Cars

Aoshima Nissan Leopard Ultima (Infiniti M30)

 

Confession: as someone who very much adores underrated cars and makes a point to own them for the sake of being different, I’ve never heard of this car before, and even after building it, it doesn’t seem like the kind of car I’d normally be interested in. Just let me drown in my mainstream hotboi GT-Rs and WRXs. So, it’s a commission build – for a University buddy who has a passion for obscure Infinitis.

The 1:1 scale that I’ll be modeling after. Bone stock, immaculately preserved with low miles, apparently. I’ve haven’t done a dark Burgundy body color yet, so this one will be a nice change of pace.

I was kind of surprised that a kit existed for this car – just goes to show how much I know about what’s popular in Japan. There are apparently several variations of the Leopard, with the one my client owns being this exact model (except LHD, and an Infiniti instead of a Nissan). This version seemed to be rare too, since we only found a single listing for it on eBay (from an Aussie seller!) while there were tons of the other (kouki?) versions.

Something I found really weird was the “NEW TREND HG” branding on the box. HG?! As in HIGH GRADE? As in Bandai High Grade Gunpla? I didn’t know Bandai went into car models too (they didn’t, this is an Aoshima model – but maybe HG was a universal model skill level tier? I always figured Bandai owned the trademark to stuff like that).

Jesus Christ, NINE HUNDO YEN?! That’s like eight bucks and change in today’s USD. We paid $30 for this thing on auction and another $20 on top to ship it from Australia. Obviously I didn’t fork this money out, the client paid for the kit, but still – knowing how little it was originally worth still hurts. Almost wish the seller had ripped the original price tag off so I could live in my ignorance.

Not a lot of parts to this one. I see why it was worth ¥900. I was almost hoping it would come with a motor since the box has V30 TWIN CAM TURBO front and center, but alas – it looks like we’re lucky to get turning front wheels.

Live rear axle in the form of a bronze bar. The two little metal pins look like they’ll be used to peg the front wheels on.

I don’t actually know when this kit was released, but I’m willing to bet it was over a decade ago. The whole box has probably been rotting in storage since then. The decal sheet is hilariously yellowed, but it’s really neat that a giant TRUST logo was included anyway. I associate that banner so much with GReddy racecars that I feel like it would be entirely out of place on a car like the Leopard.

Oh, the charm of shoebox cars.

I’m actually really surprised Aoshima went out of their way to include photo-etched badges. This is a treat even for modern kits, since you normally have to buy PE detail sets separately. It’s a shame then, that we won’t be using any of them since the client car I’m building is neither a Nissan nor a Leopard.

I’m going to make this kit as USDM as possible, but even my powers have limits. Obviously only a RHD dash is included, and after reviewing the interior photos of my client’s car, it looks like the dashboards and shifter assembly are completely different in design and layout.

One of the rare times I’m actually going to use the stock wheels.

I’m glad the factory wheel design is the same between the USDM and JDM versions, but unfortunately Aoshima just had to go the extra mile and mold the Leopard symbol (I think that’s what the shield-looking badge is?) into the center caps. Obviously it would be optimal not to have that badge anywhere on a USDM car, so they’re filled in with some light putty and sanded smooth.

A lot of modern kits today from Aoshima and Tamiya come with snippets of English in their instruction manuals, and in some cases the entire manual has English subtext for a nice consideration of us Western builders. This kit however, predates that trend and might as well be binary code to a Gaijin like me.

Normally I would be able to make inferences based on the diagrams for assembly and don’t really need a translation, but this kit was particularly cryptic since they decide to tell you parts colors with Japanese instead of easily-understandable or universal color codes. I ended up Google translating nearly the entire manual and writing in my own subtext to keep track of what I was doing. Stuff like the suspension having adjust-ability via spacers for the “Tuning” or “Shakotan” look would’ve totally been lost on me had I not been able to read the words. Translation: you can build it with a slightly lowered ride height if you so desire.

I think this is the first time I’ve seen that they don’t even give you the color names in English next to the color code chart on the manual cover.

Begone with those lame JDM side markers!

The original grille had a little raised triangle up front because this car is a closet rotary for the JDM Leopard badge, which obviously wouldn’t fit an oval Infiniti badge later, so the triangle was shaved down and a ‘lil oval cut out of pla plate was glued in its place.

If I recall correctly, the trunk lid also had a raised triangle which was shaved. The USDM M30’s Infiniti badge back here was on a raised oval, so that was carved out of a thicker plate of plastic.

I’m actually moderately surprised at the molding detail for the interior. Aoshima did good with the texture on the seats meant to represent the leather of the actual car. Too bad this only goes halfway, as the back of the front seats are hollow.

