Blasts of the Past

1986 Nissan
Laurel Medalist
 Shinme (shin-may) (新芽)
(Sacred White Horse of the Emperor)

HC32 4-door hardtop
Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) Only
70K Original Miles
RD20E 2.0 Liter 6-cylinder
5-spd Automatic Overdrive Transmission
Power Steering/Brakes/Windows/Locks
Power Mirrors/Air Purifier
Air Conditioning/AM/FM Cassette Stereo

SOLD 03/25/2019

Nissan R31 Skyline Service Manual (4.4 MB .pdf) Nissan R32 Engine Manual
(23,3 MB .pdf)
Nissan R32 GTR Service Manual (23.4 MB .pdf)
  Nissan R33 Engine Manual
(4.4 MB .pdf)
1986 Nissan Laurel RB 20 Japanese Television Ad
(Video 36MB)
1986 Nissan Laurel Full-Line Japanese Sale Folder
(Video 4.5MB)
Parts Sources
FOLLOW-UP: July 12, 2019 - It seems the Nissan was not quite what the buyers wanted - I just discovered it for sale again on Marketplace.  They added some different wheels which look nice.  Always interesting to spot an old friend back on the market.
March 25, 2019 - Sayonara Shinme - Despite being unique and trouble-free, I decided to put the Nissan up for sale.  Too many vehicles, and the most saleable (of those I am willing to part with) was the Medalist.  Too many people did not read the ad and seemed to think it was a typical mid-80s American Nissan.  However, a family showed up tonight not only familiar with Japanese Domestic Market cars, but truly ready to buy.  We took a ride around and I tried to remember all of the little flaws, as well as locations of parts and literature.  Good thing, as they made an acceptable offer and had the cash in hand!  So Shinme has moved on.  I have mixed feelings - the car was my only antique automatic, and also the only one with A/C.  It was a great tour car and got excellent mileage.  Still, I prefer the simpler cars, and right now I just have too many.  (Hard to admit).  The question all my friends are asking now is - how long before I find something else?
October 19, 2018 - Small Version - If you have enough patience, anything you want can be found.  Case in point, a model of the Laurel!  As far as I can tell, this is the only model ever made of th E32, and it just happen to be the right body style (4-door hardtop) and color (white with gold bottom) as Shinme!  The model is of a car with the turbo V-6, but since the engine bay is not modeled and the only other difference in miniscule badging, I'm very pleased.  Yes, it was silly expensive for a plastic model, but it came all the way from Japan and is apparently very rare even over there!.
July 28, 2018 - Ups and Downs - About the only item not working on the Laurel was the power antenna.  I had tried a replacement, only to find that the issue was the switch - a complicated item that reverses polarity to the antenna motor.  An NOS switch in Germany was not only expensive, but had the 'down' button pointing up.  I decided to try some electrical contact cleaner, spraying around the buttons and working them in and out.  Sure enough, the antenna extended and retracted just like it is supposed to for the first time since I bought it! 
May 30, 2018 - Book Learning - One of the biggest issues with a car that was not sold in the US is getting the right information to fix it. Lucky for me, the Laurel was sold in the UK, and someone there put an English-language service manual on eBay.  It was quite reasonable, and in very good condition.  Most importantly, it is in a language I can read!  The laurel is running great - had it out many times the past few months with nary an issue.
February 18, 2018 - No Ups or Downs - About the only thing not working on the Laurel now is the power antenna.  I bought one off eBay all the way from Japan, and it fit perfect.  And was just as dead as the original.  I tested it with direct power to the contacts and got nothing.  Not sure what the company will want to do.  I would accept a partial refund (well, mostly refund) in order to have one I could take apart and try to fix.  Anyway, the car is back together and running great.  Took her for a long drive today.  Starts up perfect and runs smooth.

Follow-up: I discovered quite by accident that the antennae is wired with power reversed at the switch!  I cancelled the return as the antennae was fine, as was the original one on the car.  Something is up with the switch itself.

