braided's drawback is that the braiding prevent you from finding the source of a leak quickly.  People's thoughts on this? If I do silicon, what color? Blue or black? (note I already have the Samco set for the radiator, in blue).

Stay tuned....

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Back To Where It All Began...

So this past Sunday afternoon, I was driving around Yokosuka (where the US Naval Base is), when all of a sudden I heard something weird: like a fluid hitting something hot, repeatedly. It sounded like this: "pshh pshh pshh pshh."

I first thought something had gotten caught in one of the brake calipers, but then I began to see some white smoke. Still the optimist, I kept going, and headed onto the expressway.

However, entering a toll booth, it just seemed like there was a BIT too much smoke. Also, the idle speed was too high - like at about 2000 rpms. Did not sound normal at all.  So I finally pulled over, popped the hood, and tried to locate the source of the smoke.

It seemed to be coming from the back of the engine area, on the side opposite of the turbos, down near or on the firewall.  And of course everything was too hot back there to touch, and further, it was getting dark... quickly. In any case, having spent a good amount of money on the engine, I wasn't going to press on and risk damage.

So I called roadside service (JAF - Japan Automobile Federation) and they dispatched a flatbed to pick me up.  JAF is great - only 3000 yen per year, and they offer numerous services. When they tow or  haul/flatbed your car, they do so anywhere within 15km for free!  In any case, the operator (who didn't know much about cars) was going to send over the first available tow truck... but then this flatbed showed up.  

The JAF driver told me, as soon as they heard "Skyline GT-R" over the radio all the local drivers knew it had to be a flatbed. So this driver who was nearby volunteered to come over.  It turns out that there are two types of flatbed - the ones that extend the entire platform to the ground, and those that slant.  Obviously, your car has to be drivable to use the slant one (they can winch it up, but because my car is so low, that would be tricky).

View from the driver's seat as I drive up the ramp
I wasn't about to wait for a "true" flatbed type truck to show up (another 2 hours). So I started the car up, expecting the worst... but it sounded fine, in fact sounded nice and warmed up??!!  Even the highway safety officer (not a policeman but one of the guys who, although they wear police-like uniforms, actually work for the private expressway operator) who showed up in one of these:

commented on how good the car sounded, asking me "hey is this a Nismo tuned engine?" When I told him it was a Mine's engine, he got excited and asked me more questions, even though I was busy at the time listening to the JAF driver as he directed me to drive up the ramp slowly, one meter at a time as he used wooden blocks to make sure my car's front lip spoiler didn't scrape!   Sheesh.

Mine's is also in Yokosuka, and was the closest tuning shop (I had called ahead to request they stay open late for me).  So once the car was safely strapped down, off we went. We arrived exactly 15.1 km later:

Arrival at Mine's.
Takayanagi-san (aka "Elvis") met us at the door, and directed the driver to pull into the backside.  As he was directing the JAF driver, Nakayama-san, the man who actually built the engine in my car, greeted me looking a bit worried and tired (he was there late as he is currently building another RB26 for another customer - you can barely see the gunmetal BNR32 in the photo below, to the left):

Nakayama-san moves to open the garage door for my car
Interestingly, he told me that customers with RB26 GT-Rs were keeping Mine's busier than R35 GT-R owners... that plus those overseas trips he has been taking leaves him tired!

Takayanagi-san pulls my car into the garage of one of the world's most awesome GT-R shops.

On the left, the Mine's R34 GT-R. On the right, a Stagea RS260! 3 world class RBs lined up?
Once again, the car sounded great upon unloading. Nakayama-san DID agree with me that the exhaust smelled worse than it should (a long standing problem which I've been neglecting a while) so he promised to do a thorough whole car inspection for me.

