September 27, 2005
●Alfa Romeo Junior Z
Following on from the previous entry...here is another special car sighting in Tokyo. Spotted just around the corner from Super Autobacs (yes I'm there too often!) an immaculate 1973 Alfa Romeo Junior Z. Z of course stands for Zagato. Don't know much about this little car except it looks very nice in the flesh. First time I"ve ever seen one up close...
September 26, 2005
●FIAT 131 Mirafiori Abarth
It never seezes to amaze me the cars you get to see in Tokyo. Spotted this orange Fiat 131 homologation special at Super Autobacs just outside Tokyo. Brings back a lot of memories as my father used to drive this (albeit the normal road car) back when I was a little kid and it's the first car I ever got to drive. They were built between 1976 and 1981 and people might recall Walter Röhl won a few rallies with this thing!!
Powered by a twin-carb, twin-cam, 2.0 L 4-cylinder FIAT engine it develops 140PS at 6,400 rpm and considering the 985 Kg it must still be a fun car to drive. It was the Italian version of the AE86!! They even made a Shilouette Group 5 racer based on the 131. It was powered by a 260PS 3.5 L V6.
September 23, 2005
●Knight Sports Supercharged RX-8
Mazda had no idea the RX-8 would have been so well accepted in the sports car world. In fact it was never even supposed to be a sporty car, but rather a unique family car that was also a fun drive. But in Japan tuners have been at it for years now trying to make this, the only rotary production car in the world, go a bit faster. Handling has never been an issue with the RX-8. It's considerably light, and thanks to the tiny Renesis being tucked almost under the dash (!) it makes the "8" behave like the best FR cars out there. However, what has proven to be a problem, is getting more power out of the 250PS twin rotor unit. The fact is this wankel is highly tuned as it is and as many people have found out, change one of the main variables like intake resistance or exhaust back-pressure, and you are more likely to loose power than gain anything significant! So this is where rotary masters Knight Sports come in. They have come up with a supercharger kit to considerably boost power and torque and give the RX-8 the extra horses it so desperatly needs.
This kit, which only operates at 0.5 bar, is enough to boost power to a very respectable 292.6 PS. Knight Sports also measured the power of the standard car before fitting the kit and found that it only developed 212.6 PS! It's a known fact Mazda were a bit optimistic when saying their high-spec RX-8 pushed out 250 PS. Anyway you can't argue with an 80 PS gain, and the best thing is the kit is bolt on, comes with everything you need including a small intercooler, and there is no danger of damaging the engine. The kit retails at ¥630,000 and is available right now. Please note that the piping and intercooler end tanks in the production version of the kit are polished unlike the items fitted to the demo/development car. Here are a few snaps of the Knight Sports RX-8 demo car.
Many thanks to Kinght Sports team for taking the time to let me sample this new demo car and get a glimpse into the fascinating world of rotary tuning Knight Sports style. Fact is, with racing experience going back to the seventies, nobody out there knows how to fettle with wankels as well as these people. The attention to detail of their work is a pleasure to see. If only every tuner out there was as half as good as these guys!
September 20, 2005
●Lexus GS350 Vs Nissan Fuga 450GT
End of August saw the official launch of the Lexus brand in Japan. The new GS is the car everyone is talking about as it is the first model to embody the new L-Finesse design language. The GS has actually been on sale outside of Japan for a couple of months so it's not exactly big news. But what Lexus have done is keep a little gem of an engine all for themselves by only offering it in the Japanese market. I'm talking about the new generation 3.5L V6 which puts out a very impressive 315 PS at 6,400 rpm and 38.4 kgm at 4,800 rpm. Strangely enough this engine is more powerful than the 4.3 L V8 fitted on the GS430 (granted the V8 does crank out more torque). So with this in mind I came up with the perfect car to compare the GS350 to, Nissan's brand new Fuga 450GT. The Fuga has been on sale in Japan since late 2004. Until now only the 2.5 and 3.5 L V6s have been offered but what a lot of people have been waiting for is for Nissan to drop the 4.5L V8 (which also powers the Cima) into the big engine bay. So behold the 450GT, the Japanese market version of the Infiniti M45. Yes that's right, Nissan hasn't still got round to launching its luxury brand here in Japan.