January 28, 2018 - Brake Lights! - The brake light problem was another simple fix, though it required contortions and some colorful language.  Turns out the brake switch was disconnected (red circle)!  Somehow, I have driven the car for 7 months with no brake lights!  Why was it disconnected?  Because the stop pad that was supposed to be on the brake pedal arm (green circle) was missing.  The brake lights would have stayed on all the time, which is why the switch was disconnected.  I removed the brake switch, tested it to make sure it was good, then installed a bolt in place of the missing plastic pad (purple circle).  Then I reinstalled and adjusted the brake light switch, locked it in place, and hooked up the connector.  Of course, this required me to lay upside and twisted in the driver's seat, working blind with a plastic duct blocking the back of the switch.  Like I said - colorful language.  Still, I am very happy to have the car ready to drive again with no-cost fixes for both issues!  It makes me feel less nervous about owning such a unique car.
January 27, 2018 - Temp Problem - As in 'temperature' as well as 'temporary.'  It seems that Nissan's starting issue was caused by a loose connection on the temperature sensor for the ECU (circled).  This is not to be confused with the temperature gauge sending unit, which is to the right. Best bud Chip was over today and we looked at the factory manual to try to find a cold start valve.  This is it.  It came undone easily, and the contacts looked good.  However, Chip was pushing it back in place and got a second click out of it which seated it fully.  Probably for the first time since it had the front of the engine taken apart to install the timing belt and water pump.  As soon as it seated, the idle dropped - due to the engine being warm.  It also has started every single time, including this evening after sitting for about 6 hours. So it seems the Nissan is all better.  Rather a simple fix!  I have not checked out the brake lights issue yet.
December 2, 2017 - Inside and Cranky - Selling the MGA finally made room for the Laurel in the main garage.  The car was not very grateful - it took quite a while to start, but finally fired up and ran well.  The fuel pump is putting out good flow - looks like the injector system is leaking down.  I plan to redo all of fuel injector hoses.  Also, the brake lights have quit working! 
November 19, 2017 - Pressure Problems - More hard starting and even refusing to start at all had me worried about the fuel pump, but someone suggested a trick to check for fuel pressure leakdown in the injection system.  You turn the ignition on and off a couple of    times before engaging the starter, and if the car starts up OK, the fuel injection system is leaking down.  I tried the trick and the car fired right up!  I plan to replace all of the injection hoses to see if that is the issue.  But I drove the car today and it ran smooth and strong.
October 15, 2017 - Fancier Wheels- The gold Stanza hubcaps did not really fit the Laurel's more dignified 'executive' image, but they did provide a cheap stopgap until I could finally find correct wheel covers.  Said covers arrived yesterday, and after some cleanup and a light color coat to refresh the silver, I put them on today.  These match illustration in the Japanese sales folder.  They also fit exactly - they snapped into place.  I had more hard starting and stumbling when I first started the car up today, but after that it was smooth and strong and started immediately.  Either there is still water in the gas, or I am getting a slow fuel pressure leakdown in the system.  Not serious, just annoying for now.  I drove the car about 120 miles today and it was great.
October 8, 2017 - Much Ado About Nothing- The Laurel started up fine and ran well with no stumbling today, reinforcing my thoughts I just had some water in the gas.  Even so, I am glad I did not drive the car to Hershey.  The show was huge, and trying to get the car set up plus doing my job as a National Judge at the show, would have been awkward.  Plus, I would not have been able to leave until 3, instead of sneaking out at 1.  In any case case it would have been lost amid the field of close to 2000 cars! 
September 30, 2017 - Prepped for Hershey- With a long drive to Pennsylvania coming up in a few days, I decided to do a little more preventive maintenance and replace the oil and filter. (FRAM: PH46/ 2825/ 3682/ 4746 or Purolater: L10168/ L20064/ L24457/L30042).  In the process of that, I discovered the #1 cylinder injector hose was leaking - the clamp was completely loose!    I got that tightened up along with all the others.  A last vacuum and wash Wednesday night and we'll be ready to roll for the biggest old car event in the world - HERSHEY!

Follow-Up - October 1, 2017 - Fuelish Mistake - Shinme started with a hard start and stumble issue yesterday that seems worse today.  The car was running great before.  It could be as simple as water in the gas, especially since I just filled up.  However, in case it is the fuel pump starting to fade, I have decided to leave the Laurel at home and drive to Hershey in the Sonata instead.

