Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Modifying

Look, Doris, someday you're going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn't work. And when you do, don't overlook those lovely intangibles. You'll discover those are the only things worthwhile.

- Payne, John, perf. Miracle on 34th Street. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1947. Film.


Christmas is, by far, my favorite time of the year. Nothing can compare to the food, the decorations, the music, the movies, the smells, the close-knit camaraderie of family and friends, and the general mood of the season. I look forward to Christmas all year and I find myself disappointed when it has passed. The stereotypical postcard images of Christmas in a warm home with stockings hung by a fire and a brightly lit Christmas tree, candles, and Poinsettia plants do much to evoke that cheerful holiday spirit in me. In light of these cliché images of the holiday season and the compassionate and sentimental personal reflection that this time of year elicits in many, I would like to share my ruminations about modifying. And life...

To many people modifying the car they own and love is not simply a hobby. It is an addiction, or even an obsession. I can relate well to this truth. I have owned a Mazda RX-7, a Nissan 350Z, and currently the Infiniti G37S on which I have spent countless hours and dollars. Constantly researching, planning, and discussing, I can say that I may suffer from a mild addiction. On more than one occasion I have had to use my love and passion for modifying my cars to put life into perspective. My experiences are, in many ways, cliché, but they have helped to define me as a person.

I do not have access to any car I want and I do not have the rarest parts at my immediate disposal. The efforts that go into the vehicles that I have been lucky enough to own come with a lot of genuine thought, consideration, and planning. Not to mention patience and a skill for counting my pennies. I do not skimp on the parts because I know I will not be happy with the end result. Early on in my “modding” career I learned to do things the right way after I was ripped off via eBay trying to purchase “authentic” parts. I have waited almost a year on separate occasions for three different body kits, I have endured close to nine months of waiting for a set of wheels, I have dealt with all the headaches and the anticipation of procuring those authentic JDM parts. Sometimes the process of modifying a vehicle can be trying and frustrating, but it is all worth it when you see that box delivered by UPS or FedEx waiting by your door.

I spent a considerable amount of time researching RX-7’s before I made a purchase. The first week I had it, I had already spent a few thousand dollars of savings on aftermarket parts. I had a vision for this car and I was brimming with excitement. Before I hit the two-week anniversary of owning it, parts still in transit and temporary plates still on, I let a friend drive it. In the early hours of the next morning, I woke up in a hospital bed, looking at the blood all over my clothes, wincing in pain, wondering what had happened. Broken ribs, internal bleeding, a concussion and some other minor injuries, at that point, were nothing to me compared to the pain of seeing the damage done to that car. The Jaws of Life had ripped the passenger side door off extracting me, and a telephone pole managed to crinkle all else that remained of the car. It was totaled. That was the closest I have ever come to death. 

When I learned of the accident as I awoke in the hospital bed, my first inquiry was to the wellbeing of my best friend. I wanted to make sure he was okay. What I didn’t realize at the time, having suffered from a serious concussion, was that my best friend had not even been in the car with me. The experience was eye-opening for me, to say the least. I thought about that accident for months afterwards. The mild Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from which I suffered did much to provide some perspective. It managed to open my eyes to my life.

Weeks later, still reeling and recovering from the accident, I considered my family and loved ones. I realized that, as much excitement and love I had for that car, it was far from the most important thing in my life. The insurance check I received from the RX-7 being totaled did not go towards a replacement. It went towards Christmas gifts for my family that year – the best Christmas gifts I will likely ever give. Recently I found myself looking at pictures of modified RX-7’s on the internet and it really made me miss mine. I never got to see the end result of my vision.

But, I suppose, if I hadn’t been in that accident, I probably never would have owned my Nissan 350Z. It was a leftover 2003 that I purchased in June of 2005. For almost three years I put the majority of every paycheck I received into that car. I practically devoted myself to it. Three sets of wheels, four body kits, four spoilers, four full exhaust systems, two big brake kits, two suspension overhauls, custom interior from stereo system to seats, and much more… The endless possibilities for aftermarket parts for the 350Z make it a modifier’s dream. However, after going through a tough spot personally in 2007, I decided to part it out and sell it. My passion for that car was not a secret to anyone. Everyone knew how much it meant to me and how I enjoyed it. But I thought it was time for me to be “responsible” and get my life in order. I thought selling my car was a good start, not only financially, but symbolically.

