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The Return Of Project 33 – Speedhunters



super-responsive BNR34 demo car, with their trademark dark blue/purple engine covers hinting at the hand-built innards of their finely balanced, strengthened and super-smooth RB26DETT engines.  The other is Nismo Omori Factory, the customer-facing division of Nissan Motorsports, located in Yokohama.

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Those who have read my blog or past Project 33 posts on Speedhunters know my car has a Mine’s-built complete engine, and is outfitted with plenty of Nismo parts. So when it came to mechanical improvements, these two shops were where I entrusted my car for some much-needed upgrades.

Seeking That New Car Handling, Ride & Feel

Growing up driving lightweight and nimble cars, I have always believed that, more than power, superb handling and responsiveness are paramount in sports cars. This is why early in my ownership of the R33 – and following the recommendations of the technicians at Nissan Prince Tokyo Motorsports – I focused first not on engine mods, but on gradually installing literally all the Nismo suspension and links parts available for the BCNR33. I later replaced the Nismo S-tune shock absorbers for some Öhlins DFV coilover units, and thereafter continued to experiment with various chassis and body rigidity parts, but something still felt ‘off’ to me.

I thus found myself a couple of years ago, right before the pandemic, at Nismo Omori Factory debating whether to pull the trigger on their ‘Chassis Refresh Menu’ package. This package goes beyond simply replacing only the usual deteriorated and hardened rubber bushes and worn-out boots. Rather, it is a comprehensive replacement of the entire suspension as well as an inspection and overhaul of the steering, brakes, axles and hubs, transmission, ATTESA ETS and HICAS systems, as well as new fluids, power steering-related hoses, engine mounts, etc. Basically, everything that is not engine or exhaust-related under the car is removed, inspected and replaced or refurbished as necessary.

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It’s hard to visualize the number of parts that are actually replaced on the Chassis Refresh Menu, which is why Nismo has this handy photo that Mr. Dalle Carbonare was kind enough to hold up for me to photograph. Incidentally, Dino is giving me that look not because he is overdosing on all the tasty BNR34 carbon fiber pieces displayed all over Omori Factory, but because he just realized the reason I asked him to “come along and advise me” was so that I could take this photo and then hitch a free ride home.

In the end, I decided that, given the frustration many owners are recently experiencing with rapidly disappearing parts, it would be wise to invest in the car and replace what I could with new, now. Plus in doing so, I would hopefully finally be able to experience the best possible handling the car is capable of, albeit in the Nissan/Nismo parts universe.

The work was scheduled to take several months, which was fine because I was in no hurry to get the car back. In fact, at the time I was in the midst of rebuilding my house and garage, and would have no place to store the car, so the timing worked out well.

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I did manage to occasionally drop in and check up on the progress, sneaking in this photo on one visit as a tech explained how those pink markings were confirmation that various bolts and fasteners had been tightened to factory specifications-  as was done when the car was first built at the factory. A true OEM touch. Incidentally, during this time I also had the Öhlins coilovers rebuilt and ordered new tires as well.

When I finally got the call in March 2020 from Nismo Omori Factory’s Ochiai-san that the work was completed and to come and pick up the car, the pandemic was in full swing.

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For anyone who has visited Omori Factory recently, you may have already met Ochiai-san – he’s one of the techs usually manning the service desk. It turns out that Ochiai-san is actually one of the guys who helped to build the BNR34 Z-Tune Proto, and he was the main guy on all of the Nismo Clubman Race Spec cars (note: their Grand Touring R33 has been upgraded to CRS status…). So yeah, he knows his stuff about these cars.

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If you have your car serviced at Nismo Omori Factory, one perk is that you might be invited into the service area when you pick up your car. And if you’re really lucky, you might find this trio just sitting there. Of course, you can check out the Nismo CRS cars at the Nismo Festival as well, but something about being let in behind locked doors to view them like this is truly special.

