If you don’t count the dreaded boat ride from Okinawa to the seaside city of Kagoshima on the southernmost tip of Japan’s Kyushu island, the journey was a little over 2,000kms, taking nothing but backroads to Tokyo, to really explore Japan and get a feel of my somewhat spontaneous purchase.
In a few of my previous posts, you may have noticed a silver four-door R34 Skyline 25GT-T floating around in the background. After having it in my possession for a little over one year now, I guess it’s time to formally introduce everyone to the newest car in the SH Garage.
The hunt for a car started roughly two years ago. At that time I was renting cars two to four times a week just for work purposes, and it was starting to get quite expensive. Just a simple trip down from Tokyo to Fuji Speedway would run around ¥13,000, (approximately US$115), so I began calculating whether it would make better sense to own a car and deal with the all the associated costs (including parking) rather than paying a rental company good money to get behind the wheel of a horrid econobox or kei van every other day.
It was pretty much 50-50, but that was enough for me to start taking more than a casual browse through the used car website Goo-net.
But what to get?
Since I needed a workhorse first and foremost, it either had to be a sedan or a wagon. Yes, carrying film equipment in a coupe is totally doable, but it’s an unnecessary pain in the ass. A quick search online revealed that most of the wagons I was interested in, including the CT9W Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and new Subaru Levorg, were a bit out of my budget, so a sedan it was.
There was some criteria the car had to meet, though: It needed a manual transmission, a turbocharged engine, and have boxy styling (curves aren’t great when you’re trying to mount cameras to the exterior).
One car immediately came to mind – the ER34 Nissan Skyline 25GT-T.
With the make and model locked down I began my search for an ideal candidate, but instantly ran into a problem. Besides the fact that many of the ones I found for sale had clearly been drifted to hell and back, nearly all the non-drifted ones were outside of my budget with their shaken (registration) about to expire. I really wasn’t keen on spending more than I could afford.
After watching Blake buy Project NSX sight-unseen through Kikuchi-san of K2 Racing and the USS Auto Auction, I thought I would give it a shot as well. The thrill of seeing all the cars going under the digital hammer was pretty exciting, but at the end of the day I just didn’t have the cojones to buy a car without being able to inspect it myself.Fate Or Stupidity?
Facing the sad reality that my budget wasn’t going to get me what I wanted, I decided to take a break from finding a car and instead focus on working hard to free up some more funds. That’s when I received a message from Eric Thiergood of Oki’s Finest, inviting me down to Okinawa so I could check out the local car culture. I had never been to Okinawa and this seemed like a good way to clear my mind of Skylines.
Besides the thoughtful invitation, Eric took it upon himself to introduce me to some of the shops on the island, one of them being Crank Neo Garage. The owner Tom and I hit it off right away, and while waiting to be seated at a restaurant, I randomly asked him if he happened to know anyone selling a manual, turbocharged ER34 Skyline. He paused for about three seconds before uttering, “Actually yes. I do know someone looking to sell one. If you would like, I could introduce him to you tomorrow at the car meet.”
Could it be?
The next day came and sure enough I found myself looking at a four-door, manual, turbocharged Skyline – and it was rough. It had clearly been modified for drifting and had the battle scars to prove it; there were dents and scrapes pretty much everywhere.
Underneath the hood, the owner upgraded the factory-fitted RB25DET by adding an aftermarket T04E turbocharger, intercooler and air intake. The factory ECU had also been swapped for an A’PEXi Power FC, and all told the engine was producing around 400whp.
Other changes included a random UpGarage-sourced exhaust, an R33 5-speed gearbox to replace the car’s original auto, a Cusco 1.5-way limited slip differential, and some old school Volk Racing wheels that had definitely seen better days too.
While the car ticked a lot of the boxes for me, I struggled to get over the condition of the exterior. Sensing this, the owner offered to let me test drive it the next day since I had a few shoots lined up after the meet. It sounded like a good plan.
The next evening we both met at Crank Neo Garage, where the owner began interrogating me about my plans for an ER34. He wanted to know if I was planning to ship one off somewhere to make a quick profit, track one, or hang on to one and keep evolving it. I could tell that even though his car’s exterior was rough, he truly cared about the Skyline and the drivetrain was solid.
After a quick blast around some local roads I was hooked. I had to have it - if the price was right.
I assumed we would continue our conversation over the next few days when I had returned to Tokyo and had time to contemplate budgets and other things, so the owner asking me “how much do you want to buy it for?” caught me completely off guard.
As it sat, the Skyline was never going to pass its next shaken inspection, so it was going to take a lot of money just to get it road legal and registered. Tom graciously gave it a once-over for me, and the result of that was a list of things that would need to be changed and documented to pass the inspection, including the aforementioned transmission swap.
On the basis of that I made an offer.
“Well, if we can continue to be friends, and whenever you come back to Okinawa if I can join you on some shoots, I’ll sell it to you for that price.”
And that’s how I bought a ER34 25GT-T in Okinawa.Now How To Get It Back Home…
Over the next couple of months I made trips back and forth to Okinawa just dealing with the shaken issues.
One thing you need to know about Okinawa is that it runs on ‘Okinawa time.’ The obsession of punctuality and getting things done in an absurdly timely matter, as is everyday life in Tokyo, simply does not exist on this small island. This is great when you want to escape the robotic lifestyle of Japan’s biggest city, but somewhat frustrating when you’re trying to get a car inspected a couple of thousand kilometers away from your home.
First, it was getting the car scheduled to be inspected, something that took almost a month to arrange. Then it was the inspection itself, which also took forever thanks to the transmission swap. Finally, and unbeknownst to everyone involved in the transaction, the Skyline’s first owner (I’m the third for those keeping score at home) had been getting the car inspected in an illegal way for over a decade. F
rom what we uncovered, early in the car’s life its original RB25DET was swapped out for another (we’re guessing it probably blew), but the owner obviously didn’t want to deal with the mountain of paperwork involved in making it official.
