For all its clickbait and shouty influencers, there’s still plenty of treasure buried deep within our YouTube overlord.
You can start by watching something completely necessary – like crushing coins with a 150-ton hydraulic press – and before you know it, you’re deep in Area 51 conspiracy theories with a sidebar recommending cats being startled by cucumbers.
Around 11 years ago, when life wasn’t in self-isolation and I still worked on Max Power magazine, an email did the rounds featuring a black Mercedes W220 and the words ‘Brilliant Exhaust’ as a title. There wasn’t any request to like or subscribe; just a slammed S-Class that sounded like an old F1 car. So much so we debated for hours if it was even legit. Turned out to be very real, and that awkward title was in fact the company’s name.
Brilliant Exhaust, or rather Technical Garage Sasaki, are the brains behind this madness. Their work is far from news; Jalopnik covered it back in 2014. Motor1.com did their own version in 2016. Even Road & Track had a bash last year. But all of these stories tend to repeat the same message: old Mercedes gains an expensive exhaust. Old Mercedes makes a bonkers noise. Isn’t Japan wacky.
Now seems like a pretty good time to give that story a bit more substance, then. Because TG Sasaki bossman, Makoto Sasaki, is the real hero here. Not the websites or YouTubers trying to piggyback off his brilliance.
There’s a chance the majority of you will already be familiar with TG Sasaki, or one of the many ‘F1 exhaust’ stories over the years. Whatever you make of it, the very idea of seeing a bland-looking car backed with an F1 symphony is the sort of madness we thrive on here. It’s easy to think ‘why bother?’. But it’s much more fun to think ‘why not?’.
For many of us, the sound a car makes is often its most evocative feature. I can overlook most shortcomings when buying a car; like a slightly ropey interior, dodgy set of wheels or actual reliability. But sound? That’s non-negotiable. Because you don’t need skill to enjoy an engine’s sound. You don’t need to break the speed limit, and you don’t need fancy track tyres. Just a bit of fuel and some form of road. All we need now is BMW’s engineers to take note for the next-gen M3.
Look at Formula 1 as an example. This hybrid era we’re in has smashed just about every lap record going. Could anyone say it’s the best-sounding era? Only if they’re fresh from cranial surgery. That title belongs to the screaming V10s, although Ferrari’s V12-powered 412 T2 might be the best-sounding of all time.
Not that I’d recommend disregarding everything else apart from noise; you’ll end up with a garage full of broken tat like me. But think about some of your favourite race cars over the years. You might struggle to recite power output, years active or even driver line-up, but I bet you can still hear the sound they made.
Sasaki-san’s obsession with sound first started back in the 1980s. This was an era when the world of motorsport went – for want of a better phrase – completely mental. Think Group B rallying, Group C prototypes, DTM and turbocharged F1 motors. Yet none of these triggered Sasaki-san quite like the world of high-revving motorcycles.
“I remember being at high school in the ’90s, and I’d just bought my first bike to use as transport,” Sasaki-san recites. “It was a Kawasaki Balius, only 250cc but with a very high rev limit. At first it didn’t sound that good, but when I managed to find a used exhaust for it – and then installed it at home – the whole experience was changed.”
Residing on the outskirts of Tokyo, Sasaki-san is everything you’d expect of a Japanese engineer. He’s quiet and reserved, his shop plonked bang in the middle of a residential area. You won’t find him running sponsored posts on Instagram; the only adverts he entertains are exhaust-shaped ones. His goal has never been about mass-producing exhausts, it’s all about creating the best possible sound.
“When I started making exhausts in 2005, I noticed that many companies already created a good sound,” Sasaki-san adds. “But often, the focus is to add noise and not refine it. In order to change the sound dramatically, you have to create a new manifold. Rear muffler equal noise, manifolds equal sound quality. However, it takes a long time, and costs are not cheap. But I believe the result is worth it. I want to provide the option for owners who require the best engine sound possible.”
The first time I spoke with Sasaki-san was around five or six years ago. Having always had an unhealthy obsession for big silly engines in big silly cars, I couldn’t quite get my head round what he was actually doing. Take the D3 Audi S8 system built back in 2013. This was the era fitted with a ‘detuned’ V10 from the R8, so Sasaki-san took it one step further and gave it a sound even wilder than its supercar sibling.