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I’ve had a discussion with Ochiai-san about what he thinks of the Mine’s engine in my car. Let’s just say he is a faithful company man and prefers the Nismo engine line-up…

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Here I am trying to find a smear or scratch, anything, so I could complain and maybe get a discount. Not surprisingly, there was nothing for me to complain about.

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And yes, as Dino noticed, the Nismo techs raised the front of my car by 10mm in order to make it ‘street legal’. Nismo, being a part of Nissan, means these guys there are a stickler for rules and regulations. No complaints from me, legal compliance is one area close to my heart…

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Here, Ochiai-san and I discuss what to do with the parts that were removed. Yahoo! Auctions is always an option to help finance more Nismo parts…

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From this angle, looking good. Wallpaper please, Mr. Dalle Carbonare?

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Some last-minute checks and questions and I was ready to get in my car and head home.

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After not having driven the Skyline for close to 11 months, it was surreal getting back in and starting up the engine.

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Yeah, I was happy. The ‘thumbs-up’ also proves that I’m more American than Japanese (otherwise, you would have seen the ubiquitous-in-Japan ‘V’ sign).

Once I drove out the Omori Factory gates, my mind was instantly blown. I could immediately tell the difference. I wasn’t lucky enough to buy my car new, but I imagine this must have been what a factory-fresh car felt like at delivery. The car rode smoother than ever before, likely because all the consumables – especially the bushings – were all simultaneously replaced with new parts. Previously, I had replaced parts piecemeal as my budget allowed, and further, items that had never been replaced before such as the rear subframe and its bushings and the wheel hubs were now all new. Having all new parts everywhere really meant the end result was greater than the sum of all the parts.

Overall, it felt balanced and extremely refined – a strange thing to say about a second-gen GT-R maybe, but so true given that Nismo is essentially OEM in quality and mindset.

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What’s nice of course is that the car looks exactly the same, at least on the outside. I rejected the carbon-look Omori Factory logo stickers that owners who get either a Nismo engine or Chassis Refresh Menu work done are entitled to display on their car’s front fenders, opting instead for this small rear window decal.

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The real proof, of course, is in the engine bay. Alas, that ‘Engine’ section on the plate will remain blank, as I prefer the Mine’s philosophy on improving the Nissan RB26DETT over Nismo’s interpretation.

Carbon, Carbon & More Nismo Carbon

Fast forward about a year to April 2021, and just as I thought my bank account had recovered I got another call from Ochiai-san. Something about a limited production carbon fiber part for the R33 that was expected to sell out very quickly – was I interested?  In this blog post, I document how I picked up one of the few Omori Factory carbon fiber air inlet snorkels – a part that made its first appearance on Nismo’s R33 Clubman Race Spec car – while also getting the Nismo carbon air inlet pipes.

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A few months later, when I had also been talked into getting Omori Factory’s BCNR33/BNR34 carbon air box, customer demand for the out-of-production snorkel was so high that Omori Factory ended up borrowing the snorkel back from me, so their supplier could create a new mold to make more snorkels. This is why these photos don’t show the snorkel installed.

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Some may point out that the carbon weave looks different, as well as the coloring. Yes, it bothers me too, but the explanation I was given is that a different process and materials were used for the air inlet pipes due to the higher temperatures that part is exposed to. I guess if there is a technical reason for the difference, I can live with it…

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As for the air box, while it is indeed very pretty and the construction top-notch, the inside layout has been changed to allow for the use of velocity stacks, apparently to generate increased air flow into the engine. Again, if there is a technical improvement, I can tolerate all this mismatched bling, I guess…

An Exhaust For The Discerning GT-R Owner

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Some of you may know that my BCNR33 and Dino’s BNR34 were used to develop the prototypes for Tomei Powered’s ExpremeTi series titanium exhaust systems for the R33/R34 GT-Rs. In fact, our cars are shown in the Tomei catalog fitted with those prototype exhausts. I was so honored and excited that I immediately purchased one of the ExpremeTi exhausts as soon as they went on sale, and since then proudly had this super lightweight and free-flowing titanium exhaust on my car. There was one small issue, though…

