I’ve shot a LOT of R35’s in my time as a professional auto-journo and I’ve come to realize that having one “tuned” does not necessarily mean it has been tuned correctly. This applies to any car, by the way. Recently, an American friend lamented to me, his sad story about a certain 2013 model, VR38DETT, GT-R engine that was created by a supposedly reputable Stateside tuner. The apparent ease with which their builds could reach 9 second quarter mile times were something this particular company prided themselves on…


Inexplicably, immediately after the build had been completed, the engine exploded, sending piston through block. He had yet to even drive the car, having sent it to the tuner immediately after taking delivery. The tuner blamed it on the transport company.


Right, like a transport company is going to take a freshly built R35 off the truck and blow its engine up F&F style…


This screamed negligence to me since the car was brand new. Not only was he out of pocket now but he was also left with a busted VR38 and a useless R35. Needless to say, having lived in Japan for almost 10 years, I have seen and experienced a lot of automotive situations but nothing even remotely like this. This type of situation just doesn’t happen here.


I don’t quite understand what it is that makes people certified power junkies. It’s almost as if they believe the mantra that, “Power is everything” but this couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s not to say that Japanese people don’t crave power (Of course they do; WW1 and WW2 are good examples) but in automotive terms, Americans, Australians and Europeans, for example, take it way off the scale in a variety of ways.


Let’s take American Major League baseball as an example of this analogy; it’s a power game. Most of the players are big, beefy and heavily set. In Japan, it is the opposite, where technique and form takes a much stronger precedence since the physical size of the players is inherently different. Now, stay with me on this…


When he made his debut, a lot of people mocked, criticized and ridiculed Ichiro Suzuki’s potential in the Major League, claiming that his supposed “frailty”, “diminutive size” and “lack of strength” would see him crushed in the game, rendered as little more than a has been even before he set foot to plate. They were all dead wrong. He is arguably one of the greatest all rounders to have ever played the game.


What was it that made him a success though and how does this relate to a busted R35 and tuning in general? Let me explain a few things. The “ether” that makes Ichiro a superstar in the Major League can be distilled and then superimposed onto what makes Japanese sports cars some of the greatest in the world.


Ichiro plays baseball the way Japanese professionals tune their cars. He’s reliable, consistent, accurate, dependable, super fast and supremely strong, despite not looking it.


Japanese tuners prefer total tuning balance over outright power and always have. They believe that power is worthless if it can’t be put to use and this is a solid and worthy philosophy, reflecting deep seated attitudes that have existed for decades in the Japanese automotive industry and for centuries in Japanese culture in general.


Why is it then that American, Australian and European tuners, for example, feel that massive numbers are the only way “forward”? Is it simply because an engine has big potential? Or should it rather be the ability in getting power to work in harmony with every other component, in achieving the ideal balance between the sum of the parts? This ability to see function superseding form is what I believe separates and elevates Japanese tuners from the rest of the world.


It’s supremely ignorant to think that simply because an engine can make big numbers, that it can sustain them; that the rest of the car will just somehow follow. The R35 for example, is a complex web of computers, electronic servers and mechanical components that need to work in finely tuned harmony for everything to function at an optimum level. Consider also, the other areas such as chassis, brake and suspension tuning.


The big question relates to synchronizing them so that they all work together perfectly. This is the essence of purity based tuning, where everything actually works; in a place where people modify so as to extract gains from the car and not in an effort to detract from the inherent performance characteristics. See where I’m heading with this?


This leads me on to one more very important point about the mindset of a Japanese enthusiast, tuner or manufacturer. The argument in the States about form being greater than function has warped the minds of many. These people mistakenly believe visuals to take precedence over mechanicals and this is perpetrated in the media as a suitable approach to tuning.


I ask you though, what good is a car that looks great on the surface but is useless underneath? What good is taking a Japanese sports car and removing or diminishing its performance attributes? What point is there in subtracting (not only from your wallet but also ) from an already capable platform? Where’s the sense here?


The truth is that form always follows function and it’s an approach the Japanese have been taking since the day they started making cars. If it’s broken, then it doesn’t matter how good it looks. It’s as good as useless; nothing more than an ornament.


Basic design principles dictate that function is more important than form so how is it then, that a great many people have gotten this fundamental truth completely back to front?


Regardless, education is half the battle, so it’s refreshing to see more and more people taking function, not appearance, as seriously as the Japanese do.


The reason why the R35 is perceived as “ugly” by more than a few, is simply because it works the way it was intended to work. Its “form” is a direct result of its “function”. In other words, it looks the way it does because of the way it works.


All this leads me back to one particular baseball player. He might not look like the toughest, biggest or strongest player in the game but Ichiro is definitely one of the all time greats and is quite literally an “R35” in human form.


Adding any more power than absolutely necessary will just spoil the overall balance to his game, in much the same way adding power to an engine without considering the other elements of the package will lead to chassis imbalance, cornering instability and in the case above, extremely expensive engine failure.


