Some of the more recent fans of Speedhunters may not know this, but I used to be a full-time paparazzi. Celebrity sightings were common fare, because after all it was my job. Sometimes we would see twenty celebrities in one day. After all that’s why they called it the ‘Three Mile Zone aka TMZ’ which has the densest concentration of celebrities in the world. Hollywood is relatively small, and it was crazy how many of these stars were jam-packed into such a tiny place. There were times where I was shooting one A-lister, and another one would simply walk into frame not even knowing that she got in my shot of ANOTHER celebrity. To me they were just regular boring people, but for some reason, the public could not get enough of them.
What does this have to do with the car culture world? Well just like how normal people go absolutely nuts for Hollywood socialites, I feel the same way about these ultra rare cars that I’ve only dreamed about seeing in person. It gets flipped upside-down; any normal person would think I was weird for drooling over a piece of machinery.
It’s the same way with famous tuning shops. Kansai Service was only something that existed to me in a far-off land, something that I could only enjoy through pictures and videogames. For me to actually step foot on this hallowed ground made me weak at the knees. If it were a person, I would ask for its autograph.
I’ve seen little girls succumb to tears just because they caught a glimpse of Britney Spears. I guess I’m not so different, because when someone opens their garage and reveals a rare car that I love, I go absolutely crazy. I want to drive it, I want to hear it and probably smell it.
I couldn’t care less about the people we see on television and in the movies, and I’m guessing that you Speedhunters out there feel the same way. However, I really look up to those in the car culture world, because they inspire me. They’re doing what they love – not for the money and not for the fame. For example, Kei Miura is just a regular guy, who just happens to have a passion for cars. He was nice enough to be my tour guide for a bit, as he showed me around his shop and a few other garages in the area that I’ll get onto later.Famous shops
I’ll start from where I left off in my last post… This was the second day of my Kyoto area shop tour adventures. Even before I started working for Speedhunters, I longed to visit the source of all of this cool car culture. I lived vicariously through Mike Garrett’s personal blog and later on Dino’s detailed posts about Japanese car culture.
Kansai Service was originally a subsidiary of HKS Japan, but they parted ways back in 2010. They really put their name on the map since they opened their doors as a research and development shop for HKS. Since they had an in-house four-wheel dyno, they could tune anything from a mildly-built street car to the most insane race cars.
It’s so crazy to me that this tiny country about the size of California could influence the way the world looks at and feels about cars. I found myself in love with the car culture long before I stepped foot in the land of the rising sun.
While Dino has seen many from-the-ground-up S30 builds, especially from Rocky Auto, these amazing builds are few and far between in North America.
Even though I’m running a turbo inline four in my 240Z now, I still appreciate the sound of a carburetor inline six. This one had a three liter stroker motor putting out three hundred horsepower to the crank.
As Dino quickly pointed out after I posted a similar photo on Instagram, this was aMidnight Purple II Skyline R34 GT-R.
Seeing this car in racing videogames and magazines just doesn’t do it justice. It’s too bad that there was no sun out, otherwise the color-shifting paint would have been more more noticeable.
I just couldn’t believe what kind of condition it was in, just like it was off the showroom floor.
Now every time I see a Mitsubishi EVO VI, I think of our Editorial Manager, Suzy Wallace. She’s braver than I am, since she drives her black one daily. I would be too afraid of driving my S30 around town running errands, and I just cringe thinking about all the door dings I would get just going to the mall.
After checking out Kansai Service, we headed over to TRA Kyoto, but on the way we made an unscheduled stop. As I mentioned in my last post, I was tagging along with the Hashimoto brothers, Aki and Satoshi from the Hashimoto Corporation.
Most of the places they took me to were their customers’, but sometimes they would take me to their friends’ shops, without notice or anything. One of these unscheduled stops was at Gainer Racing.
They were right in the middle of some off-season refreshing for a pair of Mercedes SLS AMG GT3s.
