Ko-Op Tour of Deutschland | The Zoom-Zoom Konnection

It was approaching the latter end of our German excursion. Since the flight back to sunny England was booked departing Munich International Airport, it only made sense to pitch up somewhere in accomodation not too far from Bavaria’s capital. Airbnb rarely fails to please; this final spot we lodged at was on the upper floor of a couple’s home in Moorenweis, a nice little villagey area.

On arrival, we were nackered, so for the night we just chilled; being antisocial and catching up on Youtube videos. I was hoping our second-to-last day would lift my spirits after a minor debacle at the hotel in Stuttgart where I left my washed T-shirts – one from Narita Dogfight, the other an RWB one I bought from Nakai-san a few months prior – to dry and forgot to pick them up on the way out. I was pinning the blame on Luke as I initially thought he hid them from me (sorry, Luke, but you are a twat, so you kinda brought it on yourself).

That morning was bound to be a start to a good day, visiting two spots I anticipated highly throughout the days leading up to it.

The first stop was in Augsburg, one of Bavaria’s largest cities after Munich and Nuremberg. Home to a kollection of cars you wouldn’t think of having such a dedicated following so far from home…

I first heard and learnt about the Mazda Classic Automobile Frey Museum on the NHK World channel on TV (does anyone even use their Sky+ set-top box anymore?), which is basically Japan’s major broadcasting network channel that airs all types of travel & tourism related programmes. It’s 507 on your Sky Freeview if you’re interested.

The ‘Frey’ in the museum’s name belongs to the founder: Walter Frey. He is the man behind the idea of this Mazda mecca, and it all stemmed from him owning and running a local Mazda dealership which was the foundation for his passion for the Japanese auto-manufacturer.

We entered via the gift shop, rather than exiting from it, largely because we completely missed the main entrance around the front. I think I was mesmerised by the Soul Red Crystal ND MX-5 so much so that it succeeded in luring us in the wrong way. In fact, it was far from wrong if I’m honest, as the first thing that nearly caused me to snap my neck when I walked into the main hall was sat there in a shadowy corner. The 323 GTR, an unsung hero, was Mazda’s attempt at rallying back in the 1980s to early 1990s using 4WD. They had some success with the FB RX7 in Group B, being an underdog competitor with no fully-financed backing from Mazda – only 7 “Evolution” models produced for homologation – the rear-wheel drive, naturally-aspirated coupe mightily fought to land a step on the podium at the Acropolis Rally in ’85. Whatever the case, I don’t care how many trophies this hatchback managed to snap up. Its boosted transversely-mounted MX-5 engine, rear tailight bar, and the aggressively “LanEvo-like” front face is such a cool combination.

The Frey family have a lot of love for the rotary, they’ve even set up a small section of the museum to resemble some kind of living space/memorial/shrine for the Cosmo Sport. Knowing that this machine started it all off, way before the RX model-code entered our cultural vocabulary, brought shivers to the spine.

There were all sorts of ikonic models from Mazda’s historical line-up, but this was definitely one of the highlights for me – the Autozam AZ-1 Mazdaspeed. A keicar with gullwing doors. Need I say more? Check out how angry its widened body looks from the front. It would be sick to stomp through the streets of Tokyo in this pocket rocket. Mazda, please atleast make a comeback with something like this if you aren’t bringing the Wankel back.

You don’t walk into a enthusiast-owned, Mazda collection hall, and not expect to see the greatest trio of alphanumerics to ever be assembled and branded into the minds of car nuts across the globe. The RX-7 would have never been if it weren’t for the German inventor, Felix Wankel, who gave the Japanese carmakers that spark to then set the world alight with all the premix-infused afterfire. I loved that ‘vert’ FC Turbo II.

And then you have to be out of your mind to think there wouldn’t be an abundance of the most successful two-seater sportscar of all time! The best on display have got to be this pair. 1 of 250 NB MX-5 Coupe that came with a fixed roof from factory, and a design concept in the shape of an NC Superlight without a roof and glass. These two must be the rarest of roadsters. Seeing that Mk3 in the metal was mindblowing, after only ever seeing it in video games and online, to have the chance to get close to one was a treat, lemme tell ya. It sits so low too, compared to the dismal OEM fitment of the red Mk2.

