When we as enthusiasts think about our project cars, we normally aren’t imagining their current state, but rather the idealized versions in our minds.
Because each and every project is a diamond in the rough, right? With enough time, resources and swearing, our visions will easily come to life. This is what I tell myself anyway.
The reality of owning an ‘older’ project car though, is that s**t will inevitably break on you. Up until recently, I’d been quite lucky with Project Rough in this respect. Then I had to pay my dues.
To be fair, I did notice all the warning signs – I was just too busy living in my ideal world to sit back and truly address the problems.Don’t Ignore The Signs
One of the first things that needed to be addressed was the air leaking from my front tires.
I checked the tires for punctures using a little soap and water, but to no avail. There was obviously something else wrong, most likely with the RAYS Arthur-Exchange wheels that I bought and refurbished back in 2019.
Praying it was an issue with the tire valves and not cracks in the wheels, I flipped them around to spray the soapy water cocktail onto the stems. That’s when I saw how dry-rotted the rubber seals were.
Not wanting to play around with replacing only the seals, I decided to replace all four L-shaped stems. I loaded up the wheels and took them over to my local tire shop.
As the tires came off the wheels, I was able to see how bad the seals really were. The rears were one foot out the door, but the fronts were completely rotted on both sides, which hinted at the cause of the air leakage.
Not only that, but the driver’s side front wheel held a nasty surprise. It turns out that the shop that mounted my tires on the wheels back in 2019 took a shortcut, and instead of replacing the valve stem simply slathered tar on the inside to create a seal and called it a day.
The lesson here is, if you pick up a set of used wheels to restore, don’t be lazy like I was – dismount the old rubber before refurbishing and check the stems. Even if the wheels hold air (which mine did for a long time), it’s worth giving them a look over, as it will save yourself the headache and potential safety hazard down the line.Don’t Ignore The Squeaking
Brakes are bound to wear out, and it’s a pretty simple job to replace the pads. Just don’t wait till they get too bad, for obvious reasons.
My brakes had been squealing for a while so I knew the pads needed to be changed, but it wasn’t until I finally got around to checking them that I realized just how low they actually were. I decided to park Project Rough for a few days while I waited for my new pads to come in.
I wanted something that had a bit more bite for spirited drives around the mountains and would be up to the task of the occasional track day. Having heard great things about Winmax, I decided to go with their AT3 pads on all four corners.
When they arrived, it was a pretty simple task of taking out the old stock pads, cleaning up the hardware, and putting the AT3 pads in. The only issue that occurred was the shims that help with vibration disintegrating as soon as I tried to remove the stock pads.
I’d heard from a few locals that they run without the shims for better brake feel, so I thought I’d do a little myth-busting until by new shims arrive. So far I can only report that the brakes feels fantastic, but I’m not sure how much of that is the lack of shims or the AT3 pads themselves. There is a little bit of noise though.
There was another squeaking sound that I’d ignored for a good year, which I thought was the clutch pedal simply needing a bit of lubrication. I eventually stopped being lazy and contorted my body to get access to the pedal and spray some lubrication. It helped a little bit, but the squeaking persisted.
Ultimately, the noise turned into a spring snapping sound and gear-shifting became exponentially harder. Fortunately I was able to get home without too much trouble, and once again parked the Skyline while I researched what had snapped on me.
At the time, I thought the noise had come from the transmission area, but searching some old forums led me to believe that my master cylinder had developed a problem. The reservoir read beyond the max brake fluid fill line, meaning there wasn’t a leak in the hydraulic system, but a problem with the master cylinder itself.
Instead of spending nearly ¥20,000 (approximately US$173 at current exchange rates) on an OEM master cylinder, I decided I’d spend a tenth of the price on a rebuild kit. Since I was saving money rebuilding the master cylinder, I decided to replace the OEM slave cylinder, which has a bore size of 3/4″ (19.05mm), with one featuring an enlarged 13/16″ (20.54mm) bore.
With claims of reducing pedal load, providing a proper clutch positioning, and up to 15% reduction in pedal pressure when using a sports-type clutch like I have, I was really keen on seeing whether the claims added up.
Of course, nothing is as easy as it initially seems though, and Project Rough has a tendency to fight me on everything.Murphy’s Law Strikes Again
First was actually getting the master cylinder out of the car. There’s not a lot of room to work with, and I quickly found out that the nut locking the hard line to the master was rusted tight. The lack of space meant I couldn’t get enough leverage to break the nut loose, and I had bad visions of rounding its edges off.
The solution is to go from underneath the car, disconnecting the hard line from the junction box, and then remove both the master and hard line. It can be done without bending the lines, but you have to be patient and carefully work the hard line out.
With the master cylinder removed, it was time for the slave cylinder, which again is supposed to be incredibly simple and straightforward. Who knows how old the slave cylinder actually was, as it and the master came from a random R33 donor car during the transmission swap long before I took ownership, but the flexible hose did not want to part ways.
Unfortunately, the nut was rounded in my attempts to disconnect the line, thus that too now needed to be replaced.
In hindsight, it probably needed to be replaced anyway. With age, these things will deform a little, causing you to lose hydraulic pressure as you push the piston in the slave. Ever notice that it’s difficult to shift on a hot summer’s day when you’re stuck in traffic? This flexible hose is most likely the culprit.
Braided clutch lines are the perfect solution, so I ordered the non-damper delete kit from GKTech. I’d heard mixed things about deleting the stock clutch damper system, so I decided against going that route in the meantime. That did mean that bleeding the clutch system after the overhaul was going to be a massive pain in the ass, seeing that you have to bleed from the master, slave and junction box, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
With the slave cylinder replaced, it was time to rebuild the master cylinder. To take this apart you simply remove the retaining ring from underneath the dust boot and the piston and spring comes flying out (so don’t aim it at anyone giving you a hand).
You can see how much the old spring had deformed over time, when compared to the new spring. What you can’t tell is how much stiffer the new spring is, meaning that all the force can now be pushed through the system when you depress the clutch.
Before reassembling the master cylinder, I took the opportunity to clean everything out, especially the reservoir.
Putting it all back together was another hassle, as the stiffer spring meant trying to compress everything to get the retaining clip in place was a huge undertaking without an extra set of hands to help. I still had that one hard line attached too, meaning I couldn’t easily put it in a vice to clamp it all down. The solution was to use a zip -tie on the shaft once I fully depressed the piston to hold it in place so I could then use both hands to open and get the retaining clip in place. Lots of swearing was required for this entire process.
Once back into the car, it was time to bleed the clutch, and as I mentioned before, you have to bleed the master cylinder, the damper junction box and the slave cylinder in that order, or you will be chasing your tail trying to remove all the air bubbles.
I ended up using the vacuum system I created for composites to help with bleeding the system. It can’t pull a very strong vacuum, but it helps with the initial bleeding and keeps everything nice and clean. If you find yourself bleeding the system by yourself, like I did, you can use whatever you have lying around to keep the pedal depressed after giving it a few pumps, allowing you to get out and crack open the bleed valves.
As I replaced and changed the whole system all at once, I can’t accurately say what changes directly impacted what, but as a whole, I can’t remember Project Rough’s clutch pedal engagement ever feeling as good as it does now. The pedal also feel lighter as less effort is needed when shifting, something that’s actually taking time to get used to.
Project Rough is now up and running again, but there are a few things that I have been playing around with… Stay tuned for those in my next update.