Scale Cars

Tamiya Nismo Skyline R34 GT-R Z-Tune

I didn’t plan on building another GT-R so soon – I wanted to wait a while to better my skills and really see the difference between a better built GT-R and the old R32 that was my first recent dabble into car kits and just enough of a failure to be considered a learning experience. I’ve been eyeing this kit up for a while at my local hobby shop for a while though and just couldn’t resist anymore when I recently really got the itch to build.

Boxart is a huge decider for me on these kits – especially for a car like the R34 that has so many variations and trim specs across all the different model companies. This comparison between Aoshima’s Subaru BRZ STi Concept model and Tamiya’s Sports Car Series BRZ illustrates the discrepancy pretty well – the exterior model proportions should be nearly identical, and I would normally like the STi Concept more but the Tamiya boxart just makes the car look so much better.

I also like how Tamiya shows the car in nearly all its profiles around the box – Aoshima usually just has a stylized boxart and not even a shot of the rear of what the car looks like around the packaging.

I know the R34 GT-R (who doesn’t?) but I hadn’t heard of this particular skew – the “Z-Tune” – before. Apparently it’s a very special edition built by Nissan’s motorsport division Nismo limited to only 20 examples worldwide. Ironically it was built off of used R34’s but this was in 2005 when the original car was long out of production. From the specs and parts sheet though, it’s no wonder it’s hailed as the ultimate factory-spec R34.

I love how Tamiya includes a little blurb about their cars in each kit – a good way to learn more about the vehicle I just purchased – and notice something special? It’s in English! (This is special since I’ve always been used to completely Japanese Gunpla manuals).

The main body and other panels come in a high-quality silver plastic – same stuff as the Aoshima S15 Silvia I built before. It has plenty of swirls but of course it’s meant to be painted so that’s not really an issue.

Surprisingly, it looks like a unique main body is included for this Z-Tune special skew, with the rear bumper molded on and the front Z-Tune bumper included as a separate piece. The original front and rear bumpers and side skirts are also included on the runners but aren’t used.

Interior tub and cabin build seems pretty straightforward just from looking at the runners. Race seats included of course.

Despite being a car in Tamiya’s “Sports Cars Series” (this usually translates to the kits being pretty detailed and faithfully reproduced to the original car, I think), this GT-R doesn’t actually come with a full engine model. Which I’m totally okay with. I hate building an elaborate engine just to have it hidden away forever underneath the bodywork once the model is done. This kit basically has the perfect amount – all the parts you build and paint are those that can somehow be visible after the car is complete – namely the suspension and exhaust components.

Two sets of wheels included, which is always nice so I can use the spares for another kit. The silver chrome ones I must assume were the GT-R’s stockies, while the black runner seems to be a Z-Tune exclusive with slightly larger wheels and rotors.

This clear runner is really interesting – taillights, headlights, and windows yeah yeah the usual stuff but for some reason a set of opaque under-panels are given, and the manual makes absolutely no mention of them. I assume they can be attached to the underside of the car (not sure why you’d want to) but the instructions didn’t make any mention of them so I suppose they’re just extra parts. But why opaque?

Small baggie of decals and miscellaneous sheets needed for the build. There’s mesh! And masking stickers for the windows (pretty exotic stuff to me).

The black Nismo calipers and rotors seemed unusually dinky for being upgraded Z-Tune brakes, but after comparing them to the original stock sets they are indeed larger – though barely. Too bad there’s no slotted or drilled detail on the rotors, but apparently that can be achieved via an aftermarket photo-etched set.

I like how the only apparent difference between the stock exhaust and the Nismo Z-Tune exhaust is the tip, going from some smaller dual tips to a larger coffee-can style that’s more aftermarket-esque.

