Project FRS: Suspension

This particular entry has been sitting in my drafted posts folder for about a month now. During that time, I’ve been trying to understand why I continue to post on here. Yeah, it’s a topic I’ve mentioned before, but as the days go by, I spend more time thinking about it. There are far better photographers and writers out there with content that’s a million times better than mine. I rarely do anything or go anywhere these days, so I all I have left to post about is the FR-S, but who really cares to read about my justifications for certain parts? So I bought XYZ brand. Cool. Whatever. I don’t know anymore, but since I started it, I might as well finish it, right? I suppose the timing is appropriate because this may very well be the last post on part selection the FR-S. The car is pretty much where I wanted it, a very low-key and timeless build. My main goal was to focus on improving the parts of the car that I felt were lacking or could use some improvement while keeping the car nimble and fun. Having changed the wheels, tires, and brakes, the only piece left was the suspension.

Suspension was a huge hurdle with the FR-S. From the factory, the Showa supplied dampers were found to be critically damped, which is a good thing, if you didn’t already know. Many people, myself included, have actually been pleased with the stock units from a performance aspect, but the one thing I couldn’t do was overcome the 4×4 ride height. Someone mentioned that if the stock suspension was an inch lower, most people wouldn’t change a thing. I would have to agree, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case I was faced with.

I know I’ve stated it before, but my whole perspective on tuning stems from the position that if I replace something on the car, the new part should perform better than what it is replacing. Since its release, the FR-S has made quite a name for itself in regards to its superb handling. I definitely didn’t want to ruin the car by slapping on a set of cheap coilovers for the sake of a lower ride height (I already made that mistake once). Unfortunately, by taking that position, I knew that I would be looking at potentially spending thousands of dollars for a high end solution.

I began my search almost immediately after the FR-S was purchased. At that time, not much in the way of quality brands were out yet for the FR-S, just a lot of Chinese/Taiwanese junk. Since I found the stock suspension was better than I had expected and had a growing understanding of the differences between good and bad suspensions, I was in no rush to jump into an impulse purchase. I spent the last year or so lurking and reading every suspension tech thread on FT86club, trying to understand more about suspension in general, suspension on the 86, and what constituted a “good” aftermarket suspension. I also began to develop an understanding of what I wanted for a suspension solution for my car.

After a while, I found that I wanted a single adjustable or fixed damping shock. Most people like lots of knobs that click 19287392 times. I am not one of those people. In my research, I found that those knobs are next to useless, especially on low-end shocks. I will admit that I don’t fully understand compression and rebound and how changes in each affect the system as a whole. Sure, I could’ve got a set and used them as a learning tool so that I could learn and understand, but I didn’t want to spend all my time in my driveway or in the pits playing with the settings when I could be spending that time on the street or track enjoying the car.

Rebuild and tuning support was also an important consideration for me. I wanted a shock that I could bring to a local shop for rebuilding or revalving. Shipping halfway around the world just to repair or fine tune or just having no support at all? No thanks.

There are times during my research that I was convinced that I was over-analyzing the process and I would be fine with something “affordable.” I went through several reconsiderations, at one point even considering just getting a set of Swift lowering springs. When that happened though, I just had to step back and remind myself not to settle and that I’d be much happier with something that fit all my wants and needs, not just some.

Eventually, with the help of a friend, I was guided toward Bilstein. Bilstein fit all my criteria, but as I soon learned, it would be months before any application for the FR-S/BRZ would be released in the US. Europe and Japan both had suspension kits on the market months ago. I played with the idea of importing a set of Bilstein coilovers from Japan when I read a post on FT86club about someone in Southern California who had purchased a Bilstein kit and had Bilstein engineers set everything up for him. I decided to look more into what he had done and called Bilstein USA to find out more about it. When I called, I was told that Bilstein US was actually going to release the B14 (PSS) kit in the US the following week. Bilstein recommended AJ USA and the next day I had my order placed.

