So once I had checked out the exterior
of Thomas Mangum's 3H tuned R33 GT-R and talked about the mechanical bits, it was time to go for a drive.
First however I did a quick check of the interior. Thomas' car has some interesting bits, although as interiors tend to be even more expressive of individual taste than exteriors (because interiors aren't as visible), my thoughts here might be a bit more subjective than usual.
Even though Thomas' car is a 1995 Series 1 (zenki), he has changed out the interior for Series 3 (kohki) bits - this means instead of the usual blue accented seats and door cards, he has the red accented seats and door cards. To be honest, somewhat incongruous given the lack of a passenger airbag. But a minor "gripe" I guess (I suppose I'm a purist...)
|Note red dotted door card. Momo steering wheel with the Nismo horn button. |
You can also see his Greddy OLED boost controller mounted to the left of the steering column.
Those with sharp eyes will see the Bee-R rev limiter mounted below that.
Obviously an immediately obvious difference from my car are the white faced NISMO gauge clusters. While I thought it would prove distracting, oddly enough it didn't bother me at all! In fact I can see how this might be better during the day, at least from a visibility perspective.
|No airbag is giveaway for Series 1... got some interesting carbon-like pieces there though.|
Looking closely, you can see 3 different carbon fiber patterns. The main fascia is actually an extremely rare, OEM option, carbon fiber print-like fascia. The carbon pattern on the shift surround however is a clear print, and the driver's side door switch panel is carbon wrapped. Not for me, but an interesting collection!
More interesting however are the Nissan OEM optional knee bolsters:
|For right knee|
These parts rarely pop up on Yahoo Auctions, and so usually the sellers ask for lots of yen. Clearly good if you value bracing yourself during hard cornering over hearing the output of the driver side door speaker...
|For left knee|
Finally, this was cool - a genuine Top Secret shift boot! With the shifter capped off with a Tomei shift knob:
|The NISMO plaque is an add on...|
SO...putting aside the interior aesthetics and my subjective commentary on it, how does the car DRIVE?
Ok well the first thing I noticed was the Series 3 transmission Thomas installed - in a word, superb. I was blown away by how the shifter is so direct and precise - of course not in the league of the NSX I drove a while back, but way better than the gearbox I had in my car (before GETRAG). In fact, even compared to the GETRAG now installed in my car, being totally honest with myself, I'd have to say I prefer how this feels - a no-slop, no-slack, extremely direct gearbox - not as heavy feeling as the GETRAG either. Thomas told me he has a short shift kit but it must be the NISMO Quick Shift
(with a 25% shorter stroke), I previously had the NISMO Solid Shift
(only 10% shorter stroke) but it did not feel like this!
Second thing I noticed was how hard and stiff the suspension was as I drove around town. Usually this is something that one notices as a passenger, not as the driver. "Don't worry" Thomas said with a grin from the passenger seat, "You'll see how it all smooths out on the Wangan." The car is running Greddy S Spec Full tap dampers, with spring rates of 10 kg-m front and 8kg-m rear - this is a custom set up he selected, seeking the best balance between livability on surface streets and control while blasting on the Wangan. And he was right - when we later took the car on the expressway, the car not only felt stable, smooth and responsive, but the balance was superb.
Speaking of balance, one area which I thought could be improved was the brakes. This car runs F50 Brembos up front on 355 millimeter BIOT 2 piece rotors (Endless brake pads), and the OEM rear Brembos using custom brackets on 350mm VQ36 Skyline rears rotors (Project mu pads). If you recall from when I installed the R35 brakes on my car
, old thinking was the need to have bigger rotors up front with smaller in the back. More recently the thinking is that, having the rear rotor almost as large as the front can only help and in fact contribute to more stability. Nissan apparently realized this during the production run of the RB26 GT-Rs, which is why the last R34s had larger OEM rear rotors.
In fact this set up is now a popular conversion in Japan, giving great stopping power at a very reasonable price, although you will need 18 inch wheels (which most people upgrade to anyway) as this combo is too large for the stock wheels. Stopping from speed wasn't a problem in this car, but not sure if it's the inherent front brake bias, or the different pads, or the lack of a digital G-sensor (its function affects the braking as I discovered
), but I just felt there was too much emphasis on the fronts - not necessarily a bad thing but subjectively not what I am used to anymore.
Finally, two areas where this car has a very different personality from my car - the handling and the engine power delivery.
Driving around town, the handling didn't seem too different from most GT-Rs I've driven. And it wasn't that different when making lane changes on the expressway. It was when I was making a sweeping right turn at about 60kph, getting onto the expressway, when I noticed how the rear end of the car felt more planted and direct than mine. Hard to describe but it was almost an oversteer effect, meaning that the fronts could focus on getting the car through the curve as quickly and neutrally as possible. Thomas believes this is a result of having SuperPro bushings all around, I think it might be his rear camber at -2 degrees (according to Thomas) as well as how he has rear roll center adjusters installed. It also might be his disconnected Super HICAS, although I've driven other cars with locked out rears and suspect the camber angle as most likely the reason for this rear end agility. Anyway, this experience has inspired me to start thinking of upgrades to my car in the same way!
Finally, the engine. Obviously I was curious about how the V Cam was going to affect things. Since I hadn't driven his car BEFORE he installed the V Cam, I can't give a direct comparison, but with the larger 2530kai turbos, I expected that the car would have suffered from turbo lag and then boom! When I asked Thomas, he did confirm that before he'd find himself having to shift down from say 5th to 3rd, to raise the RPMS, in order to get enough torque by engaging the turbos (which came on full at about 4500 rpm he says). Not only did this cause him to end up working with a very small rev range (before having to shift up) but the sudden increase in torque would cause his rear end to violently swing out on occasion.
Driving it now, the V Cam is programmed to kick in smoothly and provide enough torque down low such that the transition from the V Cam to when the turbos kick in is seamless. In other words, the engine feels like a much larger engine with a gradually increasing torque from lower RPMs reaching a maximum torque value somewhere in the 5000rpm range.
I've heard that with V Cam, it makes the smallish RB26 feel like a larger engine - and now I get it. At least on the bottom end, Thomas' car DID feel like it had a larger naturally aspirated engine. Of course once the turbos kick in it still has the GT-R flavor.
Finally, while I did not drive the car at night, Thomas later sent me this photo to show off his LED upgrades to the gauges. This guy is REALLY into purple....
|And so the purple motif continues even at night...|
Thank you very much Thomas for the opportunity - it's given me some inspiration for my car but also reassurance that my car is in good shape as well.
Stay tuned as I have some minor tweaks coming up very soon!