Saturday, May 6, 2017

Interior Modernization Project, Part 2 - Sourcing the Leather

It turns out that Cechaflo would welcome the publicity generated by us working together. Not only would I feature him and his work on this blog, but also on Speedhunters. Can't beat that kind of publicity.

Anyway, first order of business was to decide on where to source the leather.  Because I am close friends with someone who is very particular about leather (Dino Dalle Carbonare of Speedhunters) I decided to ask him.  He told me to try to get Poltrona Frau Pelle, who supposedly supply leather to Ferrari! Can't beat that.  So I sent an email to them, but unfortunately after a few back and forths they were not able to help me. Frankly, not surprised at all.

Cesar had some other suggestions, one which was Hydes Leather.  These guys are located in Canada, but import hides directly from Italy. Further, what was interesting to me was, they offer OEM leather used by several hi end marks - yes, including Ferrari, Bentley, Porsche, and others.

So I sent an email and soon had a swatch of black leather sent my way for comparison.    I requested samples of leather in both dark grey and black for the 3 OEM brands I thought looked best on the website - Ferrari, Bentley, and Jaguar/Landrover.    Once the samples arrived, I compared against the fake black leather in my car.

Bentley grey and black, versus OEM Nissan plastic...

Ferrari black vs. Nissan OEM dashboard...
Bentley on the left, Ferrari on the right
Although I was drawn to Ferrari for the name, with the help of my friend Alessandro (whose blog, is a very nice read, even though it usually focuses on the wrong, I eventually settled on Bentley because it appeared darker, and had more leather like qualities like the feel and smell.  I learned from Aaron, CEO of Hydes, that Ferrari leather is actually freeze-dried during production, which gives it a stiffer feel that other leathers. This is good for seating surfaces that require durability, but not necessarily so for other interior areas which are glued down anyway.

Cesar had instructed that the Bentley leather be skived to a thickness of 1.0mm, the ideal thickness for apply to car parts.  Meanwhile, I began sourcing the various parts for the car. Then, it would just be a matter of sitting back to wait for the leather to arrive...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Interior Modernization Project, Part 1. Finding the Craftsman

After rejecting pre-made leather covers, I thought that maybe I could do the work myself. Order a bunch of leather, and then use some kind of glue. After all, we humans have been working with leather for thousands of years, surely it can't be that hard for a modern man like me??

So I did some more research on aftermarket leather applications to cars and eventually finding several videos on youTube.  And that is when I found a guy whose youTube handle was cechaflo, and his channel showed lots of different types and techniques of leather application. More importantly, he had a few dedicated to leather in cars, and after viewing them, I realized that there was no way I could do this job myself. I don't have the time, nor the space, and certainly not the years of experience it would take to do a neat clean job.

After watching more of his videos, I decided to try my luck and ask Cechaflo if he could help me...  few days went by and he came back with a "I would be honored." And with that, the project began.

Next: Sourcing the Leather...

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Interior Modernization Project, Introduction

No doubt, you have already seen the article I published on Speedhunters about 6 weeks ago, describing my interior modernization project - which incidentally, is still ongoing.

Speedhunters, however, is more on the visual side, and to describe the actual process would take several posts, and I do not have good photos for that. Also, I have to be careful not to denigrate individuals or complain about problems along the way, but with my blog, I can.

So I decided to use up all the photos I had taken along the way (some are not Speedhunters quality), as well as provide a more detailed look at my journey to redo my car's interior. To be honest, I am not sure how many posts this might take, so I appreciate your patience in advance!

Anyway - ever since I bought the GT-R, one of the first things I noticed was, fantastic seats and gauges aside, the interior seemed a bit cheap. Even by 1990s standards. OR is it just me?

Love the gauges!
Functional, simple and the seats are great!

And while over the years I've spent OCD levels of research and effort and a lot of money on parts and service/ work in order to make my car perform the way I think it should - not just engine power and response but handling and braking - I've sacrificed my own creature comforts.  But not anymore.

So after thinking about how best to approach improving the interior, and viewing different efforts online, I decided that my approach would be summed up best as "modernize" - or what Nissan would have done now, had they sold the R33 GT-R as the premium car it is. Remember that at the time the car was sold, it was one of the more expensive cars in Nissan's line up.  Clearly, they didn't bother with investing in the quality of the materials used in the interior, although admittedly, I think the plastics have stood up fairly well for a 20 year old car!