Two GT-R Legends? (only in my mind, LOL)

So now, all I have to do is wait to find out what they diagnose is the problem with my car. Going back to the beginning of this blog, Mine's did the new engine install back in late summer of 2007, so it's been just about 7 years.  During that time, I've had a leaking water line, and then a few months later, had the turbo oil lines break, (twice!) spewing hot oil all over the place - the smoke this time was not black, was coming from the other side/rear of the engine, and there was no oil residue so I'm optimistic that it doesn't involve these oil lines.

This time, I'm hoping that it's nothing serious, in which case, I will ask that expendable items in the engine bay be upgraded to the extent possible.  IF the engine has to come out, however, then maybe it's time for a few "optional extras" to be installed??  Any suggestions?

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How the R33 GT-R Improved Upon the R32 GT-R (Part 2 - Engine, ATTESA ETS-PRO, and Super HICAS)

Continuing from the previous post - (How the R33 GT-R Improved Upon the R32 GT-R (Part 1 - Aerodynamics and the High Traction Layout), the following items seem more mundane and evolutionary, versus revolutionary.

Also, these are areas that have been widely discussed in the English press and so the big improvements may not be new to you - however, I still discovered items of interest, as described below.

First, however, this video - this was a promotional VHS video sent to Nissan dealerships upon the launch of the R33 GT-R, to be shown to prospective customers - it's Nissan's explanation as to how the R33 had improved on the R32 (yes it's all in Japanese, but the visuals... and engine noise... and the amazing acrobatics while being driven hard at Nurburgring (at about 8:40 onwards) are worth it!):

Not surprisingly, the video describes or mentions, in addition to the items in this post, most of the items I wrote about, not just in the previous post but also much of what appeared in the design trivia posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

Basically the same, except boost was raised in response to Nissan test drivers who wanted more torque and response.  This resulted in 1.5 kgm more torque (to 37.5kgm) and more horsepower, although due to the gentleman’s agreement, power continued to be listed as “280ps.” Engine management (and thus response) was improved as the engine ECU was changed from 8 bits to 16 bits for more detailed engine control, response and reliability.

Side note: Something that Nissan did not publish, however, is the claim that the standard R33 GT-R RB26 blocks are actually more rigid than the R32 ones, due to slight changes in the block design (i.e. improving the ribs in the block). [Note: Even though this is published in my sources, I have never heard this claim before. I would take with a grain of salt.]

Drivetrain: ATTESA ETS-PRO

With the BNR32, in addition to high speed corners being tricky as the car generated lots of understeer, there were also times where traction was not satisfactory.  So the goal with the BCNR33 was to have it behave exactly as you wanted it to.

Yes, everyone knows by now that the R33 V-Spec model came with the electronically controlled Active LSD, while the standard BCNR33 did not. This leads many to believe that the standard R33 GT-R uses the same ATTESA system as the R32 GT-R… which is true for the hardware, but NOT the software.

Hiroki Sasaki, in charge of ATTESA-ETS in Nissan’s Chassis department, explains that the problem with the R32 was that it understeered badly, it simply would not turn.  They researched the issues, and ended up changing (the software on) how the torque split is done.   As a result, the R33's handling is more precise. The R33's ATTESA ECU is able to take into account more road and speed conditions, using higher capacity (higher limits) sensors, to better tune the car's response in light of the driving conditions and compatibility with the tires.

For the ETS-PRO, they initially borrowed the Active LSD that was already being used in the standard (2wd) R33 in a quest to maximize real wheel traction. However, initial testing did not go well, so the engineers spent a lot of time experimenting.  They finally got it to work well, but this also was due to improving body rigidity and tire performance, finally better.

Here are a few photos of the active rear diff - note that it has the finned cover, which the standard differential does not.

The end result is, ETS functions in both R33 GT-Rs to make the car much more FR-like than the R32.  And, with the ETS-PRO, the active LSD allowed Nissan engineers to say the the V-spec is “the GT-R we really wanted to build, with superlative performance.”

