Interview>> Smoky Nagata.

Kazuhiko “Smoky” Nagata is a gentle and soft spoken man. He’s not a particularly tall person, nor is he a particularly short person. He’s rather skinny. He wears clothes that fit loose on a man of such a small frame which in turn makes him even smaller. He smokes a lot. He’ll steal any chance he can get to smoke. He smokes when he has his coffee in the morning, he’ll smoke outside the balcony of his room, he even smoke when he’s tuning cars. It’s a part of his character just as his eyes are. They’re piercing but gentle eyes. His eyes that have witnessed things that the everyday petrol-head only dreams about. He lives, breathes, and sweats automobiles. That’s all he thinks about and that’s all he ever wants to think about.

He’s not really that animated of a speaker. His hands do the acting for him. And when he speaks, he’s fidgety. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s sitting next to a guy with a gigantic camera looking to steal his soul… He rubs his hands frequently, plays with his lighter, and runs his fingers across the wood grain of the table. Despite all that, I never got the impression that he was uncomfortable throughout the interview. Though, he was a bit bashful when I was taking photos of him smoking (something he mentioned to my translator, Hajime, that he’s never had someone so intent to take photos of him smoking…). At the end of the day, he’s human. Just like everyone else if they were to sit down with a journalist to be interviewed. But to us gear-heads, he’s far from just human. He is as much of a mystery as he is a legend.

Every person of legend and lore starts out as human as the rest of us. It’s what that person does with the time that is given to them that makes them legendary.

I was fortunate enough sit with him for a quiet talk….

Linhbergh: How did you get into tuning cars and what influenced you to become who you are today? 

Smokey Nagata: Right now Top Secret is located in Chiba, Japan, but I grew up in Hokkaido. It’s all farmland. My parents had farm which I helped out with since I was 14 years old. And since there wasn’t really anything around, we had to drive around in the family truck which I also drove around to help with the family. I drove it everyday and started to fall in love with the actual act of driving.

I started to enjoy driving so much that I purchased a motorcycle for fun. But I still drove the family truck around when they needed me to though! During that time, I also purchased a go-cart. I started to fall in love with speed… There was no place to drive the kart since the area was all farm land, so I started driving the kart on the street!

Then I finally got a car. It a 1970 Mitsubishi Galant GTO with over fenders! One time the was broken, and the Toyota president helped me fix it. A friendship grew, then I started working for Toyota as a mechanic. Just doing mechanics work wasn’t any fun… so I started changing, or modifying cars for myself for fun. I started having a lot of fun playing around with cars and wanted to be a racing driver. Trying to become a racing driver in Hokkaido was really difficult, so I moved to Tokyo.

When I moved to Tokyo I became interested Trust/Greddy. They had racing programs going on and I asked them to give me any job just so I can get in.

Linhbergh: So, What did you do at Trust/Greddy?

Smokey Nagata: When I first started, I worked in the packaging department. Packing things like exhausts and turbos. As you can imagine, it was not fun. But during the after hours, I went to the racing division to offer my help to them. Which of course, they were more than happy to get an extra hand…

Linhbergh: Who were your biggest influences?

Smoky Nagata: Isami Amemiya, of RE Amemiya, and Masamitsu Hayakawa, of Trust/Greddy. During the early years, those  two were very active in racing and top speed competitions which I had great interest in. The work that these two put forth inspired and influenced my work ethic, and passion greatly.

Linhbergh: Let’s continue the story of how you started…

Smoky Nagata: So as I worked for the racing division at Trust and watched them create parts for their racing cars, I also wanted to learn how to create parts for cars for myself. So during the late hours of the day, with nobody at the company, I worked on creating my own parts.

I worked on my own cars and my own parts during the after hours. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was doing this… but then the top management of the company found out. I wanted to quit so I wouldn’t get in any more trouble than I already was. Management told me that I cannot quit this job because they valued my work so much. They told me that I can continue working on my stuff, but to not tell anyone else in the company. Only the top management knew. A year later, I opened my own shop, Top Secret. And the name, as you guessed, came from my time at Trust! Only the top management at Trust knew what I was doing, and they told me to keep it a secret! Hahaha.