A close look at the plastics inside the car, shows that nearly all of the surfaces are molded with fake leather striations.  Naturally, my thought was - well, why can't we replace all of these fake leather surfaces, with real leather?

Turns out, REAL automotive grade leather actually doesn't always HAVE striations!!

I had actually, a few years ago on my last visit to Robson Leather, asked Masa (Robson owner) if it would be possible to replace the fake leather with real leather. He demurred, saying that he could not guarantee that the leather would remain in place as he was not sure if the glue used for the leather, would be able to hold up over the long term.   I also checked out other places in Japan, but found the cost to be prohibitively expensive, especially for first time, custom jobs.

And so a few years passed, until the itch came again.  I began researching different options. One was this I found on eBay - it looked do-able for the DIY person but after some questions I determined that the seller was rude and the product, crude.

There are in fact many similar options out there, but each one covers up the center felt piece in the door panels. Maybe not a big deal if you have a series 1 or 2 car with the blue accents, but on a series 3 car with the red accents, I wanted those to remain. After all, such red highlights are what separates a series 3 car from the rest.  In the end, I decided not to waste my money with these relatively simple options but that I would have to go for a full custom job.

My goal would be to end up with an interior that is amongst the best of what is out there. For example, the following photos of some nice cars inspired me...

So my first step was going to have to be, finding someone who can do the work! And, figuring out where to obtain the proper materials. Lots of studying began...

Friday, February 17, 2017

First Time Ever All Fluids Change/First Visit of the Year to Nissan Prince Tokyo

So even though I've owned my car for over 10 years now, there is still a first time for everything - so this was the first time I had ALL fluids in the car changed out at once. 

Anyway - because I need to drive the car a bit for an upcoming project, and because it's been literally just sitting in the garage for a while now collecting dust, I decided it was time to get at least an oil change done.  And, given how disgusting the coolant was during my engine bay freshen-up project, I also realized I hadn't had the coolant changed in a long, long time. Maybe not since I had the Mine's engine installed? No, say it isn't so...

Absolutely disgusting. Hope the insides of the radiator and engine aren't like this either...
So, I called up the guys at Nissan Prince (specifically Nismo Performance Center Tokyo, at the Nissan Prince dealership in Sakura-shinmachi) for a Sunday appointment to "replace all fluids."  Oh, and since my BNR34 otaku friend Alessandro happened to be free that day, I invited him along as he had been asking me for a ride in a tuned GT-R.  Oh, and he loves going to NPCT as well, being there almost every weekend hunting down parts for his GT-R before they disappear from Nissan stock. Maybe one day he will talk about his experience in my car.

It turned out that taking the car in now was a good move. Because as I got on the expressway, there was a weird shimmy in the steering wheel between 80-100kph...

Anyway, we got there safely and after parking the car, Alessandro got busy and took the following photos for me...

Can you see the dirt? It was drizzling that day, which,
combined with the dust on the car and the exhaust soot, left its mark on the car!
I then went inside and asked the following to be done:
1) Oil change - I had found several liters of (unopened) Motul 300V (5W-40) in my garage, which they had no problem using.  I usually ask for and use 15W-50, but as it's still cold in Tokyo... and bringing my own oil, which I bought at discount, saves me money!  Oh, and for filters, given a choice of Nissan or NISMO, with a price difference of only 300 yen or so, I went with NISMO. Yes, slight brand whore...oh and yes shame on me last time I changed the oil was when I tried out that NISMO motor oil, back in June 2015! (but probably about only 1000kms back).

2) Brake oil change. Remember my drive in Hakone with Dino, Russ and Miguel? At the time it seemed like either the pads were gone or the fluid was boiling too easily. A quick confirmed plenty of pad life left, so new brake fluid was needed. I brought some Endless RF-650 (DOT 5.1) for them to replace the old RF-650. Last time I changed it was...probably 3-4 years ago? Yikes.

3) LSD oil change. I recently heard the OS Giken Super Lock LSD, which is normally very quiet, start making some noise so figured it was time for some new fluid, having never changed the oil since I had it installed more than 6 years ago. I had stock of the OS Giken 80W-250 oil, for exclusive use in this LSD.  

4) Power Steering fluid.  Although I only asked for Nissan OEM, they went ahead (after checking with me) and used NUTEC ZZ51-kai. Which turns out to be AT fluid.