Brakes: all cars, both V-Spec and Standard trim, came with the Brembo brakes that made their debut on the R32 GT-R V-Spec models. I occasionally hear about the odd R33 GT-R that doesn't have Brembos on it... unfortunately, those were stripped of the Brembos before being sold to the unsuspecting new owner.

Super HICAS:  The R33 adopted the electrically driven Super HICAS versus the R32’s more primitive Super HICAS which was hydraulically driven, heavier, not as precise and did not utilize a yaw sensor. See my technical note about this from an earlier post.  HICAS appears to be a touchy subject - many people claim that "HICAS kicked in" to explain why they lost control of their GT-R.  I believe this is the result of people not understanding how HICAS works, and not understanding what else could cause handling issues - HICAS is an easy culprit to blame, especially given the number of hydraulic HICAS equipped R32s, the fact that many tuners sell lock out bars, and the apparent complexity of the mechanism itself.  I'm doing research on this issue, and I hope to be doing a future post on this topic, soon.

Putting it All Together:  Along with a more responsive intercooler, all of the changes mentioned above and from the previous post resulted in a car that Nissan engineers claimed was more responsive and faster than the R32 GT-R, as demonstrated by the significantly faster performance at Nurburgring (in Japan, the advertising copy was “Romance of minus 21 seconds”).

Here is the "romance of minus 21 seconds" commercial:

Hiroyoshi Kato, Nissan's main test driver, explained that (due to all the technical improvements, especially the ones mentioned on this page) "the R33's performance completely surpasses the R32s... the first we went to Nur (with the R32), the Nissan team was completely intimidated with how Porsche was testing, but by the time we had the R33, in our hearts we believed we could kick Porsche's ass." (Quote from "Nissan Skyline GT-R R33/R34, Neko Mook 1377")

By the way - here is Nissan's official profile (in English) of Kato-san: Nissan Legends - The Man Who Found His Calling -Hiroyoshi Kato.

Next - time for some mods for my car (finally)! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

How The R33 GT-R Improved Upon The R32 GT-R (Part 1 - Exterior Design/Aerodynamics & the "High Traction Layout")

So although I've previously explored the differences between the R33 and R34 GT-Rs, and discovered that while the running gear basically stayed the same, with improvements to body rigidity and aerodynamics (as well as styling, of course) being the main differences, I hadn't yet really looked into the differences and improvements between the R32 and the R33 GT-Rs.

Nissan had a problem - the R32 GT-R was spectacularly successful - and its successor the R33 was bound to be in its shadow unless it was substantially better both subjectively and objectively.  While R33 haters may not like to admit it, the R33 GT-R is a technically much improved car over the R32 GT-R - so much so, if you recall the objective when designing the R34 GT-R, Nissan's goals were not to make it any faster than the R33 (it was deemed fast enough), but rather, just easier to drive for the average driver.

In any case, with all the information I found, I've split the discussion into two parts - this post, Part 1, which examines the improvements in the exterior  (design and aerodynamics) and the "High Traction Layout" (balance and body rigidity), and the next post, Part 2, which examines the Engine, ATTESA ETS PRO, and Super HICAS.

Exterior Design and Aerodynamics:

When development of the R33 (the general model, NOT the GT-R) began, it was initially conceived that the 2 door coupe would ride on a shorter wheelbase than the 4 door sedan. The coupe was to have a shorter hood as well (further, no turbo model was contemplated).  This all changed, however, when Nissan decided to put the coupe on the same wheelbase as the sedan.

We all know that the R32 GT-R excelled in the Group A racing series in Japan. However, the R33 GT-R was facing a different race series (N1 Taikyu), this one which required sustained speeds exceeding 250kph; this requires not just awesome acceleration but stable braking prowess as well.  Thus, Nissan decided to put heavy emphasis on aerodynamics during the design; and not just better aerodynamics, but balanced aerodynamics.