It was a bit of Miata-mania for the most part in the hall. Luke got a bit excited over the black NC racecar, which admittedly does look cool for the Roadster that doesn’t hit headlines in the modified scene. Maybe because a lot of examples tend to be below par or a bit OTT. The aero cover that sits atop the rear bulkhead was a nifty bit of kit, as were those wheels that look like a 5-spoke version of the 6ULs. Anyone know exactly what they are?

So this is what you would be greeted by if you came in through the front door. Its either a restored Group B rallycar, or a replica fabricated by some keen enthusiast. Whatever the case, it looked the bee’s knees, and probably buzzes all the way to its 9-grand RPM limiter.

Mazda plonked rotary engines in more of their past models than you think. I remember reading about the Rotary Parkway Bus in a book but there were no photos to back up the fact that it was an actual reality. Then I see one chilling in the corner of the museum next to an old-school pretend fuel pump! The Frey family have nailed this automotive gallery to the finest detail, even going to lengths of preserving a bench that Felix Wankel kept outside his workshop.

I would absolutely recommend visiting this place if you happen to be venturing to and around Munich. From the outside it seems like an old, refurbed tram shed (which it actually happens to be) but what lies within definitely surprised and amazed us [me – Luke probably wished he was back at the Nordschleife driving like hell].

Before leaving, I scribbled a little something down in the guestbook, but I don’t have a photo to show you what I wrote, so remember to look out for my tag if you ever do make a stop at the Classic Automobile Frey Museum!

Before returning to the house, RUF was not too far from Augsburg, located in a rural Pfaffenhausen. There’s a ton of information about the company online, plus, I don’t have much photographic material to share from our guided tour of the premises as some of the work they had on must have been pre-production, top secret. After all, RUF is a registered manufacturer, not just a Porsche “styling” firm. If you grew up on Gran Turismo, RUF will be engrained in your memory. If you’re not already familiar, this family-run business takes Porsches – sometimes, maybe even from across the roundabout where a dealership resides – and turns them into pieces of art without sacrificing any performance abilities of the original model. Add to that, pretty much all of the work is carried out in-house, with facilities such as a bodyshop & paint booths, and an engine dyno room!

I won’t do a full blog on our visit to RUF, just because I didn’t get any more photos to share with you to give you visuals to accompany my blabber.

As I took snaps of the MX-5 rental car, a couple drove past in their car and then backed up as they must have seen me dodgily crouched down behind the car. Rolling down their window and from the serious look on their faces, they asked me WTF I was doing in some German. Was a funny/awkward moment. Pretty certain they had been drinking, too, so I should have flipped it and asked them WTF they were doing.

Hope you enjoyed the read, look out for the finale in my ‘Germany 2019’ album, soon…

Ko-Op Tour of Deutschland | Going Around the Benz

As someone who is not all that into the Euro scene of car kulture, I will honestly admit that Mercedes-Benz have produced some machines that surpass other makers, even before they can put up a fight. It is fair to say Mercs have been pioneers from the get go.

The place is pretty sizeable, made obvious by the fact that upon entering the lobby you start the tour by elevating to the uppermost level of the museum’s nine planes, at some lofty height enough to make Luke a bit squeamish.

I found it amusing how the roof resembled the profile of an epitrochoid, the same shape as a rotor in a Wankel engine…

The floorplan of the Benz building is pretty cool, it flows down through the timeline of Mercedes and every significant model in their lineage can be found on each floor which signifies a decade.

Check out the gills on the side of the 300SL Gullwing! Back then, Merc’s design department were in the zone and produced some kutting edge automotive art. My favourite element has got to be the side-exit cannons coming out of the quarter-panel of that 300 SLR.

The section of the museum that was worth more than admission has got to be where I saw the 190E Evolution II. I wouldn’t change a thing on that machine.

Then we walked down a floor, and there it sat on a sloped bank stage amongst a plethora of Mercedes’ racing legends, the #3 Sonax 190E 2.6-16 Evo II DTM car of 1992. I vividly remember clocking some nuts laptime on Nurburgring (virtually) when it first appeared in Gran Turismo 4. I must have been 10 years old back then, getting giddy about my first sub-8 minute PB; that car has burnt a scar in my memory. It is the ultimate sleeper that is not sleeper at all in Evo form.

Ignore what I said about not altering the pure, elegant physique of the Merc; I would most definitely style it in the fashion of that touring car in two-tone. Maybe change the ‘BOSS HUGO BOSS’ livery to ‘BOSS COFFEE’ next to a silhouette of Tommy Lee Jones…

Once I found out Mercedes gave the rotary engine a chance, they shifted up in my rankings. The C111, although only went as so far as a design concept, is without a doubt one of the most interesting cars I saw and yeah, it’s probably because of the Wankelmotor. It was a decent attempt at defying convention, so I can’t fault Mercedes for trying back in the late 60’s when Mazda were doing the same, but disappointingly the German autogiants flipped off the possibility of a 3 or 4-rotor and developed the diesel lump that found its way into the 240D 3.0. Bit of a shame the C111 remained a development mule, since customers sent blank cheques to the company in hope that they would churn out production-models; would have been a success by the sounds of it…

Thats all for now, it was a quick one, but I feel I need to bust these posts out as I am lagging behind on the Germany content. Plus, I don’t really care for Mercedes-Benz at this point in time. I feel like the newer cars are lacking soul nowadays, and that goes for the majority of car manufacturers. I reckon Mercedes should pump out more krazy koncepts like they used to, and then find a way to go absolutely bananas on the drawing board for a flagship model…

Anyway, the real good bits are yet to come, so keep an eye or two out!

Only Rotaries Aloud | Seven’s Day 2019 @ Blyton Park

Home sweet home. After landing back in the UK from the dreamy trip to Japan, as per usual the post-holiday blues hit me and lingered for a week or two. To add insult to injury, I saw the 7th of July coming around the corner and that only means one thing to any Mazda madhead. I have featured, briefly in past posts, my 7’s Day experiences when I attended the meeting held in Umihotaru P.A. on Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line. This year, I chose not to stay in Japan long enough to witness the twilight spectacle put on by the automotive underdog cult. I mean, I probably would have, but I’d come back with zero holidays left to take from work. In retrospect, it could have been worthwhile, especially after seeing all the coverage online of the ‘Rotary Spirit’ event staged in the paddock of the great Fuji Speedway.

I remember coming across a track day being organized by the UK’s FD Owner’s Club online, and since I wanted to get a firsthand look at what the small but strongly dedicated community have on offer here in my home country, I thought I’d swing on by Blyton Park on the 5th of July.

My love for this chassis is eternal. Stock or modified (tastefully), the only way it will age is if Mazda reintroduce the masses to a production version of that RX-Vision concept unveiled back in 2015’s Tokyo Motor Show, but even if that does materialize, the FD3S RX-7’s legacy will remain in history.

My first trip out to Japan was unforgettably a special one, mainly due to the sleepless night before I got to pilot a rental RX-7. Its one thing reading about a car that leaves you in awe and watching countless videos of the machine being described by motor journalists as the one of the purest sportscars ever built, but to actually do it yourself is another thing entirely. Yeah, it was a stock example, bar the Tein coilovers and RE-Amemiya exhaust system, but for my 20-year-old self, it was plenty.

Before I turn this spread into a essay on why the RX-7 is the greatest production car to ever come into existence, let’s get back to the sights I saw on my visit to FDOC’s track event.

Upon arrival mid-afternoon, all the eye could see was more than a few RX-8s, and whilst that car is a great Mazda in its own right, I had a mini panic-attack thinking I’d turned up on the wrong date or something. Obviously, that wasn’t the case, as I got closer to trackside, there was a decent lineup of FDs all raring to get out and kause a ruckus.

I did briefly contemplate buying an RX-8 at the time I was planning on saying farewell to my MX-5. I took an late R3 model for a test drive, and whilst it is a nice platform that could act as both daily driver and track toy, something was amiss. I am pretty certain its a universal problem with these “newer” cars, that tend to target the wider audience. I am fully aware that this is what progression looks like, and they’ll never make them like they used to, but I think it was the over-refinement of the RX-8 in comparison to my MX-5 at the time, that repelled me from going in that direction. Whilst current prices of RX-8s are quite attractive, with sellers practically giving them away, I still wouldn’t compromise; driving experience is why I don’t take public transport, the vehicle has to have that ability to make you want to keep on powering on, no matter the kost.

Totally unrelated, but I may aswell share a few snaps I got of this non-Mazda that turned up to the party (with an invitation, probably). British sportscars are known to have that distinct character and its good to see the likes of Lotus, and of course Jaguar and Mclaren, still in the running.

White-on-red is a suited look on this 360 Cup edition of the Exige. I find it funny how Lotus still use the Toyota 2GR-FE V6 engine, that’s applied to billions of other Toyota/Lexus chassis, and then we have the new Supra reaching out to BMW for a heart transplant which is in my opinion, distasteful, but I won’t get into all of that…

Starting off the highlights of 7’s Day, is this pearlescent flake yellow FD. This early Efini variant was sporting a 99-Spec front bumper with custom front lip, sideskirts, Ganador mirrors, Veilside(?) tailight housing bar, and some of those Rota things at all four corners. It sure did brighten up the scene, but I never got chance to see it out ripping the tarmac, so these static shots are all I got.

Matt’s kouki Pure White RX-7 was almost twinning with another’s of the FDOC crew. Wearing those Work CRs finished in a Dark Chrome colour set off the look of this machine, which is what I would consider a perfect example of the ‘OEM Plus’ style. Rear diffuser, carbon front splitter, and a NACA-ducted bonnet accentuate this fine specimen. But something NEEDS to be done with that ride height!

Another FD sitting on some of Work Wheels’ finest, which was also equipped with an interesting custom vented bonnet. Black on bronze is a no-brainer in terms of colour pairing, hence why the Demio of mine wears my old MX-5’s shoes! Nothing krazy about the exterior of this RX, apart from the GT style wing, yet the single turbo converted 13B inside was making it round with some pace from what I remember.

This is the “other” white FD I was referring to previously. Owned by Roy, whom manages and organizes the events for the club, it is a stunningly clean FD but at the same time gets enough of a leg-stretch out on the track. It’s always the details that katch my eye when it comes to seeing a car for the first time. I reckon its because I have become sick of the latest trends, finding far too many builds online and at shows that have the same cookie-cutter philosophy applied to them, just because it looks good and is easy to do since every other man and his dog are putting their car “together” in the same style. I digress, but I believe the RX-7 is one of those chassis that has the natural ability to look timeless with an unmatchable aura in factory form. Anyway, one note I’d like to make is the fact that the engine bay was clean enough to eat dinner off, but that crack in the radiator’s fibreglass shroud! Maybe Roy has a new replacement on order (we hope)…

The day wasn’t short on black FDs, and this flame-spitting one in particular was getting its fair share of laps in around the circuit. This wore, what I would call, a safe and klassik look, outfitted with a 99-spec wing, drooping RE-AMEMIYA exhaust, and a unique taillight conversion.

Nas’ RX-7 was easy on the eye with not too much to take in: OEM front splitter, Racing Beat twin-tailpipe exhaust, rear lip spoiler, riding on a set of the klassik Desmond Regamaster wheels in matte black.

This work in progress belongs to owner James, and whilst in appearance it is seemingly basic at the (that) moment, those Enkei RS05RR wheels mean business and certainly make for a good start to this FD’s life. The majority of the guys on the day had wingless cars, which is a look that didn’t do it for me in the past, but after spending some time looking at and shooting them fly by, it does make the car more streetable to some degree.

Stu of RotorTorque was whipping his white RX-7 around Blyton with some frequency and was looking good whilst doing it. I properly endorse the mismatched wheels look aswell, with flat gold Advan AVS Model 6 upfront, and a pair of burnt orange Ultralites working in the rear. Can’t go wrong with that rear GT wing courtesy of Voltex Racing.

Jack’s heavily modified, street-sleeper of an RX-7, was built with hard track use in mind. The exterior is indeed telling of that purpose, with it being hunkered down on another mismatched pair of aftermarket rollers, custom smoothed widearches on the back, RE-Amemiya rear diffuser, aftermarket vented bonnet, and sleek fixed headlight assemblies. I unfortunately did not get any interior shots, but the cabin was just as serious, I can assure you.

Closing out this post, we have a guest entrant who I missed the chance at seeing put some rubber down, but these still shots of the zenki Silvia S14 200SX will have to suffice. The owner told me the rear wing, which baffled me as soon as I spotted it, is borrowed from a DC5 Integra Type-R. Weirdly looks at home on the decklid of an FR Nissan.

There’s your lot for this one, and I hope that it is now proven to you that rotaries can blast around a hot track all day, and then cope with a drive home. Not one trailer or recovery truck made an appearance so all that gas you’ve heard coming from the naysayers who can’t stand to see an underdog bark loud, redirect them to this post.

This event will be one of many and I hope the FDOC emsemble make it out to more circuits and exemplify how usable and capable the greatest sportscar to exist, truly is.

Thanks for the visit!

Japanese Dream: Another Trip to Tokyo, and Beyond

Here we go, again.

Back in 2016, after returning from Japan, it was in my heart that I knew I had to get back out there, so before I knew it, later that year, flights were booked for late June 2017, and a more structured itinerary was put down in preparation. It went something like this: Tokyo – Mt. Fuji – Hiroshima – Kyoto – Yokohama. All within a two-week timespan.

This post is a recollection of the memories, stored within the photos. Looking back at them, without sounding like I am blowing my own trumpet, my shooting skills also seemed to step up a marginal level.

I hope you enjoy, and maybe you too will take the leap to the farthest east.

Me and my sister landed in Narita International Airport around evening, and by the time we were out of the terminal and on the train to Suginami it was 9pm. The sunsets earlier than it does in the UK, so even in the summer the daylight passes sooner, unless you wake up and start your day very early.

I caught this MX-5 RF the morning after our arrival in the morning traffic on the main road a few minutes from the AirBnB. A Club / Launch edition in that Reflex Blue Mica on factory BBS wheels is a quality sight. This car will take a very long time to get old.
A classic VW Beetle sat outside the apartment building we stayed in whilst visiting the Tokyo area. Even this car’s owner installed a double DIN multimedia system on the dashboard, but this is not surprising as the majority of vehicles on the road have them built in from factory, most with broadcast television!
An enthusiast’s machine. Not my ‘cup of tea’, definitely slow, but atleast the paintjob livened up the concrete jungle scene.
One of the coolest things Toyota created. I would grab one in a heartbeat, and I am not even into SUVs or offrading.
The infamous Shibuya Crossing. We did not spend much time here, as we were only passing by to get to Shibuya station, nor did we partake in the scramble. I know, how boring of us… Whatever.
We set out to Odaiba, which is an artificial island in Tokyo’s Bay Area. It is mainly home to entertainment and shopping outlets, attracting many tourists thanks to its scenic nightlife and modern architecture. This photo was the back end of the Fuji TV building, which I had no idea of at time of taking the picture.
In my experience, the service I received all over Japan is impeccable. This was at a typical city restaurant in Shinjuku. You sit in a private booth, with a service ringer at hand if you need a waiter’s attention. Oh, and they cook the food right in front of you, which makes for a more engaging experience.
Now onto the exciting part of the journey…
You probably saw this coming if you read my last Japan blogpost. I revisited the guys at ‘Fun2Drive’, and this time it was time to get behind the wheel of the one and only ultimate supercar of the Japanese 90’s. First stop, Fuji Speedway.
The way the tours work, if you opt for the ‘Ultimate Hakone Drive’, is a steadily paced roll out on the touge leading to the area surrounding Mount Fuji, and then the afternoon is literally an all-out blast through the mountains and forests behind what was this time a definitely-modified, wailing-wastegate Subaru WRX STi, just like the one Bunta rips in.
Unfortunately, on this excursion, Mount Fuji was being a shy bugger, hidden behind the clouds.
I feel this car is so special, it deserves a full report. But for now I will keep it short and simple….
… this car is a driver’s dream. It was equipped with what I was told, a KeiOffice exhaust system that made a glorious naturally-aspirated V6 tune. I assume the suspension was standard, by looks and feel of the sensible ride height and shock absorption. This is the definition of sportscar, and I undersand why it was a supercar in its day. It shook up the likes of Ferrari and Porsche, nevermind the domestic rivals such as Nissan’s GTR, and Mazda’s RX-7. I am not ruling out the Toyota Supra, but that was a more GT vehicle, with a little more of a civilised character. Pushing this car to limits was an absolute joy, especially when you are behind an R35 GTR (that was driven by another member of the tour party) that struggled with all its weight in the tight and technical sections. I can and will never forget having the honor of taking the NSX for a ride.
Just about caught this snap of what I think is a Daihatsu disguides as a classic Mini? The owner kept/fitted a UK number plate behind the Japanese one, which I thought was funny.
There is not one bad angle on this machine
Just before lunch, two more joined the party.
Man, stock R32 GT-Rs look too good its bonkers. Simple body lines, subtly pronounced arch flares, those iconic 5-spoke wheels. I bet this was fun to drive…
We got about Hakone in a rented out Honda Fit (aka Jazz). Public transport is great in the major cities, but once you go off grid so to speak, it only makes sense to traverse the dreamy routes of the Japanese touge in a car. This new generation Fit/Jazz was a bit appalling though to be honest. The CVT gearbox was naff, as you would expect, droning through the ratios. But even the steering felt Audi-like, so numb. No complaints, as it was roomy and comfy enough, however.
The day after the NSX experience, before leaving for Hiroshima via shinkansen (bullet train), we decided to visit a local shrine in Hakone, almost as if we were ritualistically receiving blessings, but this was not the case.
Both, Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples dotted about all over the country are peaceful and tranquil places to visit.
So, after trekking about the western regions of the country, we hitched a bullet train once again to Yokohama City, which borders Tokyo’s outer area. This time the rental car was a Mazda Demio (Mazda 2). In comparison to the Fit, this was the better performer. And, Japan get these in an All Wheel Drive variant?

That night was the 7th of July. That only meant one thing. Time to hit the expressway and join the rotary klan…

Again, this year, the plan in my mind did not materialise in the way I had pictured.

Using Google Maps, we navigated ourselves to Daikoku Parking area in the Demio. This route to this spot is a headache and not as straightforward as you might think, with the rest of Japan’s transportation systems being so streamlined. It wasn’t meant to be, I must have driven through the same toll gate twice, but couldn’t find a way in. Luckily, the police were shutting the parking area down at that time.

If I remember correctly, I think we were about to give up and just abort mission, but as I was about to make way to Yokohama, I spotted this guy with a backpack on foot who looked either lost or eager to get to where we wanted: 7’s day gathering. So, for some reason, I pull up, roll the window down, and ask him if he is a local in hope of getting some direction or assistance. Turned out he was from the States, and was in the same situation I was in last year. We told him we would give him a lift, as he had a good-enough idea of how to get to the secondary meetup location: Tokyo Bay Aqua-line…

On the last day, we took some time out to visit the Nissan Global HQ Gallery, which includes a floor completely open freely to visitors, where both new and old vehicles and technology are put on display. Not only that, but there was also a live RC-car race hosted by Tamiya.

So, there you have it. My second Japan journal entry, hopefully you saw some stuff you thought was cool and intriguing, some maybe even motivated you to get yourself out there to explore the epicentre of car culture.

More to come…