The seats are nice, but surprising in that they didn’t have the harness holes stamped out. I would’ve expected this detail not to have been overlooked by Tamiya, but one way or another I decided to drill it out. It ended up being more difficult than I thought, and much messier than I would’ve liked. By no means clean, but good enough for me since I figure the rough edges wouldn’t be super noticeable within the cabin once everything came together.

While working on the cabin tub I noticed something weird – on the rear deck behind the passenger seats the manual called for these two little circular button-like pieces to be glued on next to the rear speakers. There were no peg holes and not even any specific markings in the plastic on where they should be placed; the only guide was the manual diagrams. A strange and negligible detail – if anyone knows what they’re supposed to be, do let me know.

I didn’t want to paint the body with the entire wing attached so I just glued the pedestals on for now, with the actual spoiler to be painted and assembled separately then glued on when everything’s done.

I saw a neat trick a while ago with someone getting a sick metallic finish out of their kit by “priming” with silver instead of the traditional flat gray. I assume this works best when you’re layering a thin bright color coat afterwards, and seeing as I wanted to go for a bright metallic blue I thought it’d be worth a shot to try this out.

Meanwhile the wheels required the least amount of work – they came in black plastic and I intended to keep them black, so a quick coat of metallic black paint and they were good to go.

The chassis and suspension components needed to be either silver or black – that keeps things easy for me, though usually I’ll spray some flat coat over the black instead of keeping it satin. To cut costs though (because paint is expensive and I’m poor) I decided that it wouldn’t impact the model much if I just kept the undercarriage satin black, even if some of the paint texture can be a little off sometimes (it’s cheap $3 Krylon spray cans). This makes it more realistic because car underbellies are never actually perfectly smooth and finished right?

The interior does actually matter though and will be flat-coated after some detail work by hand.

Another cost-cutting measure: I’m running out of masking tape and don’t want to buy more, but I have plenty of acrylic hand paint that I’m unlikely to run out of within the next several decades. As such the interior red trim was all filled in by hand with a brush, so it’s not the smoothest job but hopefully passable and not glaringly horrid once everything dries.

First coat of Mica Blue thrown on over the base silver coat. I love seeing the color coats go on – this is the most metallic-like effect I’ve ever achieved. Tamiya actually has a lot of metallic blues to choose from – Mica Blue, Metallic Blue, Peal Blue, Racing Blue, etc. Apparently Mica blue is lighter than Metallic Blue, less glittery than Pearl Blue, and more metallic than Racing Blue. Seemed like the right choice.

As good as these Tamiya lacquer sprays are though, it still can’t help orange peeling over large, flat surfaces. In the past I honestly wouldn’t even have noticed this sort of thing, but after perusing the online modeling community a bit it looks like the ideal lies in a super glossy, wet sheen that I can’t even achieve when I apply gloss floor finisher to my kits.

I’m trying to go in that direction though, and I found a few build threads on the web that mentioned Novus plastic polish as a good way to bring out some shine. This stuff was apparently meant for pinball machines but works on most manner of plastic, and comes fairly cheap if you buy it off Amazon or something.

It’s a polishing compound, so we go from course Novus #3 to #2 fine polish, and finally clean up and final wipe with #1. The above is the original paint; you can hear the fine graininess if you run your finger over it, indicating the relative roughness of the finish. I find it akin to hearing the paint on your real car if you run your hand over the body – you should ideally never hear your paint.

And here’s the other side that’s been polished. Novus includes some nice paper towels in their polish kit to use, but any rag or paper that doesn’t leave lint and dust all over will do. Apply a small amount of the stuff to your chosen rag or paper towel and work through the body the same way you detail a real car.

At first I didn’t notice an immediate difference – and was quite bummed out about it. But then I kept working the polish in and eventually I noticed the paint taking on a deeper, glossier shine that made the original just-painted finish look almost matte. It might be hard to pick out in photos, but the transformation is definitely there and most of all you can actively feel the difference if you run your finger over the polished paint – your finger should glide right over the surface with no fine resistance or noise whatsoever.