Linhbergh: What was the first car you built under the Top Secret name?

Smoky Nagata: When I first started, I didn’t have money so I couldn’t buy my own cars. So, in Makuhari, you know, where the Tokyo Auto Salon is held every year… And in those early days, that location was known as a very popular street racing location because in front of the TAS building, there is a very long and very straight street. People drag raced on that strip back in the day. So I had a customer with a Toyota Soarer with a 7MGTE, and that was the first Top Secret car.

Linhbergh: How fast was that Soarer?

Smoky Nagata: About a 12 second quarter mile… You have to think that back in those days, that was really good.

Linhbergh: What’s your favorite car that you’ve built?

Smoky Nagata: I really liked my first demo car which was an R32 GTR. But by far my favorite has to be the V12 Toyota Supra. I’ve been working on it for years now. It keeps changing and I’m trying to improve it more and more every time I work on it.

Linhbergh: What’s your favorite beer?

Smoky Nagata: Shiner Bock, no question!

Linhbergh: You’ve traveled a lot. What is your favorite place you’ve been to? And why?

Smoky Nagata: The country that left the biggest impression on me was when I was in jail in the UK! (watch this video to find out about his UK escapades)

Linhbergh: Are you still banned from the UK?

Smoky Nagata: I visited the UK eight years after my jail and subsequent banning from the country. I didn’t have any problems going in, so I guess I’m not!

Linhbergh: Have you been to Bonneville? And do you plan to campaign any cars to Bonneville?

Smoky Nagata: No, I’ve never been to Bonneville… but I would like to go to Bonneville sometime. I like to make street cars, so if and when I do create a car to go to those salt flats, it’ll be a street car.

Linhbergh: What steps do you do to tune a car? What do you consider to be a good tuned car?

Smoky Nagata: What I look for is total balance of a car, not just horse power. At top speeds when you brake, and maybe to avoid some objects, the car should still be safe in those conditions. A stock car is very unstable and unsafe during high speeds. So I tune cars to be safer. That’s my philosophy with car tuning. The faster you go, the safer the car has to be. The car’s body kit, suspension and braking all have to work together to create a safe car.

Linhbergh: Do you like peanut butter?

Smoky Nagata: Yes.

So, there you have it folks. Smoky Nagata likes peanut butter!

P.S. I’d like to thank Hajime Maki for being with me during the interview to translate. 

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The f'n Man.


This man is really important in the JDM culture,I've got a lot of respect for him!


LOL Nice write up!


Very interesting interview as expected, thanks!


"So, there you have it folks. Smoky Nagata likes peanut butter!"

haha nice one.


Awesome! Smokey is one of the baddest dudes ever...


Very cool! Please come to Bonneville Mr. Nagata!

Great interview. Cool knowledge dropping about how he came up with the name Top Secret.


Awesome interview, I've always enjoyed his work!


Awesome interview! He's been an inspiration to me for years!


Thanks for that interview, it was very enjoyable to read)


Smoky Nagata, One of the most important people in the car tunning industry for sure.


Awesome interview, Linbergh. Hope to see more posts like this one.


Legend. You are a very lucky man, Linhbergh. What a great piece all around. Congrats!


ABOUT TIME! Smokey should be given the title of "World Idol" for sure!


The god of performance! Thank you Linhbergh!!


A legend indeed!


"Linhbergh: Do you like peanut butter?"

i LOLed at this. Awesome Interview!


Fantastic man, awesome interview!


7th picture is epic.

linhbergh just keeps getting better and better...


damn good Linhbergh, damn good


A true genuis and massive inspiration to everyone esle great read


lots of errors in the article where words have been left out.


A true legend..awsome interview


Smokey is pure bad ass. I had no idea who he was until a few years ago when my buddy started showing me some of his Options videos.

He builds amazing cars and loves to push the limits. Gotta love that.


good stuff MIDENG!


You had an interview with smoky and you sent linhbergh? was everybody who could string a sentence together sick that day or something?


