No physical Tokyo Auto Salon this year has been a real hit to the Japanese tuning scene. TAS not only showcases the latest JDM styles and trends to the rest of the world, it’s a big blast of energy for Japan’s tuners to start the New Year off right.
So it feels weird to now be in February, but have not been through the annual whirlwind weekend of automotive madness and come out the other side with a long list of new feature cars to shoot.
As the decision to cancel the event came right at the end of December, many shops and companies instantly paused their builds, meaning a lot of cars that were supposed to debut at Tokyo Auto Salon never got finished. When they are, you can be sure we’ll be all over them, but in the meantime, I thought I’d try to keep the fresh Japanese content coming with a post on my last visit to Liberty Walk.
But the main purpose of my recent visit to LBW was to take a look behind the scenes and hopefully show you just how massive this company has become.
We’ll start off where you’d likely begin if you ever have the chance to visit Liberty Walk at their HQ just outside Nagoya. This facility is where the good stuff is stashed; it’s storage for LBW demo machines and where customer cars are locked away safely while they are in for work. It also offers additional customer parking out front, so you’ll nearly always find people just hanging out, as there was the day I dropped by.
Check this out, a widened Daihatsu Copen next to the evil-looking JPS-themed R35 I just featured. It’s like micro GT-R meets real GT-R!
Take one foot inside the garage and try your best not to lose it.
This is a place where Kato-san’s true automotive taste is beautifully exemplified.
You start up front with a number of aggressively-widened Lamborghinis slammed on air.
At the back, some Japanese classics – a genuine Hakosuka and Kenmeri GT-R pairing that have been stashed here for as long as I can remember. Talk about a retirement fund; these two cars combined are valued at well over the US$1 million mark now.
The rear row is also home to Kato-san’s C130 Butaketsu, which is one of the first cars I shot from his collection. It’s so cool to see that Kato still has this, along with the blue Kenmeri and a handful of S30s in every possible guise, including the white and red ‘number 52‘ I shot in LA before SEMA a few years ago.
I’m not sure what is planned for the tiny Honda N360, but I was honestly more intrigued in the yankee-style Kawasaki Bimota parked in front. I must ask Kato-san about this one next time…
Every time I stop by LBW, the place is always so busy. With an ever-changing selection of hot metal to look at, the local car guys treat the shop like a proper hangout. And with the diner on site, you could stay all day.
Then there’s the loudest car I have ever shot. Forget race cars; forget anything you may have thought was loud – this little old Mazda RX-3 packs a Team Miyoshi-built bridge-ported and carbureted 12A. When I shot it they were only running headers, and I can still remember the violent sound that resonated though my rib cage. Check out the video here if you’re interested.
The views are pretty cool no matter where you look.
This EV charger will make more sense once we take a look at the meeting and gallery area behind the glass door. Yes, it hints to a future project or two.
This all brings me to one question…
If you had to choose just one car to take home from this garage, which would it be?
You might not know it, but Liberty Walk has also created a wide-body conversion for the 86, which sort of reminds me of the limited edition KM4SH kit we collaborated with Miura-san on years back.
While I was looking at the customer cars outside, something very familiar arrived on the back of a transporter.
It’s crazy to think it’s been exactly a year since I featured Kato-san’s Silhouette R34. This mashup of vintage race styling on a more modern car base has just been applied to the S15 that Liberty Walk was planning to show at TAS 2021. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to shoot it as soon as it’s done.
The meeting area next to the garage has been completely redone since my last visit and now sports a massive table for Kato and the LBW staff to hold meetings around.
However, it was the wall of model cars that really grabbed my attention.
These are all custom cars that were entered into a competition that Liberty Walk held, and there are some amazing creations, each one as unique as can be. Check out the Initial D-themed Kenmeri, which has a cut-out of Kato in Takumi Fujiwara guise stood next to it.
I thought this was a great initiative to help grow passion around cars, something that’s started to become lost on the younger generations in Japan over the last couple of decades.
I’m doing my part with my own kids – not that they have much choice in the matter. Seeing my son lust over a white F40 model brought a tear to my eye.
