Monday, April 30, 2012

Keeping it in the family

Over the last few years my life has changed considerably. If you asked my friends and family the one thing about me that has changed the most, I'm quite positive that they would all come back to you with the same answer. As one friend says, 'you've turned into a crazy car girl!' However, during these exciting new times as I've immersed myself in my new hobby, I’ve started to think that something about this is just not quite right. I started to ask questions such as ‘where do I get this passion from?’ and ‘why am I the only one like this in my family?’

At times I started to feet a bit isolated, like a bit of a loner even. So many of my friends come from such influencial automotive backgrounds; their first memory sitting in the back of Dad’s Holden or helping their Uncle fix up his old pick-up. But me? I just don’t have any of that, and it started to make me feel a little bit left out. Being an automotive enthusiast just seems to be something that is generally ‘passed down’ through generations, so maybe I was just the odd one out?

But here is where things all change. I was recently told a very interesting story, a story that until now I had never heard before. Let’s take it back a few decades to the late 70’s, a time of innapropriately short shorts, sweatbands and crazy facial hair (shudder)...

A young girl with golden blonde hair twidled her thumbs while she stood at the end of the drag strip handing out time slips. She tried to look interested as she gazed over the hot haze of heat rising from the tarmac, but really there was a particular young man that had caught her eye and this was what brought her to Fram Autolite Dragway (back then called 'Pukekohe Hot Rod club') every weekend. She watched as he and his friends tested out their crazy new inventions; whether it was a big block Chevy, a drag-spec motorbike or even a custom built rail...

This young man was your typical troublemaking teen, and when he wasn't at the dragstrip, he and his friends would spend every free moment of their time in a small basement workshop somewhere in South Auckland, building and taking apart engines. Part of the fun was experimenting with methanol fuel, with the boys often returning home with only half a moustache or hair on only one of their arms. Needless to say, this was what they did for fun, and it was a huge part of their lives. Fuel ran through their blood!

Long story short, the girl got the guy in the end. Despite the fond memories they both had of chasing eachother at the dragstrip, neither one of them ever returned there.

What has this got to do with me you might ask? I sat there smiling as I had a wine with my dad as he told me the story of how he met my mother. Yes, that troublemaking young man (with the sweet hair-style and brown-tinted aviators) was none other than my own father.

Dad's first generation Ford Transit panel van
Complete with velvet interior

Finally, things made sense! I wasn’t weird (or adopted) – I was a Croucher. With my new found sense of belonging comes a new meaning to my passion, fresh motivation and most important of all; drive. So after all that, it turns out I’m not an odd-ball.

Fuel just runs though my blood too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Miatasaurus back in action: Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

When I arrived at the skid pan, things felt more familiar and I knew what to expect this time. I pushed my nerves to the back of my mind, put my helmet and seatbelt on and went out and gave it a go!

I felt way more confident on the skid pan as there was a lot more space to practice on, and was really surprised at how slippery the surface was. It was a lot easier to break traction but because of this I also found it a bit harder to control my steering. The best part about it was that we had a glitch-free day with the MX-5; the new cooler seemed to do its job and we didn’t have any problems with anything overheating – which was awesome! Although I’m still a mega newbie, I feel like I’ve still learnt some great basic skills and have a better understanding of my car now which is a really cool feeling. I know I’ve definitely got nothing to lose!

Here is Adrian's S14 on some of my favourite wheels - Work VS-XX with polished lips and painted grey centres.


Hampton Downs also had an open track day going on that day too, and I was so excited when this awesome 260z showed up! We had a chat to the owner who gave us some handy tips (he had a L2.8 triple carb set-up!) and let us take a few photos of the half-cage as we plan on installing something similar to what he had.

Beautiful... just watching it drive around the track made me realise that I definitely made the right choice in buying one of these!

Another very cool car to watch on the track - the front and rear looks like a Lotus but I've never seen it in kit car form like this? Whatever is was, it was awesome!

I had to do a double take when this drove past us. I've heard of this car before but seeing it in person was truly something else! The Hulme CanAm concept car is New Zealand's very own supercar - a 600 hp, LS-7 V8-powered carbon fibre beauty! Personally I think this is super sick - what do you guys think?

At the end of the day I was allowed to go out on the track for a few laps too, and I have to admit that this was my favourite part of the day. I didn’t realise until now but I drove out there without hesitation and without over thinking anything – I was excited and not nervous at all! I love the feeling of improving and feeling more confident with each lap, and I love the feeling of exiting the corners at speed and practicing the right lines. I’ve decided I probably won’t do another skid day unless the right opportunity does present itself, but instead plan on getting more track time for both me and the MX-5. By the time the Z is ready I’d love to go out there and drive it out the track with full confidence, and without experiencing that 'I don't think I can eat breakfast' feeling!

Speaking of Project Z, some exciting progress has been made over the past couple of weeks and I can't wait to update more on here soon. I love my cars so much!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Miatasaurus back in action: Part 1

Last time I took the MX-5 to a skid day was out at Meremere last year, and it was the first time I had ever done anything like it before. My palms were sweaty and I couldn’t even eat breakfast I was so nervous - I was out of my comfort zone, and very aware of it.

But afterwards it felt great, and I knew I’d overcome that fear of trying something new for the first time. Ultimately it was the fear of failure that made me nervous, but the experience made me realise that when you are already starting at square one, there isn’t such thing as failure. The only option is to get better and better and enjoy the feeling of improving at something!

