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The Heart of Godzilla: Examining the Surgical Precision of Takumi - The Kiinote

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 7/30/2015 Ron Kiino
The Heart of Godzilla: Examining the Surgical Precision of Takumi - The Kiinote

When not at his day job, 55-year-old Takumi Kurosawa enjoys surfing eBay for parts for his beloved 1987 Nissan 300ZX, which he bought in California and had shipped back to Japan. He knows the Z inside and out and can repair any part of the car all by himself, a welcome benefit of being a former Z engine builder. His current job? Overseeing Nissan's ultra-select group of takumi—it means artisan in Japanese, and yes, that's his real name—the five folks tasked with hand-assembling the 545-600-horsepower, VR38DETT, 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-6 in Nissan's GT-R supercar.

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The VR engine assembly takes place inside Nissan's Yokohama Plant No. 2, a large, nondescript white and gray facility that also houses production of the MR engine family (1.6-, 1.8-, and 2.0-liter I-4s), whose production is almost entirely automated. In fact, one MR engine rolls off the line every 46 seconds. The VR, conversely, is nearly 100 percent hand-built, one coming out of the 30-by-30-foot clean-room production site every 60 minutes. "Takumi are not meant to be productive in quantity," Kurosawa-san says, "but in quality. They must extract 100 percent of power from the engine—every time." Further, a takumi must be able to do it all—to know and build every aspect of the VR engine—and possess the intangible "fingertip feel," the ability to sense millimeter tolerances by touch. No wonder it takes around 30 years to reach takumi status. Kurosawa-san appears proud when he says, "I was one of the fastest—at 25 years."

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Before entering the VR room, I'm asked to don a lab coat and shoe covers "to prevent contamination," says Kurosawa-san. I'm a bit surprised I wasn't asked to perform an iodine scrub. Inside, the VR room is immaculate and hospital-clean, and compared to the clang of the robotic MR line, it's eerily quiet. Temperature, humidity, and ambient pressure are all monitored and adjusted to prevent contamination and swelling in the 80 percent aluminum VR. Three people—two takumi and one takumi in training—are heads down, diligently working away. At station one, or Cylinder Block Assembly, a takumi is inserting the steel crankshaft into the aluminum block. (The two pieces spend seven and four hours, respectively, in a special acclimation room prior to coming onto the line.) After joining the two, the takumi turns the crankshaft with his wrist—requiring roughly 2.2 lb-ft of torque—to detect any possible contamination, e.g., a speck of metal.

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Nearby, 26-year-old trainee Yumika Takechi, formerly the No. 1 QR engine builder in the world, is at station three (Bare Engine Assembly) testing valve clearance. Using an array of 0.27- to 0.37-millimeter thickness gauges, or what look like oversized metal tongue depressors, she inserts the thin strips between the cams and valve tappets and measures the resistance with her fingertips. Her allowable variance is 10 micron. She performs clearances for each valve twice and jots them down on a chart. Her takumi shadow checks the work and signs off on everything. For now, his $600 aluminum plaque will be the one affixed to the finished product. But if all goes well, in 20-some years her plaque will be the one used, making her the first female takumi.

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After visiting five stations within the clean room, the VR exits outside, where the external parts—turbos, manifolds, electrical plugs, ignition coils—are attached. From there, the VR is carted off to another building for the final station, the Power Test, a 33-step process that checks everything from oil and water temp and engine speed to valve timing and vibration and sound. On average, 10 gallons of 99-octane gas are used for every Power Test.

The VR that beats inside Godzilla is awesomely impressive and awesomely consistent. Every GT-R we've tested over the years has had one thing in common: They've all been crazy quick, usually hitting 60 mph in under 3.0 seconds and the quarter mile in the 11s. Awesomely impressive. Awesomely consistent. Exactly what it takes to be a takumi.

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