Another Day At The Museum Part 1: The Nissan Guest Hall and Engine Museum

Happy New Year everyone! Can you believe it's already the second decade of the 21st Century? It seems like it was just yesterday that we were all greeting the year 2000 with boundless fear that a bunch of ones and zeros would send us all back to the stone age and we'd be reduced to bartering Twinkies for gasoline and using pigeons once again for our urgent communication needs. Amazingly, we're all still here and I finally got around to finishing the next part of my Japan travelogue!

Day 4 of my June trip to Japan was the final one before I headed off to visit my family back in the Philippines. When I'd been making plans before leaving the States I had two main goals for this trip: 1) spend an entire day exploring the geek mecca of Akihabara - which I'd accomplished the day before, and 2) return to Yokohama to revisit Nismo Omori Factory.

The second goal is the reason my trip got extended to four days instead of the three I'd originally meant to have. Japan was supposed to just be a long layover on the way to visiting my family in the Philippines and a long vacation there. I found out however that Omori Factory was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so since I was arriving late Sunday afternoon I wouldn't be able to go there if I left after just a couple of days. Well, I could still have gone and looked pathetic in front of the closed gate I guess, but then I'd probably get hauled away by the Japanese popo for loitering and just generally looking too foreign.

After a late night enjoying the sweet comforts of the Thermae-Yu hot spring spa in Shinjuku I planned on waking up late and taking my time to get my bags all packed in preparation for my flight out that wasn't until past midnight. I was also planning on an unrushed voyage to Yokohama but since I had the whole day to wander about, Omori Factory alone wasn't going to be enough to keep me occupied the whole time (even a Nissan nerd like me would eventually get bored looking at the same display for several hours). That's when I started looking for other stuff to do in Yokohama and remembered the Nissan Engine Museum.

I'll admit, I wasn't all that excited to go there. I love cars but I'm not the type of gearhead who gets too excited about an engine alone without the rest of the car that goes with it. Since I thought the Engine Museum would be just like it says on the tin and was simply a collection of Nissan engines (albeit historic ones) I figured it'd just be a quick stop before heading to my real goal at Nismo.

Boy, was I wrong and did I ever regret not budgeting more time for that first stop!

To get a quick idea of what I saw there please check out the video below. After my first attempt to do one for the Prince and Skyline Museum I decided to try a different tack for this video and use captions instead of voiceover. Trying to do narration was just too time-consuming and besides, I think my voice is best suited to silent movies lol. 

The Engine Museum is co-located with the Nissan Guest Hall, which I understood had some displays on Nissan's history. Getting there couldn't have been easier from my hotel in Shinagawa. Yokohama is west of Tokyo and Shinagawa is in the southwest of the megalopolis so it's easy to just grab a train. Taking either the Keihin-Tohoku Line or the Keikyu EX Line you can arrive at Shinkoyasu Station in only about 25 minutes from Shinagawa. As you can see in the pic above that I took on the train the weather was gorgeous that day that I went, with puffy clouds in the sky straight out of a Bob Ross painting.

Once at Shinkoyasu Station then you can go to the bus stop where you can take a 5 minute bus ride, or you can walk the one mile to the museum. When I arrived the bus wasn't scheduled to arrive for almost half an hour according to Google Maps so I decided to hoof it, 'cause sitting still is not how I roll, baby.

The Kanagawa ward of Yokohama is Nissan's birthplace and it's hard to miss the company's presence as you walk to the Engine Museum. After walking south on a major thoroughfare for about three quarters of a mile you hit this intersection...

...where you turn left...

...and find one building after another with the familiar Nissan logo out in front. This one houses sports and recreational facilities for employees apparently.

Farther off you'll see a larger building across the street but the Engine Museum is across from that.

You can't miss the big sign that says "Yokohama Plant Area #1" and "Guest Hall" at the large entry gate. This location is actually where Nissan has had it's original plant since 1934 so there's a lot of historical significance for the company here.

The Guest Hall is just past the entrance gate and to the right. Unlike an American factory where security will ask for ID, background check, retinal scan, two semen samples, and a colonoscopy before they even consider letting a filthy outsider inside, the friendly Japanese guard at this gate just waved me on through with a smile once I asked about the Engine Museum.

Admission to the Guest Hall costs the princely sum of nada by the way so it's a great place to go if you've got the profligate spending habits of Ebenezer Scrooge himself.

I'd find out once I entered that the building housing the Guest Hall has particular historical significance because it used to be the original main office for Nissan when the company was first founded in the 1930s. It served that function until 1968 when Nissan HQ moved to Ginza in Tokyo (although it would later move back to Yokohama with the current purpose-built skyscraper opened in 2009). The Guest Hall was renovated in 2002 and designated a heritage building by Yokohama City. 