It’s a better shine than I’ve ever achieved before, but it still isn’t wet-glossy. As smooth and deep as the Novus made the paint, it still didn’t fix the fundamental orange-peeling texture. Thankfully it’s hidden a bit more because of the metallic flakes in this particular blue finish, but I’ll have to keep experimenting and trying out new compounds for the wet finish I’m looking for.

Each brake set was sprayed silver first and painted by hand with gunmetal and gloss red afterwards.

Getting ready to dig into the water slides. Not much with this kit – it’s supposed to be a relatively stock car after all, without any crazy race-markings and sponsor decals.

Interior pieces with their last finish applied and decals thrown on. I love the nismo on the intercooler that’ll eventually show through the front grille.

Rear suspension assembly finished and ready to be attached to the rest of the chassis.

Tub done. The red/black interior is apparently totally stock-accurate. According to the manual this is what the life-size car would actually look like. It’s a fair amount of red, but I think it’ll look good inside a blue body.

Chassis basically entirely finished; most of the silver was actually painted in by hand, not sprayed. It was just too much trouble trying to mask around the fine edges and twists of the undercarriage; figured it’d be easier getting in those crannies with a brush.

Of course, no actual engine is given (I’m very okay with this, saves me work and makes me cry less when everything is sealed and all the sweat you poured into the motor is never seen again) but the bottom of the block with the intake and exhaust manifolds (including what looks to be the turbo) are molded into the chassis and attach on the underside to the exhaust piping. Detail where it counts, not wasted.

The concept of masking stickers is still so cool to me. Only Tamiya does this as far as I know – Aoshima sure didn’t.

I’m so used to painting these window sections black by hand. All the stickers fit to a T, as expected.

Then it’s up to you to mask away the top and off to spraying it goes.

Turned out pretty clean, but for some inexplicable reason the rear window got this weird haze/fog that I couldn’t clean off even with paint thinner. I tried polish, compound, thinner, all to no avail. It was still mostly clear so I thought it couldn’t look that bad when everything was assembled, but when I placed it over the tub it was actually pretty conspicuous. I have no idea how this happened and even which side of the plastic it’s on, so I can’t even say if it was my blue masking tape or the Tamiya tape that caused it.

So of course the backup plan is to just tint the rear quarters and the rear windshield. This worked better on my last model. For some reason it was extremely difficult to get a smooth finish with the smoke paint – as you can see above it’s absolutely disgusting because the paint dried unevenly and was super runny.

Thankfully it only looks that bad when you hold it up to the light though – it’s nearly imperceptible over the tub (unless you shine a flashlight straight through the rear windshield) so I settled with it. This is probably my biggest screw-up with this model, ironic in that I got it right on my last kit.

Mirrors painted body-color with chrome inserts.

Taillights were clear plastic and the instructions called for them to be painted clear red and orange. Apparently the GT-R’s tails were different colors depending on region – the most common being clear red for the entire assembly, not red and orange.

A nice fine mesh sheet was included with the kit, meant for use with the front bumper. Thankfully the bumper has specific raised edges to apply glue and then adhere the mesh to; I appreciate the engineering to keep the process simple and clean.

Stock wing painted body color, with a little section behind the main portion that was supposed to be carbon fiber. Tamiya includes a water slide decal for this that wraps around the entire part.

As for the badges and fine markings, Tamiya includes a tiny metal decal transfer sheet (they’re basically traditional dry-transfer decals where you place it and rub it with the clear sheet over it, then remove the clear sheet) but I had bought a metal marking set specifically meant for R32-34 GT-R’s a while back. I’d like to say it came in handy, but I actually just noticed that it doesn’t have the clear wax sheet on top to make the decal transfer work, so that entire thing is basically null until I figure out a way to apply it properly without the transfer sheet.

Tamiya’s metal transfers include all-chrome GT-R badges for the front and rear, and separate water-slide red “R” letters that you apply over the metal-transfers to get the iconic red and silver GT-R badge.

