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