The Mercedes may have been his most notable work, but over the past 15 years Sasaki-san has built similar exhausts for some properly special cars. How about a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti? (see video below) Or a trusty Aventador for headphone-killing revs. It got to the point where I ended up buying a CL600 Mercedes along with his manifolds to try and recreate my own. That didn’t go brilliantly… after it was crashed into and the insurance money absorbed by house repairs.
Having left school in the late ’90s, Sasaki-san joined exhaust maker Yoshimura in the year 2000. Welding was his initial speciality, but over the course of five years he expanded his skills to cover both the fabrication and design too. In case you hadn’t guessed, Sasaki-san didn’t fancy a future making mass-produced systems, regardless of how good they were. So in 2005 he made the decision to go it alone and start his own shop, Technical Garage Sasaki.
What Sasaki-san offered that many larger shops couldn’t was a completely bespoke exhaust, including those all-important manifolds. That meant almost any car could be a suitable candidate, and after several years of grafting away the perfect opportunity presented itself in the form of a Mercedes W220 S600.
Fitted with a naturally aspirated 5.8-litre V12 – unusually rare for this model as the majority were twin-turbo – its then current owner had already built his own system for it. Unhappy with the sound, and thinking it could be so much more, he travelled eight hours from Okayama to have Sasaki-san’s magic applied.
“The owner was very passionate about the sound but could not make the manifolds himself,” Sasaki-san explains. “Before starting, I looked on YouTube but could not find an S600 Mercedes with a good sound. If we created a racing-style manifold for it, I was sure we could create a racing sound also.”
It took Sasaki-san two months of development to fully perfect the W220’s sound. He knew what was needed to give that high-pitch scream having built systems for ‘traditional’ supercars by this point, but the real challenge came when trying to package the manifolds within the engine bay. Funnily enough, Mercedes never designed the S600 to wear a set of tubular equal-length manifolds. If anything, the stock items try to suppress noise rather than emphasise it.
“What made the Mercedes very difficult was the steering rack and subframe,” explains Sasaki-san. “On most supercars, you have a little more space allowing the flow to be manipulated easier. But not the S600. When I was happy with the sound, I called it a Brilliant Exhaust. The ultimate system for the ultimate sound.”
So impressed with the sound was Sasaki-san that he actually bought the W220 from its owner a year later. It wasn’t the first set of custom manifolds he’d built, but it gained him the most notability. So where is it now? “I sold the car to another customer who also lived in Okayama,” laughs Sasaki-san. “Last I heard, it was now sold to some collectors residing all the way in Hokkaido.”
Before we get back to Sasaki-san’s story, what exactly gives these exhausts – or rather manifolds – their distinctive sound? The quick answer is their equal-length construction, which means each cylinder features the same length of tubing before it reaches and merges within the collector. The main benefit here is to expel each exhaust pulse quickly and free of disruption from other cylinders, hugely improving flow and performance. Designed correctly, the pulses merge raising sound frequency (rather than muffled) giving that distinctive higher-pitched sound.
There’s a whole lot more science involved than that, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know what Sasaki-san is talking about. I’ll leave that to the comments section or a more detailed post specifically on the design from Sasaki-san himself. But for the sake of this feature, we’ll just agree he’s got a fair understanding of what’s required to get that F1-style noise.
Back to that W220 Merc. To date, that first video has been watched over 600,000 times and I’m likely responsible for half of ‘em. It didn’t take long for Sasaki-san’s work to gain notability around the world, and quickly his shop became inundated with requests including a Ferrari 430, AMG CLK63 and even a Lexus SC430.
Fast-forward to 2016, and having sold the W220 Sasaki-san fancied another V12-shaped project to get stuck into. Another Mercedes in fact, but this time W140 shaped. Or as we call it in the UK, Diana-spec.