Interior seats and tub painted beige, with the dash done gray.

Bought some light gray/beige flocking just for this interior since the windows will be completely clear and everything inside on full display, so I can’t hide behind my usual excuse of dark window tints to not flock the carpets.

Filling in the dash details with black. I was surprised Aoshima only included a main gauge cluster decal and no screen decal for what looks to be a mini-screen in the center stack. Normally they’ll include some sort of decal display, but no such luck this time.

Door cards being masked based on what few angles I had available of what they looked like on the real thing.

Flocked the bottom section of the doors just to be safe. You’ll actually probably never be able to see this bit of detail once everything is assembled, but dammit I’ll know!

Aoshima gave you a choice between two shifters, but neither of them actually looked particularly close to the shaft in my client car, so I just chose one arbitrarily. The shifter console doesn’t match the real car’s shape and design anyway.

We get a choice between two different steering wheels too, but once again neither of them are really a match for the real thing. I initially thought the one on the left would be a closer representation, but then after looking at it again I went back and painted the right one instead.

Tub done.

The original muffler came with twin exhaust tips. My client’s car is a single tip (whether that’s a JDM vs. UDSM thing or maybe a trim level/model year thing is unknown to me) so I went ahead and lopped the original tips off, performed conjoined twin separation surgery, and re-glued the lucky one back on the muffler.

Chassis painted black and the exhaust/transmission brought out with some silver hand paint.

Adding the miscellaneous suspension/subframe parts.

It was surprisingly difficult just to get the etched Leopard symbols on the wheel caps filled and shaved, since I was trying very hard to preserve the panel line that was supposed to represent the center lug cap. In the end I was mostly able to save them, but they’re now very shallow and barely visible. I tried re-scribing them for deepness, but I found out very quickly that scribing even circles is a lot harder than it looks.

The rear suspension is a simple bronze axle that both rear wheels plug into. The front wheels peg into their struts via metal pins.

I found it interesting that Aoshima actually went out of their way to include little plastic cylinders you could slide onto the bronze axle between the inner wheel hubs and the axles, effectively making “spacers,” allowing you to change the wheel offsets pretty much as much as you’d like.

At first when I assembled the suspension I naturally geared towards the “Shakotan” option that Aoshima included for the kit, since I just have a natural propensity for lower cars.

After test fitting the chassis with the body to check the actual ride height though, it turns out the Shakotan configuration would’ve been too low compared to my client car’s actual ride height. In the name of accuracy, it had to be raised.

The plastic in this kit is probably very old and tired at this point, so it’s not too surprising that a lot of parts are delicate and brittle. The front wheel struts originally had thin little pegs molded onto them that were meant to connect the wheel assemblies to the steering rack, which would slide back and forth to allow the front wheels to turn. The rack itself was very stiff upon first insertion though, and didn’t like to slide, meaning the resistance broke the poor pegs on the struts.

Normally if this were a kit I were building for myself I probably would’ve just gotten lazy and said screw it, the wheels can still turn, they just won’t turn together and that’s hardly a deal breaker for a static model. On the off chance my customer would try turning the front wheels though, I didn’t want him to think me cheap for not fixing the rack. So, I just drilled the original peg out from the strut assembly and inserted a plastic pin I carved out of plastic rods.

Finally getting to the body itself. Primed first to check for mold lines and imperfections, especially on the front fenders where I filled and shaved the JDM turn indicators.

I was really nervous about the body color. I wanted to see my client’s car in person before I started painting, but never got the chance – I was afraid the photo colors would be unreliable if they were edited or touched up. In the end, I didn’t have much of a choice – the only spray color that was even remotely close to what looked like burgundy was Tamiya’s TS-11 Maroon.

Oof that orange peel.

Slowly killing it with polish. I think eventually I got fed up with the polish working so slowly on such a heavily peeled surface that I just went in with 3000 grit dry and polished up from that.

This was by far the hardest and most annoying part to get right. I think this is only the second kit I’ve ever built that has required chrome window trim instead of just straight black. It’s a characteristic of older cars, I guess – the other one I’ve done was the Jada Datsun 510, but that one was worlds easier because the window frame lines were super raised and distinct, on account of them being made of metal for a diecast.

No such luxury here. The lines on the body aren’t as raised and sharp as I’d like, making clean chrome edges with the Molotow Liquid Chrome extremely difficult. It was a never-ending battle of brushing the chrome on, finding that the edges were wavy (because I was doing this by hand), and attempting to cover up with more body color.

The sensible man would’ve just masked for crisp edges, but the Liquid Chrome has to go on thick in order to get a solid chrome look, and piling it on over the masking tape like that caused it to bleed through the tape. I hear even airbrushes have a hard time getting solid results spraying this stuff.

