Project 33: The Details Make All The Difference
Attention To Detail Is A Way Of Life

I’d like to first apologize for the lack of updates; I’m waiting for some major parts to arrive which I promise will be amazing. In the meantime though, I was asked to write about how ‘OCD’ I get with my car.

With work done by tuners or others it can be tough, but something like this DIY project which I did in my spare time over several weekends (hence the long delay) provided an ideal opportunity to show the kind of stuff I spend time doing, my thoughts during such a project, and what I perceive to be that extra 10 percent that makes the difference. I’d be curious to learn about special techniques and tips you may have, too. Feel free to let me know. Oh and please, I am in no way a professional, so I’m sure there are those of you out there who could do a much better job.

As anyone who has visited Japan knows, the Japanese pride themselves on attention to detail in almost everything they do. After 13-plus years of living here, I myself have adopted this trait (it’s not genetic) to many things in my life too, but none more obvious to my friends than how I clean and tinker with my cars.

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Often, people express their attention to detail (or ‘OCD-ness’) by, of course, detailing their cars. But for me, the journey with my GT-R isn’t just about keeping it clean, but in modernizing and actually ‘finishing’ many parts on the car which I believe to be incomplete. I think you will agree that, by paying attention to the little details, the end result is often much more than just throwing a bunch of parts on the car.

For example, one thing I’ve always wanted to try was to give a more uniform and cleaned up look to the engine bay. Obviously the RB26DETT engine itself isn’t meant to be pretty, being that it’s essentially a tuned-down race car engine. The engines in the R32 and R33 GT-Rs were painted no-nonsense black and all the associated metal bits were mostly left in their natural state of shine. Some of the show car quality RB26DETT Skylines I’ve seen, both in real life and in photos, look amazing, with repainted cam covers, rerouted wiring and piping resulting in a less cluttered engine bay, or lots of chrome for some nice bling. Maybe someday I’ll go down that route, but right now I’m too lazy and not mechanically minded enough. Up until now, the only bling for me has been the by-products of whatever parts I’ve installed, like the purple/blue wrinkle paint-covered Mine’s built engine and that Nismo piping. Just like how wax build-up on a car’s emblems can visually detract from an otherwise spotless car, I decided to simply focus on some small parts in the engine bay, which to me detract from the overall RB26 package.

Here’s an example of what’s possible (the before and after) by taking care of the details.

I Like Bespoke
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Inspired by some aftermarket ‘dress up’ bolts for engine bays, I decided the only way to get truly functional but affordable equivalents was for me to have them recreated to OEM dimensions in titanium, and then manufactured in bulk. I had three colors produced – Burnt Blue, Nitrate Gold and Nitrate Black – and the bolts were then sold at cost to members in Club R33, the owners-only Facebook group that myself and several like-minded R33 GT-R owners around the world set up.

I chose to replicate the OEM bolts for the engine coil pack cover, the front ‘RB26′ cam belt cover, and the cam angle sensor.

Mmm. Blue is tempting, yes, but…

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For my car, I decided to keep things simple and stay away from flashy by installing the Nitrate Black bolts. With this minor freshen up of the engine covers, I then turned my attention to several items in the engine bay that needed some real TLC.

Powder Coating

Several metal brackets used in the engine bay appear to be unfinished (or very lightly protected) metal. Left alone to the elements, they usually rust up, or even if the car is parked inside, gradually accumulate dirt and oil blow-off, like these two. Not pretty.

Just when I was thinking about simply repainting them, my friend Chris, a fellow American and R33 GT-R owner like me living in Japan, introduced me to his friend Aaron who does some powder-coating. On a moment’s notice, Aaron agreed to help us out, so I decided to get these brackets powder-coated in gloss black.

Aaron started by cleaning each part thoroughly, then applying electrical current while spraying on the colored powder. Then it was just a few minutes in his home-made oven for the powder to melt and solidify, followed by cooling. Easy!

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Before…

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And after.