5) Engine Coolant - I told them Nissan OEM was fine.

6) Air Cleaner - I decided to get a new one as the last time I changed mine out was about 20,000kms ago. NISMO of course.

7) Front LSD - this was done when the Getrag was installed last year so I demurred.

8) Clutch oil - I asked them to use whatever RF650 was left over after the brakes were done.

Finally, I also asked them to check to see if the leak they had previously found in the Getrag, was back.

The following weekend, I was back to pick up the car:

Hmm. That doesn't quite look right.

Oh yeah, that looks good. Even the red oil plate looks good here...

Good news - the Getrag leak was confirmed gone, and the shimmy I had noticed was because the two front tires had lost their weights along the way and had to be rebalanced. Alas, as I drove away, I realized I hadn't seen the coolant listed on the invoice. Somehow, there had a been a miscommunication. So I turned the car around... oh well...

Finally this past Thursday, I left work early and took the train to the dealership. First time I had dropped by this late, actually.

No sporty vehicles in sight...
Of course I quickly found my car.
Yamazaki-san had made sure that, in addition to the coolant, the ATTESA fluid had also been changed out.  I have never had this changed out since owning the car, and he told me that the schedule to replace is 60,000 kms or so.

And while I was paying, I asked a bunch of questions about some upcoming NISMO parts. Stay tuned!
The view out the office window. Can you spot the blue R33 lurking in the corner?
When I walked over to talk to the mechanics to ask about the coolant (how dirty it was - they had to flush it out a twice!), I noticed a Bayside Blue BNR34 being worked on, with a totally bling part in the engine bay:

C'mon! Does the carbon part work any better than the aluminum? No, but still...
 There was one last item that I had noticed when I had attempted to pick up the car on Sunday - the gas pedal was a bit "loose" - turns out that the throttle cable had stretched a bit so that was adjusted as well. Amazing how that detail can make the car feel so much more solid!

Yamazaki-san moving my car out of the pit for me to drive home.
And so how does it feel now? In a word, refreshed! Amazing how a simple fluid change can really liven things up. (And actually, I just realized that, my car was registered as a new car in February 1997, meaning that this month, my car is 20 years old!)

Yes, I had a blast or two on the way home, relishing how easy the car is to drive (and now with full confidence that everything is properly lubricated, balanced and cooled). In fact, in some ways, the GT-R is easier to drive than the IS-F; for sure, the steering is both more communicative and lighter, for example, and the Ohlins do a far better job than the stock dampers on the Lexus. Yes, the GT-R rides better than the Lexus...

With more power, the GT-R feels lighter and more nimble (but strangely, not smaller - I think primarily due to the seating position), but this is to be expected. Surprisingly, I prefer the brake feel of the IS-F (also Brembos) so perhaps it's time to look into new pads on the GT-R?

In any case, lots to do to keep improving the car... I promise my next post on Speedhunters will demonstrate that!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Some Increased Publicity... Plus Photos From the Cutting Room Floor

As most of you probably noticed, during the last couple of weeks I did a Speedhunters post where I described my multi-month "clean-up" of the engine bay.  Also, my friend Alessandro did a very nice post on the car as he had come over to help during the light bulb replacement project.

But there were several photos that didn't make the cut. So, I decided to post them here.

First, in preparation for the Speedhunters article, I actually had considered re-wrapping the HKS oil cooler hoses in black plastic spiral wrap.

First, I had to cut this zip tie away.
You can also see the SAMCO radiator hose on the bottom and the weird white spots on it that eventually convinced me to replace it!
It's too bad I couldn't use this in the end. Cheap and easy!
Here's how it looked after I finished the re-wrap. Looks OK, but a bit odd at the same time...
So what do you think? Should I have stuck with the black wrap or did I do the right thing with the clamps?

Speaking of clamps:
Mysterious package from China. And yes, Japan Customs opened to inspect it!
Since I wasn't sure if I should go for anodized silver or black, I ordered both!
 Did I make the right choice by going with the black clamps in the end?

Yes, that is probably 20 years of accumulated gunk!
 As mentioned earlier, when I had Alessandro come over to help, the first thing we decided to do was to replace the silicon SAMCO radiator hose with a new one.

