As I was standing in front of the soon-to-be-built RWB Miyabi in Kuala Lumpur, a guy came up to me and asked how many of Nakai-san’s builds I had previously followed. I have to say, I really had to think about it, as momentarily I assumed I had seen quite a few. But then, after properly digging through my memories, I realised that I hadn’t actually witnessed a complete RWB transformation. In the last 10 years I’ve seen Nakai build a ton of 911s, but as far as following a build from start to finish, this was my very first.
Which is why a few weeks after covering Art of Speed, I found myself back in Malaysia standing in front of a freshly-painted 964 Carrera Cabriolet that was missing a few of its body parts.
When the guys behind RAUH-Welt Kuala Lumpur asked me if I would like to come over to witness the build of the very first car in the country’s capital, it was something I just couldn’t turn down. I have seen Nakai work his magic in the comfort of his workshop in Chiba for a good decade now, but the interest he’s been getting from foreign customers is something I hadn’t seen for myself. I mean, he is building more cars around the world these days than he is in Japan, which is an inspiring thing to see. Back when I met him he was still an unknown player in Japanese car culture. In fact, he was really only known to a small, select group of Porsche owners that were predominantly into thrashing their cars at track events like idlers. Today, Akira Nakai is an automotive superstar who’s contracted to fly around the world and turn 911s into bespoke creations for true fans of his work. He’s a great example of a modern day artist whose style captivates like-minded people that want to stand out, and prefer to do things in a slightly different way from what might be considered the norm.
I didn’t know it yet, but as I hovered around the build area that the RWB KL guys had set up in collaboration with The Garage KL, I was soon to be further impressed by Nakai’s process, his devotion to what he does and the uncanny way in which he brings people from all walks of life together without literally saying a word. The atmosphere alone was unlike anything I had experienced before. There was much anticipation in the air as everyone wanted to see the car transformed before their eyes. Before all of this happens however, the client must first make sure that the car is prepped and ready to be worked on, and, as you can see above, that all the RWB body parts that make up the kit are painted and ready to go.
The wheels too, in this case a set of 3-piece Work Meister M1s, should also be ready for the build with sizing, offset and tyres having been decided on months in advance. This is paramount to achieve the RWB stance. It’s all about getting the car to sit well, or as well as Nakai can get it while respecting the customer’s demands. He’s built some cars in areas of the world where there are no smooth roads to speak of, so ride height is an important factor to take into account, otherwise he’s just creating a car that would be impossible to drive around.
Nakai landed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport the night before – a short while after my flight from Tokyo had touched down. He came out of the arrival area pulling a small aluminium Rimowa suitcase behind him, and holding a couple of plastic bags.
At first nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but the following morning when he was getting ready and setting up his work space, I found out that the case was actually a tool chest full of the bits and pieces required to piece together a RWB conversion. The plastic bags? Well, those contained his clothes for the few days we were in KL.
If a lift is not available, Nakai always requires a couple of jacks and four axle stands so that the car can be rasied off the ground and have its wheels removed, and he can begin his work.
As Nakai told me, there are only a few kits that he offers, and then he creates variations of them by adding different details, like spoilers and lips. It’s all dependent on what each individual client wants. The first thing he got stuck into was gluing the aluminium grills on the front bumper in place. Before doing so he bent them to size around the openings and quickly sprayed them in black using a rattle can he pulled out of his tool case.
As Theo, one of the three owners of the car, told me, an important aspect of this build was to ensure the entire car was as fresh as the day it came off Porsche’s production line in Zuffenhausen. This meant that on top of the new paint that was applied inside and out of the chassis, the engine was pulled out and rebuilt. This allowed parts like the intake plenums and the cooling fan to be color-matched, which I thought was a nice touch.
What followed next for Nakai was a lot of measuring. He stuck down strips of masking tape so that he could determine the center portion of each wheel arch and get things squared up in his mind.
He then curved a strip of tape to outline the exact place that the RWB flare would sit against the stock metal fender.
Once the mounting points were circled with a pencil and some fine adjustments were done here and there, Nakai drilled a few guide marks through each of the two end holes on the flaring and the one at the very top.
That’s all he needed to do ahead of the next and obviously most anticipated/dramatic step of the initial build process – cutting the fenders!
Like a surgeon getting ready to tackle a large operation, Nakai prepared his tools. In this case it meant sharpening the blade on his air saw.The First Cut
Going by the inner outline of the masking tape that he had laid out, Nakai began the cut. He then slowly moved up while maintaining a distance of around 1.5cm from the tape. Obviously these cuts are covered up by the over-fenders once they are fitted, so they don’t need to be the most perfect line you have ever seen, but it was still surprising to see how years of experience just makes it seem like the most natural thing in the world for him. At one point he wasn’t even holding the saw with two hands!