Why gloss and not matte? Because there are already OEM brackets in the engine bay that are gloss black, so I thought I might as well try to get it all to match.

Cleaning, Rust Removal & Respray
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While removing the brackets to have them powder-coated, I noticed that the hood latch wasn’t just dirty, it was ugly with what looked like rust and greasy dirt. Not only that, but the horns located on either side of the hood latch bracket were corroded too, and there was a bit of rust on the gloss black bracket covering the fan mesh. Yes, usually all of this is covered up by my carbon fiber Garage Defend GT Cooling Panel, but still…

After removing it from its bracket it looked worse than I thought. Obviously powder-coating wasn’t going to work here, so I proceeded to spend some quality time with a wire brush to remove as much rust and remaining dirt as I could.

I then painted the latch mechanism with a Rust-Oleum type spray paint, but that still wasn’t enough. And yes, before you ask, I sprayed some black Plasti Dip on the edge of the latch lever, not just for looks but also to protect my fingers whenever I open the hood.

Next up was dealing with the rust on this black bracket. I masked it off, removed as much rust I could with sandpaper, applied some anti-rust paint and then followed up with a coat of gloss black.

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Of course, I used a small paintbrush to apply both paints to the mesh as well; I’m too lazy to disassemble the whole front and use spray paint.

It was then I realized that the metal bracket that supports the latch was also quite dirty, which I guess is to be expected on a 20-year-old car. As it doesn’t have a coat of clearcoat, I had to use some brake cleaner as well as a clay bar to remove the embedded dirt.

I wasn’t quite done though, as the OEM horns needed to be replaced. Initially, I tried painting one with anti-rust paint but that killed it, so, after a lot of research, I decided to stick to OEM (or nearly anyway) and ordered the dealer option Nissan Sports Horn. Genuine Nissan is always good, even though these are actually for the Z34.

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After a bit of bracket bending and rewiring, I managed to bolt both new horns to their proper positions.

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And the finished result. Note the use of black painted bolts; it looks good eh?

Finishing Touches
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I was now quite pleased with myself, but I just couldn’t stop. You see, I noticed something else, something which unlike the hood latch and horns wouldn’t be hidden under the Garage Defend GT Cooling Panel.

I realized that in this space, there were three things wrong. First, a few years ago, I had replaced my leaking windshield washer tank with a new unit, and that whiteness contrasted strongly with the now brownish coolant overflow tank. Second, the white plastic coil wrap that surrounds the braided hosing for the HKS oil cooler had yellowed with heat and had accumulated lots of dirt, oil and grease. Plus, zip-ties look cheap (oh, and a stupid way to route the hoses too). Third, the blue silicon radiator hose had some weird white spots all over it, that I could not remove. Furthermore, while the clips used were functional, they were also somewhat ugly.

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First, I removed the coolant overflow bottle. It was disgusting, and even worse was the crud inside (NSFW)!

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So, I replaced that with a new unit as well.

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Second, I cut off the dirty plastic coil wrap and then used anodized aluminum brackets to hold the oil cooler’s braided hoses together, remembering to apply some rubber tape to the insides of the brackets to prevent scratching the hoses, as well as to the side of the washer tank where one hose rubs.

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And this is how this area looks now. Much better! Did you spot the new black bolt?

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Finally, I replaced the radiator hose with a new silicon one, and got some stainless steel clips to boot. While I was at it, I used some metal polish on the Koyo radiator.

People with sharp eyes will see that in addition to some polishing done on the visible aluminum, I also replaced the brake fluid reservoir cap with a new one.

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Now that it’s all finished (for now, anyway), I think it looks much better. What do you think? Not bad for an amateur, right?

Any suggestions you may have, I am all ears!

Aki Itoh
Instagram: aki_itoh
aitoh@hotmail.com

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Comments

77 comments
Tung
Tung

nice article! Inspires me to just refine the car I have (finish all the little details). Instead of always looking to the next thing.