Now that I had the coilover situation sorted out, the next hurdle to overcome was camber adjustment. The 86/BRZ lacks camber adjustment on all four corners. Thankfully, there were some options. For the front, I purchased a set of HVT camber plates. The plates allow for 1.8 degrees of camber adjustment while retaining the stock suspension travel, which is incredibly important for any car, but definitely benefit the 86 in particular since the car lacks proper suspension travel at lower ride heights. A good explanation of these mounts can be found here. The rear camber issue was solved by adjustable Cusco rear lower control arms. There are a lot of lower control arms out there for the 86/BRZ, but personally, Cusco was the only brand that I felt confident in purchasing. Cusco has been around for ages and I feel much better about the craftsmanship they put into their products. Interestingly, a ton of Cusco products are actually rebranded OEM parts. Plus, I was able to get a unbeatable deal on the set I ended up getting from JDMEGO.

Well, that basically wraps up the suspension on the FR-S. Here’s a quick picture of the car as it stands. I’ll have some better photos whenever I get around to it.

Project FR-S: Brakes

Tetsuya Tada built the 86 with an intention of creating a fun sports car that owners can enjoy both on the street and on the track. However, unfortunately, fun does have a limit that be explored on the street and I anticipate future track time in order to learn more about the 86 and improve my driving.

Lurking the FT86 forums, I read all about the issues people were having with the stock brakes. While they were fine for light spirited driving, owners were facing a lack of heat capacity with the stock brakes on the track. With the potential of track time in my future, I wanted to minimize any issues that I might run into. I essentially wanted a brake upgrade that could handle track abuse and still get me home safely at the end of the day.

So I knew I needed a brake kit, but what brand?

The answer was a no-brainer. It had to be AP Racing.

Why?

Simply, it boiled down to a history of quality, proper R&D, and proven performance and reliability.

Essex Parts, an official distributor for AP Racing, had an account on FT86club and Jeff had posted logs of all the homework and testing, brake facts, and cost analyses they had done for their Sprint and Endurance kit (which utilized AP Racing components). While Essex’s kits for the FR-S/BRZ were undoubtedly top performers with many satisfied users, my FR-S would ultimately spend a majority of its life on the street, thus, I didn’t need or want something that was primarily built for track use. I decided to communicate with Jeff to determine a solution for me, and luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long for AP Racing to release their Formula Road kits. AP released two kits – 6pot and 4pot. I knew that I wanted to stay with 17s, so I selected the 4pot kit, which also had the added benefit of fitting with the stock wheels, which was nice, just in case.

After a 3 month wait for the first run of kits, I finally received my kit (which I posted a few months back). Unfortunately, timing was not on my side and the kit sat for months in the trunk of the FR-S. However, it wasn’t all bad because there were some issues with the kit (since it was a first production run product) and I was able to swap parts and send back the old ones easily.

Finally, I had a free weekend and I decided to visit my friends in SoCal and have a family friend install the brakes for me. So, last weekend I packed up the car and headed south.

I arrived Thursday afternoon and was sure to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for an early trip into LA Friday morning.

At the ungodly hour of 5:30, I was awakened by my alarm clock and by 6:15, I was on my way. The drive from Ventura wasn’t bad until I hit the 405/134 interchange where I was greeted with this:

I did not miss you at all, LA traffic. Hmph.

I arrived at our family friend’s shop, CH Topping, in Long Beach around 8:30. Walking in, I saw Vince Jr. already working on this gorgeous ’66 Mustang GT.

It wasn’t long before Frank had my car up on a lift though and the work began!

Before…

2 hours later…

Of course I couldn’t leave the rears alone and at the suggestion of Vince Sr., I had the rears drilled. People always tell me, “Oh no! Why’d you drill the rotors?! It’s just going to crack!” Yes, drilled rotors will crack easier than slotted or blanks, but Vince, who has been doing brakes his entire life, told me that drilling is perfectly fine for how I intend to use the car. Cracking occurs when the brakes are superheated and then cooled extremely quickly and is commonly found on rotors that use low quality metals in construction (OEM must conform with standards in longevity and quality, so it’s better to use instead of cheap aftermarket parts). Drilling the rotors keeps components cool and manages heat levels so that there are no temperature extremes. Plus, pad life is greatly improved.