The R32 was developed with the “Zero Lift” concept in mind, hence it sported a large rear spoiler to help keep the car on the ground and provide stability in high speed cornering.  However, its coefficient of drag was 0.40, which was not something to brag about even back then.  Further, based on racing experience Nissan wanted the R33 GT-R to have superlative cooling and anti heat abilities, which would require large openings for the radiator and oil cooler.  The front spoiler would have to be a shape which would reduce front lift as well.

Nissan called the design theme for the R33 GT-R,  "Sophisticated Strength" -  while engineers wanted superior aerodynamics, cooling ability, and a wider tread, the designers wanted a design that suggested speed and power.

Here are some quotes on various design aspects from the chief of the GT-R’s exterior design, Hidetoshi Nishiizumi: (Source: Cartop Mook: R33 Skyline GT-R Best Album) (all Nissan Gallery photos from Wikipedia)

"The R32 had excessive front lift.  At Fuji Speedway, taking the high speed 130R corner at speed was scary, according to Kaz Mizuno (later father of the R35 GT-R). So efforts were made in the R33 to minimize front lift - and in that regard, the longer front overhang worked in our favor."

"We designed large openings in the front bumper, and made the shape spoiler-like. We experimented with various angles for the lip spoiler as well, to get the best wake separation for the air.”

“The size and height of the rear spoiler of the R32 GT-R were designed with Group A racing in mind. The regulations meant the wing could not be adjustable, so we put a big one on from the beginning.   The R33 GT-R had an adjustable one.  From the rear, you can see that it actually has a “Y” shape design.  Mizuno-san was heavily involved in the design.   Although it extends a total of 30mm on the sides, the size of the spoiler is limited.  We did experiment with a spoiler that would fit within the width of the trunk lid, but it looked unbalanced.   This is what lead to the current design with its overhang.”

“Compared to the R32 GT-R, what really gives the 33 remarkable presence is the larger spoiler on the back.  From the back, it really enhances its presence.  The reason we included an adjusting tool in the tool kit was so that the wing could be adjusted for track days – but in town, it looks best at horizontal.”

“We experimented with making the entire wing adjustable, but in the end settled only on angle adjustability and the caps on the sides, for weight purposes.  Also the reason why the rear is solid, but the front of the blade is adjustable, is just in case it became separated, it would move in the direction of generating downforce, allowing the driver to stop safely.”

The design was in a state of change until right before the car went on sale. You can see that the production car looks far more aggressive than the the prototype:
“Compared to the prototype, we widened the lower half of the body to give the appearance of a lower center of gravity.”
The R33 GT-R Proto - I'm not sure I see the narrower lower belt line?
Photo from
You can see the solid, fixed position rear wing which has evolved from the Type M wing but is still not adjustable
Photo from
Initially this rear trunk spoiler was a fixed position one, but at the very last minute a decision was made to go with the adjustable one we have now.  Incidentally, the original fixed spoiler design can now be found on the R33 GTS25t Type M.
The R33 GT-R could have had this rear spoiler design.
Also, one aero design that was considered at the time, was to have a roof spoiler in addition to the rear trunk spoiler.
GT-R could have looked like this, with the roof spoiler!

There was extensive wind tunnel and road testing of the design, with efforts made to obtain the best front-back lift balance while allowing for wide tires, blister fenders and rear spoiler.  In the end the Cd equaled 0.35 (beating the R32's 0.40), and the front /rear downforce was better balanced, with a front coefficient of lift of 0.09, and a rear downforce of 0.03 (with the spoiler at the flat position). Even with the bigger body.

For a review, see this post

The "High Traction Layout":

In addition to the aerodynamics, the High Traction Layout improved the dynamic performance of the chassis.  This is Nissan's terminology for the technical chassis design differences which were designed to improve the performance of the R33 GT-R over the R32.  In addition to the improved aerodynamics, the High Traction Layout improved the dynamic performance of the chassis.  It did this by improvements in two areas: body rigidity and weight distribution.