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@Tung Thanks! Agreed, especially when the next thing isn't cheap!

Ice Age
Ice Age

Thank you - you've inspired me to get on with my manual transaxle swap for my Volvo 850.


This is what one corner of my kitchen floor looks like right now.



Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@Ice Age Haha! You are too kind! I wouldn't know what to do with all those bits of metal, except shine them up! Seriously good luck on that, sounds like an interesting conversion.

Ice Age
Ice Age

@Aki_Itoh @Ice Age Thanks. I don't know why, but it's the stories about Japanese hot rodders that really inspire me - and always at 11 o'clock at night. 


Grass is greener, or something.

Leroy P
Leroy P

If only all japanese folk who worked on cars were that tidy and clean. Some certainly are, but definitely not all of them!

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@Leroy P I'm honestly surprised to hear that. Then again, I do recall some mechanics here who simply replace parts with new ones, but don't bother to clean up the surrounding areas. The cognitive dissonance would bother me!

KenAHoward
KenAHoward

That's perfect; cosmetically I wouldn't change a thing.  Has it ever been repainted?  I wish I could get a stock-style airbox to fit in my car (S15 with an R34's RB26) but I think I'm stuck running pod filters for now.  I always end up directing all my effort towards mechanical or electrical stuff and can never seem to set aside time & money (mostly money) to make mine look pretty, but if I ever do I'd love to ask you all to feature it!

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@KenAHoward Thanks! Engine bay has not been repainted, but obviously the engine covers are not OEM. And yes, for most of us it's always a time or money issue. Both for me lately...

IvanOrtega
IvanOrtega

i want to see the new leather interior installed!


cobraracer46
cobraracer46

You are certainly on the right path with your attention to detail. My 2001 Cobra mustang project is addressing the small details as well such as fasteners and just about everything is getting replaced with stainless ARP 12 hardware and I'm doing my best to get as many hose clamps of the car as possible by replacing the factory stuff with AN fittings. Another key point for me is knowing when to stop and avoiding the gaudy overdone show car look. 


cobraracer46
cobraracer46

ARP 12 point nuts and bolts. It's expensive but it sure does look nice.


Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@cobraracer46 Looks awesome! I'm so jealous you have a modern looking engine bay, without all the clutter and hoses the RB has. Red and Blue fittings certainly look good!

cobraracer46
cobraracer46

@Aki_Itoh @cobraracer46

Thanks!  It is possible to make the clutter look good and work for you.  I take my engine bay ideas from racing and I like all the race hoses, fittings and ducting more than a barren engine bay.


Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@cobraracer46 I will agree that this is very clean! and ooooh look at all that carbon....

jah1mon
jah1mon

I also love builds like these, great attention to detail. I wish zinc plating was more accessible as I would definitely replate brackets such as the ones you've powder coated.

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@jah1mon Thanks! And ME too!! Powder coating may not always be the ideal solution...

cooki_monsta
cooki_monsta

I like your style. Would love to share my Z33 build once I get around to the suspension and a 370Z brake conversion. That said, I love simple little projects that you can feel forever good about once completed - like refinishing interior door trim when scratched, replacing a worn gear boot with a leather one and faded mats with custom ones, polishing the body to remove swirls and the headlights to remove hazing, offsetting registration plates to eliminate scratches, installing up-rated transmission and differential mounts to reduce play, polishing calipers, replacing rusted wheel nuts, replacing pedal covers that have worn rubber, degreasing all nuts and bolts during reassembly and polishing every other bracket also... They're changes that few people other than the driver could really appreciate, but oh so satisfying. You'll find bits and pieces of my former Liberty/Legacy via instagram (cooki_monsta).

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@cooki_monsta Thanks, you definitely sound like my kind of guy! Just as you say, it's this kind of simple stuff that makes a HUGE difference in total. Much of what you describe I've done and recorded on my blog too!