September 23, 2017 - Trophies!- The Laurel had a big day out today, posing in front of a P-51 Mustang first thing in the morning and then sharing Class 27Q in an AACA car show with a pristine Jaguar XJS V-12.  Despite being a mostly all-original car, the Laurel was awarded a first place in class judging, and the Best Asian Car trophy.  That last might not have been quite so surprising as my JDM Nissan also happened to be the only Japanese car on the show field!  Well, that DOES make it the Best Asian Car.  Ironically, the award was sponsored by Japanese Auto Masters, the very same shop that replaced the timing belt last week!  There was even a funny story connected with that.  I had asked for all the old parts back so I could see what kind of shape things were in.  The owner and I searched the car and the shop, even the mechanic's trash can, for the timing belt.   Everything else was in the trunk.  No luck on the belt, but it was not a big deal.  Fast forward to today, and one of the judges came over and said "There was a loose belt laying in the engine compartment - we did not take off for it, but you might want to see what it is."  It was the old timing belt, of course.  Somehow, no one had seen it when we looked, and I had missed it when I was cleaning up the engine bay for the show!  In any case, the old belt was in perfect shape - a good thing, since it bodes well for other engine components.
September 22, 2017 - Getting Cleaned Up- Tomorrow is the Nissan's debut at our local big car show, and I decided to give her a once-over.  The car is mostly clean, but the inside of the trunk was pretty dirty looking - you can see it halfway done at left.  Some polish took care of the problem and left a nice shine.  I have the car vacuumed and tires glossed. 
September 14, 2017 - A Bullet Dodged (Or Nissaned?) - The Laurel got dropped off at Japanese Auto Masters yesterday for the timing belt and water pump replacement.  That afternoon I got a call from them saying there was a problem.  The drive gear on the crankshaft was stuck, and they were concerned it might break if they forced it off.  Since the only reason to pull it was to replace the crankshaft seal and the old seal was not leaking, we decided it was OK to leave it alone.  However, after they talked to me, the owner decided that there was a risk that the seal had been damaged by their efforts so far.   He ended up drilling and tapping holes in the drive gear so he could use a puller on it.  He was successful, and the new crank seal and other parts made it on with no further issues. My 'cowardice and laziness' must have actually been premonition!  In any case, the car is good to go for Hershey in October, and I don't have to worry about a 31 year-old timing belt or water pump going out on me.  Best of all, Japanese Auto Masters stuck to the original estimate despite the extra work and hassle of working on an engine type they had never encountered before!
September 9, 2017 - On Second Thought - A sunny, cool day and everything I needed on hand made for a good start on replacing the timing belt.  I read through the instructions a few times, then found a YouTube video on installing a timing belt for a similar model.  Then I got out the tools and parts and got busy - for about 20 minutes.  Well, maybe ten minutes.  Five?  I kept stopping to look at the engine and figure out all that had to be done, how I would get around not having some of the special tools, and the fact that the Nissan has an interference engine.  I delayed decisions long enough to remove the windshield washer tank and look into why it is leaking, and discovered the seal at the bottom of the pump was bad.  So I replaced it with a new O-ring and got it all back together.  And that's when I decided I was NOT going to try doing the timing belt.  A combination of cowardice and laziness won out.  I'll contact Japanese Masters this week and see if I can get the timing belt and water pump replaced by them.  I ended up driving the car to the local Saturday car show and had a great time.
September 1, 2017 - Shocking and Sharing - I called Japanese Auto Masters in Virginia Beach, the local specialist for Asian imports, and got quite a shock.  The rough estimate for installing the timing belt was between $700 and $800 for LABOR ONLY!  The last time I checked was a few years back, but then it was under $300 including parts.  My biggest concern was the lack of any instructions, having looked everywhere for a shop manual.  The only ones I could find were in German.  And then last night, I tried a different search term - 'R32', which is the model designation for the Skyline, a vehicle that used the same drive train.  Bingo!  I found a Skyline support site that had the manuals listed in one of the posts, and I was able to download them all!  I have them reposted here (See links above) in case you happen to need one yourself.  One of the manuals details timing belt replacement for my specific engine (RB20E SOHC 6).   The job itself looks like 3 hours max - very straightforward.  Which means it could take 5 hours or more - but with the labor quote, I can take as long as 8 hours and still be making (or saving) $100 an hour!
August 31, 2017 - Kiwi Kindness - The parts arrived today from TINKR in New Zealand.  In addition to the parts I had ordered, they kindly included a TINKR ball cap.  I was informed that I am their very first U.S. customer!  In my typical zeal, I now have THREE timing belts and TWO tensioner bearings.  I also have a tensioner spring and pivot post, camshaft seals, a water pump with gasket.  Next step is to check with the local Japanese Specialty garage to get the timing belt and water pump swapped out.  I want to get the job done before the long road trip to Hershey PA in October!
August 28, 2017 - Parts from Afar - One drawback of unique cars like the Laurel is trying to find parts.  Case in point - I am taking the car to Hershey for a huge car show in October, and wanted to get the timing belt changed.  There is no indication that has ever been done, and the car is just past the recommended mileage (kilometer) usage for replacement.  The RB20E 6 is an interference engine, which means the pistons would hit the valves if the timing belt broke while the car was running.  The timing belt was not available even directly from Gates, one of the primary manufacturers, or even from Nissan.  Happily, I found two parts sources out of the country.  One is MegaZip, which has Nissan factory parts and is based in Japan.  The other is Tinkr in New Zealand.  Tinkr had a complete camshaft kit with belt, tensioner, spring, seals, and water pump as a package - very reasonable even with overseas shipping.  Chuck Preston was willing to go to the extra trouble to deal with a crazy Yank.  I have already received the parts from Megazip and expect the Tinkr package soon.  This sure makes the Laurel a lot easier to maintain!
August 12, 2017 - Doumar's - My antique car club came up with a better event than getting together for good food - we got together for FREE good food!  About 30 members and 14 antique cars gathered at Doumar's, a famous old-fashioned diner in Norfolk which boasts the very first ice cream cone machine from 1903 - still in use!  The club picked up the tab for our food and drink, and Doumar's set aside a whole section of their parking lot for the antiques.  The Laurel was given a lot of close examinations, as this is the first time most of the club members have seen the car.  This has been a busy week - I located the timing belt parts I need on a Japanese website that is very English-friendly and got in the full-line 1986 Laurel showroom folder (in Japanese).
August 5, 2017 - Showing Off - I have to take it easy for a few weeks following some minor surgery, so today was a cruise around day in the Laurel.  I picked up Best Bud Chip and his son Ben and we tooled around looking for car parts, then went over to the Landstown Commons car show, a weekly fund-raising event for charity.  Much cooler weather than usual and a lack of rain brought out one of the largest crowds ever.  Though the Laurel was far from the flashiest car there, it got a lot of attention as people noted the right-hand drive first, and the hardtop body style second.  Considering I was parked in a sea of Corvettes, the car was surprisingly popular!  Then again - I had the only right-hand drive car there, and there were a LOT of Corvettes.
July 22, 2017 - Shiny Stuff! - The only iffy chrome on the Laurel was the grille and hood-mounted grille crest, and when I spotted a NOS set with additional lights on eBay last Saturday, I snagged them.  The parts were coming from Taiwan, so I expected them to arrive in the middle of August.  To my great surprise, they showed up today!  With the paint freshly done, I used great care, and managed to not only remove the old parts with no damage, but get the new grille, crest, and side marker lights installed with no scratches.  The car looks great - I plan to take it to Hershey for the big AACA Eastern Fall Meet - no one will have seen one of these before.  Also, the stumbling and starting issue have not repeated.  Best Bud Chip suggested bad fuel, as he has had similar issues with his brand new company truck.  I put dryer in the gas and drove it to Richard's with no issues.  I'll keep fingers crossed it was just some water in the fuel.
July 19, 2017 - New Paint! - I picked up the Laurel from the painter today - he did a terrific job of both matching the old paint and getting everything smoothed out and taped off.  The paint looks like factory, and once I clay-bar the rest and put on a good coat of wax, the shine will match all over.  You can see the damaged paint in the post below, and in the upper left image of this post.  It doesn't look as bad in the photos as it did in real life.  The new paint makes a huge difference!  One note of concern, though - as I was bringing the car home, it seemed to hesitate after coming to a stop twice, but got me home in good order.  However, I went to move it tonight and it would not start.  I suspected the fuel pump, and checked that later by opening the gas cap and listening with the key turned on.  I did hear the fuel pump whirring, and the car started.  I had also checked coil connections.  The car started up fine and ran smoothly after several checks, so it may be OK for now.  I will start looking for a fuel pump just in case, though.
July 4, 2017 - Current and Future Repairs - The Laurel has had a small leak in the windshield washer fluid reservoir that left puddles and also triggered the low fluid light on the dash.  I pulled the tank and checked everything but could not find the leak, though I did trim the end of the feed hose for a tighter fit.  So far no further leaks.   Also, I took the car over for an estimate to have the right front fender, hood, and front bumper painted.  The rest of the paint is good, so this spot work should make a big difference.  I drove it a lot this weekend, and it has been terrific.  Not a powerhouse, but certainly adequate for normal driving.  I also got a little information from an inquiry to J-Spec Auto Sports Inc. of Henrico.  They imported the car in August of last year, noting it was exceptionally clean. 

