Thursday, March 27, 2008

Datsun's Rotary

Back in the early seventies, Datsun (along with a host of other car makers) was serious about developing a Wankel engine on the heels of NSU and Mazda. Toyota was also rumored to be working on one, but Datsun built them and ran test prototypes in Datsun1200 sedans. The Datsun 1200 Forum has a cool 1973 article on the state of development (at that time) of the Datsun Wankel.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Clean Room - Nissan GTR engine building facility

Yokohama Japan: Building the twin turbo VR38 GTR engine.

It’s a totally different world in the air-pressure regulated GTR clean room engine assembly area when compared to the rest of Nissan’s motor assembly facilities.

The workers in this clean room are called Takumi, or skilled craftsman and each motor is assembled entirely by one technician. This Takumi is building a fuel injection rail. The engines move from station to station, around the room as pieces and specific tools are added and needed. The process takes about 200 minutes and involves some 370 steps.

If there are any irregularities detected during assembly, the engine is set aside for analysis. Nissan even designed special electric tools for the clean room instead of the normal air-operated setup in order to keep dust and particles to a minimum. After assembly, each engine is tested with a no-load firing run, followed by a full load power test. For the startup of production Nissan has 13 Takumi’s building about 27 motors per day in a single shift, but can add another seven builders and go to a double shift as production ramps up.

Hammering away on the Nissan GTR Assembly Line

62 miles north of Tokyo, at Nissan’s Tochigi plant, the GTR takes shape. The facility was established in 1968 and has produced cars since 1971. It’s ringed by a high-speed four mile banked oval with the Nissan logo spelled out in shrubbery that you pass under while entering. The GTR is assembled along the same line as the Skyline coupe and sedan. I wasn’t allowed into the stamping shop or the area where some of the die-cast pieces are fitted into the body, but did get to wander through the actual assembly line inside a giant tin clad building.

On the assembly line itself, GTR’s are interspersed randomly among Skyline coupes, sedans, and US bound G35’s and G37’s with about six meters of space between them. Robots do most of the heavy lifting, as the line is 83% automated.

There are fewer of the musical robotic delivery carts than in the regular engine assembly areas (in Yokohama, GTR engines are built in a clean room, separated from the giant automated 4-cylinder MR assembly line full of robot delivery carts rolling along the aisles) but they’re present and belting out high-pitched happy songs (like Mary Had A Little Lamb and It’s a Small World in pitches that could double as mobile phone ring tones) as the cars snake along and workers at different stations install their guts.

After the components are installed along the 900-meter long line, the cars are driven to a four-wheel dyno station that automatically shortens or lengthens itself for the next car. At the front of the dyno station, several monitors display camera images of the front and rear of the car so the operator can test headlight and taillight functions, and a central screen depicts the rolling road speed on the dyno for checking speedometer calibration.

Assuming there are no problems on the dyno, the cars were driven forward to a final quality inspection lineup under a sea of intense flourescent lights. Workers crawl around the car and checking panel fit and finish of the interiors. It's amazingly bright!

Crazy Precise Alignment on the new Nissan GTR

One of the more unique processes of the GTR is the high precision alignment it gets as it is assembled. Before the parts hit the assembly line, the axle shop assembles the rear subframe with the rear transmission/transaxle unit, the suspension arms, uprights, and rotors and then mounted to an elaborate hydraulic cradle that sets the suspension at rideheight – simulating the weight of the car so that two technicians can setup the alignment specs with race car precision on a laser guided tool before the piece is mounted in the car. This ensures that the wheel alignment is precise before the parts go into the car, and it’s checked again after the brake-pad transmission shakedown on every car.

GTR Break-in Procedure

Kazutoshi Mizuno, Nissan’s project leader and self proclaimed ‘Mr. GTR’ wanted to ensure that every GTR be capable of the performance claims they’ve made and to keep themselves honest, each car goes out for nine laps on a test loop on the proving ground at the Tochigi plant facility. The loop itself isn’t a picturesque road course or even a high speed wailing on the banking, but instead looks like a multi-lane drag strip with different lanes with different road qualities. The goal is to properly and uniformly break in the various systems on the car. The procedure is well orchestrated, with the first four laps consisting of a set number of progressively harder stops and a little brake and throttle at the same time to properly break in the massive rotors and bed the pads. Laps five to seven focus on checking turbo boost and loosening up the transmission, and the final laps take the GTR on a bumpier section of pavement to reduce the friction in the suspension bushings. After the drive, each car is measured at several key points, and the alignment specs are re-checked and adjusted if needed. Nissan doesn’t want any funny vibrations at 300kph!

More Vintage Touring

Like to drive? There are a number of non-make-specific rally-style touring events where you can get out and mix it up with exotics, and rough and tumble classics on the backroads of California. It’s a low key way to enjoy your classic without having to compare mirror bolts, or be told you’re running the wrong sun visor by a self proclaimed “fill in your car name here” expert. These folks just enjoy getting out and blowing the cobwebs off their classics across less traveled routes. There are a host of events, from the no cost “NO FRILLS IRON BOTTOM Motor Tour, the California Melee, the now retired Alpine 500 which will be succeeded this year by the Snowball Rally, The SoCal TT and more…

Early Celica Liftback on the Iron Bottom, also a veteran of the California Melee - piloted by our own David Swig

Ford V8 powered Datsun on the Iron Bottom

Afraid of a little dirt? Don't try this with your Z then. 24 Hours of LeMons Creator Jay Lamm has no fear in his Z...