EmmaMacki
EmmaMacki

Always a great read Mr. Itoh. Slight off-topic though, how much does it cost you to pick up that "..33" plate in a populated place like Yokohama?

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@EmmaMacki Thank you!

The personalized plate cost 4100 yen (there is also a green light up one that costs 5300 yen, but I didn't want that one). The problem is, "33" is a very popular number (not so for "32" or "34"!) in Kanagawa Prefecture, so those wishing to obtain "33" have to do so, by lottery. This can take some time.

If you can read Japanese: http://www.kanagawa-jidosya.or.jp/activity/apply.html

daender
daender

 This is my prefect answer to Paddy's most-recent article; your R33 is the sort of car that makes me instantly open an article link the moment I see an update about this GT-R.  The attention to detail is perfect and the car isn't modified to such an extent that you're compromising too much in the way of comfort, looks, or reliability but still having a sporty and quick machine.  It's something I can relate to better than a crazy, well-engineered, backyard-brewed monster (which I do enjoy seeing and reading about, but they do nothing in the way of influencing me to make my own) because your build gives off a feel that mostly anyone could obtain a similar result and enjoy it without going too far out of a comfort zone.


As always, keep up the amazing work! 

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@daender ARRGHH! The pressure (but thanks!!)! LOL.  

Actually I think when you're pretty much a normal guy (I think I am... Dino may beg to differ), given the constraints of living here in Japan, balancing job and family pressures, you have to be very careful and picky about the kinds of mods to do. Most people would probably do, what I do, I think?

That being said, I certainly hope that Paddy and the others will be happy with the next couple of posts I do here on Speedhunters...

D1RGE
D1RGE

Great job Aki. This is a great article for the common enthusiast, and things we all can do without utter financial ruin. When I had my Prelude, I didn't have much money, but doing a ton of little things like this got me far more compliments than I ever expected, and I had a lot of pride in that I did a lot of it myself. It's also a fantastic way to bond with your vehicle and really get to know the inside of your engine bay. 


Please keep it coming!

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@D1RGE Thanks buddy! "utter financial ruin" - yep, it certainly feels that way sometimes. Agree that there is that special feeling when you've done it all yourself - people who pay others don't get it, but those of us who DO get out the spray paint and wire brushes - yeah, for sure! 

I think my next post won't be as much hands on, but should be interesting...hopefully soon...

ZedBri
ZedBri

I don't usually (ever?) comment but I've gotta say your posts are my favorite thing on Speedhunters and it gives a lot of inspiration to do the same thing to my R32. Although, parts are incredibly expensive to get shipped from Japan to the UK, £70 in total for a set of 5 bumper bolts...

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@ZedBri Thank you for commenting, it means a LOT to me! Especially because I'm just a regular guy who simply likes to document what I do. Yeah, parts are expensive, even in Japan, but if you want to be a stickler for fit and quality, can't go wrong with the stuff made here.

StreetStatik
StreetStatik

man, this is something small but something that inspires me to get off my ass to go and fix little bits on my cars. www.80shero.com (insta - 80shero) gives me that same inspiration with the parts he finds at the pickos and restores. 


Merlz
Merlz

Well done Aki! Doing these little jobs like this are some of my favorite things to do on my car. Your OCD level and laziness (by lazy i mean taking off parts to paint) is the same as mine haha. Keep posting! 

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@Merlz Thanks! Well, truth be told if I had a proper shop, I'd disassemble it all and do it properly, or go all new parts (to the extent they still exist) but for now, this was the "practical" and cost-effective way to get it done! I think the end result isn't too bad...

MPistol
MPistol

fan of it - was on the road to do things of this nature to my TDI Cup Edition......... but thanks VW, for the check...... this'll buy a faster car :)

Bro5
Bro5

Love your work

AnthonyColard
AnthonyColard

I'm applausing with both hands. Attention to detail is what is usually lacking on personal projects as well as on pro builds. You've done some nice little touches here and there which globally clean up the engine bay pretty well.