It was right about now that the owners of the car realised there was no turning back.
Nakai continued in total concentration.
It isn’t until the cut has been completed and the fender section removed that you realise just how much of an opening is required to fit the aggressively-sized wheels and tyres. Prior to Nakai’s arrival, the 964 had also been fitted with a set of 2-way adjustable KW Variant 3 coilovers. These offer a nice balance between street and track performance, with enough compliance to make them pretty comfortable for use on not-so-perfect Malaysian roads.
After the cut has been made, Nakai passes over exposed metal with a belt sander to smooth out the edge.
It was then over to the other side and one more cut.
You can see the sound deadening that dangles down after the cut, which Nakai cleans up with the sander.
With two fenders done it was time for a short coconut water break. Nakai loves the stuff, so every time he’s building a car in a tropical place he’s never too far away from fresh, but appropriately-chilled coconuts. He was more proficient at cutting out an opening to get the straw inside than the locals, which everyone thought was quite funny!
The breaks never last long though. Nakai never really switches his concentration off, or allows anything to phase him out of the zone and break his focus. Watching him work is both unbelievable and inspiring at the same time, but knowing that he’s so in his element just makes you respect the guy even more. Back in the day I remember Nakai telling me that you should always stay focused on your dreams and what you like doing, and for him that’s building cars in his own way. That’s all he really cares about doing, and it shows.
As you can see above, the next step was to fit the front bumper and start positioning a fresh Porsche rubber seal.
The Garage KL, where the build was taking place, is just outside the center of KL and is a cafe/shop where car guys can come and chill out at. Despite the actual grand opening being the following week, having such a legend in town meant that a lot of Malaysian car enthusiasts took the time out of their weekend to come and see Nakai do his thing. There was always a massive crowd looking on, and they brought with them a nice selection of local cars. Or not so local if we’re talking about this particular 964.
The owner of this RSR replica traveled all the way from the other side of the main Malaysian island, a good four-hour drive away, just to spend the entire weekend watching Nakai at work. Built and backdated in the UK using carbon fiber body panels, the car gets properly used around the track (mainly Sepang) rather often, and it’s currently waiting for a new engine to be mated up to the 996 GT3 6-speed transmission that’s already fitted in the car. I’ll definitely have to feature it when I go back to KL next year!
The owner of The Garage KL, Tengku Azman, made sure that the whole RWB crew was properly fed. And when I say properly fed, I mean kept full with a constant supply of amazing local cuisine. I have never eaten so much goodness during a trip, and it just added to the whole experience. Food and cars – what else is there, right?Never Missing A Beat
And while Nakai was loving the food as much as I was, he was the first one to leave after each meal, getting straight back downstairs and onto the job at hand.
Nakai wanted to get through the bulk of the conversion on the first day so that he had enough time on the following days if any aspect of the transformation took longer than expected. So it was on to the rear, where Nakai positioned the over-fenders and started getting things squared up.
In the afternoon the weather reminded us that we were indeed in the tropics. The sky turned a curious shade of yellow and then unleashed a serious amount of rain in a very short amount of time.
Nakai was concentrating so hard that I don’t think he even noticed the rain, or if he did he simply didn’t care.
He proceeded to cut as close to 50 people watched on around him.
With one rear fender cut away, I was quite surprised to see just how many components are laid out in the ends of 964 rear arch. Nakai used some persuasive measures of his own to move some piping out of the way so that it wouldn’t interfere with was he had coming for that section of the car.
Before completing the final cut on the fourth fender, Nakai stopped and let Teoh take over and cut through the last 10cm of metal. It must have been quite a moment for the 911 owner to be called in by the master himself to finish off one of the most critical steps of the build.
With all fenders temporarily fitted, the wheels were also thrown on and the process of lining things up began.
The 964 was all of sudden looking a lot more like an RWB than it previously had, and people were looking on with satisfaction on their faces.
After spending a good hour underneath each corner of the car, measuring and adjusting both the height adjustments on the KWs as well as the camber, caster and toe settings, Nakai dropped it down. Then he stood in front of it, closing one eye as if to aim his vision more precisely down each side of the car.
The car was lifted and dropped a few more times as Nakai made small adjustments. The idea here was to begin to get everything squared up before the final mounting holes were drilled.
This is the moment of no return, so the time Nakai took to check and recheck things over and over again was totally understandable.