I can normally get pretty close to these cars when they’re in the pits, but I always had to watch my back in case I was in a crew member’s way. It was nice not to have to worry about that as I poked around the shop.
I was already thoroughly impressed with the pair of gull-winged race cars, as it was my first time visiting the workshop of a Super GT team, but the shop manager on duty had something else to show us.
He took us through a series of doors that went through machine shops and other work stations.
We then headed outside and downstairs to what looked like a door to the basement.
And there they were: perfectly kept Ferrari race cars in all their glory. Gainer Racing keeps all of their former race cars and stores them in their basement using a car elevator.
Underneath the plastic tarp they were like brand new; it’s as if they were never raced at all.
It’s got to take all day for them to pull a car out for a historic race event or even to simply work on them.
Now this was just a tiny percentage of cars that they had in storage. They asked me not to photograph any of the other cars, as they were much too valuable for the public to know about. I respected their wishes, but I can tell you guys that some of my drool was left in that basement. My mouth was wide open for quite a long period of time.
I’ve never really thought about it, but the life of a race car is relatively short. If they don’t get scrapped, where can they possibly go? Especially in Japan where space is at a premium, it must cost a small fortune just to park and maintain one of these Ferraris, not to mention the many other cars Gainer Racing had in storage. It really made me appreciate the care they have for their racing history and their love of racing machines.Kissed by a rose
Satoshi laughed at me as we had lunch. I was still a bit overwhelmed by all the shops that I’d been visiting in the past few days.
As always, wherever I go, I always try as much of the local food as possible. This is a good and bad thing as I’ve been very sick many times from eating street food. Although I never worry when I go to Japan since the food is always very clean and fresh. Raw fish for lunch? No problem.
After lunch we all met up at TRA Kyoto. As Dino calls it, ‘The House of Style’.
I’d been meaning to check out the shop ever since the whole Rocket Bunny thing kicked off. I’ve met Miura-san a few times before, but never in his home country. He had a surprise in store for me, so we all piled into one car and headed just a few minutes away from his shop.
When we parked, I looked up and saw this rusty Datsun Roadster shell. I knew exactly where we were. This was Rose Auto.
Those of you that were lucky enough to pick up a copy of the #JoyOfMachine book know exactly what I’m talking about. Rose Auto is the reason why TRA Kyoto and Rocket Bunny exist today.
Back in 1988, Miura-san was driving around in Kyoto in his AE86, which he drifted and raced quite thoroughly. He spotted a B110 Datsun Sunny sitting outside a dealership.
He went up to the scary-looking owner and asked if he could buy it. The owner paused for a bit, then told Miura-san that he was not selling it to him, because he didn’t like the color of his hair.
He had an blond afro perm, which was most definitely out of the ordinary. Although he was still surprised that this guy didn’t want to sell a car due to the color of his hair.
The next day he came back after dying his hair black, but the B110 was already sold. Mr. Rose Auto said that they had a Datsun 510 in the back.
The rest was history. Shortly afterwards, Kei Miura made FRP car parts for Porsche 911, Ferrari Dino and Datsun-based race cars, which of course were Rose Auto specialties.
You can read the full story here. For the very first time in many years, Rose Auto opened its doors to a journalist. I was very honoured to have been allowed access.
And there he was. Mr Rose Auto himself. He didn’t once make eye contact with me. I just appreciated him letting me in the place at all.
We walked to the back of the shop where many of the shop cars were kept.
Apart from being at the Nismo Festival, I’ve never seen so many clean old school racing Datsuns.
Seeing all these Datsuns including this B310 made me want to do a little research into them. I never really looked into them as I was always about the Z-car.
It turns out the B310 had a special MPG model with a small port 1.5 liter A15 motor that achieved 47mpg. This was back in the late seventies/ early eighties. Where did car manufacturers go wrong? That’s better than most hybrids on the market today.
Then again, I guess it helped that it was a tiny little hatchback that weighed in at around 907kg (2000 lbs) in stock trim. That’s also why they made great race cars.
