Forget ‘NSF’ warnings – these images should come with a disclaimer that simply says, ‘Not Safe For Close-Minded People’.
If that’s not enough, then before you head straight for the comments, here’s a quick FAQs checklist:
1: The garage knows exactly what they’ve got parked up here.
2: Nothing here is for sale, so forget asking about that. And none of these cars need ‘rescuing’ either.
3: Every car here has a story. Some are former race cars beyond economical repair, others are owned by customers who simply don’t have the space or time. Some were even gifts, like the FK/Massimo JGTC Supra out front.
Ok, with that out of the way, I recommend that you take a seat before scrolling though the gallery. Because one month on, I still cannot believe what I saw in the most perplexing place, that’s distinctly off the beaten automotive track.
Mark won’t like what I am about to type, because he’s incredibly modest and finds praise awkward. But I’ve been fortunate to work with him for over 10 years, and his tenacity and commitment to doing things properly is really quite admirable. What is really fun to witness, though, is Mark’s absolute obsession with hunting out a certain car or shop to shoot, all whilst trying to put the many broken parts on his GT-R or RX-7 to the back of his mind. Finding this place, though, took a little bit of extra research.
Riccioni, having seen grainy photos from here a few years back, used his incessant need for information to dig out the shop owners’ details. Cue him registering for several Japanese blogs, speaking his very best ‘fluent’ Google Translate, and pestering multiple friends who live within a few hours of it. Only after all of this, was a visit arranged late last year.
With limited information around, there was no guarantee any of the cars first pictured would still be there, but that didn’t matter to him. Because, even if they weren’t, there would be one hell of a story to uncover.
‘WTF’ I hear you cry at the madness that is these photos. I said exactly the same when I saw this story on Top Gear’s website back in October, that Ricci shot and Rowan Horncastle wrote. In fact, I sent Mark a text to ask him a few questions about the trip and he confirmed it was as utterly bonkers as you might imagine.
“They’re all used stock, donor vehicles or on the to-do list,” Mark explained. “Some have been forgotten from both customers and the shop owners, but they’ve been operating for more than 50 years. Most of these cars weren’t that rare when they first turned up. Some will never see the road again, but the majority will as the shop is responsible for many restorations.”
Fast-forward two months and I’m with Riccioni somewhere an hour or so south of Tokyo when the world’s weirdest car collection/graveyard comes up in conversation. Knowing my passion for not sleeping and shooting features after dark, Mark looked at me and said, “Would you like to go tomorrow night?” That’s not even really a question, I think. But before I’d even replied he was translating an email to ask permission for a follow-up visit.
“I’ve actually got to drop the latest issue of Top Gear off to the family as their feature has just come out.” What a perfect excuse for a five-hour road trip.
In life, you learn pretty quickly that it’s important to make an effort and show people respect, but nowhere in the world is this more crucial than Japan. It’s a wonderful way of doing life. To be on time, you must arrive 15 minutes early. If you feature someone’s car or shop, you make damn well sure to keep in touch and send photos or magazines. Interestingly, in the Western world people ask for these things, whereas in Japanese culture it’s often much better to just offer, and then life always seems to be wonderfully harmonious.
This leads me into something I love about Rowan’s approach for the very unique place that you see in these photographs. He wrote a couple of beautifully researched stories for Top Gear and, after talking to the owner of this best/worst scrapyard in the world via a translator for four hours, decided that leaving the location undisclosed was the right thing to do. Since this is a family business, I think you’ll all agree.
Of course, Rowan wrote about this far more eloquently than me, so I’ll let him explain: “We decided not to detail where it is, apart from that it’s in Japan. Not because we’re selfish, but because we want to protect the shop where it resides from being harassed by an army of attention-seeking selfieists looking for shameless content for the ‘gram. The garage is run by a very humble and unassuming family who – luckily – aren’t corrupted by social media or the internet. It hasn’t really reached this inconspicuous part of Japan. And that’s largely how these cars have managed to remain dormant for so many years. So, we wanted to respect their wishes in order to keep it fairly low-key. While also plastering it over the internet. Yes, it’s a slightly conflicted situation. But it’s what was agreed.”
