Right, where did we leave off? It was the very beginning of Project Quattro, when I first picked up my RS4 around two years back…
It’s been a very colorful ride with the Audi since, and despite the continual issues that come with older, high-mileage cars, the truth of the matter is, it’s a pretty epic machine. When it’s not in the shop that is.
But as with any passion-driven project car, there’s always forgiveness. The issues fade and you concentrate on the good times.
Today, I want to take a few steps back to pretty much the first upgrade I made to Project Quattro, something that in its original state annoyed me beyond belief.
Wrapped around a steering wheel, suede is a lovely thing. Its texture looks as good to the eyes as it feels in the palms of your hands. It’s soft, supple, and adds elements of elegance and sportiness. It’s refined and smells amazing, and when you tackle a track with race gloves on it boosts grip tenfold.
Well, it does when it’s in good condition.
From the moment my hands first grabbed the RS4’s flat-bottom steering wheel, I knew it would need some TLC. And the same went for the shift knob and handbrake grip, too. After years of use, the suede aspects were well worn.
Every touch point was slippery to the touch and looked nasty. People on the internet told me I could probably save it with a suede-specific cleaner and a terry towel, but at this point I’d already contacted Masa-san at Robson Leather with plans to take things a step further.
This was my opportunity to give the rather dark, late-2000s cabin a modern update, and Robson had provided a ton of ideas about how to spice it up. With Project Quattro at the dealer for more work – again – it was the perfect time to remove the steering wheel and other bits and have them completely overhauled.
So I put the parts in a box, and sent it off to Masa.A Breath Of Freshness
Just a few days later, Robson was all done. I could have had Masa courier the parts back, but picking them up in person on the other side of Tokyo provided me with the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at his operation.
Before I get into that, let’s check out the refreshed parts.
The idea here was to not only replace the factory suede with similar black hide, but add some much-needed color too.
While some German tuners with questionable taste might turn the entire cabin blood red or aquamarine blue, I belong to the camp where subtle touches go a much longer way.
I stuck with the same ‘European stitching’ (as it’s referred to in the industry) – the car is German after all – but went for yellow. I’ve decided to highlight other areas of the cabin with the same color, and yellow will possibly find its way to the exterior in some small way too, but these interior pieces are where it’s all spanning from.
As you can see, I also had Robson add a yellow rally-style strip at 12 o’clock on the steering wheel, to hint at the sportiness within. Not that you’d need much visual feedback of where the wheels are pointing; the B7 RS4 hardly allows for wild oversteer maneuvers, but what the hell, it looks badass to me.
Before meeting up with Masa, I stopped by Audi to pick up a tiny little package. Inside was a brand new RS4 badge that slots into the recess on the lower section of the wheel. If you’re going to refresh something, you might as well do it properly, right?
The same yellow stitching was carried over to the shift knob, which Masa had to take apart in order to glue, stretch and pinch the new suede in place. The finished result looks even better than what I imagined it would.
And finally the handbrake lever, again with the same twin yellow stitching.
Here’s a look at the full set.
And the back.
A huge thank you goes out to Masa and his team at Robson Leather for taking care of this so quickly. You’ll see all the parts fitted in Project Quattro in a moment, but first, that look around the shop I mentioned earlier…The Operations
If you’re familiar with the Japanese aftermarket scene, and in particular the world of GT-Rs, you are bound to have heard of Robson Leather before.
I first met Masa close to 20 years ago, after I saw a piece on his leather handbrake and shifter boots for the BNR34 in GT-R Magazine. At this point, I had only owned Project GT-R for a year or so.
Back in the ’90s, Nissan used pleather (read: imitation leather) in its halo car, which really surprised me, and not in a good way. It was great to see Robson Leather doing something about it, and on one wet and gloomy June day in 2001 or 2002, I met up with Masa at Nikko Circuit for a GT-R event Robson was attending, and picked up one of his carbon leather shifter and handbrake boots with red stitching. To this day, I still have them in the car.
Over the years I’ve kept tabs on Robson, and have always been impressed by Masa and how he’s strived to become Japan’s go-to guy for leather interiors. It’s certainly the case with GT-Rs.
The cool thing is, Robson are always open to ideas, trying out new hides, new colors, and even new techniques.
It makes a fresh change from the usual way business is done in Japan, where god forbid you ask for something different. Masa-san, who has been in the leather industry for a very long time, is the man who researches, selects and buys the hides, so Robson Leather is totally adaptable to custom requests.