All the leftover parts when everything’s said and done. I’m particularly glad I have those spare wheels – I actually really like the design and they’ll come in handy for future kits I’m sure. I have basically a whole R34 body kit now, in the form of front and rear bumpers and sideskirts.

Most of the paint used for this project – not all – there are a few random Tamiya brush paints not pictured like silver and clear red/orange, but this is most of it.

And done. I got through this kit very quickly, and rather enjoyed the build. These kits are getting more and more fun with each car – I hate to say it but Gunpla doesn’t quite have the same allure to me anymore.

I really like this blue. I originally only wanted Subarus in my collection to sport this color but the R34 just looks so damn good I couldn’t resist.

Of course, I gotta come clean – yes the R34 came from factory with this color as Bayside Blue, but I totally had Paul Walker’s blue R34 from the fourth Fast film in mind as my main inspiration when working on this thing.

I didn’t exactly strive for complete movie accuracy here though – Walker’s R34 had different wheels and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a Z-Tune, but it still played a part as the overall inspiration behind this kit.

I’m particularly proud of finally getting the headlights right on this car – I’ve always screwed up before when gluing the clear headlight housings on my kits because there’s just too little real estate to attach the pieces together, and more often than not the cement just gets messy and ends up ruining the clear piece.

Got past that this time with a little practiced precision – instead of applying the cement from the bottle straight onto the piece and risking a mess, I squeezed some cement onto a piece of paper and limited my application with a toothpick. Ended up working like a charm.

I’m actually only noticing now that the black trim around the side windows is a bit messy and could’ve been cleaner – I painted that stuff all by hand with a brush right before putting the windows in. Should’ve paid more attention to how it came out.

As stereotypical as black five-spoke wheels are on JDM cars, I still went with it because hey, it’s harder to get more JDM than an R34. In retrospect I think silver might’ve looked a bit better – the black spokes on the bright blue body are surprisingly muted.

It’s always so hard to capture the interiors on camera due to the clear plastic glare.

I like how the brushed red came out, though it’s too bad I ended up applying those subtle nismo decals on the seats after the matte coat – ended up with some silvering.

Because the underside of every car is always black and silver, right? I still don’t bother making the distinctions between “aluminum” and “steel” – it’s all the same to me.

Of course, I have to compare it to my first GT-R model – the Aoshima Veilside R32 I got at a warehouse closing in the scattered and crunched bargain bin.

Putting the R34 vs R32 debate itself aside in regards to the cars, I think it’s clear which kit ends up looking more show-worthy at the end of the day.

In fairness, I did give up on the R32 about a two thirds of the way into its build, and it did come with missing pieces. Stuff like the poorly fitting headlights and warped hood that wouldn’t even sit flat on the body gave me nightmares – thankfully the R34 had none of that.

It’s so clean compared to my previous Silvia. Ironically this is the only car I have so far that looks even remotely normal and street-worthy – no big wangs, graphics, and stickers all over.

I didn’t want to build an R34 so soon after I started working on model cars since it’s kind of an icon – incredibly famous and such a halo car for the GT-R nameplate. As such it would suck if I put together a crappy R34 with my limited skills before I had other cars to refine my learning. I’m glad to say that I don’t regret building it now though – of course nothing I build is ever perfect but I think it ended up being a very presentable car that’ll fit right into the still-budding import lineup.


  • Ronny

    What paint did you use for brush painting?
    I’m surprised brush painting the interior came out so smooth on your models

    • James Pierce

      Thanks! For the stuff like the seats it’s just regular ‘ol acrylic craft paint you can find at stores like Michaels and Joanne’s. The trick to getting a smooth finish with them is to thin the hecc out of them with water and apply 5-8 thin coats to build the color. This way the paint won’t clump or leave brush strokes from being too thick. Sealing it all with matte coat at the end also helps.

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