For me, it meant having the engine removed, re-torquing everything to OEM specs, and putting the engine back into the car, all the while documenting the process with photographs for proof. Thankfully, Crank Neo’s team handled all of that for me, but to give you an idea of how difficult it all was, Tom said the paperwork ran to around 70 pages. It was at this point that I began to wonder if my spontaneous purchase was such a brilliant idea after all…
But after three months of trips to Okinawa and the shaken facility, my Skyline was finally ready to leave the island.
I could have shipped it directly to Yokohama Port, but that wouldn’t have been much of an adventure. No, a proper road trip was the only way this story could end.
So, my girlfriend and I began plotting out a route we could take that would allow us to do some sightseeing on the way back up to Tokyo. To help offset the costs of the journey, we would make a few stops along the way to knock out some features; those included a visit to URAS and a closer look at Takeru-san’s Evo VII.
The first leg of the 3,000km-plus journey – a 20-hour ferry ride from Okinawa to Kagoshima – was ironically the worst part of the entire trip. Thanks to a passing storm which brought about very rough seas, I spent 12 hours curled up in a ball trying not to get sick, and pretty much the rest of the time being sick to the point where death would have been welcomed.
I will never, I repeat never do that again.
Upon arrival in Kagoshima, we got down to mapping our drive to Tokyo, which by the most direct route entailed more than 1,350km.
We had planned which places to visit before starting this adventure, and knew we were going to spend most of our time in Kyushu, but hadn’t thought too much further into the trip than that. We didn’t even know where we’d be staying each night.
If we thought we could realistically make it to a certain town by a certain time, then we’d try and find a hotel or Airbnb while we were on route. In hindsight it was a bit reckless, but it was that spontaneity that made it a bit more exciting. At worse case, we could find a parking area and sleep in the car, but fortunately we never had to resort to that.
Outside of Hiroshima we made a quick pit stop at a Super Autobacs. I couldn’t stand driving for so long without listening to music through proper speakers, so decided to replace the head unit with one that could accept a conventional AUX cable. That sounds straight forward, right? Who would have thought Japan could make it so difficult…
Before the Autobacs staff would even touch the car, they wanted to see if it was road legal, and tested how loud the exhaust system was. All this to install a head unit.
I could go on for hours about the places we visited and the people we met along the way, but to save time here are a few highlights from the road trip. All in all, it took a little over 10 days to drive from Kagoshima to Tokyo.What’s New?
It seems like all of this was only yesterday, and yet it was actually over a year ago. So what’s changed since then?
As the main goal of the ER34 is a workhorse that I can still have fun with whenever the urge arises, some of the first changes I made were to make it more comfortable for daily driving.
Back in Okinawa, I restored the foggy GT-R headlights with different grits of sandpaper, soapy water, and finally a UV sealant.
Some of the interior trim was falling apart and in desperate need of cleaning. I gave the sun visors a good once-over with fabric cleaner and a kedama tori tori (a pretty useful device for cleaning up pilling).
I’ve also made a few exterior changes, including modifying the front bumper. The stock small opening in the grill really restricted airflow (or so I told myself), so I cut out a small portion and made a custom grill to mimic the R34 GT-R’s opening.
In terms of maintenance, you may remember a visit to Veruza’s GT-R specialty shop where I had the NGK Iriway 7 spark plugs replaced with a fresh set, and was informed about the power steering rack possibly needing a rebuild.
That possibility became a reality as it continued to deteriorate to the point that bigger steering inputs were required to make basic maneuvers. This in turn would fool the HICAS system (which currently only works sometimes) into thinking I was asking for a lot of input.
As you can imagine, this would make the rear end do some pretty abnormal things while driving.
Essentially, a complete overhaul of the steering assembly was required – unless I could find a replacement rack. Thankfully, Yahoo! Auctions exists and I was able to find a decent used one from a shop that had tested everything before parting it out from the donor car.
After a couple of hours, the old rack was out and the new one was in.
Perhaps the most significant change so far has been in the suspension department. The car originally ran on very worn HKS Hipermax coilovers with unknown spring rates. Even on the suspension’s softest setting they were unbearably stiff, and I’m sure the 2,000+kms of back roads didn’t do it any favors.
I reached out to a friend who runs his own suspension company and asked if he had anything for the R34 platform. He didn’t, but seeing that it was similar to the A31 Cefiro he could make a custom setup for me. Sticking close to the goal, we went with a spring rate of 8kg in the front and 6kg in the rear.
Combine that with 32 levels of compression adjustment and the Skyline now rides like a brand new car. When filming or shooting tracking shots, I simply set the adjustment to its lowest settings for extra softness.
When the urge comes to explore some touges or do a little track work, the adjustability transforms the ER34 into a car that wants to turn in and attack corners. The true test of this was when Blake and I hit up a track day at Tsukuba.
When the HICAS works it’s unreal how well a car this large can corner. Perhaps that should be the next thing on the list of repairs.
On our first go around the track (thanks to my friend for the photo), I was able to turn a 1:13.708, beating Blake and Project NSX. Yes! To be fair though, a few months later Blake went back and smashed my time to pieces, so I guess it would be fair to call it a draw? [I'll allow it - PMcG]
There’s also a few other little projects that I’ve been working on, but it’s probably best I save those for another time. The ER34 is still rough and will constantly keep me busy with maintenance and upgrades. I also want to improve my skills as a driver from behind the wheel, but most importantly just enjoy the hell out of it.
Welcome, everyone ,to the newest addition to the Speedhunters Garage – Project Rough.