Alas, with that being said, it didn’t take long for a carbon copy of Rowan’s story to appear online via the medium of a forward-facing camera. Welcome to social media in 2020.
Of course, it’s somewhat self-contradictory then, that I type about this wonderful graveyard secret, whilst both documenting it on Speedhunters and piggybacking Mark’s pictures. But all I ask is, if you do happen to find this place – or already know where it is – treat it with the sort of respect you’d like others to have for your own backyard. Because the site is not abandoned, it’s a working shop.
Right, allow me to climb down off my soapbox so that we can get back to the story. Pleasantries exchanged and Toppu Gearu magazines handed over, we took a walk around the first of the carparks.
It was at this point that I started thinking about the angle for this feature and making notes, which were supposed to be a series of beautifully descriptive captions for each car. Instead, it went something like this:
• Alpina B7 Turbo S – I’ve never even seen one of these in real life before.
• BMW 635CSI – Rusty.
• Alpina 635CSI – Even more rusty.
• Land Rover TD5 Defender crew cab – This had some Arabic writing on the fuel filler, so perhaps that found its way from the Middle East.
• Toyota Trueno GT-Z – I don’t think I’ve even seen one of these on the internet, but heck, I love it.
• Corvette C3 – Wait a second, that’s sitting on Work Meister wheels?
• E9 BMWs everywhere. I thought these were expensive. Lost count of how many.
• Must give up writing down every car that’s here before I go mad. Let’s find Mark.
• Wait, there’s a Citroën AX GT over here. Good Lord, I can’t believe it. Ricci is not going to be as excited about this as I am when I find him, but he has to see it.
The scale of it all doesn’t sink in until you’ve actually left. There’s at least 200 cars scattered here.
You know those old American junk yards littered with random cars everywhere? Think that, but with Alpinas and race cars. But as I said earlier on, don’t bother asking if they’re for sale. This shop is still very much active, and not only do they still run multiple race teams, they’re also responsible for keeping many more road cars active all year round.
What you’re really looking at is their overflow parking. Don’t think these are all left for dead though. Of course there’s plans to bring ‘em back to life, the shop is just busy. Really busy. In fact, a large percentage of cars pictured here are still owned by their customers who’ve simply ran out of time, money or space (currently). I’m told the longest-standing car, a Toyota Starlet, has been here for almost 30 years. It’s good to be busy.
You’ll also spy a large amount of crash-damaged stuff here, too. Simple reason: they’ve got the space to store ‘em. With so many customers wanting to go racing – and the shop supporting that from start to finish – a fair amount of cars get smashed up during the process. For those owners not prepared to scrap their precious racers, or want to use the parts in a future build, it’s easier to leave them here than trying to find storage in downtown Tokyo.
That being said, the shop owner does have the unfortunate habit of collecting some right weird things too. But they’re mostly kept locked behind shutters.
See that NASCAR on the roof? That’s legit. It was imported by a previous owner and made road-legal, too. It regularly drove around Japan which is just the coolest image. Inevitably, the hassle attributed with doing this became too much, meaning it was sold to become a shop display and remains here indefinitely.
Alpinas. Alpinas everywhere. This is what I struggled to get my head around most; these are rare, expensive cars now. Like the rest of this confusing place, there’s quite a simple reason behind why. Several decades ago, an Alpina owner popped into the shop for some maintenance. Being a general garage as much as a specialist, the answer was always ‘yes’ and the car was fixed. Through word of mouth – and others seeing Alpinas littered around their workshop – they quickly (and unintentionally) became a specialist for them. The more spare cars and parts they gained, the easier it was for customer cars to remain roadworthy.
Before we head to the comments section, however, I’ll leave you with this final bit of food for thought.
All the cars here have been used properly at some point. None of the odometers have low miles, and every race car has been used in anger – some a little too much, resulting in them ending up here. For me, this collection of cars is way less questionable than an assortment of super-low mileage cars squirrelled away by someone obsessed with collecting and not driving. That’s much more of a crime.
Because one day, any of these cars might end up back on the road. Or their parts might be used to repair another instead. Give me a car that’s lived a life at some point over one that will forever be an ornament waiting for the next record-breaking auction.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to answer any further questions on this brilliantly mad place.