Sweet Honda S600 Coupe on the Alpine Rally!

RHD SSS 510 Coupe on the California Melee

Get out there, you know who you are!!!

Peanut Corolla on the low-buck vintage rally scene

In the Norcal lo-buck vintage rally scene, Elizabeth Pfau is a regular with her “Supernatural Powers” Peanut Corolla. Fitted with coilovers and period Cromodora five-spoke wheels, the Toyota is as at home crossing the Sierras as it is zipping along the rugged California coastline. Pfau typically does 3-4 vintage events a year, and prefers to drive the car rather than show it. In the near future she’s planning a motor swap that will give the little Corolla a little more oomph over the hills.

Keeping busy is never a problem for Pfau, She’s the moderator of an online vintage rally forum, and the chief perpertrator of a female vintage car / driving club – The Atomic Petrolettes. not to mention a seriously talented painter of automotive and non-automotive themed art which can be viewed at her Atlasphere website.

Hopefully we’ll see E at Motoring J Style in May!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mitsubishi EVO X MR

The new Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X MR is still a driver’s car, and despite the efforts to add a little refinement the soul of the EVO is left intact. The razor sharp steering, the overall grip, the chassis’ willingness to change direction puts the EVO squarely on top when compared to the ’08 Subaru STI. That said, it lacks a little of the EVO IX’s explosive feel – a tradeoff clearly made for everyday drivability.

The styling is controversial – it seems more cluttered than the concept, and the front end suggests a fish with an overbite when viewed from the side. But who cares, because at the limit the chassis balance tips from neutral to rearward, making it easy to place, slide, and gather up. The sport-auto mode on the transmission is very intuitive, and does a good job of keeping the revs right where you want them when attacking a curving road – when operated in paddle mode (Ferrari-style with fixed paddle locations that don’t get lost with a turn of the wheel) the shifts are quick and positive.

The car feels far more nimble than a trip to the scales would suggest too, and the seats make you want to hop in roll for hours.

At the Mitsubishi Design Center, the EVO in the reflection of the Eclipse design study in the window...

We played with the EVO and the STI on smooth winding desert roads, in the same situations the STI is more prone to understeer, and lacks the positive steering feel of the Mistubishi. It’s still quick across the road, and on bumpier surfaces, or off road it may have an advantage. Both of these cars have been re-tuned for better ride quality, and the optional wheels make all the difference on the STI in the looks department.

Monday, March 10, 2008

How not to sell a car...

This stuff drives me nuts – the open ended no price “just send me offers” ad for a car. This approach totally opens the doors for anguish on both sides of the negotiation. This right-hand-drive Mazda R100 is currently for sale in the Los Angeles area on Craigslist, and the ad text reads: “So if you have the money, please send me your reasonable offers and please no low ballin’ as I know everyone in the rotary community knows how much they are worth… As of now, i am taking offers. I don't have a set/firm price as of yet.
so send me your offers. Or what you think the car is worth.” In my experience, it helps to at least have a ballpark reference point – or harsh emails are bound to bounce back and forth.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Woah, Franken-Rotary Honda 600 Alert

On ebay right now is the opportunity to refine a monster – a 12A rotary powered Honda 600 – just what you need to for doing wheelies on the way to the grocery store. The automatic tranny is a bummer, and the RX2 floor board suggests at least a portion of an RX2 pan was used. Front suspension is RX7, and the rear axle is from a Datsun B210 and hasn’t been narrowed to fit the rear end. The Mazda truck taillights are also somewhat unfortunate. The RX4 emblems are a notable addition, as is a sound system lifted from an ’83 RX7. (Sweet.) Also thrown on from the random pile are a rear roof spoiler from a Chevy Blazer and an “Alpha” brake booster. Would that be from the Datsun 280Z based Alpha 1 GTO replica? Who knows, but as the ebay ad states, it’s “unique indeed, and may need some attention.” Check the listing if you dare...

Monday, March 3, 2008

75 mpg in a Geo Metro

Back in 1993, Doug Heffron took an ’89 Geo Metro with a 3 cylinder Suzuki motor (very similar to the JDM Suzuki Cultus) and created a tandem seat streamliner. By narrowing the cockpit and removing extra weight, he pulled about 300lbs out of the Metro. The result was this 75mpg commuter (up from a high of 58mpg on the stock version) which he drove for two years. Heffron was a machinist and welder in the Army, maintaining medivac helicopters. In civilian life, he’s a mechanic for Anheuser Bush, and it was his 50 mile commute that inspired him to build the streamliner. He spent three years researching and designing the streamliner, even sculpting his concept in clay models. Not including his time, the mods cost about $1300 back in ’93, and he spent about ten weeks sawing, and doing the sheetmetal. He even cut the glass for the windshield himself. Heffron put his Metro into storage two years after creating it, but with gas prices on the rise, he may just want to bring it back out this summer. Check out Doug's Metro