Since I left Japan, I get the same question all the time: ‘What do you miss the most?’
If I’m feeling a bit philosophical after a few beers, I might say that seductive mix of old and new worlds. Or, depending on how hungry I am, the ramen. I’ve only told a few close friends the real answer, because it’s a bit embarrassing when everyone expects you to share a deep cultural appreciation in 15 words or less.
I miss the driving culture the most. The endless roads, race tracks, scenic lookouts and hidden history to discover. The flawless motorways where the fast lane is actually for fast drivers. The highway stops with more lunch options than a medium-sized town. The generous speed cameras and friendly police. The unplanned night meets at Tatsumi PA. If I ever had a free moment, I’d be behind the wheel of Project NSX going somewhere.
So of course, the best way to spend one of my final weekends before packing my life into a shipping container was to line up a drive with Skorj, a fellow car and photography nut.
We’ve met Skorj before on these pages, his Honda S800 coupe provided the perfect companion for the Spoon-tuned S660 through the streets of Tokyo.
Recently the S800 has been replaced by a Porsche. Skorj sneakily blames his wife for the ‘upgrade’ (the S800 was never the most comfortable), but the reality was it was a smart move for someone who does as many spirited kilometres as he does. S800 coupes are very collectible (read: valuable) now, and the 987.2 Cayman is nearing the bottom of its depreciation curve. Summed up, you get a lot more car for the money in the Cayman.
I’ve already introduced both the BMW E46 M3 and Porsche 996 GT3 as naturally-aspirated ‘rivals’ that Project NSX is targeting, and after a bit of maths it turned out that Skorj’s 987.2 Cayman S would usefully split the difference between the BMW and Porsche as a ‘Stage 2′ target.
While I was in an analytical mood, I decided to check in on progress towards Stage 1 with a few recent changes. The installation of Fujitsubo’s SuperEx exhaust manifold not only lifted power, but also dropped a decent 7.3kg (16lb) over the cast OEM units in conjunction with some sport catalysers from Science of Speed. Combined with a new air intake funnel and removal of the spare tyre (which never fit over the upsized brakes anyway) we’re at 56.6kg (124.7lb) saved – just 3.4kg (7.5lb) shy of Stage 1’s 60kg (132lb) weight loss target.
I’m still yet to get the car back on the dyno for a power check with the new headers, but we’re undoubtedly closing in fast on the Stage 1 goal of matching the power-to-weight of the E46 M3.
The Cayman is in many ways the closest competitor for an NSX in the used car market. The NSX was obviously designed to take on the 911s and Ferraris of the day (which it did well), but it wasn’t until 15 years after the NSX’s launch that Porsche offered a six-cylinder, mid-engined, two-seater with similar dimensions.
In real-world terms, an early non-S Cayman would be dusted by an NSX, but by 2009 the S had stretched to 3.4L and gained direct injection, making for a torquey 315hp punch. The car’s handling has also become the default industry benchmark for driver involvement, so it’s obviously not just a drag racer either.
Although this was my last proper drive of the NSX in Japan, the opportunity to see how the Cayman stacked up was too good to refuse. Skorj was also curious to see how a few of my recent modifications (suspension, headers and tyres) had changed the previously sedate Honda.
We’d be leaving behind the Tokyo metropolis for the countryside of Chiba, with our end goal being Sodegaura Circuit to catch some of the on-track action at the Tokyo Bayside Classic Cup. Chiba has a nice mix of long stretches of high-speed highway and tight, winding backroads – a pretty good match for our mid-engine duo.
Once in Chiba, I swapped the NSX’s simple Monel key for the Porsche’s chunky remote.
The Cayman’s cockpit was an easy place to get comfortable; in typical Porsche manner, everything related to actually driving the car is right where you want it to be. The iconic central tachometer reminds me of the Carrera GT I’d lusted over for years.
The only thing that I did find odd is the halfway point on the fuel indicator being marked 2/4 rather than 1/2. The factory seats and wheel are great, but compared to the NSX the dash is quite tall, leaving a much smaller windscreen through which to take in the road ahead.
Planting your right foot results in a surprisingly assertive shove in the back from almost any RPM, whereas the NSX requires a bit more patience from lower in the rev range. The Cayman’s engine is sweet sounding, but does lack that lovely top end howl which characterises the NSX’s V6.
The Cayman’s suspension could be accused of being overly simple with MacPherson struts both front and rear. It’s hard to criticise the end result too; at the sensible speeds we achieved the hydraulically-assisted steering was sweet and true, and the rear of the car eagerly followed wherever the front end was directed. Undoubtedly there’s room for improvement over stock with stiffer bushings and upgraded shocks, but the flat ride felt instantly ready for the track, whereas the NSX really required the coilover upgrade to neuter body roll.
Seeing your own car on the road is always a fun experience, and it was a great chance to check out just how low and aggressive the NSX is compared to regular traffic. Skorj seemed to enjoy the drive but had no regrets about his Cayman purchase, so everyone was happy. Although, he did tell me he’d be shopping for some new exhaust bits afterwards, to ‘fix’ the somewhat lacking engine note.Sodegaura Classics
Before long we rolled into the paddock parking area at Sodegaura Raceway (soon to host the Speedhunters Live x RADwood event) and parked up.
It didn’t take long to find some cool cars – this is Japan after all! Milling around an event like this, classic camera in hand, is probably the best way to spend a fresh winter’s morning.
The Mazda Familia GT-R is an oft forgotten homologation special with turbocharged power sent to all four wheels – a competitor for the Pulsar GTi-R.
This Peugeot 205 GTi was bringing the ’80s vibes with a painfully cool Dimma wide-body kit.
An extremely faithful Jaguar XJ13 replica, which sounded glorious thanks to a carburettor-fed V12, perhaps pinched from an E-Type?
As fate would have it, a friend was at the event and mentioned that he’d spotted an abandoned NSX in his neighbourhood, and he had an inkling it might even be an NSX-R.
Now wouldn’t that be something… One last mission, 27?On The Hunt For Haisha
With some rough directions to guide us, we started on our way towards the mystery NSX. Knowing the area well Skorj led, but before long he’d indicated to pull over then quickly done a U-turn. “Lost already?” I yelled at him as he doubled back past me.
No, not lost, just a better eye for decaying kyusha than me. He’d spotted this parked across from a row of houses and rightfully decided we should take a better look.
The Skyline coupe had all the important period zokusha parts – bolt-on over fenders over deeply dished wheels, front chin spoiler, and even some aftermarket headlights.
The weather had really got to this one – there wasn’t an inch of glossiness anywhere on the red paintwork, and rust was taking hold around every window frame. Still, with the value of Hakosukas only continuing to climb, surely the owner must see value in salvaging what’s left? We decided to make a move before our presence started to bother anyone in the nearby houses.
The directions we’d been given turned out to be spot on, and before we knew it the nondescript shed standing next to an abandoned three-story building stood in front of us, just as described. Approaching the entry to the shed, it was clear we’d found our mark.
I barely noticed the Mercedes-Benz, for next to it sat the aforementioned NSX. It was red – the NSX-R did come in red, but it was a very rare colour – could it be?
I have to admit I did let my imagination run away a little bit at this point. Thoughts of dragging the car out into the sunlight and gradually restoring it with the blessing of the old owner’s family… Oh, hang on, there’s an automatic shifter in there. And a rather sizeable impact to the front end.
It never hurts to dream a little.
The rest of the shed was filled with varied delights, like this Subaru 360.
A complete Datsun 2000 Roadster in desperate need of some TLC…
And even a nice Volkswagen Karmann Ghia cabriolet in prime position to watch the cars, and years, go by.
It was just about time for lunch and we’d managed to fit in a spirited drive, race track visit and even some haisha hunting. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning.
Like all good things, the drive came to an end and thus did my time with Project NSX in Japan.
As the registration seal was torn off and voided I couldn’t help feel a bit melancholy – what a time we’d had together in this amazing country over the past 18 months – but it was time to go home. Alas, there was one last stop to make before heading to the export dock…