Once he was done with the drill, it was onto carefully screwing down the exposed black screws that hold each over-fender in place. The contrast between the Riviera Blue color chosen for this build and the black detailing was really nice. The latter included things like the black soft top, the doors and the headlight trims.
The rear bumper was next on the list of things to fit, Nakai taking time to hand-bend and create the aluminium mounts and brackets that hold all of the body work in place. I’ve decided not to show you this part as it’s obviously something he has spent years refining, so I wouldn’t feel right giving everything away. What I can and will say is that he mounts things in the exact way that Porsche does, except he uses much lighter aluminium supports. This portion of the build is something I hadn’t really noticed before when I’ve watched him work on customer cars in Japan.Sealing It Up
The first day had come and gone, we were well into the night and there was a rush to lay down the famous rubber sealant that he uses to secure and finish off the RWB parts along the body work. This was something he had to make sure he finished so it could cure overnight. Like a master that has done the same job over and over again for years, Nakai got the masking tape out and quickly laid out two parallel strips on each side of the over-fender mounting line.
This would mask a channel for him to run the sealant across.
Which he then did within a matter of seconds.
Nakai then quickly passed his index finger over the bead, pushing it down and smoothing its surface across the whole fender gap.
A few seconds later he removed the masking tape and this is what was left behind. RWB factory finish! Stunning.
With the four fenders sealed up, we all thought that would mark the end of the first build day. We were wrong.
After a quick cigarette break, Nakai went straight to the table and picked up the ducktail engine cover.
This was the last part that he wanted to finish before calling it a night. He had obviously planned to have it done and that’s what he had to do. The FRP part was bolted to the factory hinges, and after some time spent aligning it perfectly he announced he was finished.Days 2 & 3
The following morning we were all back in front of the 964, digesting the awesome breakfast that was served and watching Nakai gearing back to ‘the process’. As you can see, next on the list was bolting up the side skirts.
Masking followed as Nakai prepared to lay down some more black JDM sealant.
After repeating on the other side the RWB look quickly materialised before our eyes.
Being a Saturday, a lot more people dropped by to check out the build. For me, that meant frequent trips to the gravel parking area around The Garage KL to see all the cool cars that had came out. Later on in the afternoon a Porsche collector dropped by and after a quick chat with Nakai decided then and there to have him transform one of his 911s. So I guess KL will soon be getting another RWB creation!
Nakai took things slower on this second day and spent a lot of time on the things you don’t see and the smaller details. All of a sudden he went to the front of the car and began laying down yet more masking tape on the splitter section of the bumper. This confused a lot of people, myself included, as I had never seen him include this step in any of his builds. Like a professional pin-striper he eyed everything up for symmetry, taped some old newspaper pages around, and then hit the area with his rattle can of black paint.
After a few passes he pulled off the paper and masking tape to reveal a nicely-contoured black highlight line across the whole bumper.
Canards followed next, before the front air vents and position lights were prepped for fitting.
By Sunday morning Miyabi was looking pretty much complete. Only a few small details now required Nakai’s attention.
The front and rear lights had been fitted and the car was moved back and forth to allow the suspension to settle so that Nakai could nail the best stance for the car.
While shooting at The Garage KL I met local filmmaker Ryan, who was also there to chronicle the build process. Hit play above and check it all out through his lens.
The last day was all about the finishing touches, and that started with the RAUH-Welt banner sticker on the windshield. Nakai cut it to size and spent time with a squeegee to make sure that no air bubbles were trapped anywhere along the surface.
He then pulled out the famous idlers stencil and sprayed the sidewall of the tyres. It was at this point that I started to think about some of the negative comments that I see floating around on this wonderful place that we call the internet. RWB cars being only for show? People don’t drive them? Come on guys, Nakai has always built his cars for customers that spend all their spare time at the track. Sure, there have been some more show-oreinted builds around the world, but the fact that those cars don’t see the track or nice roads is purely down to the owner’s choice, not that the cars can’t be driven because they’re too low or too wide. I’ve driven many RWBs and they are set up for fun – forgiving fun at that.
The final touch was the RWB logo on the underside of the ducktail.
So almost three full days after the transformation begun, Miyabi was complete and Nakai was done with another international build. The following week he traveled to the Philippines for another car, before returning to Japan to complete a couple of other 911s. Nakai has his entire year booked up and well over 10 cars left to complete before the end of the year – some in the USA for the SEMA Show. Seeing him do his thing somewhere other than Japan helped me further open my eyes and truly witness the total and utter dedication to what he does. Nakai is an artist in the truest sense of the word.
Stay tuned for the complete feature on Miyabi coming up soon!
Dino Dalle Carbonare