Oh yeah, it was nice to know it was also a designated Tsunami Escape Building - just in case a random tidal wave decided to ruin everyone's day while I was in the area.

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Pictures I'd seen online of the Engine Museum like the one above had shown a very plain looking hall with some motors on stands. Not very exciting at all, which is why I'd said earlier I wasn't that psyched about going and thought it was just a quick thing to kill time.

After actually getting inside though I was pleasantly surprised to see that the pictures I'd seen were outdated and the Guest Hall was very different from what I'd been expecting!

The first section had a brand new R35 and Leaf on display plus numerous other exhibits without any engines at first glance. One was lurking in the corner but the rest I'd find later on.

The R35 and Leaf are flag bearers of the present day Nissan but right at the entrance to the hall was the very beginning of Nissan - a cute little Datsun 14 Roadster and the Type 7 motor that powered it. The Datsun 14 was the very first model to come off the Yokohama production line in 1935.

Both the Roadster and the Type 7 motor are tiny little things. At 2800 mm in total length the car is only about as long as the wheelbase on an R35, and it seats just two, in pretty intimate conditions I'd wager. Those two lucky occupants would then be treated to a full 15 horsepower of unbridled fury from the 722 cc motor. Zero to sixty times were no doubt measured using a sundial but if you were the driver back then you probably didn't care because you were a car-driving baller while the unwashed masses were left to pootle around on their velocipedes.

Off to the side was this display of components from an even more diminutive early motor. This one was made by Dat Motor Company before it became Nissan and was just a tiny 495 cc in displacement. The pistons and oil pan looked adorably small compared to what a modern engine might have.

Adorable could also be used to describe the cute widdle doggies in this papercraft depiction of the Yokohama plant entrance gate. It was in a glass case next to the engine component display and a little plaque explained it had been made by a famous papercraft artist named Takashi Ohta.

The Datsun 14 represents the very beginning of Nissan but on the opposite side of the hall was a car that symbolizes the company's future - the 2019 Nissan Leaf. I love the noise and fury and excitement of a good old internal combustion engine but I'm not against electric cars either. For the sake of our poor molested planet we'll have to adopt greener tech at some point so I was very curious about the Leaf since I'd never been in the second generation model before. 

I definitely like the new model over the awkward looking original Leaf and would consider getting one as a daily driver just to go back and forth to work especially since I had the chance to drive a first-gen Leaf recently and actually enjoyed using it for scooting around town.

There were plenty of Leafs enjoying everyday use in these dioramas nearby. One of them is apparently being driven by an American since he's going the wrong way while exiting that parking lot in the last pic. Psst, you're in Japan buddy! People drive on the other side of the road here!

In the corner was this other diorama that depicted the process of car production at Nissan from the design stage through assembly, painting, and then distribution.

I'm assuming the diorama starts with the design stage - for all I know this is supposed to show a bunch of really fancy carjackers who prefer to have formal conferences before making their next score.

I thought the little squad of industrial robots was amusing. They'd be even better if they moved - preferably in time to some EDM. I'm sure that would have amused me to no end.

If you wanted to delve more into Nissan's manufacturing process most of the back wall was occupied by this display.

To show off the products of the company's metal stamping and frame assembly they had this side section of what I believe is a Nissan X-trail on display. 

And they even kindly wrapped the metal edges in plastic so that idle hands don't have fingers sliced off and making a mess of the shiny floors!

Speaking of idle hands, if you brought little kids along Nissan came up with some stuff to keep them occupied as well - this display lets them tighten up some bolts with functional but Playskool-style electric wrenches. Of course, I had to have a go because I have the mental age of a 9-year old.

Beside the frame section was this door panel to show you how Nissan paints your car in that delightful orange you love - or the plainer silver you end up with to help with resale value.

And if you've never taken apart a dashboard to see how much of a nightmare they are to put together you can check out this display, also from an X-trail I believe. 

The most eye-catching thing on the far side of the hall wasn't the manufacturing process exhibit though, it was this brand-new R35 looking resplendent in the slick new Wangan Blue color they just introduced.

Whenever I get to sit in the latest R35 models I have to admit I get a little bit jealous of the posh cabin compared to my older CBA model - but then again I'm not jealous of the exorbitant price tag of the later cars.

I thought this was interesting and I assume it's a Japan-only option for when you need to pay the toll but can't be bothered to slow down from your triple-digit cruising speeds.