Linhbergh: Do you like peanut butter?

Smoky Nagata: It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!!!

It will be LOL


Smoky Nagata is definitely one of my heroes when it comes to cars... He's an amazing man. :) Linh, you're so lucky to have been able to do this!


"Shiner Bock" ... ?? Really>?... wow... the ONLY thing that dissapoints me about the man.


Damn you and your 50mm 1.2 Linhbergh. Damn you! :D

Awsome interview.


he has done some realy cool swaps.

I wish he sold the mounts for them.

I wouldn't mind doing a VK56 into a 300zx.


@I said

This probably has to do with the fact it was through a translator...

It's still enjoyable no?


Had the honour of meeting the man in person when I was in japan. Amazing person just to talk to. I provided some pretty crazy/stupid ideas to help the v12 supra go that little bit further.. most were just for jokes but i think hes considering some for real!


Disapointing interview. Badly worded, and im still none the wiser of what he actually does. It's all very general.


^ LoL

This was a good read. Sometimes we as readers do wonder how the "Icons" in our industry made it to where they are. Smoky has a LONG list of "bragging" rights...starting with tha v8 twinturbo g35! Good stuff Linhbergh


Lol at the haters.

The photography was like art as usual and i really liked your questions and write-up this time 'round. I always wondered why his shop was called Top Secret, so that little history was really great!

The stories you tell are always a little different and don't always add to the feel of the post, this one though really stood out. I didn't notice the spelling/grammar, my eyes were all watery 'n stuff from that bokeh :P


What inspiring interview. Japanese gaerheads sure like to smoke.


Great interview! Smoky is definitely a cool guy. My first TAS I was able to hang out in the TopSecret the whole weekend, I had a blast. It was sad to not see them there this year, I wish you would have asked about that being that its a pretty big deal to not see Top Secret at TAS, but I guess asking if he likes peanut butter is far more important, haha! Thanks!


Pretty Sweet Interview


This is art at its finest. I love the amazing contrast and sense of humor in everything in this article. Linhbergh is fantastic.


thanks speedhunters for this interview.....

good stuff linhbergh!!!!

interview another legend,my hero keiichi tsuchiya!!!


I like how he's has this subtle appearence but i'm betting he just has a HUGE presence when you're next to him.

I would absolutely love to meet this man sometime.

Also, peanut butter is the r0xx0rz!!


My Auto idol ^_^


Amazing insight, and the photography is just breathtaking.


Very cool article, muchly enjoyed!!!

Love the bit of how he came up with the name 'Top Secret'!




Love Smokey...and this was a beautiful article!


he reminds me of Takumi's dad in Initial D, chilled and always smoking.. haha


this man is legendary in the tuning world.everybody respects this man for what he has done and what he is about to do in the future.i wish i can meet him one day so i can thank him for all the cool cars he has created.


been a fan for many years. Coincidentally, I just happened to be wearing a Top Secret emblazoned T when I chanced upon this article.


the man i idolize,


no doubt, my most influential hero. im only 16 and it went from..james bond at the age of 9 to smokey nagata by 11...


smoky likes peanut butter, I LIKE PEANUT BUTTER! sorry but that was great interview.


smoky likes peanut butter, I LIKE PEANUT BUTTER! that was a great interview in other words hah


He is the man,the one and only far a legend!!


he's my idol. he is living a dream. tuning cars and nothing to think about but cars. my dream job


the man is a great figure in the automotive hobby. just remember that he is still human, lives, breathes. eats and shaves like the rest of us, sure he deserves respect but ease up on worshiping the guy.


Rad. I'm feeling this. A friend recently pointed out there is no wikipedia page for Smokey... Anyone feel like starting one??? (i'm too busy)


Legend.. Legendary.. Culture is oozing out of this guys pores.. respect is most definately due.. great insight to a remarkbale man..


He looks like Jackie Chan older brother. whose not into films... but cars..


he seems like one of those people you'd have nothing but praise for if anyone asked you about him :) what a likeable chap.