July 1, 2017 - Starting Cleanup - Some Resolve carpet cleaner brightened up the floor mats (Yes, those striped mats are factory with a gold label on each to identify as an official Laurel accessory!) and the rest of the interior was already near perfect.  The engine bay is also remarkably clean, and all of the common maintenance items were taken care of by the prior owner.  As you can see by the photos, the two most obvious differences are right-hand drive and the hardtop design (no center post between the door windows).  The car was available with a wide variety of hub caps, wheel covers, and styled wheels.  One was a mostly flat wheel cover with chrome lug nuts.  I lucked out today at Pick-N-Pull and found a full set of period wheel covers for $20, and had a set of new chrome lug nuts left over from the Cougar.  I cleaned and painted the wheel covers to match the pale gold lower trim per the factory literature, and put them on.  The car looks much better without naked wheels!  I am taking the car over to a painter on July 4th to get an idea of what can be done for the paint - touchup or total repaint. The paint responded well to polishing compound, with most of the stains and scratches cleaning off and leaving a nice shine.  The right front fender and hood will have to be painted at least, along with the lower corners of both front and rear bumpers. But if the painter thinks he can get a decent match, I'd rather have a few small blemishes and keep the most of the original paint. Oh, and the UK owner's manual came in - some help, but the JDM version is still different!