“With the W140 platform, we already know a great sound is possible from this engine – it was used in the early Pagani Zonda after all,” explains Sasaki-san. “But a Zonda is too rare and expensive for me. I enjoy normal street cars, ones that can be driven comfortably and not by a racing driver. If the M120 engine can sound beautiful on a Zonda, it must also be possible on the S 600 Mercedes.”
Applying the same ethos learnt from the W220 system – most notably the fact that Mercedes V12s have sh*t-all space to play with – Sasaki-san once again spent several months building a pair of manifolds that wouldn’t look out of place in the back of an F1 car.
If anything, the result was even more ridiculous – helped by the fact this era of Mercedes looks like a mobile nursing home. That’s actually a little unfair, because in typical Japanese fashion Sasaki-san hadn’t just chose any old S600 from the classifieds to stick an exhaust on. This one wore an AMG badge.
Not to be confused with the S70 AMG – which boasts a 7.0-litre, 500bhp V12 – the S600 AMG was a Japanese-only model with a little over 100 examples built. These still featured a 6.0-litre V12, but with new pistons, rods and a revised ECU power was taken to 439bhp. Other notable differences included just about every AMG trinket imaginable.
“When we see a supercar, we expect a great noise,” Sasaki-san points out. “When we see an old Mercedes saloon, we expect it to be quiet. I think that is why so many enjoy these projects. It’s why I enjoy making them. Not only is it comfortable and easy to drive, but it has a sound better than most exotic cars.”
I’ve been an avid supporter of Sasaki-san for years now. Take away the cost element for a second – because unsurprisingly these exhausts are expensive – and what you’re left with is a man fabricating bits of actual art, both in the way they look and sound. It’d be easy to question why anyone would waste so much time doing this, but the very fact it’s being discussed on Speedhunters so many years later shows it wasn’t the worst idea he’s ever had.
Plus, if you think these headers are ‘wasted’ on an old V12 Mercedes, wait till you hear what he can do with a modern Ferrari V12 like the 599.
I never did replace that old CL600, but my quest for a silly-sounding Mercedes didn’t end there. By sheer coincidence – that was almost entirely manufactured in advance – I found myself in Japan with Ben and Ryan right around the same time Sasaki-san had decided to sell his S600 AMG. We’d used the disguise of Tokyo Auto Salon, but in reality, Sasaki-san was simply prepping the car for a long-haired westerner to come and buy it.
We visited his shop, laughed hysterically at the sound,, and shot the majority of these pictures before loading the car on a boat and shipping it to England where it now resides on my driveway.
— Mark Riccioni (@markriccioni) February 5, 2020
It’s without a doubt the most ridiculous-sounding car I’ve ever owned. But we’ll do a separate story if there’s interest later on.
What next for Sasaki-san? Even though the internet has repeatedly lost its mind for F1-sounding Mercs, Sasaki-san remains as grounded and humble as ever before. He’s not trying to expand overseas nor is he looking for YouTube fame. He’s just a man in his shop building exhausts.
“The Mercedes V12 is still my favourite engine,” he smirks. “If I had the time and money, I would build a kit car using this engine. It produces a sound better than most supercars, and it is still affordable and reliable to use. In a smaller, lighter car, it would have the performance to match the noise. But that is also a lot of work. I think the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S would be good to work on. And if I had the choice? Pagani Huayra. In my opinion, the sound is not good for such an amazing machine. But I don’t think it would be easy to improve.”
Given the fact our automotive future looks either downsized or electrified, I can’t help but think the sound a car makes is more important than ever before. It’s become an endangered species, littered with DSG farts and pop ‘n’ bang maps. Maybe that’s why Sasaki-san’s name has popped up all over again. As we get closer to the internal combustion’s inevitable ban, he’s a little reminder of its bonkers past.
That’s why people like Sasaki-san should be celebrated; not because the exhaust happens to cost thousands of dollars – that’s just lazy clickbait – but because he’s perfected a craft that will soon disappear from new cars altogether.
Electric cars can be made to go fast. They can be made to travel vast distance and they can feel pretty sporty, too. But no amount of synthesised noise will ever be a replacement for a proper engine. And if the manufacturers can’t figure out an electric solution, there’s always a Japanese engineer with an unhealthy obsession for noise.