There was also this "Fishing for GT-Rs" button that my older R35 sadly lacks.

The touchscreen display nicely provided info on the various variants of R35 - if you could read Japanese - before crushing your soul by revealing the prices.

I didn't have the funds to pick up a newer R35 so I availed of something I could afford:

Nissan should make it a requirement for their dealerships to have these snazzy brand-specific vending machines. Just don't put it beside the regular vending machines or else you'll get somebody trying to eat the head off a Nissan branded teddy bear instead of a Snickers bar.

I had to get me some of that sweet sweet Nissan swag so I quickly nabbed one of the adorable bear mascots...err, I mean, I got me one of the MANLY Nissan-branded carabiners. I'm sure it'll come in handy next time I scale El Capitan or during my FIFTH ascent of K2. Yup, no silly bear mascots for this macho dude. Ahem.

The Guest Hall was pretty empty of other people when I first entered but soon after a large gaggle of Japanese seniors arrived. I found out later on that the plant hosts free factory tours but you have to reserve ahead of time and they're in Japanese so if you don't speak the language you either have to bring your own interpreter or check ahead of time if they can arrange one (or just pretend you know what the hell is going on and say "Sugoi!" every five minutes). I'll definitely have to look into doing a tour on a future trip.

Okay, so you're probably going all Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park and thinking "Now, eventually you might have ENGINES in your engine museum, right?" since so far I've only shown you the one little hamster wheel Type 7 near the entrance. Through a door beside the Nissan swag machine was the second part of the guest hall - and this part had engines aplenty.

Once again, when I first entered this hall it was pretty empty but I was soon joined by a different tour group. Judging from the Nissan uniforms these were probably new hires getting an orientation - or Nissan's attempt at forming the world's largest boy band.

This hall was devoted to currently available Nissan engines and with the company's large lineup of cars that's a fairly sizable selection. We'll start with these two - the MR16DDT and MR20DD. Why these two? Because the MR engines are the Yokohama plant's main output. As Nissan's latest four-banger design the MR is a bread and butter mainstay in the company's lineup but the Yokohama plant has another far more famous product that we'll get to in a bit.

Getting back to the MR it's an inline-four design co-developed with alliance partner Renault and is used in a wide variety of applications. Us Americans are most familiar with the MR16DDT that debuted in the Juke in 2010 and made 188 hp, then was pumped up to 215 hp for the Nismo Juke RS. The 188hp version is still on our shores as the engine for the Sentra SR and Nismo Sentra (why, oh why they didn't plop the 215hp version in the Nismo Sentra I will never know). 

In case you're not up on Nissan's alphabet soup for engine codes, the first two letters are the engine family e.g. RB, VR, VQ, etc. The numbers give the displacement in liters so an RB26 is 2.6 liters, a VR38 is 3.8 liters, while a Coke Mini is 0.22 liters of fizzy goodness. Then the letters after the displacement signify important engine features - DE means DOHC and port fuel injection, DD means DOHC and direct injection, TT means twin turbo, one T means single turbo, R means supercharged, X means dig here for pirate booty, etc. etc. If you want a more detailed explanation, head over to el Wiki.

In other parts of the world versions of the MR do yeoman's work powering everything from cute little Cubes to practical Grand Livina wagons to the ubiquitous X-trail and Qashqai crossovers.

The most exciting version of the MR was probably the 296 hp mill plunked in the Deltawing racer back when it was a Nissan-sponsored project.

For the denizens of Eagleland however the Nissan engine that's probably the most bread-and-butter model is this, the VQ V6. After all, in different shapes and forms it powers or has powered the Z, the Maxima, the Altima, the Pathfinder, the Quest, the Infiniti G series, the M series, the FX, the EX, and a PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE!!!!!

Ahem. Well, the VQ has the honor of being included on Ward's 10 Best List more times than any other engine so you can't really fault Nissan for putting it in everything including the kitchen sink, and the kitchen sink's brother.

Of more humble applications and power output is the HR12DDR, which as you can figure out if you were paying attention earlier is a tiny 1.2 liter direct injected but supercharged ball of energy. What's not obvious from the name is that for this engine four cylinders was considered a bit too vulgar so they settled for just three. You can probably guess this engine is meant for small cars where less is considered more so it uses its 98 hp to get Japanese-market Note hatchbacks from A to B in boring but gas-sipping fashion. 

There also are four-cylinder variations of the HR family but they're all basically just slightly more powerful than a wet fart so we won't delve much more deeply into them.

