Early October last year was my most recent adventure back to Maryland. I planned another one of those flights where I leave Arizona in the early afternoon, which lands me on the east coast in the late evening, and I always seem to forget how annoying it is to arrive and feel buzzed, awake and ready to party while most everyone I know is settling down for the night and ready to pass out.
There's one friend who doesn't fit that cast though, and that's who I wanted picking me up from the airport when I got in. I arrived in rainy Baltimore just around 9PM and as soon as we touched-down, I clicked my phone on to let Nick know of my homecoming. Through the terminals and out the automatic doors I went to be greeted with the moist, Mid-Atlantic air that almost stung my nostrils. As I waited on the sidewalk for my ride to show, a small white vehicle in the distance appeared - surely it had to be my amigo. Of course Nick chose his mint, nearly OEM S14 Kouki to come pick me up from the airport in. A huge grin grew ear-to-ear as he stopped along the curb, and we both just had to chuckle a bit. I threw my backpack and camera bag in the back seat, and off we went into the night.
Before heading back to the shop, we agreed a beer run was in order so we stopped at this somewhat sketchy ABC store in the heart of Rt. 1. Quick snagged some gringo beers and before we sealed ourselves into Wolfpack HQ for the next hours to come, Nick wanted to show me this spot down the street that we talked about using for a video shoot. We arrived at one of the greatest places on earth not too much later, and we did the typical B.S. and catching up with each other - what's new with everyone, what's new in the shop, what's changed on the cars since I was last there - the normal stuff. Then without wasting time, Nick pretty much ordered me to go start my Z and bring it into the shop.
A bash bar for the Z is something him and I have talked about doing for awhile and that I was really passionate about, but this time Nick was ensuring that we got it done. I warmed up the Z, did a quick donut in the parking lot and then whipped it into the garage. Literally with no procrastination, we had the front bumper pulled off shortly thereafter and the OEM bumper reinforcement consequently followed. We decided that the first step was to make the base plates for mounting the bash bar to the chassis.
After weighing a few options, we decided probably one of the most efficient and coolest ways to go about creating the mounting plates would be to trace the back of the OEM mount, and then transfer it to a workable copy that we would have the CNC plasma table transcribe. Nick showed off his knowledge of the mammoth machine as we imported our design into the program, and transformed it into a digital copy that the CNC would later use. After making some adjustments, we were positive with the layout, threw a giant rectangle of raw steel onto the platter and put the plasma torch to work. Not seconds later, we had two smaller rectangular base plates with the four holes needed to bolt them to the Z's frame. The two plates tested great when fitted to the chassis, and then it was a simple matter of smoothing out the edges and making them pretty. Unfortunately, I never took any photos during this part of our process but there are some great shots in the video to come.
Now came the real matter of fully planning out our design. Nick and I mesh really well in the sense that I think we're both pretty OCD and have to know a majority of details before we really delve into something. By good luck of the design of the fine folks at Nissan, forming bash bars for Z33's is a pretty simple and straight-forward task. Our only real hang-up or dilemma was choosing whether to do a simple two-bend or slightly more complicated four-bend main bar. Before continuing, Nick took lead and pretty much said, "Let's try this method." We laid out a giant sheet of paper, taped it to the floor and then began transposing measurements from both the chassis and the backside of the bumper down onto the paper. After having an overall shape laid-out, we took our 6-foot long section of 1.5" DOM tubing and placed it down over our blue painter's tape template. We went back and forth for a bit over bend-angle measurements, and then finally agreed on a number.
After our desired bend locations were found and marked, Nick proceeded to show me how the tube bender operates. With bounce-back of the tube in mind, we agreed to committing to 45-degree bends. I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with the knowledge that Nick has of his equipment and machinery - for example, he made a point to share with me that when bending, you want to place the tube in a certain position within the bender so that you'll precisely know where your bend will occur. The bender will lock one end of the tube so it can't be moved, and the other end gets 'sucked' through the die. This forces the bend to occur on one side of your marked location, so you want to be absolutely sure of where you're locking the tube into place.
The bends were complete and we timidly rushed back to the front end of the car to align our tubing. Using a few jack stands, we maneuvered the metal into what we guesstimated would be the appropriate place. I think the two of us were both relieved and ecstatic that the twin bends we executed were damn near dead-on to where they needed to be. Comparing the angle of the headlights to the shape of the tube really made us pleased with the direction we were headed.
Next up, it was time to notch some tube for our supports connecting the mounting plates to the bash bar itself. When it came to this step, we swiftly confirmed our decision to do a simple two-bend main bar. With the support tubes coming directly off the mounting plates to form a 90-degree angle with the bash bar, there was no need for multi-angle notches which would have been a nightmare. I think Nick may have, rightfully so, had a panic attack if we had had to put multiple notches in this section of metal. The tool is scary enough in itself - a fixed apparatus with an attached drill spinning with enough RPM's to deem your wrist useless for the remainder of the project. Luckily, we took things nice and slow, and the notches proved flawless.
The notched tubes fit incredibly well! We quickly went back to the workbench to prepare the opposite side, and then agreed to shave a small amount of excess length off the back of each support as to pull the main bar just a smidge closer to the front end.