All done!

I decided to take the PCH back since it would be a little easier on the brakes during the bedding-in process. I couldn’t help but stop along the way for a few pictures though.

As I pulled in at the hotel, I was surprised to see this 911 sitting in the back. Beautiful car. Reminded me a little of Jack Olsen’s 911.

Up next – suspension! Stay tuned…

Project FR-S: Wheels

Prodrive GC-07C’s are one my favorite wheels of all time. Known for their ability to fit big brake kits even with high offsets (mostly benefiting the S2000 crowd), these wheels are also very light. Unfortunately, it’s hard to come across anything larger than 17×7.5 in 5×100. In fact, I’m not even sure Prodrive made a larger size in that bolt pattern. However, Prodrive has released an updated version of the GC-07C, called the GC-07J. At least these were offered in that extra 0.5 inch, rounding it out to the full 8″ width I was looking for (innuendoes aside, I’m pretty sure I can already hear the aggressive fitment guys laughing, but I’ll get into my reasoning for such a skinny wheel below).

In shopping for wheels, I wanted a *fully* forged wheel (none of that “rotary forged” marketing bullshit here) that didn’t scream “because racecar” (despite the fact my brakes do, LOL) like the TE37, CE28, and other Volk wheels. I wanted something different and that also looked classy and sophisticated. Prodrives fit the bill, and since I am taking some inspiration from ASM’s tuning style with the FR-S build, I thought it only fitting to use the wheels they promote on their own time attack S2000 and customer cars they feature on their blog.

Some of you would probably say the 07J certainly isn’t as good looking as the 07C it replaced, and I agree completely, but the overall design is roughly unchanged and in my opinion still quite classic despite the changes. I’ve seen some photos of the 07C’s on a few 86′s, but never the 07J’s. 07C’s looked very nice on the car, so I decided to take a leap of faith with the 07J’s. Hopefully they turn out nicely.

Why 17s?

Mostly because I wanted to maintain the stock 86/FR-S driving dynamics. I am very pleased with how everything felt from the factory, so I saw no real reason to make any big changes. Plus, the 18 inch GC-07J looked a little too big on the car. The 17s had the best face and disk type as well.

Why an 8″ wide wheel?

For an N/A 86, there is little benefit in going larger than a 225 or 235 tire. I simply didn’t want to over-tire the car. There have been several reports that the car really comes alive with a 225 tire, which is perfectly suited for an 8J wheel. Yes, I could run 225s on a lightweight 17×9 wheel like the RPF1 or TC105N, but I would perfer not to have that much tire stretch.

I wanted to keep the handling dynamics close to factory. Stock, the car is quite good in terms of steering feel and response. I didn’t see any reason to stray far from it with an aggressive wheel and tire choice. I wanted to keep the car fun and nimble, not turn it into a monster grip machine or upset the car’s delicate balance.

Testing has proven that a naturally aspirated 86/FR-S/BRZ is faster on a lightweight 17×8/225 setup than 17×9/245. At the stock power levels, the car has to face the challenge of overcoming the increase in resistance of the tires and weight (unsprung and rotational) of 245/255 tires which is reported to have a greater effect on the car than you might expect. Quite a few guys started with skinny tires, and worked their way up, only to downsize again after finding 225 to generally be the fastest. (See Robispec, CSG)

My car is setup more for street and light HPDE, not auto-x. Auto-x focuses primarily on low speed turns and agility. A wider tire facilitates faster turning. The faster turning from a wider tires also translates onto a track. However, on a track you spend much more time accelerating and the wider tire also introduces more rolling resistance as well as more rotational inertia. At every road course, people have found the additional power put to the ground from having a skinnier tire has been more than worth the loss in raw cornering speed.