From the lowest output motor in the hall to the highest, we jump to the current ultimate powerplant in Nissan's arsenal - the R35 GT-R's VR38DETT. Although a lot of people complained about Nissan ditching the classic inline-six form factor of the RB26 and believed that the VR38 would never match the legendary capability of it's predecessor, the new motor has proven to be a more than worthy replacement.

Initially rated by Nissan at 485 hp from the factory when first released in 2008, highly modified versions are now putting out 3 THOUSAND horsepurs. While 1000 hp was considered the apex of RB26 tuning, that same level of power output is pretty basic stuff now in the R35 community. The RB was always going to be a hard act to follow but Nissan absolutely aced the task.

Having the motor on a display stand made it much easier to appreciate the cool details that help make the VR into the god-mode powerplant that it is - from the builder's plate that shows off its hand-made nature, to the twin turbos integrated into the exhaust manifolds for compactness, to the magnesium oil sump and integrated front differential at the very bottom. Too bad there wasn't a cutaway to show the plasma-coated cylinder bores that allow the aluminum block to sustain power outputs that shame its iron block forebears.

Behind the engine itself was a display on how it's made. Remember how I mentioned earlier that the Yokohama plant's main output was the MR engine but it had another far more famous product? You've probably guessed it, but the VR38DETT is handmade in a special clean room in the very same plant the Engine Museum is located in front of.

Only a select few skilled engine builders get to whack together a VR, a status reflected in their special label of "Takumi" . No relation to Fujiwara-san of Initial D fame, the word actually means "artisan" in Japanese. Ironically one of the Takumi is actually named "Takumi", as you can see from the builder's plate on the display motor.

In case you're curious, the R35 GT-R itself is built in Nissan's Tochigi plant north of Tokyo where they have a test track to perform the mandated first break-in period of every new specimen. The older GT-Rs were built in Nissan's Musashimurayama factory - that I mentioned in part 2 of my trip to the Prince and Skyline Museum - until it was closed down in 2001.

Adjoining the VR38DETT display were two more highly significant engines for Nissan's current lineup. First up was the KR20DDET, which may not be immediately familiar to enthusiasts since it debuted in a crossover but is still a landmark technical achievement. That's because the KR20 is the first ever practical mass-production variable compression ratio engine. 

Using a trick linkage, the KR20 can change the stroke of the piston so that the engine can switch between a high-compression mode that's more efficient at lower power output and a low-compression mode that works better when the turbo kicks in and more power is demanded. You basically end up with a "best-of-both-worlds" scenario in terms of combustion efficiency: NA-like high compression at lower outputs, and turbo-friendly low compression when demand is higher.

The guest hall tries to make sure you can understand how it all works by providing not just a motorized mock-up engine but also a large display that lets you toggle a switch between the modes. The KR is currently found in the Infiniti QX50 crossover and the Altima family sedan so it's not exactly in applications that would get the typical car enthusiast all hot and bothered. The amazing engineering feat it pioneers may find use in sportier Nissans of the future though so that they can rip out amazing performance numbers without ripping apart your wallet at the gas pump (as much).

Most pundits tend to agree though that electric cars are likely to be the future of personal transport so the Engine Museum would be incomplete if it didn't also showcase the beating heart of the Nissan Leaf (or spinning heart would probably be more correct since it doesn't have pistons or a combustion cycle, ah whatevs)  - the EM57 electric motor.

In pure electric form the EM57 acts as the traction motor for the Leaf and sends out 148 electrified ponies. Remember that little HR12 three-cylinder we talked about earlier though? In Japan, Nissan uses a non-supercharged HR12DE paired with the EM57 electric motor pack to power the Nissan Note e-Power.

The HR12/EM57 combo makes the e-Power a hybrid but the internal-combustion portion basically functions as a range extender since it provides electricity for the EM57 but can't directly supply power to the wheels. In effect this makes the Note e-Power more like a Chevy Volt than a Toyota Prius in how it works.

Of course, this probably all seems pretty boring if you're a GT-R enthusiast since the Leaf and e-Power are simple commuter cars that seem like the exact opposite of the beastly R35. However, as demonstrated by such amazing cars as the Ferrari SF90 Stradale and Mclaren P1, hybrid power and physics-defying speed can be very compatible so we shouldn't be surprised that if Nissan ever gets around to making an R36 it may owe some of its powertrain design to its humbler siblings.

The opposite wall of the hall was devoted to a display describing the manufacturing process of these engines. I won't spend much time on it because we've actually got an entire second floor left to cover! Upstairs were even more engines but also a section I didn't know would be there covering Nissan's history and extensive lineup of vehicles. That's going to take a while to go through so we'll take a break here but we'll cover the rest of the Nissan Guest Hall in part 2!


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