Every step along the way of this fabrication project was not just a crucial exercise of attention to thought, but also an essential instrument for the composition of an abundance of incredible video clips. We purposely devoted just as much time and thought to the actual action of the next step in the process as we did for setting up the stage for the perfect shots. It's almost as if we each knew our role, our responsibility, our place, our job - working simultaneously to achieve two great products out of one. While Nick lined up the bent metal tube into his chop-saw, I got myself into uncomfortable proximity of the loud machine that was shooting sparks in multiple directions. The above video-still was grabbed from the opening shot of the completed fabrication video, and proves that every odd angle that I forced myself into over the weekend was well worth it.
The time came to pull out the welder and start making real moves on this project. I took my time pulling the Z out of the shop and reversing it back into the garage. With the front of the car now pointed towards the door, we allowed ourselves much more room to work within range of the air tank and outlets. We used the jack stands to fix our bar into a position that made us content, gently slid the support tubes into place between the bar and mounting plates, and then clamped everything together. As we stepped back to take a look, the final product became more than just a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Nick threw on the ground cable, and we started planning out our next shot for the video.
This magical display of tack sparks is yet just another video-still from the final output. Each time the welding helmet got flipped down, I made sure to pay close attention only to my camera display. It wasn't long after that, smile after smile would expand across my face.
All tacked-up, we hesitantly removed the jack stands. To our satisfaction, the bar held strongly on its own will and we were even able to apply comfortable amounts of pressure to test. Needless to say, the excitement in the atmosphere was high.
There she is. With the tube all mocked-up and assigned to its final resting position, it was now time to fuse the metal into one solitary unit.
Watching Nick work the TIG, and just the sensory aspect of welding in general is so nuts. There's this sound of crackling, metal-popping madness - the sight of iris-burning glows, greater than the power of the sun - there's even a smell that infiltrates your nasal cavities in a breeze of metallic breath. I myself have not attempted my hand at welding but after watching friends and seeing the output of their work, it's totally something I'd love to take a stab at one day.
The Earnest Co. Tungsten gloves that Nick uses for fabrication are not just incredibly superior, but impressively comfortable too. I used them several times throughout the duration of our project, and kind of didn't want to take 'em off.
I also forgot to mention that the very first night when I returned, Nick welcomed me with a gift that was handed to me in a nice Nismo box. Sufficiently confused at first, I proceeded to open the box expecting to find some rare Nismo accessory for my Z or something? I slid out the bubble wrap packaging, and found an object far better than I could have ever imagined. A custom CNC-cut copy of the Bushido logo was revealed. Nick took incredible amounts of time and patience to import my Bushido logo into his software, and form it to a workable design that would allow the plasma table to cut it. I had no words when I realized what I was given, but this is absolutely one of the coolest tokens of friendship I could have ever asked for.
After, it was time to take the bar back to the chop saw for a final adjustment. We measured out the ends of the bar, and added a nice 'slash cut' which took the bar to another total level of aesthetics in one simple action. At this point we could both tell that we were closing-in on the end, however it was evident we were losing some steam. Around this point, which was probably about 4:45AM, we called it a successful day and packed-up for the
night morning. To get us through the final leg of the project, we would call in reinforcements from our fellow Wolf, Juan, who joined us to vibe in the shop and provide us with some positivity to keep us rollin.
The next day came around, and Nick was dead-set on proving that we could easily add a charming visible feature to the main bar. Fueled on Mickey D's, herbaceous flavored IPA's and grooving to the tunes that formulate our Wolfpack playlist on Spotify, we forged through the final day of work. Above, you'll see that added little charm that I mentioned in its rawest form. The CNC Plasma table is a machine that will blow your mind, and the only thing more fun than listening to the daft noises that the components produce, is watching the torch descend upon the raw metal and perform its automated ballet across the surface. We chose to use a relief cut template of the Wolfpack logo and with the help of some persistent heat, we slowly coerced the logo to take form to the curvature of the main tube. A simple tack weld in all 4 corners of the plate ensures this badge is there for the long haul.
The final product.
Dimple-died gusset plates in place. Wolfpack badge dead center. Reinforced tow strap mounting tab. And of course the touch of white paint that each car in this garage gets at some point during its life. This work of art had us staring at the front of the Z for hours, and it was almost a shame to have to put the front bumper back on over it.
Back to that tow strap tab - One of my personal prerequisites to the creation of this bash bar was adding a mounting location for a tow strap. I've had this one for years that I wanted to mount, but was never comfortable with finding a location that would support not only its use, but was designed to look as well as it worked. Many ideas were tumbled around when it came to developing the mounting tab that the tow strap would bolt to, but we eventually decided on what we both think is a great design. We took two small tabs of steel and welded them into a triangular shape; the tab on the back side of the mount which faces almost directly perpendicular downward towards the ground has a hole drilled through it, which allowed us to slip the mounting bolt through. The bolt was then tacked in multiple places to the tab, so it was permanently secure. This makes adding and removal of the tow strap a breeze with a simple 14mm ratcheting wrench, as there's no need to hold the head of the bolt with another wrench. The metal base of the tow strap itself provides additional support against the tab when the strap is pulled away from the bar and furthermore, the forward facing tab on the mount contributes to increased forward-motion support if welds on the rear tab were to ever weaken at all. Without a doubt, I was extremely satisfied with how this aspect of the bar came out.
This was absolutely one of the most exciting projects that I've ever been a part of. Not even just within my realm of working on cars, but in general. To watch raw materials go from one form and develop into a useful final product is an extremely psychedelic experience. I'm grateful and happy to put something on my own car that was made by hand with the skill and craft of someone I call a great friend. Really hope you enjoyed this read as much as we enjoyed the entirety of this project - Enjoy the video below!
武士道 - B U S H I D O!