Everything is done in-house by his team of talented artisans.
This is the latest leather type Masa’s been experimenting with, cork leather. Don’t ask me how this is even a thing, but it’s super soft and looks pretty damn impressive. He’s done an entire interior in his own car.
Robson were the first in Japan to layer carbon fiber on interior parts, again taking those terrible plastic trim bits in the BNR34 and turning them into glossy dress up-parts. That too is something I jumped on early, probably only a few months after I picked up the carbon leather bits for my car. It’s what Nissan should have offered from factory in the GT-R, but never did.
These days, Robson has a comprehensive list of carbon bits they can transform. Here’s an example of an MFD cover from the R34 about receive a suede covering, and a finished product on the left.
And suede versus glossy carbon fiber. Robson even do colored carbon for the more adventurous GT-R owners out there.
Masa was keen to show me some of the different types of carbon leather he works with.
Like everything, leather keeps improving as processes are refined. I quite like the thick weave carbon on the left.
All the work Masa and his team have put in over the last two decades has earned Robson Leather official certification from Nissan, a very big deal indeed. They’re the only guys in the market to be officially recognized, and therefore are able to use this special label. On top of that, they can legally use the GT-R logo on their products. Now that’s cool!The Workshop
Heading down to the workshop from the upstairs office where all the leather work is done, I spotted a suede-wrapped BNR32 dashboard that had recently been completed. Aside from stuff like full re-trims of seats and door panels, headliners and so on, a dash job like this is one can be a big undertaking, simply due to the massive job of removing and refitting – without any rattles. I’d love to do something like this down the line.
All of the fitting takes place in the workshop space.
Check out this lineup of GT-R seats.
There is that fully-legal, Nissan-certified use of the GT-R logo.
Now, this was pretty neat… Ever wondered how the rotary backrest adjuster works on a GT-R seat? I always imagined lots of plastic cogs, but it’s actually two metal cogs linked together with a chain. Mind blown!
This mint-looking E24 BMW 635CSi was in at Robson for a full new leather interior.
It was cool to see what the Robson team have to deal with when they remove old fabric or leather from aged seats.
This is Masa’s son, busy at work on an interior panel. He’s cutting his teeth learning the business, which is so amazing to see. Sooner or later, Robson Leather will go through a generational shift.
The R35 GT-R in the workshop was on its way to being completely stripped out for a custom overhaul.
And they were already starting to apply leather trim pieces to the cover portion of the dash that moves up and down with the instrument binnacle.
Dropping by Robson Leather again, and seeing the amazing work they are so well known for was a great experience. I know I’ll be back in the future for more project car work.…And They’re Fitted
After leaving Robson, I dropped the parts off at Audi where they were fitted in the B7, which was ready for me to pick up the following week. You’ll have to excuse the factory B6 wheels, but at the time I shot this I was still running my snow tire setup, which allows this thing to pretty much plough through knee-deep powder.
Looking into the cabin, your eyes now instantly catch the fresh suede wrapped around the steering wheel. It makes it all look and feel – and even smell – like a new car, or at least it does to me.
For the first couple of days I was almost afraid to ruin the fresh hide with my sweaty palms, and tried to hold it on the bottom plastic section. But it’s hard to not get full enjoyment from gripping the chunky RS4 wheel rim, which has always been one of my favorite things about the car.
However, as this particular car was fitted with the optional ‘Black Style Limited’ package, there was way too much, well… black inside the cabin. Now the yellow stitching and the yellow central strip add a zingy spice to it all. How I replicate the yellow elsewhere around the car, I’m not quite sure yet.
The new RS4 emblem on the steering wheel gives a further touch of freshness.
It’s amazing what a subtle highlight of color can do for a cabin. The shifter is now a pleasure to use too; the twin stitching running across the suede central section feels great as you palm it for a shift. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it feels sturdier in your hand, gripper than before, giving you a touch more confidence when you go in for a fast change.
The same goes for the handbrake lever, although I can’t say I’ve used this in anger.
Some added satisfaction comes from being able to see the Robson Leather-enhanced parts through the windscreen as you walk up to the car. That central yellow strip on the steering wheel almost gives the old RS4 a somewhat 911 GT3 feel about it. Or at least that’s the way I like to think about it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this small but important first upgrade to Project Quattro. The next one will be performance oriented, so make sure you keep an eye out for it.
Dino Dalle Carbonare