One by one, the covers of these treasures from the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s were lifted off to reveal some absolutely stunning examples of Datsun Roadsters and Sunnys.
With engine bays that were clean enough to match the exterior glamor these old machines had.
Aside from restoring classic Datsuns, Rose Auto gets business from people who rent these cars for track days, or race prep for historic events.
Plenty of Japanese businessmen want to live out their childhood dreams of being a racing driver, and they want to do it in cars that were popular when they were younger.
The rarest of them all just sat in the middle of the room. I ‘ve most definitely not seen one of these. It was the first ever Nissan Silvia.
Also called the Datsun 1600 Coupe (CSP311), only 554 were produced. It made its debut at the Tokyo Motor Show back in 1964.
It was powered by a Nissan R 1.6 liter engine, which produced 96hp stock. Of course this one was far from stock, sporting side draft Mikuni carbs in place of the stock SU carburetors.
The super light fiberglass bonnet on the Silvia was made by Kei Miura over twenty years ago. To all the haters out there, this shows how long TRA Kyoto has been around, and it shows how long that skinny dude with the funky permed hair has been making performance body parts for.
I asked what TRA stood for. I read in Dino’s shop tour post, it stood for ‘Tops Racing Arts’, but for some reason Miura-san told me that it meant ‘Top Resin Art’ which sort of makes sense, since back then he was an expert with fiberglass resin. Maybe later on he changed it to ‘Tops Racing Art’.
Among the race cars, there were a few chassis that were prepped and ready for a full restoration.
To the guys at Rose Auto, these were cars that they saw everyday, and they worked on them for weeks on end. It was no big deal to them, but I was very grateful that they opened up their doors to some weirdo with massive hair. I mean me by the way…
I thought that my day was done, and that I would finish up my shop tour at TRA Kyoto, but I was wrong. One of the mechanics at Rose Auto uttered the famous last words, ‘Follow me’.The Prince
Just a few city blocks down was another little workshop and storage facility. As the door slowly raised, I caught a glimpse of a legend.
Does it get better than this? Right in front of me was a 1965 Prince R380. This was built to compete in the Japanese Grand Prix, against the Porsche 906.
This was even a shock to Mr. Rocket Bunny, because he’s never seen such a car either.
It was in perfect condition of course – Rose Auto would not have anything less. I just love how simple the interior was; all function here.
The motor is an inline six 2.0 liter putting out 200hp, also known as a GR-8. It was mated to a Hewland five-speed racing gearbox.
Can you imagine the sound this thing would make screaming down the front straight at Fuji Speedway?
When Nissan merged with Prince Motor Company in 1966, they continued the legacy of the R380 with more power, which was known as the R380-II.
They sold off the four R380 to privateers and one of them sat in Kyoto at Rose Auto.
And what do you know, the Prince’s old rival was close by, but of course they were many generations apart.
From the moment I woke up that morning, I could not have imagined what I would get to see, and what secrets these car enthusiasts were willing to share with me.
I finished off my trip with a quick stop to TRA Kyoto. It’s hard to miss with all the kitted cars spilling out onto the street.
I think it’s time to expand. There’s barely enough room to park project cars.
It’s become so bad that they had to park the first Rocket Bunny Version 2.0 GT86 on the next door neighbor’s sidewalk.
This is the beauty of Japan: you can leave your stuff all over the place and no one will look at it twice.
Seeing an FD RX-7 parked out front makes me wonder when Miura-san will build the Rocket Bunny FD.
Pictures just don’t do this place justice. The smell of the inside kind of reminds me of a worn-down Las Vegas casino.
There were many mid-century design pieces laying around. I’d totally rock that sort of clock in my office.
Of course I had to shoot a photo of the famous wheel rack that everyone posts photos of when they visit this small shop.
Scale cars littered the table. It’s just crazy how fast the brand grew in such a short time period.
There’s nothing like a little yakitori to finish off a long day of hunting speed. I think Miura-san agreed.