Although Tomei later released a street-legal version, mine was for ‘off-road use only,’ meaning that it was loud. My neighbors were not happy, to say the least. I ended up installing an electric exhaust valve and a sound deadening bung, which of course defeated the whole purpose of this free-flowing exhaust. And it was still loud.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when, a couple of months ago, I got a call from Mine’s asking if I was interested in being one of the first to buy their new Silence-VX Pro Titan III exhaust for the R33 GT-R. Just from the ‘Silence’ part of the name there was no way I could say no.

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So a few weeks ago, when the first examples were ready, I drove down to Mine’s for the install. Luckily for me, I was the only customer this particular morning.

I first met Nakayama-san – the engine takumi at Mine’s who has personally built over a thousand RB26 engines to extremely exacting standards – back in 2007 after I blew my stock engine during a track day at Fuji Speedway. After he built the engine that now powers my car, we kept in touch with countless chats at various GT-R-related events, but this was the first opportunity to entrust my car to him for major work since.

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After pulling my car into the designated spot, he immediately opened the box and started unwrapping the new exhaust for me to check out.

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It really is a thing of beauty, and one-piece construction as opposed to the multiple-piece Tomei exhaust.

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Meanwhile, as I was drooling, the other Mine’s techs were busy figuring out how to remove the BNR34 rear diffuser fitted to my car.

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But once the diffuser was gone the Tomei system was quickly unbolted.

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The race-spec Tomei exhaust felt lighter to me, but as both are titanium the difference wasn’t as big as I expected.

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Here is the Mine’s exhaust, test-fitted in place.

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A slight problem, however, which required a conference. Nakayama-san was concerned that the new exhaust did not have enough clearance from the added brackets for the rear diffuser and the oversized oil capacity rear differential cover I have on my car.

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It looked fantastic, so I just asked him to simply do what it took to get it fitted.

When I picked up my car after the install and drove home, my initial impression was that the car was much quieter. I can now have normal conversations at speed, but of course once the engine was wound up the music the Mine’s exhaust produces is truly electrifying. And further, I did not sense any noticeable amount of loss of power or response.

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However, I did notice that the new exhaust seemed to stick out from the bumper a bit more than expected. A phone call to Nakayama-san confirmed that, due to the clearance issue, he had put a 10mm spacer between the catalytic converter and the Silence-VX Pro.

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What do you guys think, does this look OK?

Since The Car Was At Mine’s Anyway…

While at Mine’s, I took the opportunity to get a few things done to the engine that were long overdue. First, since it had been more than 14 years since Nakayama-san built it, I asked him to inspect the engine to see if the years and some abusive driving had caused any problems, or if there was any need for a teardown and rebuild. Luckily for my wallet, the doctor pronounced the engine healthy and still strong, with no need for a rebuild.

Second, I also asked for installation of the Nismo plenum, which was something I wanted on my Mine’s engine build back in 2007 but somehow had not been included.

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And yeah, I specifically asked them to not paint the plenum to match the engine covers. I like the way this looks better.

And third, as the engine was built with single-hole Nismo 600cc/min injectors, a bit of modernization in the form of OEM R35 12-hole injectors – which everyone seems to have adopted these days – seemed like a good idea.

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I also asked for Mine’s’ own new fuel rail setup (and a custom retune of the ECU on board, Mine’s’ own VX-ROM). My goals with this setup isn’t power, but a more crisp response, better fuel combustion, and maybe even better gas mileage. The end result feels like there is now more power along with better start up, steady idling, and noticeably improved response to accelerator input.

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Of course, this new fuel rail needs a new fuel pressure regulator.

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And while I was at it, I decided that new R35 OEM air flow meters should round out the package. Yeah, old school perhaps, but it works.