But, SAMCO pricing in Japan is ridiculous, so I went ahead with this one from SARD
Here is Alessandro helping with the clamps.
Incidentally, he later went crazy with metal polish on the Koyo radiator. Thanks Ale!
I was researching new clamps for the radiator hose and a friend told me about some good ones made by Mikalor. So, I went ahead and ordered some.
While nice Stainless Steel, the ones that arrived were scratched up.
They also seemed to not be as shiny as they should be.
Maybe I need to polish them in my free time?
So yes, I gave up on these and went ahead with the ones included in the SARD kit.  We then turned our attention to trying to remove the front bumper, for the headlamp bulb article I did recently.

Here is a close up, looking up from inside the turn signal space, one we removed it.
You can see the ballast for the Xenons.
And of course, having removed the undertray I had to clean it. Simple Green is the bomb!
Rusted license plate stay
 In removing the bumper I thought we might have to remove the license plate stay. So off it came, and we noticed it was quite rusty.

I've resprayed it with anti-rust paint, this will have to do until I get a new one.
So that is one more new part to have to reorder!  Anyway, I am now working on my next Speedhunters post, and will of course provide some more behind the scenes coverage to appear here on the blog. Stay tuned! And thanks everyone for the comments made on the Speedhunters post!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Modernizing the Front Lights (Part 2)

Happy New Year everyone! Hope 2017 is a better year for all.

Anyway, as you recall in my last post I swapped out a first generation T10 LED parking lamp, as well as the OEM D2S Xenon bulb on the left front headlamp, for new units from Philips - both rated at 6200K in color and supposedly brighter than the norm.   

The results were promising
So, next on the list was to access the hi-beams and replace those too.

Wouldn't it be nice if all three bulbs gave off the same color?
Unfortunately, in order to access the hi-beam bulbs, the front bumper had to come off (by design - as reader Sam T commented in the previous post) because each of the headlamp housings are secured on the side by a bolt that is located directed directly under the upper side part of the bumper.  My friend (and BNR34 owner - check out his excellent blog HERE) Alessandro kindly offered to come by and help - I know from past experience that this task, while relatively simple, goes by much faster with two people.

See how compact Japanese garages are? 
So after driving it up onto ramps, I jacked the car up.
Safety first! Placed jack stands under the car.
Then I crawled underneath to unbolt the 3 piece undertray.

Truth be told, this was AFTER I cleaned it up, there was a lot of grease and oil on it! (see next photo)
Meanwhile Alessandro was busy removing the front grill and the two turn signal assemblies. And while I was under the car, I went ahead and removed the front lip spoiler as well.

Note, only the right side air duct came off. A rusted bolt prevented me from removing the one on the left in similar fashion. Something to resolve in the future!
So after removing the front undertray and the front lip spoiler, we realized that we did not have to remove the entire front bumper cover. This was because I have small hands and fingers which allowed me to access each of the single bolts on the sides of the headlamp housings. So instead of removing the bumper cover entirely, we only had to undo the two bolts on the left side to loosen the bumper cover in that area.
Green points to where that single troublesome bolt resides for the left side headlamp assembly.
 Orange is where I reached into to access that same bolt on the right side.
Then, all we had to do was to remove the nuts and 1 bolt holding the assemblies onto the frame of the car.
Green arrows point to the bolts and nuts that were removed.
On the left side, all that was left to be done was to replace the high beam H1 bulb.
You can see the base of the H1 bulb.
The OEM H1 bulb.
And here are the OSRAMs. Compared to OEM they are blue tipped.

And so how did these compare? Given it was still dusk, it was a bit hard to tell initially, but the photos show the difference (which admittedly is not drastic):
Without OSRAM

Being winter time, the light quickly faded soon after and I was able to get the following photos:
The left front (right on photo) has been changed out, and is whiter than the OEM on the right (left on photo)

In the dark, the difference is more distinct - whiter, and more crisp with less distortion.
So, while not really close to the white of the Xenons or the parking lamps, you can see there IS a difference between the bulbs. First, the OSRAMs appear to be slightly whiter; second, the glow of the light given off was crisper, if that makes sense.

At night, to be honest I could not really tell much of a difference - the biggest difference was how bright the parking lights are now - with the garage door closed there was hardly a difference between them and the Xenons!

In any case - there is still room for improvement. So, I will continue to monitor light bulbs in the hope that one day, I can get an H1 bulb that is whiter AND brighter...