Body Rigidity:
With the addition of front and rear strut tower bars, as well adding cross bars under the floor in over 30 locations, rigidity was improved – 40% increase compared to the R33 GTS, and over 150% (1.5 times) more rigid than the R32. The improvements include, front tower bar, front cross bar (which connects the sides of the transmission tunnel), floor cross bar, the seat back center (the plate behind the rear seats), rear strut bar, etc.

From: "All About the New Skyline GT-R"
Four wheel multi-link suspension: The front layout was changed.  The R32’s weak point was the use of an “I” shaped upper arm, which was susceptible to rattles.   These were changed to “A” arms, which gave 90% more lateral rigidity. 

In the rear, Nissan added the “triple cross bar” – which adds more rigidity for the suspension members (in the R34, it also provided a nice place to hang the rear carbon diffuser off of… the 33 and 34 triple cross bar is the same, incidentally).

Having increased body rigidity means, of course, that power not only gets to the ground more directly, but the suspension behaves more accurately.  To the driver, this makes the car feel more nimble and agile, with more direct feel, and thus easier to drive.

Weight Distribution:

The Problem:  The R32 GT-R was criticized as being too front heavy, which lead to strong understeer.  Additionally, the fuel tank was placed below the trunk floor, meaning that there was weight overhang in the rear as well. Not only was the weight BEHIND the rear wheels an issue, but as fuel was consumed and the rear got lighter, there was an obvious effect on the car’s performance.  Combined with a less rigid body, the R32's potential was wasted.

The Solution: With the increased wheelbase, it was now possible to improve weight distribution; the plastic fuel tank was placed below the rear seats, battery moved to the trunk, and to the extent possible, heavy things were moved towards the center of the car.  The front and rear overhang weights were lightened.

 From: "All About the New Skyline GT-R"
But improving the weight distribution wasn't just about moving things around between the wheels - it also means reducing weight in critical areas to improve the balance of the car.  The increased body rigidity didn't help - the added bracing added to the car's weight, which meant that Nissan engineers had two compelling reasons to try to figure out ways to lighten the car.

Up front, to reduce front overhang weight, the front hood and fenders were made of aluminum (as in the BNR32), the headlights were made of lightweight plastic and the intercooler was lightened, in order to lighten the front overhang, reducing inertia.  The intercoolers were changed from extruded multi hole tube to inner fin type which improved response, cooled 4% better, and was 400g lighter.

Nissan engineers also found other ways to reduce weight, even by a few grams.
This includes:
Hollowing out the side door beams.
Using high tensile steel on body panels.
Reduction in sound deadening materials.
Super HICAS becoming electric.
Hollowing out of rear stabilizer bar.
Use of high tensile springs front and rear.
Shrinking the ABS actuator.
Light aluminum wheels with higher rigidity
The front and rear axles were made of aluminum (as in the BNR32) but also so were engine mount insulators and brackets
New plastics were used for : fuel tank, head lamps, super high strength "PP" bumpers, air cleaner, changing the headlining material, changing material of rear spoiler.

So even though the R33 was heavier by 100kg, the records show that it was 30kg heavier up front, and 70 kg heavier in the rear.

There were a few drawbacks to the High Traction Layout, however - although these were deemed worthy sacrifices to get better performance:

1) With the battery moved to the back, as well as the rear strut bar, trunk space and volume is smaller on the R33 vs the R32.
2)  Additionally, the fuel tank shrank from 72 liters to 65 liters… resulting in a lower range.

In any case, I think they did a great job on both the looks, aero and chassis development.  It is ironic that people criticize the longer wheelbase without understanding how Nissan engineers actually used that to the car's advantage from a dynamic technical standpoint - the longer wheel base is not just stability at speed in a straight line, but also with the High Traction Layout in corners too!


1) Cartop Mook: R33 Skyline GT-R Best Album
2) Neko Mook: I Love R33 Skyline GT-R
3) Motorfan: 新型スカイラインGT-Rのすべて("All About the new Skyline GT-R")