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So currently the engine bay looks like this. Hmm, that blue silicon radiator hose stands out a bit too much, don’t you think?

A Pleasant Surprise & Another World First?

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There was actually one additional request I had when my car was at Mine’s. Look closely at the below above and see if you can spot it…

Shortly after the work at Nismo was completed, I was introduced by my friend Matt in the UK (running a truly insane monster R33 GT-R) to Simon at Midland Brakes. Simon’s company does a lot of custom brake work, and the reason for the introduction was that he had outfitted Matt’s car with carbon-ceramic brake rotors. Of course I was interested to see what he could do for me. I like bespoke, and don’t mind paying extra for something that is exclusive to me (like my suits), so I challenged Simon to make carbon-ceramic rotors in the R35 size that I run on my car, with matching custom anodized aluminum bell hats.

The timing was perfect, as the rotors and hats arrived shortly before my visit to Mine’s. When I showed Niikura-san (Mine’s founder and president) and Nakayama-san, both were cautiously interested; in their experience, retrofitted carbon-ceramic brake discs had never worked out as well as expected. So I asked them, if they had time, to just test fit the rotors to see if they would fit without issue, intending to do the install myself afterwards.

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A week later as I arrived at Mine’s to pick up my car, Nakayama-san greeted me visibly excited, a rare thing. He had fitted the rotors (and new pads, of course) and broken them in, and was curious to know where I got them. In his words, “these brakes are amazingly good!”

Niikura-san also made another appearance and admitted to me that, after hearing Nakayama-san rave about the brakes he himself had taken my car “out for a spin” to experience the improvement himself. The word “sugoi” was also uttered a few times.

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Nakayama-san told me that he had also measured the respective weights. The OEM R35 rotors and hats previously on the car weighed about 13kg each, while these carbon-ceramics and hats together each weigh only about 6kg. That is even less than the weight of an OEM R33 GT-R brake rotor, which if I recall correctly, were about 9kg apiece.

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Given the reduction in unsprung weight, Nakayama-san noted that not only did the steering of the car feel much lighter, but that the car felt appreciatively faster due to less rolling resistance. He summed it up as follows: “Your car was fast before, but now it’s scary fast!”

Once I got in the car and drove it at various speeds, I had to agree – the car felt much lighter and agile, and it seemed to accelerate with more ferocity than usual and easy wheel spin in second and third gears. Oops. Further, I was expecting the brake pedal feel to be wooden, and for the brakes to not be effective until warmed up. But from the get go, the pedal feel was natural and performance felt identical to the old steel rotors.

Most, if not all of my mods in the past have been incremental in nature, small improvements in power, braking, comfort, body rigidity, etc. This brake mod, however, given the multidimensional improvements, is revolutionary. And even though initially I thought the coilover spring rates might have to be lowered to account for the lighter unsprung weight, Nakayama-san assured me that the spring rates were fine, that the tires were making proper traction and that I would get used to it, because “this is how a supercar should feel!” Who am I to argue with a statement like that, from a legend in the GT-R community?

Next Steps

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So what’s next? The car now has a factory-fresh chassis, a new quieter but awesome-sounding Mine’s titanium exhaust, is powered by a more modernized RB26, and is sporting perhaps the ultimate in brakes. Even though I can now say with some confidence that my R33 might be close to perfection, there is always more to be done – such is the nature of these cars.  For example, Nakayama-san is already hinting at another mod for my car next year which he promises will make the engine even more responsive than it already is. But meanwhile, if you guys have any ideas, I am all ears.

I will of course be sure to share major upgrades here as they happen, but also please check out my blog as well as past Project 33 posts if you need more R33 goodness.

Aki Itoh
Instagram: aki_itoh

Photos by Dino Dalle Carbonare
Instagram: dino_dalle_carbonare
dino@speedhunters.com

More Project 33 posts on Speedhunters

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