I’m very sad I didn’t notice this until it was actually time to build the windows. I wasn’t sure if it came cracked or I had somehow mishandled it to cause this, but after going back and checking my initial out-of-box photos, it seems it was indeed broken from the very beginning. Normally this is game over – I’ve never repaired vital clear parts like this before because I’m pretty sure it’s impossible.

One clean break. If I had caught it earlier I might’ve been able to demand a refund or exchange with the eBay seller or look for another one, but that’s also a doubtful possibility considering how rare and out-of-print this kit is.

So, I’m stuck with this and required to make something of it. My customer isn’t getting a car without a rear windshield. Like men of true desperation, I bargained and attempted to cement the crack together and sand it away until I could polish it back up to clear. I had to concede that no matter what I did, there was no way to save the defroster lines that were molded into the bottom of the windshield.

Is anybody surprised this method wasn’t working? The crack isn’t just going to disappear with some sanding and polishing, even if the surface will be smooth. It’s not exactly an inconspicuous defect either – that sucker is (rear?) and center, and it’ll definitely be a massive eyesore on the finished model. I briefly considered attempting to tint it in order to hide the crack, even though my client’s rear window isn’t tinted. This still wouldn’t have worked though, since the tint spray would be going on the inside and the crack would still be visible from the exterior.

Hello madness, my old friend. I’ve tried building windows and windshields from scratch before. It didn’t work. It was terrible. But back then I also only attempted it using clear plastic cut from big blister packaging. This time I figured I’d have a shot with some 1mm clear plastic, ordered off Amazon in a hurry.

So…apparently this stuff is for thermo/vaccum forming?! I deliberately got the soft stuff since I thought it would allow the window to curve a little bit once it was put in, recreating the natural bulge of the rear window.

The original rear window was cut out and removed with a heat knife. Its shape was traced onto one of the vaccuform sheets.

The biggest challenge with the new scratch-built rear window is probably going to be painting in the frit (the black frame) by hand. No masking stickers are included of course, not with a kit this old. The windshield and rear quarter frits were painted in by hand too, but those at least had the classic frosted plastic guiders – I’d be freehanding and eyeballing the one for the rear windshield.

It took me multiple attempts with at least three windows before I finally got clean and even lines. The rounded edges of the frits make this a difficult section to just mask and paint, and I had to pretty much entirely guess on how thick they were supposed to be. In the end I think I made the top a bit too thick, but I think it’s kind of necessary given there are no defroster lines on this one, so the thicker upper frit breaks up the otherwise entirely plain glass a bit.

Glued in mostly at the top.

Still struggling with the window trims before the actual windows finally go in. It’s not just chrome – the outer trim lines are chrome, but upon closer inspection it looks like the Leopard had the traditional black weather stripping around the inside edges, meaning I had to hand-paint two crisp edges, one on top of the other, to get the proper look. This took way longer than it should have.

The tiny minuscule chrome details all over this car are back-breaking. The front grille technically has a chrome bezel, but the kit didn’t give you any raised edges to represent that detail, so I just free-handed the inside edges chrome and hoped it wouldn’t look too thick or out of place.

Headlight and taillight covers are all given in plain clear plastic, so they had to be painted clear orange and red.

The bottom edges of the headlight lenses also needed a thin strip of chrome, which matches up with the thin chrome strip at the bottom of the front grille.

I’ve decided to start offering the dedicated display cases for commissioned cars now at the cost of materials, just as I had built for the last commission GT-R.

Same exact process as with the GT-R. The reflective mirror plate is trimmed and placed beneath the clear floor of the case (it’s normally meant to go on top).

Case masked and bottom bezel painted black to hide the glue marks from the mirror bottom.

And of course, the car’s not going in without magnets to keep it in place. Unlike last time, when I bought the cheapest neo earth magnets I could find off some Chinese seller on eBay (they were still weirdly expensive), I opted to save time and get the name brand stuff from my local hobby shop. I find it hilariously great that they have to be packaged with a cylinder spacer, but I guess this does allow them to be hung on standard store pegs without forcing you to potentially smash your hands together getting a magnets off the shelves.

The nice thing about not having a motor in this kit is being able to place the giant magnet where ever it fits up front. The corner is chipped because these things really are that strong – I accidentally let two of them slip together and they smashed with enough force to break themselves.

Corresponding magnets placed in the bottom of the case. The distance between the case and the car once it’s sitting on wheels will be enough for this to be a gentle but firm pull – the magnets should never be close enough to snap the car suddenly and smash it against the case.

And just like last time, I’m using a piece of cosplay foam to cover up the ugly bottom of the case and make sure the magnets have some padding against them and the ground or whatever they may snap to.

