For me, having project cars in the SH Garage is one of the best parts of being a Speedhunter. Sharing my car life experiences with readers from all around the world is one of my favorite things to do, and it’s always so cool to hear your opinions on what we get up to and the choices we make with our builds.
As a team, we’ll be bringing you a number of Speedhunters project updates over the coming weeks, and to kick things off I thought it would be a good idea to bring you up to speed with my cars, while giving you a little insight into how I live with them on a daily basis. Because owning one car in Tokyo is not the easiest or most financially-sensible thing to do, so me juggling three cars might sound like I’m really asking for trouble.
When you register a car in Japan you need to prove you have a parking spot to park it in. How do you prove it? Well, before the local police station give the OK and stamps your registration papers, they will physically come around and check. Like anything you do in Japan, the process can border on the ridiculous. An example of this is the requirement to draw two diagrams of the parking spot in two different scales. Once approved though, you are good to go.
Of course, unless you have a house with a parking spot you will need to pay monthly rent on your space. The average monthly cost for this in a central Tokyo apartment block is the equivalent of around US$500. That’s US$6,000 per year, for one car space.
Seeing that both my wife and I aren’t keen users of public transport, we do our fair share of daily driving, including multiple school runs in the morning and pick ups in the afternoon. So having enough car spots has always been priority number one, especially as I have press cars from time to time as well.
Having three project cars is as much fun as it is a proper chore to manage. Let’s go through them, with a current status report on each.
I’ll start with Project Drop Top, which was originally a black 2015 BMW 435i Convertible. Now it’s a white 440i that I picked up earlier this year – an LCI, or mid-cycle refresh of the same car. This might sound like a weird thing to do, but hear me out…
Around the end of 2019, rumors of a 4 Series replacement were abound, and honestly, this was the car I planned to replace the 435i with. However, at this time it was pretty much confirmed that the new car would be receiving the most hideous front grille that BMW have ever penned, and to make matters worse (at least for me), there was only a soft top for the convertible model.
After the 335i and the 435i with a folding hard top, a soft top was not something I was prepared to return to. Plus, the 440i came with the B58 motor and full LCD instrumentation, so let’s just say I was sold. I removed all the parts that I fitted to the original Project Drop Top and said goodbye to one of the best daily drivers I’ve ever owned. The 440i is even better though, so I’m loving this new addition to the garage.
Then there’s Project Quattro. After leaving me for a while to have some engine work taken care of, it’s now back in all of its naturally aspirated V8 glory, and you’ll be happy to hear that I have full updates on some recent upgrades coming soon. The car feels amazing now, especially given it’s a high-mileage example.
One thing I still need to sort out is the exhaust. Hearing newer RS Audis around Tokyo with their farts at every upshift and crackles on the over-run makes me a tad jealous. However, it’s all about balance, as I wouldn’t want anything too obnoxious.
The Robson Leather suede re-trims of the steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake are standing up very well to use and feel just as great as they did when they were fitted. I love how the yellow stitching adds a much-needed pop of color to the otherwise black cabin.
A friend of mine in Thailand helped me get some custom floor mats made up, as OEM Audi ones are astronomically priced. I might get similar mats with the Speedhunters logo for my other cars, as they are amazing quality.
Project GT-R still has the original Nismo mats I got around 15 years ago, and the driver side one is showing signs of wear.
As you can see, my Sparco seats still haven’t been fitted. It turns out that because they are not homologated for the Japanese market, the importer in Japan is unable to help me, so I need to find seat rails that fit and install them myself.
Other than that, I’m planning to swap out the old (and now not working) Pioneer single-DIN MD player headunit (with 12-CD changer which has been long since removed) for something modern. While the RB26 soundtrack is all I need in the GT-R, I do want a unit with Apple Car Play, so I’m now looking at 2DIN options which means the little OEM storage box has to go. That’s where I’ve hidden the HKS boost controller that since the introduction of the Haltech Elite 2500 hasn’t been used. It’s the perfect time to scrap it all.
Let’s talk power…
I still need to share with you the various steps that my RB26 engine has gone through, but basically it’s now running a pair of HKS GT-III turbos, Tomei cams, and an upgraded fuel system with Injector Dynamics ID1050X injectors. The Haltech ECU still needs to be properly mapped, but I have issues with a slipping ATS clutch and a carbon propeller shaft that seems to be out of balance and vibrates the driveline at over 5,000rpm – not ideal. There’s also a full Brembo brake package fitted now, ensuring the car stops as well as it will eventually go.
The reason progress has been so slow is the amount of time and effort that I need to dedicate to getting it prepped for a run on the dyno, not to mention the parts that need to be added to finalize it all. So, Project GT-R is getting close to the finish line (will there ever be a finish?), but it’s still not quite there yet. Plus, the car has been de-registered for four years now, which means every time I move it from shop to shop I need to source a temporary plate and insure it for a month in order for it to be roadworthy. It’s a bit of a pain, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The V8 in the RS4 has benefited from a new set of lungs, courtesy of Gruppe M.
I will have a post on the install later this month, as well as a video so you can hear for yourself how great the induction sounds. I also had a crack at sanding off the yellowed clear-coat on the carbon bits in the engine bay, so it all looks much fresher now.
The B58 in the 440i is a big improvement over the N55 that was in Project Drop Top #1, and this time around I plan to have Studie play with the ECU maps and see what we can extract with a little more boost. Of course, the Gruppe M air box that was in the 435i does not fit, so I’m looking at parting ways with that and then funding a whole new induction kit for this new car. I also need to also look around at exhausts, as it’s far too quiet.
So there is still a lot planned for all the cars. And that’s how it should always be, right?
I’m also talking with the guys at Nuklheads and Tokonatsu Factory – who wrapped the GT-R green for the 2018 Tokyo Auto Salon – about doing a new wrap. I have no idea what we will be going for, but there are some ideas currently being thrown around. Let’s just say, I’m looking at vintage Nissan race cars for inspiration.
The green has been amazing and I’ve had nothing but positive feedback, but it’s time for a change.
In the meantime, the car sits under its cover, and the CTEK battery charger keeps the Optima Yellow Top in optimal condition. It was thanks to this pairing that I was able to crank the car into life and move it quickly last year during Typhoon Hagibis, which completely flooded my house. Had I not been able to move the GT-R, it would have surely suffered the same fate as my neighbours’ cars – flood water inside, right up to the dashboard.
It’s been a tough year since, and only now can I say that the house side of things is 100% back in order. The cars are next!
Wheels are another area I need to spend some time on, as all three cars need some new boots to get them looking their best.
The GT-R is now back on its 19-inch RAYS Volk Racing CE28Ns – which are still one of my favorite wheels ever – but I’m craving something fresh. The same goes for the other two, especially the BMW, which sits on the stock – and very ugly – 19s. The RS4 OEM wheels still look damn good, but I can’t help but think that black wheels would look so evil. I’m keen to hear your thoughts on what wheels might suit…
That’s it for this quick update. Juggling three project cars in Tokyo isn’t easy, but I’m still enjoying every single step of progress.
Dino Dalle Carbonare