..."One time the was broken, and the Toyota president helped me fix it. A friendship grew, then I started working for Toyota as a mechanic."

what was broken on the GTO?


Nice man

smokey rocks


Really great interview. I had not known about Smokey, and it was great to put a face to the Top Secret name. I love reading these kind of stories that go into such detail and history.

Linbergh, you're one of the best editors/photographers I've seen. Every post is immediately immersive and the shots show extreme dedication and passion. Well done!


Awesome job! I felt as though I was interviewing the legend myself!!


please do one of these with Amemiya San


One time the _____ was broken, and the Toyota president helped me fix it. I'd like to know what was broken...please.





DEF one guy i have pure respect for!!

the one and only penut butter loving smoky nagata


it was probably broken in translation,the car was broken down!


Very good read, thanks for posting this.


So awesome, i love this site, great info and stories, thanks for all you do :D


You are a lucky man Linhbergh ;)


really like this post.

major respect for smokey


epic article


Great write up the mans a genius


one of the most influential people in the tuning industry. had a pleasure meeting him in his chiba top secret shop and D1 in new jersey a few years back...oh and his daughter is hot!


Makes me want to pick up smoking...


What I love about Japan is that people like Smokey and Amemiya-san are still just people, if you see them at TAS for example go up and say hello and they will give you all the time they have.

Smokey is one of the legends


this guy is GOD for anyone that wants to pursuit the need for speed


tis guy is just awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! respect!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


I see alot of people on here commenting on how much of an idol this man is, how important and legendary he is, etc, but if you'd ever met Nagata-San, even once, as I have, you'd know he's very humble about his work, and doesn't carry pride with him, only peace.

He doesn't say much, he doesn't even like to be talked to much, and one of his biggest pet peeves is photography and filming (funnily enough). It's not that he doesn't enjoy it, it's just he fears any embarrassment that might arise from it.

I had the chance to meet with him on one occasion, and with my at the time Japanese girlfriend, spend roughly 10 minutes talking to him.

Subsequently, he only hires men who are like him.

How many of you call him an idol, or a legend, yet you fail to be anything like him? You may own a fast car, but do you truly pursue your love of cars with a passion, or with an afterthought? Do you do all that you do for the love of it, or for fame... Nagata does it for inner peace.

While I agree that he is a legend within his own right, he's more of an everyday man who has helped shape the tuning industry as a whole, and for his influence, he should be recognized. But if it was up to Nagata-San, I'm sure he'd rather be recognized as a man of solemn, who pursued his love in life, and has never stopped loving it since.

I think that's what makes him a great person in my eyes.

Beautiful Photography btw,

Steve Neill.


Very professional write up along with the black and white 'art' effects.

Beautiful write up!


Nice little chat with mr. Nagata. If you'll ever do an interview with someone from a Japanese tuning parts manufacturer again you should ask how they feel about all the aftermarket knockoff stuff that is for sale today and how it affects their business.


bad ass write up very subtle.


dear mr. nagata,

you are awesome please stop smoking so many cigarettes

your friend



i´ve seen th option video of his ride with the top secret supra in the UK,and i loved it..

very cool interview :)


Absolute legend!!!! This guy typifies what Japanese car tuning is all about, oh and he loves peanut butter


My n.1 hero and inspiration. thank you...


finally had a chance to read this interview, thanks for putting this together. ive been a fan for many years and i feel its priceless to get the chance to get inside the mind of one of the worlds greatest icons! thanks again...


Linhbergh you seriously get some awesome experiences. You talked to the legend, I would love to be your friend once your old. OH the stories you'll tell!!


this interview makes me want to do three things:

1.move to japan smoky

3. become japanese

...but, some things in life just can't be guaranteed...beans.


This is a shape that needs no introduction in the automotive world. It's the sister show car of the


Epic. And I just knew that the supra is using v12!


Just saw his top speed run video on Facebook and how he went to jail in the UK so I wanted to see if and when he got out and found this article. He is definitely a very interesting man and his story is inspiring. To come from a farm to owning Top Secret is certainly amazing. Good read.