Design wise both cars have their own charms. While the GS impresses with its smooth aerodynamic design the Fuga prefers to take a slightly more aggressive road with a menacing front end and more conventional saloon lines. The Lexus has a coherent design carried out all the way from the front to the rear of the car while in my opinion the Nissan really looses the plot at the back with odd oversized lights. Both cars are extremely well put together, the GS having the upper hand with slightly tighter panel fitting and attention to detail like extra seals around the front doors to keep wind noise at bay. The Fuga, fitted with the optional sports package, has very nice 19" wheels while the comfort oriented GS is fitted with 17" wheels with 18 inchers being offered as an option.
The power plants in both these cars are sublime. The Lexus V6 is simply marvelous! It offers effortless acceleration at the slightest prod of the throttle and revs smoothly and silently all the way to the redline just under 7,000 rpm. What makes this engine shine is the Toyota developed 6-speed automatic transmission which is both fast and smooth shifting and seems to guess exactly the gear you want to be in by kicking down instantly without any drama.
The Nissan V8 is a hot-rod! Below 3,000 rpm it's hardly even audible but step on the loud pedal and this small block really begins to sing. Power wise it develops an ok 333 PS, nothing special for a 4.5 V8, especially after Audi has shown the world what it can do with it's aspirated V8 engines! But it has buckets of torque that really make the Fuga feel like a sports car at times. And that V8 soundtrack! Wow! What let's it down though is the 5-speed automatic which feels "old-gen" compared to the Lexus unit. It's smooth shifting and fast but not quite in the same league the GS 6-speeder. But all things said there is not much difference in the performance of these two luxury saloons, the Fuga is slightly quicker, but not as much as most would think.
If you like your toys then both these cars will not disappoint. Overall the Lexus has an old-school come new-school design feel to it while the Nissan offers a more unique and futuristic feel. I did prefer the Nissans overall layout with its easy to operate controls and high mounted screen. The GS has a very user friendly touch screen system and latest generation HDD navigation and is packed with other toys like an in-dash 6 DVD changer and Mark Levinson surround sound system. The Nissan certainly doesn't lag behind in this department with an equally impressive DVD-Rom based navigation unit, in-dash 6 CD changer and a separate DVD player in the glove box. The Bose 5.1 surround system is excellent but the GS system felt slightly more refined no doubt thanks to the impressive NVH insulation which Lexus is so well known for.
The Lexus leather felt softer while the build quality and switch gear was much better then the Nissan. Keep in mind the Fuga is quite a bit cheaper then the GS so some cost saving in this department is understandable.
Out on the road the GS stood out for it's impressive refinement and virtually silent ride at any speed. What surprised me was the handling. I was expecting an American style wollowy ride but what I got was superbly responsive chassis and suspension.
The Fuga 450GT with its optional sports package proved to be very reactive and accurate. All that torque means power-slides on demand but the electronics, just like in the Lexus, kick in to spoil the fun even after the traction and stability controls are switched off.
Choosing between these two cars would be extremely difficult. Lexus is leaning heavily on the brand image side of things with unrivaled dealer service and brand exclusivity. In Japan this is an excellent strategy as brand and image play a lot in choosing a car at this level. The GS is a superb car, excellent build, excellent equipment levels after you fork out for the bigger toys and an overall great driving experience. Nissan not yet able to lean on its luxury brand image has taken the value-for-money route and offers the Fuga at an extremely competitive price. The V8 engine and sports car like handling are the cherry on the top. The V8 powerplant is also available from Lexus but higher costs really do begin to factor in.
If I had to pick between the two I would probably go with the Fuga. Despite the questionable quality of materials and switch-gear, noisier ride (19" wheels to balme here) and not so pretty design you really can't question the value this car offers. I just hope a future introduction of the Infiniti brand will not lead to higher prices!