Within two days I visited nine shops and I saw countless cool cars. I know that there are just so many more garages and secret stashes of rare cars just hidden away in the nooks and crannies of this tiny country.
I guess it will just be up to Dino, Mike Garrett and I to go out and search for them. Sounds like a great way to spend my next visit to that far-off land known as Japan.
"Seeing an FD RX-7 parked out front makes me wonder when Miura-san will build the http://www.speedhunters.com/2013/10/the-rocket-bunny-x-madmike-fd3s-rx7/"
Me too! I thought the idea was that Mad Mike would have it for D1NZ, being the 'Next Generation' MADBUL. I'm sure it's going to be awesome so I can wait a bit longer. As long as it's coming sooner rather than later!
awesome adventure. if hks isn't developing parts for jdm cars like i thought they were... i wonder what the other shops are hiding beneath their lower levels as well?? and kudos for the bonus food shots. i know u guys at SH gotta eat sometime!
BNR34 - Japanese car version of a unicorn.
apex_DNA wat? A unicorn is a rare, mythical creature that nobody ever sees. You see r34s all the time...
majik16106 apex_DNAin california they are pretty much unicorns. i know they exist here but i have yet to see one in person.
I have yet to see one...I did see an ER34, once.
You pretty much nailed it.
I want to see more of those W201 190E's at TRA Kyoto... I can only imagine a JDM take on DTM magic
A Sims skate deck in the last photo... another surprise !
apex_DNA Ok, I guess I just don't consider it a Japanese unicorn because you live in the one country in the industrialized world where you can't own one. lol. Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand.. and obviously Japan.. not that rare. The unicorn in this article is the Prince. Thats Japanese and you don't see that.. anywhere.
Larry... You just set the tone for my day, and it feels good. Thanks for the words and the imagery.
great read thank you always start my morning right with some speed hunting
majik16106 apex_DNA "You see r34's all the time...." on the internet. America bro. I've never seen a skyline in person. A handful of the new GTR's, but the r32 has been legal here since the year kicked over and I still havent seen one.
Pwain majik16106 apex_DNA Yah, see my other comment. Sorry I didn't assume you were from the one place they aren't really sold. International audience and all. I just took issue with the use of the term unicorn. Personally for you guys in the US.. i guess, but by that logic.. the r32 is a unicorn, and 33, and 31.. and evo 3,4,5,6.. and Excorth Cosworths, and st205s celica GT-fours, and s15s, and Lancia Deltas,,,, and I am sure you can see where this is going. Speedhunters is a pretty global audience as is car culture... so Im just not sure its fair to start labeling cars as unicorns that are commonly found in Canada, all over the EU, Aus, Jpn, NZ.. etc just because they aren't available in the USA. Just a stupid difference of opinion over semantics is all it really is.
"Now this was just a tiny percentage of cars that they had in storage.
They asked me not to photograph any of the other cars, as they were much
too valuable for the public to know about. I respected their wishes,
but I can tell you guys that some of my drool was left in that basement.
My mouth was wide open for quite a long period of time."Oh Larry, you blue-balling cock-teasing wish-respecting lucky son of a bitch!
Awesome read. I'm going to start referring this page to people every
time I get hit with "what's so special about cars"? or "why do you waste
your money on your car"?, etc. It's extremely hard to put an emotion
into words and you came pretty close. Good stuff sir.
majik16106 Pwain apex_DNA Wow, I own a unicorn. Who'd have thought?!
Awesome article Larry!
Also, funny to see that even the Speedhunters have a normal workweek. No posts during the weekends :p
Its like car heaven LOL
Great post thanks Speed Hunters
Love it - car culture so much more interesting than a spec sheet for the latest hybrid........!
westhave If by normal workweek you mean we work during the week and then go to events all weekend, yup. Pretty normal!
DanielG87 And cereal. Don't forget cereal! Oh and bacon, maybe some tea too. We need you to keep up the pace during the day and come back later
Updates when you find out more about the RX-7 at the shop please!!! Awesome post!!!