If you want to go very OCD, you can also fit your pipe clips in place to check what length you really need, then mark it, remove them, cut them shorter so barely anything sticks out after the adjusting nut. You can also rotate them to position the nut under your pipe so we don't see it, and wrap your clip with a heat shrink tube, heat it up to fit it nicely and they'll be black and grab the attention a bit less.


I'm also going very OCD on my current build (1968 Barracuda) with a complete nut and bolt rotisserie restoration with personal touches here and there, so i know how you feel Aki! I'm going to be on mine for at least another year anyway ...

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@AnthonyColard Damn! What a great idea on the pipe clips! I actually DID try to line up the bolts to be on the same side as the other clamp bolts in the engine bay (All on the right side, facing up), but yeah I was wondering what to do with the "overhang." So thank you! 

Check back on my blog, not sure if I will do the heat shrink idea but I am very tempted!

KoltonS
KoltonS

I've been doing function over form track car builds for so long that this is very refreshing to see. When I head back out into my shop in a little bit, I'm going to keep your little project in mind. Thank you for this, and keep up the good work.

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@KoltonS Thanks very much, function over form is important to me and it means a lot coming from a long time pro like you! 

nightrift97
nightrift97

My friend's dad has an R33 that I think would make for a great car spotlight. Anyone interested?

nightrift97
nightrift97

@Aki_Itoh The car's in Edmonton, Alberta. At the moment he's currently got it put away for the winter. I'll speak to him about it when the snow goes away.

two4dee
two4dee

Love the article.  Are those brackets for the braided stainless hoses something available stateside?

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@two4dee Thanks! And yes - try eBay under "AN hose clamps aluminum double." Don't forget to measure the hose diameter! 

Slappy_Pistons
Slappy_Pistons

I can't help thinking it would have been worth it to get the bare metal parts blasted and prepped them properly before paint and then painted with patience.  I see a lot of pitting on that bonnet latch mechanism and a lot of orange peel on the brackets :/


Am I doing the OCD thing right?  Haters come at me!

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@Slappy_Pistons LOL. Definitely OCD! :)   


One day when I win the Lotto, I'll redo it and make it absolutely perfect!!  But seriously, this was an exercise in seeing what I could with minimal budget and time (like 2-3 hours every other weekend) by paying attention to those details that detract the eye, and fixing those details!

Turbology
Turbology

Looks superb, nicely done! I have been doing some work with Scott-san of OCD Works fame, and while I knew of the Japanese obsession with thoroughness and detail beforehand, experiencing it in person is another story.

This guy produces some of the most mental billet CNC parts I have ever seen, and while I am picking my jaw up off the floor, he is pointing out non-existent (to me, at least) flaws and very much embodying kaizen.

The other aspect that I have come to greatly appreciate and respect (though maddening at times) is the unabashed modesty and systemic lack of pretense that entirely belies the quality of the work.

Anyway, loving your R33, keep up the top work!

Aki_Itoh
Aki_Itoh

@Turbology Hey thanks! 

I can't believe there is actually a place called OCD Works, surprised the PC police haven't complained about that one. 


While it's true that there are many other ways to clean up the engine bay, I was attempting to stick with a near OEM look - just clean it up, make it look new - kind of like the rebuilt R33 GTR that NISMO recently did. Also, I'm a working stiff and I don't get anything for free, so everything I do has a budget. In this case, I think the results were pretty good, given how low budget it was! LOL.

Turbology
Turbology

@Aki_Itoh no doubt dude, I give you serious props for your approach, it has worked out very nicely. Actually, for an R34 I am working on, the client wanted billet valve, coil and timing covers, but changed his mind when he realized how over-the-top it would be (in a good way).

By that time, I had already sent the stock pieces to Scott-san to be digitized and cut from billet, and the first set he did ended up on Forsberg's RB25 S30, so at least that was pretty cool. Probably going to just do the stock pieces in gold for his particular build.

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