When I did my first track day the following week at Taupo, that same nervous feeling crept up on me again, but I gave it a try anyway and discovered that I really enjoyed the feeling of driving on the racetrack too.

So when a few friends invited me out to a skid pan day at Hampton Downs on Saturday, I accepted the invitation without hesitation. I spent last week getting the MX-5 back in shape in preparation for this, which meant taking the car down to Waikowhai Auto Services to get a new ignition barrel fitted (after some dimwits tried stealing it) and raising the suspension back to cert height so the car could actually make it in to Hampton (and the gas station on the way) without any major dramas. Just FYI, the following are only iPhone quality photos, but I promise Part 2 of this has some actual high quality images!

We swapped the Watanabes for my old set of wheels to avoid wearing out the rubber on my nice Bridgestone tyres, and my trusty mechanic Patrick also installed a power steering cooler, as last time at Meremere I busted the power steering pump from having the car on full lock for extended periods of time.

While we had the car on the hoist we got to take a look underneath at some of the (self-inflicted) damage from when I had it slammed on its ….

Only minor scratches really… no dents or anything.


The main reason I’ve decided to raise the car, for now anyway, is that the sump was showing minor signs of damage and I don’t want to risk breaking anything – I’d like to put in a bash plate and perhaps raise the motor slightly too, but this isn’t top priority just yet.

On Saturday it was time to put the Miatasaurus back to good use and get out and develop my driving skills further...

... stay tuned for Part 2 to see some high res photos from my Hampton skid pan experience. For now here is a sneaky shot of Adrian's S14 on Work VS-XXs.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Project S30: Zs in my eyes

This past month has truly disappeared in a blur and it's taken me what feels like forever to actually sit down and write this post as there is so much that has happened in the last few weeks. The last time I posted on here with some actual writing was the morning before NZPC Hardpark in Wellington as I blogged hastily from a friend's Macbook in the Speedtech Motorsport workshop office. The night before I had stood outside my friend's Wellington apartment in the dark and waited impatiently for my partner to arrive, unaware of the surprise I was about to get. My jaw dropped as the sleek shooting-brake silhouette rounded the corner, the unmistakable S30 headlights heading straight towards me. He pulled up next to me and wound down the window sporting a cheeky grin. Project Z had arrived!

My first impression was that it sounded like a ported rotary, but as the car pulled closer I could hear the sound of an aggressive cam and the rumble of an aftermarket exhaust. The L28 was a lot louder than I had thought it was going to be. I was surprised when I opened the door to feel how light it was, and as I jumped inside I was even more taken aback by the strong odour of petrol mixed with that amazing old car smell. It was at that moment I actually realised what we were dealing with here. It may be old, but there's no doubt that this car is made to be driven. We'd just purchased a 1975 nostalgic Japanese muscle car.

A few people here in NZ have asked me how the car can be a 280Z model still with the S30 chassis code. This particular car was imported into New Zealand from America in 1976, where the S30 chassis continued for another generation hence the 280Z badges. Because of this it is also a left-hand drive model which I think is pretty cool (as all cars here in New Zealand are RHD). I wonder if this is the only S30 of its kind here in NZ?

I've also had a lot of people asking about what we plan to do to the car, so here is a quick run through of our plans.

Photo from Speedhunters

Photo from Mayday Garage
Photo from Speedhunters

After many hours of research, one thing soon became very clear - it took me a while to realise, but all of the photos of cars I had picked out and filed in my 'inspiration' folder on my desktop all had one thing in common - they were longer. That was when I found out about the 240ZG, a Japanese market variant of the Nissan/Datsun 240Z. The special ZG model included riveted over-fenders, fender mounted side mirrors, acrylic headlight covers and most importantly a more protruding front end known as the 'G-nose'.

Photo from Speedhunters
Although only a small amount of these cars were produced in Japan, reproduction parts are still available to perform a conversion to replicate the 240ZG and as far as we are aware this is not something that has been done here in New Zealand yet either. Were hoping to have this done to our Z within the next few months.

We'll also be adding a rear spoiler and either getting a new rear bumper or having the old bumper reconditioned.

The car runs the factory fitted L28 inline six and from what we can see it has an aggressive cam, some head work and a set of ceramic-coated headers. Currently the motor is still running the original 'Jetronic' fuel injection - which was probably okay for the mid 70s but seems pretty horrible now. The plan at this stage is to convert to a triple carb set-up.

The Z also required a new cooling system which we're in the process of installing - thanks to Adrian at Fenix Radiators!

Plans for the interior include a half-cage, getting the original seats re-upholstered, new carpet as well as a new dash and steering wheel. I currently have my eye on a woodgrain Nardi wheel.

One thing we have already acquired for the interior is this beautiful woodgrain shift knob.

The car will also need new suspension to sit at a low but functional ride height, which is really important to us as this Z won't just be for show. As for wheels, nothing has come up yet but we do have one specific wheel in mind that we are looking into. What do you guys think looks best on the S30 chassis wheel-wise?

Lastly, I thought I'd share on here what fuelled my passion behind this new project. When I was in Japan last year I had the pleasure of meeting talented film-maker Luke Huxham and I've been closely following his videos ever since. When I watched his recent video 'The JDM Purist' it made me fall so deeply in love with Japanese cars and Shakotan style that I thought my head (and heart!) might explode. If you watch for the 0.19 minute mark... will see the exact moment I knew that an S30 was going to be in my garage one day. I've had Zs in my eyes ever since.