Very cool article, definitely on the automotive bucket list to tour the shops of japan!
Just have to correct you, the states have some of, if not, the most 240-280z build ups in the world. Most of the members on the two big sites (hybridz and classiczcar) are based in the states. If you haven't seen very many you haven't been looking! In fact I think your neck of the woods, California, is host to quite a large proportion of individuals. Heck one of the world wide suppliers (MSA) is based in california and hosts a big z meet every year.
All those old school datsuns I want them all! And those engine bay shots are so drool worthy.
You should've had a warning before clicking this article..
That was an awesome post Larry! I caught a glimpse of a shop in Saitama when I was there last. It was called Drift Heaven or something like that. What looked like 20-30 Japanese performance cars crammed into a tiny lot. Going back in December. I'll bring my camera this time and set aside a couple of hours to have a look around.
So, it's not really Thirty Mile Zone then?
SuzyWallace Hahaha nice one for sure ^o^
majik16106 Pwain apex_DNA I think it's safe to say that a good majority of SH readers ARE from America, and to us (SH's initial target audience, circa 2008) the BNR34 is still the ultimate unicorn.
Well I will piss on my pants if I see that Prince R380 in my face...>o<
Just finished reading this...what an article!!
At first I saw it behind the Prince R380 , and then I saw it besides the Rocket Bunny v2.0 ... who's Red Prius is that ? Looks like modified too , on the outside .
Man! Thanks for this post Larry. I LOVE shop visits, I'm so glad that your posting these up. These are the kinds of posts that keep my coming back to Speed Hunters. Btw, your not the only one drooling over this stuff.........wow, just wow! Thanks again!
RDS You have a sharp eye. It belongs to the Hashimoto brothers. They took me around in it. You are right, it had KW Suspension among other little things. The perfect Japanese commuter.
tokuku Please do and make sure to submit it to #IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER
Jaemcius You will see it on Speedhunters first without a doubt.
Speedhunters_Bryn westhave What is a weekend?
ToyotaSupraMan lol, I am hoping that I will get invited back. That is why I always respect the owners wishes.
majik16106 apex_DNA I think I've only seen five R34 GT-R in North America.
seattlejester I agree with you on Z cars being huge in the states. About half the parts on my car are from MSA.
While there are some nice builds in the US and all around the world, most of the time they just don't stand up to the ones built In Japan because they spend 20k 30k easy to bring these Z-cars to legendary status. Kind of like the ones that were restored by Nissan back in 1997. I've seen them at Gruppe-m, I've seen them from Rocky Auto etc....
I've been a Z-car guy for 10 years now. I used to race with seven other dudes in SCCA solo2. All '70 to '73. They may have been fast, but they were far from perfect.
sdxcjkl I don't know. I asked over and over, and I had my friend Aki translate for me.
d_rav They normally feed us gruel. Perfect fuel for picture taking
Great article as always! I love how Mr. Rose Auto himself didn't give eye contact, it's odd, but, that's really cool in a weird way.
apex_DNA majik16106 Pwain I cant wait until the US gets more of them. then maybe.. MAYBE.. the r34 can stop being the most overrated car on the internet. lol
Really cool cars. And really cool garages. Too bad that in Europe they look like a dealer service. You don't get that kind of friendship.
Speedhunters_Bryn mr. Brynstein I meant scheduling wise ofcourse, my bad. I'm quite aware of the fact that you guys work all weekend to bring us stories for which we are grateful!
That's not a genuine ( period ) Prince R380 race car.
It's actually the well-known replica built - by Dr Shinichiro Sakurai's 'S&S Engineering' - in the 1990s. It was even featured in the studio on NHK's 'Project X Challengers' show, in the episode called 'The Last Prince'.
I'm surprised that anyone could confuse it with The Real Thing...?
Nothing over rated about any skyline GTR. The ultimate 'older' JDM ride but am biased. Let's hope more within the US get to experience them.