The obligatory warp speed pix;-)
September 13, 2005
●Super GT, Rd.5 - Twin Ring Motegi
Some shots from the Motegi round of Super GT. Team Raybrig won with the two French drivers, Sebastian Philippe and Jeremie Dufour at the wheel of the M-Tec prepared NSX. 4 seconds behind came the Takata Dome NSX while Team Calsonic, managed by Kazuyoshi Hoshino, finished in third. For more detailed results you can check out the Super GT official English website.
September 09, 2005
●Veilside Fortune NSX
Well you are looking at one of the star-cars of the forthcoming Fast & Furious 3 movie. Built by Veilside this Fortune Honda NSX bares little resemblance to the all-alluminium car that lies beneath. Glasshouse and roof aside everything else has been carefully crafted by the creative hands of Veilside's founder, Yokomaku-san. As ever the guys at Veilside proved to be top people and made shooting this car a real blast. Special thanks to the owner of this stunning unique car who took the time to bring the car to Veilside's HQ in Tsukuba for the shoot.
September 06, 2005
●Nismo GT LED Tail Lights
Got round to fitting the Nismo GT LED tail lights to the GTR the other day.
When they first came out I really didn't like them but over the last few months for some reason I changed my mind and decided that they were really cool. I mean, if the 2003 GT-500 R34 GT-Rs had them they must be cool!:-)
September 03, 2005
●Z-tune @ Nismo Omori Factory
Dropped by Nismo the other day and spotted the first customer Z-tune I have ever seen. A few pictures taken with the phone.
●Subaru Impreza WRX STi SpecC
New year, new face lift for the rally bred Impreza. But looks like they have finally nailed the design of the front end with a pair of Legacy-ish aggressive headlights and the new family grille. I quite like the result and from the looks it got on the street it seems I'm not the only one.
Still think the rear end is the weakest point of the car. Looks bland and unappealing and those clear lights for this 2006 model don't do anything for it! Notice Subaru's answer to Mitsubishi's Vortex Generator.
The car you see here is the light-weight SpecC, or as I would put it the "soft" version of the SpecC with A/C, central locking and power windows. To remind you of your "hardcore-racer" choice you are left without a boot release mechanism and no sun visor for the passenger side. And you can impress all your mates by showing them your cool boot trim...or lack of it!
Interior is miles better than the Evo 9 with both design and quality of materials, but on this Spec C model you still get some horrible hard plastics here and there. Steering wheel is way to big and seat position way too high. Pedal layout is perfect for heel-&-toe antics while the red dials are easy to read.
The flat-4 turbo still looks like a washing machine with a motorcycle radiator bolted on top of it, but it's 43kgm of torque is ferociously explosive and feels enormously powerful from 3,000rpm till about 7,000rpm. Revs smoothly and vibration free to 8,000rpm but it's hardly worth going all the way to the redline as power trails off quite dramatically after 6,800 rpm.
Apart from a few revision of the engine management to liberate that extra torque the suspension geometry has been finely tuned while some additional stiffening added to the front struts. On the road the handling has definitely seen some improvement with a considerable precision added to the front end. Understeer is not as noticeable as in the older cars and the front end has enormous bite, thanks also to the grippy Bridgestone RE070. What I really didn't care for was the massive grip the DCCD allows the rear end to generate. Sure it's safe but it's not fun! Only under full power in first gear can yo get a decent slide going and if you want a bit of sideways action with higher gears then forget about it, only way you can manage it is with a mighty weight transfer flick. What this car needs is a looser back end, something that will allow a bit of adjustability with the throttle when powering on and backing off. Apart from this and the usual steering-kickback on uneven surfaces I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the 2006 Spec C. In fact if I had to make a choice I would pick it over the Evo 9 GT I drove earlier in the year. Now if only they could sort out that rear end!
Good to see that Japanese manufacturers are bringing their cars into the modern world by not bothering with the silly 180Km/h speed limiter. The Spec C happily pulls 260 km/h.
September 01, 2005
●The S14 Silvia that wants to be an R34 GT-R!
Met up with the owner of this unique car. Based on an S14 Silvia (spot the number plate?) the car has been transformed by hand into an "S34." All of the work was been carried out by the owner and finished off in a superb chameleon paint-job. In fact thanks to the light conditions I have to say it was one of the most fun cars I've shot. The way the light plays with the bodywork is unreal.