“Power” and “Stance” junkies would do well to take note.

Written and Shot by Adam Zillin

7Tune – The Ultimate Japanese Automotive Experience Since 2005


  1. Kwon Jae Joon

    Totally agree with this.. Tsuchiya always said that it’s not always about power and speed alone,BALANCE is what counts the most..

  2. meh still an ugly car. No thanks.

    People go nuts over them. But If I had to have a skyline of the R3x series it would be an R32 most likely.

    However I still would rather have something older.

    And having said that I’ve been growing more and more distaste for Skylines the longer I live in Japan. My distaste was there before I got here, but now that I see them, most all of the ones that I might have drooled over at some point when I was a teenager, I no longer have that attraction. I appreciate what they did for the automotive scene in terms of racing heritage.

    But if I have to drive a Nissan there are a few others I would rather have.

    But then I’d rather be driving a Toyota anyway. And something with 4 doors.

    1. That’s fair enough but the point I was trying to make though was only indirectly about the R35, using it as an example. You could apply the same construct to any car.

      The real point is the focus on approaches to tuning and the philosophies the Japanese have embodies for decades.

      In Japan there are indeed right ways and wrong ways to go about tuning.

  3. Very good read. I totally agree with all of your sentiments. My personal adage is not because I can means that I should…….there must be a reason. Where I am from I always hear guys talk about more power but few talk about better suspension, brakes etc.

    1. Precisely… this was one of the reasons this piece was written.

      A lot is being overlooked by even the most casual observer.

  4. One of the best articles so far I’ve seen here, well done!

    Ah and I am European and I’ve always agreed on this point. I also see so much people putting everything in the engine or the outside but do not create a balance.

    I rather have less HP and an extremely well handeling car than just a tire burner.

    I love the R35, and for the ones that do not like it you still have to accept the fact it’s one hell of a piece of engineering.

    1. It applies to anything in tuning. Drag cars only need power and a parachute because they do nothing but go in a straight line and that’s great!

      Circuit racers need a complete balance of all attributes including brakes, steering, suspension and engine components.

      I don’t understand why people are so obsessed with REDUCING a cars capabilities… and all in the name of vanity?

      How is that “tuning”…?

  5. Pingback: Function Is Greater Than Form | A Class™

  6. Heath Russell

    this should be shouted from the rooftops to this new generation of hard parkers. i so often see kids riding on offset that cant even be driven on properly, moar low seems to be the philosophy at the cost of making a car actually fast.
    reading an article like this helps me believe that im not the only one who thinks that a 1000hp dyno queen tune and hella flush rota copy rims are not the answer.

    1. You’re not alone in this by any means. The definition of “tune” is “(often tune up) adjust (an engine) or balance (mechanical parts) so that a vehicle runs smoothly and efficiently: the suspension was tuned for a softer ride.”

      Even the dictionary has it right…

  7. Dear Adam,

    You have put together a great blog. I read just about every post you put up. Thank you for being into cars.

    The argument against power and stance is an interesting read. I’d like to give my opinion on the topic.

    Having an interest in Japanese car culture I can’t help but notice some vast differences to home here in North America. What is fascinating is how much JGTC and the like have inspired your tuning shops throughout Japan. I’d imagine the lads that have grown up to become the owners of some of these Japanese tuning shops were captivated by JGTC or the like. For myself it is easy to see why tuning in Japan is more about a balance of what is available.

    Over here in North America we have some pretty cool motorsports too. But unlike Japan we do not get cool car options offered to us for sale without shelling out at minimum $40,000USD and a premium insurance policy. Then there is the EPA here at home. (Cant even put a turbocharger on your car unless it is C.A.R.B. legal. Which really means a company pays a ton of money to them to get a sticker and an ok from Uncle Sam (not really uncle sam)). Japan junk yards are filled with rear wheel drive turbocharged cars. America junkyards have Honda’s, front wheel drive Minivans, and Ford Explorers. Even the crap in your junkyards is way cooler than almost anything you could get for the same price.

    Why is tuning interpreted so differently around the world? I believe it is a combination of ingredients. In a given country what is the popular motorsport kids grow up watching? What are car magazines saying is cool or the way to do car mods? What movies are out and how are they illustrating cars? Right now it seems pretty easy to buy a car, lower it, slap proper rims on it, roll fenders, and bam it in a magazine. Is it cool? Sure, to the ones doing it.

    Did skiers think snowboarding was cool when it became popular?
    Did classical/jazz/country music fans think rap music was cool when it became popular?
    The point is things change. Its not always going to be what it was. Even if it wasnt broken and didnt need fixing.

  8. A great read. It applies to so many aspects of life beyond cars as well. I think you’re right when you say that education is half the battle. Pop culture isn’t doing the next generation any favors.

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