Are the Japanese as pissy about RWD as Americans here? Or do they know that it doesn't matter which wheels are driven, so long as you are having fun.
"She’s braver than I am, since she drives her http://www.speedhunters.com/tag/project-evo/ daily. I would be too afraid of driving my S30 around town running errands, and I just cringe thinking about all the door dings I would get just going to the mall." The key is finding the parking spot furthest from the shops, or if there aren't any three-block spaces spare (so you can park in the center with a space either side), then parking next to an expensive car is a good way to try and avoid the doors getting knocked.
You've been more fortunate than us mere mortals then...haha
I did see a BCNR33 ...twice!! One of them was a Motorsports Dynamics car. A drift ER33 coupe and the aforementioned Neil Tjin ER34 sedan.
Maybe so, not gonna argue with that one.
Great post. Thanks for setting the standard on automotive journalism as we know it.
Larry Chen seattlejester Ah build caliber. Carry on :).
What you say on the first page is exactly how think.
Always love seeing R34 GTR's, I went for an S30 RB26 Project instead of an R34 so when I see both cars in the same post it always makes me think what if I went for the R34 instead, it would have been cheaper for a start, but would it be as much fun.
AlanT Interesting, I see what you are talking about. You mean this one? http://www.speedhunters.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/22.R380-1.jpg
Larry Chen AlanT Yes, that's the one. I think Dino took that photo in the old supermarket Prince 'museum'...
Tell whomever opened the hood-trunk of the R380 thanks for me. And that s/he owes me a new pair of jeans.
Also, that's pretty crazy that you can just leave car parts strewn about and nobody takes them, lol... Ah, if North Americans had /half/ the sense of social responsibility of the Japanese...
There really isn't anything more frustrating than being taken to a storage facility, shown some amazing balls to the walls unicorn status of a car, then told you can't photograph it's beauty or even really mention it's there. I doubt what I saw was as amazing as what you did Larry, but I feel your pain.
Nevermind the Rocket Bunny FD ......
GIMME THAT ROCKET BUNNY W201 !!!
AlanT Larry Chen I saw the original #11 at Nissan's Zama garage last week; It was parked alongside the R380-II, R381, R382 and R383!!
Question about the replicas - i thought they were built by Nautilus?
azmedaj AlanTLarry ChenNautilus may have been responsible for the bodywork on the replica in question, but more to the point it was commissioned to do that by S&S Engineering and the whole project was coordinated by S&S Engineering. Many other companies were subcontracted to make replica parts for the project. The whole thing was well covered by the Japanese specialist press at the time.
I believe Nautilus - having made the bodywork for the S&S car - had plans to make their own versions of the R380 replica, to be powered by modern, production-based engines like Nissan's RB series. However, as far as I am aware this project didn't amount to much more than a few sets of bodywork which are probably now hanging on garage walls as expensive curios...
I supplied some parts for the original Prince R380 to be used in its restoration by NISMO last year, and saw the car during that process. It was really nice to be present at the NISMO Festival to see it run again too, and an honour to be - in just a very small way - a part of its resurrection.
AlanT ah I see..thanks!
The pictures and story goes so well together! great work. but i wonder why ther was nothing to say about the Porsche sitting next to the 380... i read Kremer on top of the bonnet, wich is a famous german Racing team http://500px.com/photo/23395253
I imagine visiting Rose Auto is a bit like checking out the Chocolate Factory and bumping into Willy Wonka. Great article.
It floors me that there is a Ferrari air am just hung over the fence next to a sidewalk.
Were there two Mercedes-Benz 190E (W201) in front of TRA or was I daydreaming? XD
Is Miura-San doing any work on the 190E?
I've got a 190E and I absolutely love to see them in agressive and racing form...
I'd like to see a 190E with a bit of Miura-San 's design...
I'll have to visit Japan one day... XD
RenatoOliveira3 it is 190e tommy kaira x) u know?
Racing? Say it with a local accent... Resin. Sorted.