The final step – decals. With this being a JDM kit but me building the USDM car, of course I won’t be able to use any of the badges or decals included in the model. This means I’m left to make my own, since the only other way to get Infiniti badge decals is to buy another actual Infiniti model kit from Fujimi and cannibalize its decal sheet.

I haven’t done custom water slide decals in a long, long time. I’ve used them before, but not to great success – these self-print water slides are highly limited if you want a clear backing. Generally they only work if you want a dark decal against a light surface (say, black or dark blue ink against a white body car). The only self-print way around this is to get the white-backing decal sheets, which kind of defeats the purpose of these decals since I’d want them with transparent backing as is the point of badges.

Despite my reservations about this working, I decided to print a mini-sheet and try it out. I needed the front and rear Infiniti badges, the M30 badge that goes on the right side of the trunk, and the INFINITI lettered badge that goes on the left side.

After the decals are printed on the decal paper with your inkjet printer (laser printers won’t work, for obvious reasons), they need to be sprayed with decal bonder spray before you can soak them in water and get your decals on your models. I’m using Testors’ dedicated system for all this stuff, including their paper and spray, but there are a number of different brands for the paper available, and I’m pretty sure any acrylic-based clear spray will seal them just the same.

Can’t say I’m surprised, but still disappointed. Can you even see the vague “M30” lettering there? Obviously you can’t print white on these decal sheets (most inkjet printers can’t print white), so I went with a medium gray to represent the silver that the badges are supposed to be. But they simply won’t show up against such a dark body color like the maroon, so getting the model badges are probably going to be a bust.

But I at least need to get the Infiniti badges done. In my desperation this is what I turned to – actually trying to draw it by hand with the Molotow Chrome. Desperate times lead to madness.

Okay, this is still madness, but at least when it’s done “properly,” it can look passable. I ended up just printing the badges (and license plates while I was at it) on plain cardstock paper, cut them out carefully, and glued them to the model. Ghetto? Oh yeah. Better than trying to draw them in with liquid chrome? Very.

This brings me great shame, to have to resort to literally printing graphics out on printer paper, but I suppose needs must.

And finally, how it’s going to look going to its new home with the real car’s owner. Kind of nice that this is finally a car I’ve built at stock height, meaning it’s far enough off the ground that the mirror base actually lets you see most of the underbelly details like the exhaust.

So, did we get even remotely close?

The lack of the M30 badge on the trunk kills me, but at least the water slides actually ended up working moderately well for the wheel covers.

The color on the real car seems to take on hints of purpleish maroon in certain lights, which thankfully the model also replicates in real life. It’s hard to capture that on photo though, especially given these were taken during a very yellow sunset.

For all my preening about getting the little details as right as I could for this car, I was actually an idiot and totally didn’t realize that the current California license plates used to be in block lettering before the state name was changed to its current cursive iteration. The real car has the pre-cursive plates, but I had overlooked this bit and printed the model plates with the modern lettering. Feels like a really dumb mistake when all I had to do was pay more attention and print the plates with a different digital template.

From a little ways off the window trim doesn’t look that bad – it mostly looks straight and clean! But get up close and it’s not quite so pretty. I went back and forth covering up black with chrome and chrome with maroon, but a brush in my hands will never be as straight and true as the edge of some masking tape.

Something else that really bugged me was the surprisingly poor fit of the amber sections of the headlights, which came as separate pieces to the main housing lenses. The actual clear plastic was way too big for the openings that they were supposed to slot into, causing me to trim them slightly and eventually bend them with a heat gun in order to conform properly around the edges of the headlight assemblies. This kind of worked, but it never really sat entirely flush and there’s a little dimple on the bottom of the driver side amber lens now because of the heat.

A pleasant surprise though – the rear window didn’t end up looking too out of place. Under the right incandescent light you can tell it’s made of a different material than the rest of the plastic windows – it has a blue hue to it at times. But when viewed normally I think it passes for the original window, even without defroster lines.

Something funny I noticed about this kit when I was first going over its main body – the mud guards behind the wheels are molded into the body, but only half of them are there. The inside halves are just cut off, for the sake of creating room to fit the chassis in.

Interior very easily visible – including my flocked carpets for once! Downside is the hollow back seats are also very much on display.

Undercarriage is a little underwhelming thanks to most of the detail being molded into the chassis plate.

Thankfully it looks like the customer was happy with the final product. I feel kind of bad since this definitely isn’t my best work due to all the little areas I messed up on and things I simply wasn’t able to accomplish. Ironically, matching a stock build to a real-world car ended up being harder than the usual aftermarket-heavy custom builds that have become my bread and butter.

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