I sold my Z and all the aftermarket parts I had for it (including new, never installed parts – a Project Mu big brake kit, 19” Volk CE’s in Magnesium Blue in, then, aggressive offsets, a Vertex spoiler, and a set of Cusco coilovers). I sold my Z to buy an engagement ring for my girlfriend.

I was ready to devote myself to something other than my car. I was ready to make a lifelong commitment to someone I loved. When things did not work out with that person, I was left with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and in my heart, for months afterwards. Years afterwards. I had lost the person I loved most in the world on top of the object I loved most. In a matter of weeks.

I look back now and consider all the clichés I have heard over the years and realize that, just as well as they apply to one’s personal life, they can also apply to modifying a vehicle. I have heard them all. Ad nauseum… “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all,” “Everything happens for a reason,” “If it’s meant to be, it will be,” “If you love something, set it free…” I have digested all of them.

All the pain one can endure, whether it be physical pain from a concussion or broken ribs, the pain of a totaled car, the pain of a broken heart, or the pain of years of passion, hard work, and devotion into a vehicle lost before really being able to process the reality and finality of losing it… It all contributes to one’s character. The pain I have experienced has made me who I am. It is another cliché to suggest that what does not kill you makes you stronger, but I think I may be one person who can vouch for the validity of this particular cliché.

With some perspective, speculation, and some difficult ordeals and life experiences under my belt, I can say, at this point, that I am lucky. I am lucky to be able to reflect upon it all and realize that life is too short (yes, another cliché). Enjoy it. Appreciate it - even the small things. Hug your loved ones. Let them know how much they mean to you. Especially around the holidays. Have fun with your hobbies and passions - that is what I am doing now with the G. 

I can also say that the woman for whom I do end up purchasing an engagement ring better be keen on the idea of registering with a JDM parts retailer.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I Heart JDM...

Rarity in parts, style, and execution are important factors in building my cars. I don't want to fall into a cookie-cutter mold when it comes to modifying. This can be challenging, especially with a car that has limited aftermarket parts possibilities. I think I have done a respectable job with my car thus far, however it is only a matter of time before I see another G with the same, or similar, modifications. I have some plans in mind for the future that will set my G apart from the rest, but my most current planned modification is one that has me pretty excited.

Brian, of JT Motoring, has been invaluable to me when it comes to this project. This most recent stage of the project is no exception. He has made multiple phone calls, sought assistance, and received support from multiple companies and manufacturers in both the United States and Japan to provide me with the knowledge necessary to pull off this next feat.

We are installing a Project Mu Big Brake Kit on the G. This, in itself, is pretty rare as I have only seen a handful of G's with a Project Mu kit installed. However, what makes this just a bit more special is the fact that this is a one-off kit. There is no other G out there fitted with the same kit that we will be installing. We have had to order components from Project Mu Japan to ensure proper fitment and performance. It has been a stressful and sometimes frustrating process to this point, but I am confident that the end result will prove worth it. It usually does...

From Project Mu Japan, it was necessary to order new brake hats, lines, and brackets for this project. We are using Project Mu's forged slim 6 piston calipers for the front and 4 piston calipers for the rear. The rotors are slotted 355MM on all four corners.

I hope to have the G in for the installation sometime within the next few weeks. For now, here are a few teaser pictures...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Finish for Rays

It is called Titanium Copper. It is available for 2-piece wheels in the Volk Racing line. To be honest, I'm not sure if I'm feeling it just yet.

Maybe it is just this picture?

Maybe I need to see it mounted?

Maybe a Magnesium Blue center with this Titanium Copper barrel on a white car would appeal to me?

We'll see. I'm looking forward to seeing a set in person...

Monday, December 13, 2010

"The Mod Bug"

Often, one starts out declaring, "I don't have too much planned for this car. I'm just going to do a modest drop with some sport springs and a set of wheels and I'll be done." A few months and many budget allocations later, a full-fledged project is underway. A popular phrase used in describing what happens to an enthusiast, The Mod Bug takes his first bite.

Despite the time, resources, consideration, debate, and deliberation devoted to the modification process, a simple change of heart or succumbing to the allure of something new and/or rare and different is a common occurrence when it comes to choosing parts for my car. I try to take my time, do all necessary research, and make sure I am excited about a modification before making a purchase. However, sometimes, upon completion, I'm not 100% satisfied for any number of different reasons. I think that is part of the challenge of successfully building a car of which one can be proud. It is never done. There is always something that can be improved. It is a constantly evolving project. I believe any true enthusiast suffers from this same, or similar, affliction. This is from where the phrase "money pit" stems, as it has become popular among enthusiasts. The week after a modification stage is completed, I am already thinking of the next stage, or next round of modifications...