June 28, 2017 - Homeward Bound - Chip and I rolled up again last night and brought the Nissan home.  A 120-mile initial drive had me a little nervous, but the car performed flawlessly.  The drive train is set up for Japan city driving, with a small inline 6 and gearing set low.  However, it also has electronic overdrive, and when you turn it on the RPMs drop to 2500 at 70 MPH!  I am using an old GPS to let me know what speed I am going until I get used to translating kilometers into miles.  In a remarkable stroke of luck, I hit DMV this morning with almost no wait and got the car titled and tagged.  Insurance was done Sunday.  The paint is little rougher than I first thought, but the body is clean and straight and very tight.  I was very impressed by the ride and comfort, and also the silence of the 4-door hardtop.  Wind noise was pretty much nil, and the car rode and handled great.  I plan to hit Pick N Pull this weekend to see what parts I can adapt from period Nissans, and possibly snag some  hubcaps.
June 25, 2017 - JDM Nissan - This 1986 Nissan Laurel Medalist is a Japan-only 'Executive' car equivalent to the Maxima sold in the United States - hence the term Japanese Domestic Market, or JDM.  This one has a number of unique aspects - Right hand drive, a 4-door hardtop body style, and a 2.0 liter straight 6 with rear wheel drive.  Maximas had switched to front wheel drive by 1985.  It also has a like-new interior and full service records (in Japanese).  The engine bay is exceptionally clean, as is the underside, and it even has a recent Virginia State Inspection!  I was intrigued by the right-hand drive and the unique styling, and of course, a cheap price.  It was located in Richmond, so I was able to go up and give it a test drive and a look-over with best bud Chip, who lived in Japan.  The car ran really well, and was as unique in person as it looked online.  The interior is in amazing condition, though there is some minor paint work needed on the corners and the right front fender.  It was odd, interesting, and at 6:33 PM tonight, mine!  Chip and I are planning to go pick it up on Tuesday.

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