Besides the fact that Project Rough is more of a budget build that I hope many readers can relate to, I’m pretty keen on making incremental changes to see how they affect the Skyline’s performance and my ability to drive it.
I’ve already made a number of changes in the quest for more mechanical grip and overall handling by overhauling most of the suspension components, and adding bigger wheels and grippier rubber. This time around, though, I’ve been working on the interior to improve the contact points. It may sound simple, but refining basic elements such as seating location, steering wheel position, and shifter feel can have a profound effect on you as a driver.
The first thing I wanted to tackle was the seating position. Being a little over 6ft (183cm) I fall well beyond the Japanese 95% distribution curve of height, and thus it’s sometimes an issue when I get behind the wheel. Fortunately though, in the ER34 I can push the seat all the way to its furthest position and it’s just perfect – for my legs, at least.
My arms on the other hand need to be stretched so far out that making full-lock maneuvers has always been a challenge. The stock steering column can only be adjusted for rake and not reach, so when driving spiritedly, I’ve always had to plan ahead with where to put my hands when approaching a hairpin turn, and ultimately that throws my rhythm off.
A simple steering wheel spacer was the cure for this dilemma. I wanted to play around with different lengths to see what would fit best, so I decided to give an adjustable spacer a try.
After adjusting it to the desired length, the locking squares ensure it stays in place. In my natural seating position it’s not only more comfortable to drive, but one less thing to think about while at speed.The Cube Speed Challenge
The next contact point that I wanted to improve was the shifter, which with a combination of massive throw and an overall sloppy feel had provided next-level frustration. Amplifying the disaster is the heavy sprung clutch that wants to grab hold as soon as possible.
There’s been a communication gap between my left foot and left hand that I always had to try and balance out. It only got worse the faster I drove, to the point that I was almost guaranteed to screw up the 2nd to 3rd shift – arguably the best shift in my ER34.
To make matters worse, a fast drive with my friend Chris and his Honda Beat a while back only reinforced how terrible my shifter was by comparison.
Short, direct, and full of confidence with gear change – ’80s and ’90s Hondas had some of the best shifters, and experiencing the Beat for myself just pushed me over the edge. Something needed to be done with my Skyline shifter, and I made it a goal to better or at least match the quality of shift in the pint-sized Honda.
I did a lot of research on some of the more common shifters out there, but nothing really stood out as something that would achieve the goal. I also didn’t want to go with a race-type shifter; it still needed to remain somewhat sensible, so I wasn’t looking for anything too overly sprung or tall in physical size. Perhaps there was no middle ground out there?
After almost giving up hope, I stumbled upon a YouTube video posted by an Australian company called CUBE Speed. Its founder, Richard, was demonstrating the advantages of CUBE shifters for the 5-speed Nissan RWD transmission, and I immediately picked up on the passion he had for the product.
CUBE claimed 35% shorter throws, a more direct and positive mechanical feeling, and another special design that I’ll get to later on – it sounded a lot like what I was looking for. After reaching out to Richard to discuss my objectives, he assured me that CUBE’s ‘Premium Skyline Shifter’ would do exactly what I wanted and more, and then proceeded to send me a care package to install in Project Rough.
Everything required to perform the installation was carefully wrapped up inside. It’s high-quality, billet CNC-machined stuff, and that includes the shift knob.
CUBE has designed this knob with extra mass – 153.5gm total weight – to help increase the inertia at the top of the pivot. This added to the equation helps makes shifting all the more seamless when compared to the 81.6gm stock ER34 shift knob.
As it’s metal, there is one drawback though – I think it’s going to be ice-cold to the touch in winter, and searingly-hot in the summer time. To work around this problem, I stitched together (rather poorly) a cover out of cheap leather, and added heat-resistance material on the inside. It may not be summer yet in Japan, but a quick test with a heat gun leads me to believe that everything should be OK come May.
One of the things I wanted to do with this modification is measure the claimed reduction in throw. I quickly realized though, that not having a stationary point would make this a fruitless exercise, so I decided to capture the transformation from stock via the medium of video, which you can see further on in this post.
The removal process was incredibly simple and straightforward thanks to the detailed instructions provided. For the record, I’d never taken apart a shifter before.
With the stock shifter out, I could do a side-by-side comparison with the CUBE shifter.
The installation of the new shifter was almost as straightforward as the removal of the stock one, but this originally being an automatic transmission-equipped car, meant that CUBE shifter mounting plate didn’t quite fit.
At the time I didn’t own an angle grinder, and my cordless Dremel struggles to handle tough material even with a diamond-plated cutting wheel. So I drilled holes to help the Dremel cut the metal section out, then filed down the rough edges and proceeded to finish the installation.
Another selling point behind the reduction in throw is the replacement of the centering springs. I honestly didn’t know you could just replace these things, but Richard insisted that doing so would have a dramatic effect on the H-pattern shifter gate feel, especially the 2nd to 3rd gear shift.
The kit comes with three different springs that you can combine to produce anywhere from 15% improvement over stock, to a ridiculous 255% increase. Richard suggested that I start with the firm springs plus helper spring combination, which would equate to a 70% increase over stock.
This is the most difficult part of the installation as you have to get underneath the car with a 27mm wrench and remove the bolt housing the stock spring. I was able to remove the driver side one without too much drama, but the passenger side bolt wouldn’t budge no matter how much rust penetrating spray and cursing I applied. I will need to have the car in the air to get enough leverage to break that seal, but as it stands, the combination of the stock and 70% increase feels really good.
For daily driving, the increased pressure is hardly noticeable, and shifting from 2nd to 3rd gear is now just a push forward motion.
I can’t really explain how good it feels rowing through the gears in words and pictures, but hopefully the video above will help get my point across.
To find out whether the CUBE upgrade had achieved my goal, I invited Chris out for another drive to really put the shifter through its paces, and see what he thought about the changes.
He also brought his friend Adrian, who was over in Japan on holiday and a S2000 owner, to join in the fun and see what he thought as well. If both Chris and Adrian said it was good, then I’d know it was a success for sure.
As it turns out, they were both hugely impressed by the feel, directness, ease of shifting, and the overall throw of the shifter. Chris even thinks the shifter is now shorter than his Beat, which I wasn’t expecting at all.
At speeds, the shifter is seamless and the communication between the clutch and my hand are perfectly in sync. That’s built up my confidence to push harder without having to worry about what gear I’m going to shift into.
Now all I need to do is address the sliding-all-over-the-place issue that I have with Project Rough’s stock seats. We’ll delve into that in my next project car update.