In this light, an example... I am always looking at new wheels for the G. I like new and different. I like things I have not seen much, if ever, before. And, of course, I like JDM. I am not taking anything away from other wheel manufacturers out there - there are many quality wheels made in America and Europe, I have no doubt. However, I do not think my car will ever sport anything other than Advan, Volk, Work, SSR... The pioneers. I picture different set-ups. I wonder what will look good. I wonder how I could push the envelope in regards to aggressive sizes, finish/colors, etc...

I am very happy with my current wheel set-up, but that doesn't mean I don't wonder about my next set of wheels. Of course, I want to set myself apart from the rest. I want something bold. And, of course I realize whenever divorcing one's self from the status quo or doing something bold, the reaction is mixed - some will love it and some will hate it. That's the nature of the game. In staying with my current theme, I have considered powdercoating red a set of wheels. Having 20" wheels now and holding my breath every time I hit a bump or pothole on these less-than-perfect New England roads, I am probably going to go with 19" wheels next time around. This way I can go with something a bit more aggressive and add just a bit more sidewall to my rubber. I'm a big fan of the Advan RS (I'm running the RS-D's currently) and the SSR Type-F wheels. As of right now, one of these is the front-runner when the time comes.



BUT... Someone beat me to it! About a month ago, I stumbled across this picture of a Fatlace/Hellaflush GT-R outfitted with a set of Advan RS-D's in red. (

This is very similar to what I was considering doing. Oh well. We'll see what I'm feeling when the time actually comes to purchase some new rollers...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Project G37S: Suspension Upgrades

Coming from a 350Z, one of my first observations upon driving the G37 was a desire for tighter, more responsive handling qualities. After a set of 20" Advan RS-D wheels outfitted with 275/30 and 245/35 Yokohama XL rubber, my first purchase was a set of Eibach Pro-Kit springs and Stillen sway bars.  Here are a few pictures of the drop the Eibach springs provided:

Although the handling was improved over stock, I was not completely satisfied. I do not track or race this car, but I did not think that was a reason to limit myself, or settle for less than content, in terms of the performance characteristics of my suspension. So, I contacted someone who has not only come to be an extremely helpful and reliable resource in terms of my inquiries into aftermarket parts for the car, but a good friend as well, Brian Hung, over at JT Motoring in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. The advice and opinion offered by Brian stem from his personal experience, as well as his industry insider knowledge and expertise. Not simply out to make a dollar off of me and my project, Brian maintains a genuine and sincere interest in the project and the customer. Thus, he has most certainly secured me as a future customer with him, and with JT Motoring.

I related to Brian my desires and where I thought the current suspension set-up was falling short and disappointing me. He offered me a few opinions. Together, we decided to go with a coilover set-up that we have not seen on too many G's, as well as some frame bracing from GT Spec. We chose some Tein Flex coilovers and decided to utilize their Electronic Damping Force Controller technology, EDFC. We then got our hands on some GT Spec parts, to which I decided to powdercoat wrinkle red. Here are a few pictures of the undercarriage of the G with the braces and coilovers installed:

The end result, with all suspension work completed, is a drastic/radical improvement over the previous Eibach Pro-Kit set-up. The G sits considerably lower now, and handles worlds better. With tighter handling qualities, body roll has been virtually eliminated, I notice this most when entering or exiting the expressway. I do not feel every bump as much as I did with the spring set-up and the EDFC has proved to be quite a convenient feature. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this equipment, it allows the driver to control the damping force from inside the cabin. With EDFC, there are 16 levels of adjustability (0 being the 'hardest' setting and 16 being the 'softest'). You control the damping of the front, as well as the damping of the rear. So, hypothetically, one could have the front set to the hardest setting and the rear set to the softest, and vice versa. On top of that, there are three presets. They act much like radio presets, in that one does not have to adjust the control every time the car is started. Just simply push the preset for whatever you're feeling at that moment. And it can be adjusted on the fly, if so desired. Personally, I have one setting for a firm ride, or spirited driving on windy/country roads or something of that nature, one setting for highway driving - softer so I do not feel every bump, and one setting for "daily driving," a nice mix between the two (8 in the front, 10 in the rear is my personal preference).

Here are a couple pictures of the G, displaying the ride height after the coilover install: