Sunday, 20 March 2011

Supercar Sunday - Skyline Meets F40

This weekend doesn't see a brand new supercar, but rather one that should be: the Tommy Kaira ZZII (Zed Zed Two). I bought this car in Gran Turismo 5 yesterday in the Online Dealership (for around Cr.160,000, if I remember rightly). It weighs 1000kg despite All-Wheel-Drive and produces 550 horsepower. It sounds like my dream car, in fact, and it drives wonderfully with a considerate right foot and minor suspension adjustments (height-adjustable suspension is standard fit). However, its real life counterpart is very obscure...

The dream of Tommy Kaira, a small Japanese tuning company, and Autobacs, a small Japanese racing company, was to build a supercar that could be entered in FIA GT racing without any modifications. It was to have a choice of engines ranging from 2.0 to 3.5 litres connecting to either a 6-speed manual or a racing sequential gearbox, all-wheel-drive and a kerbweight of just 1000kg. It was also to continue their philosophy of driving purity first encompassed in the little ZZ, a Lotus Elise-style mid-engined sports car that had a cult following in Japan, as well as small success in the UK, as it was even built in Lotus country. Sadly, Tommy Kaira had to axe the ZZ amidst the Japanese economic downturn of the 1990s, which may also explain why the car you see here remains a single protoype gathering dust. They were bought by Autobacs at the turn of the century, who renamed it the RS-01, but it still didn't make it to production. The original ZZ however was brought back by Leading Edge as the 190RT/240RT for a brief period, and Autobacs used it as the basis for their own sports car, the Garaiya, but sadly that never reached customers either. The racing version, however, did take off, racing with some success in the GT300 class of SUPER GT since 2003.

But back to the ZZII. The only prototype has the RB26 DETT engine from the Nissan Skyline GT-R, but instead of the basic 280PS, this race-tuned Twin Turbo Straight-Six produces a mighty 550PS (542bhp). It sends that power through a six speed manual gearbox - possibly a GT-R 'box - to all four wheels by mean of Nissan's ATTESA-ETS advanced all-wheel-drive system, which is also found on the GT-R. All this brute force is contained inside a fibreglass body that's wrapped around a bespoke strengthened aluminium tub with steel tubular spaceframes for subframes. This, coupled with a spartan interior, gave Tommy Kaira their 1000kg kerbweight, in spite of the heavy engine and meaty AWD system that usually contributes to the GT-R's mass of around 1600kg. That makes a huge difference. Indeed, the resulting 542bhp/tonne is 19 higher than the power-to-weight ratio of the Bugatti Veyron. This all adds up to make a seriously fast car.

What makes it great is that it's a Nissan GT-R turned into a proper mid-engined supercar, a giant killer disguised as a bespoilered 2-door saloon turned into a titan destroyer masquerading as a sports coupé, being as it is only little (less size, less mass). It may not have any structural parts from the Nissan, but the two best bits of any GT-R are the engine - tunable to well over 1000bhp without immediately exploding - and that AWD system that gives you all the grip you could ever need. In this car though, with all that power throwing such little weight around, the ATTESA-ETS is working overtime.

This car is painted in ASL blue, rather than the darker blue seen above
The one place that it gets driven is in GranTurismo games, first appearing in GT3. I've driven the one in GT5, and it's quite something. It doesn't feel remotely like a tuned GT-R, because it's mid-engined and so much lighter. If I had to compare it to a current road car, think of it as a turbocharged Audi R8 that feels "unplugged". It feels vicious, urgent, like a racing car and you sometimes forget that it's four-wheel-drive, because it can get very tail happy, in particular when exiting 2nd-gear corners, and even some 3rd-gear ones as well. Thankfully, because the front wheels are doing their bit to pull you straight again, the oversteer is gradual and easy to catch, although careful throttle control is still required, as it has on occasion tried to get away from me just when I thought it was calming down and I could get on the power. The obvious solution to this is Traction Control, but I don't like it as it's too intrusive, plus when it's engaged, you can't drift when the mood takes you. The other solution is to drive gingerly, but that doesn't win you races, so it's really just a matter of practice. Much like the equally mid-engined, equally All-Wheel-Drive GTbyCITROEN, when you lift off in a corner, you get an annoying amount of understeer. Not enough to leave the track, but just enough to mess up a lap time or generally be an irritation. This could just me entering a corner slightly too fast, but all the same, because this car has adjustable suspension fitted as standard, I lowered the ride height and changed the spring rate to F 15.0 - 15.2 R (making the rear springs harder than the fronts causes oversteer, but a difference this small just seems to sharpen things up a little, which is nice). It also has standard adjustable downforce, although I can't see what you would adjust, so if it was misbehaving in faster corners, turning the rear DF up would solve that.

Either way, this is undeniably potent. After restoring the engine and doing the "Oil Glitch", in which you change the oil of a car as soon as you get it to add 5-30bhp (depending on the car), the ZZII had 570bhp, roughly the same as today's junior supercars, the Ferrari 458 Italia, AMG SLS, Lexus LFA and the, er, 592bhp McLaren MP4-12C. I thus decided a trip to Fortress TopGear was in order, where, after 6 or 7 laps of fishtailing and urination, I finally got it round - using the TV show's standing start method - in 1:16.580. That's at the very top of the leaderboard, amidst the track-biased Gumpert Apollo (1:17.1), Ariel Atom 500 V8 (1:15.1) and the devastating Bugatti Veyron SS (1:16.8). That's hugely impressive. The aforementioned supercars with the same power as the Tommy Kaira all weigh at least 300kg more, and that's the difference it makes; those cars are all in the 1:19s. It would appear that 100kg is worth a second at the TopGear track.

Spartan interior looks cheap. That's because it is. The gear stick is quite high too.
To sum it up, then, it is a fantastic car. No, I haven't sat in the real one, but the highly realistic physics of Gran Turismo 5 tell me this is a car that does what Tommy Kaira says it does. It's designed for driving purity, and it drives like a race car. It's like the sweet love child of the techy Nissan GT-R and the dainty Ferrari F40. There aren't any distractions inside, it has a proper manual gearbox, you just sit down, strap in and hold on, the advanced AWD providing moral support. It feels like the controls would be crisp and responsive. It's exactly how I would want a car like this to be.

My only wish is that it went into production, at least in a limited-series if Autobacs/Tommy Kaira couldn't afford or justify mass-production. Perhaps they should bring it back. It could have the new, improved ATTESA-ETS Pro from the R35 GT-R, with a manual or the DBA-R35's less delicate DCT at the front, partly for weight balance, partly to suit the new GT-R's transaxle layout. The body would need updating, because while it does look brilliant, it is a little dated, particularly that McLaren F1-cum-Ferrari 360 rear end, but I think it would only need minor updating to keep it fresh. The interior would need a redesign though - it looks too "10-year-old-one-off" compared to the Koenigseggs and Zenvos of today's obscure-supercar world. The engine would need changing too, as the RB26 DETT is too dirty for modern emissions regulations, so if a suitable Nissan V6 can't be found, a bespoke aluminium 3.0 V6 with Twin Turbos is what I'd give it. Tuneable and slightly over-engineered to ensure reliability both in standard and modified form, and to keep the spirit of the Skyline engine while saving weight and the environment (a bit). Sure, that would make the purchase price quite high (perhaps £150-200k), but when you can take down cars costing twice or thrice as much, it's an absolute bargain. Alas, it may only ever turn a wheel within the confines of Gran Turismo. Which reminds me, Polyphony, upgrade it to a Premium car! Please!

Tech Specs:

Layout: Mid-engined, All-Wheel-Drive

Acceleration: Unknown (0-60 is most likely ~3.5s)

Top Speed: 208mph (in Gran Turismo 5)

Engine: RB26 DETT - 2.6 litre Inline-6, Twin-Turbocharged

Power/Torque/CO2: 542bhp (550PS) / ~420 lb/ft / n/a CO2

Price: Not For Sale...

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