Operating temp. Skinnier tires will get up to their sweet spot faster, whereas it takes longer for a wider tire to heat up to its optimal temp. Car weight and power also play a factor in this. However, skinnier tires lack the heat capacity and people have found that they simply don’t last as long. I decided to stick with a skinner tire because I’m not a 10/10ths track racer and I doubt my style of driving and primary purpose of the car would warrant the need for anything larger than a 235 tire.

That said, there’s no denying the visual appeal of 18s and nice flush & meaty fitment, but for me, my tuning mentality is too engrained on a functional setup. At least for now anyway. Maybe I’ll decide to get another set of wheels and dedicate them for street use sometime in the future.

Top Gear’s tribute to the British motoring industry

Clarkson, May, and Hammond often poke fun at people and cars, but there is one thing they always present with genuine sincerity: tributes. A fantastic close to yet another series of Top Gear.

It begs the question though – why does it seem people in other countries take such great pride in their handiwork and products, but Americans appear to not give a shit? Do we really not care or is it just not brought to consumer attention?

Vintage Auto Salon

When discussing the West Coast import car scene, many associate Southern California as the mecca of import tuning. Known as the birthplace for several large scale car shows each featuring a different style of car modification from import to domestic, classic to dub style, and everything in between; extremely popular weekly and monthly meets; countless custom car shops; and just sheer quantity of cars, the Los Angeles area is seen as the center of it all.

Despite being in the same state, Northern California’s car scene has been largely underserved and undeveloped. However, in the last couple years, Northern California has quickly been making a name for itself thanks to the massive success of the Wekfest shows which originally started in an underground parking garage in San Francisco. Another event rising in popularity is a series of small Japanese classic car meets hosted by Historic Japanese Car Gathering. An alternative to the famous Japanese Classic Car Show (JCCS) held annually in Long Beach, HJCG has been attracting much attention thanks to some special guest appearances from Mary of the Ken and Mary’s (Kenmeri) Skyline fame stemming from a series of Nissan Skyline advertisements that were massively successful in Japan, and most recently, a visit from Yoshiya Watanabe, the owner of Rocky Auto, a well-known shop in Japan specializing in classic car restoration (which you can learn a little bit about in this video).

Having attended and being quite impressed with HJCG’s Bayline meet last year, I had no intention of missing this year’s event. Like last year, the Vintage Auto Salon was a small meet held in the San Leandro marina, a setting befitting the atmosphere and reminiscent of Japan. Attendance was good with a decent amount of cars participating in the meet and continuous stream of people walking around. In addition to a few vendors selling parts ranging from classic badges to motors and transmissions, there were also a few booths for attendees to purchase t-shirts, magazines, Hot Wheels, stickers, and other goodies. Mary and Watanabe-san each had a table were they could sign things for fans too.

In regards to the cars, the quality was pretty mixed with a few standout examples and others lacking in execution and taste. The cars featured in this post are those that caught my eye and I consider good, clean examples of classic Japanese cars.

Continue reading

Shop Visit: Carland86

I suppose there’s no better time to post these than 86 day!

Being stuck with a tour group in Japan was both a blessing and a curse. It certainly alleviated the stress of trying to figure out everything on our own, but it also meant staying on a tight schedule. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much free time to do much car spotting and visiting of tuning shops/garages. However, I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to visit at least one shop. So, on the last day in Kyoto, I ditched the group and made my way to Carland86. Conveniently located three stops from Kyoto Station, it was definitely an accessible shop for someone limited to public transit.

Arriving, you’re greeted by lot full of AE86s.

After being given the “ok” to take pictures by the owner, I began to snap away. I tried to talk a little with one of the employees, but unfortunately, the language barrier was too difficult to overcome even with what I thought was very simple English, so I let him go back to work while I took a few more photos.

If you saw the live action Initial D movie, Carland86 was the shop responsible for creating Takumi Fujiwara’s AE86 used in the movie. I think they might also be supplying the car for the second movie coming next year.

Need this plaque!

Well, that about concludes my photos. Hope you guys enjoyed the short tribute to one of the greatest Japanese cars ever produced. Of course an “arigatou gozaimasu” is in order to Carland86 for allowing me to poke around a little and take some photos. 86 for life!