He was also pretty interested in the LBW drift car shells. RC drifting is one of the newest hobbies he’s gotten into now. I may or may not have played a part in that…
Is this what that EV charger is all about? Yes it is; LBW will be jumping into EV customization soon, or at least when Sony’s electric sedan and Tesla’s Roadster hit dealerships.
LBW gets so many visitors that each time I stop by I discover that every Speedhunters sticker I’ve ever stuck on the garage door has been buried. Luckily I had one of our old Hunted decals handy.The Warehouse
Next up was a quick drive down the road to check out a new building that serves as both a warehouse and packaging center. Of course, there is always plenty of space to park cars.
I was instantly drawn to the shiny BCNR33 GT-R…
… And the BNR34 behind it. Both are in pristine condition and not registered; I’m told they’ll eventually become demo cars.
The Lexus LC is one of my favorite Japanese GT cars of the moment. While spending some time with one in Melbourne a few years back, I quickly grew to appreciate the lovely NA V8 up front. It would be great if Lexus made an ‘F’ version and went all-out, don’t you think?
As for the American bus, that was used as a mobile shop for events. Remember those?
Stepping inside, you’ll see that Kato’s collection has spilled into this building too. Talk about a good problem to have.
The blue Kenmeri is a TAS 2014 car with a full Mizuno Works-built L28 under the hood.
I have a feeling that this MA61 Toyota Supra Celica won’t be staying stock for very long. Now that I think of it, this could be one of the best platforms for Liberty Walk to go really wild on.
Next to the cars is where body kits are boxed up and stored away. Once an order comes in, they’re able to be shipped out in no time thanks to this friendly guy.
What I like about Liberty Walk is that no matter which building you’re in there always seems to be a place to sit down, chat, and relax for a bit. In this case it’s a little balcony area overlooking the warehouse.
Here’s my son chilling out with Kawamura-san of LBW while the old man slaved away taking pictures.
The view isn’t too shabby, and from here you can see another of Kato’s passions – military vehicles. I think I’ll keep that for another post…The Workshop
Another few minutes’ drive away is a little place we’ve seen before. This workshop is the closest one to the HQ; the main workshop is actually close to an hour away, and is a far bigger facility complete with a couple of paint booths and where most of the development work is done.
That said, this place alone is bigger than most JDM tuners’ workshops, which again emphasizes just how massive Liberty Walk has become. By the way, do you remember the Miura kit car that broke the internet in 2018? Here it is again.
While you are about to see some more very nice four-wheeled metal, I just wanted to say that this Piaggio Ape is the best vehicle I’ve ever seen on LBW’s premises. All it needs is a proper injection of bosozoku style and then we can classify it as another Japan-Italian masterpieces, like the Italdesign GT-R50.
Lamborghinis are never too far away; this Aventador was being readied for some extra LBW girth.
However, it’s always the kyusha that wins my attention over.
What would the Lambo purists say, I wonder?
Liberty Walk really is a master of modern day Japanese tuning. They’ve been at the forefront of a shift to the more aesthetic side of modifying, and in doing so have really left the masters of the ’90s behind.
This place reminds me of Top Secret 20+years ago.
Again, there’s a little corner that Kato-san is using for additional collection storage space. This time it’s bikes, and a nice variety of them too, including a pair of old Honda CB police cruisers.The Retail Shop
Our last stop is a return to the main HQ for a look at the final two sections that make up the greater part of Liberty Walk.
In front of the shop there is always a rotating display of cars for sale, typically secondhand vehicles that have been exchanged for newer, modified cars that LBW builds. This FC3S RX-7 is sporting an old school wide-body conversion.
They also had a couple of Honda S660s – the coolest modern kei car out right now – up for grabs.
Or is it? The Suzuki Jimny has continued to be a runaway success with waiting lists for new cars still stretching out to a year. But discerning buyers could skip that, pay a bit more, and get themselves an LBW version that looks more like a mini G Wagon. The wide fenders mean you lose kei car status (read: cheaper tax), but I think it’s well worth it for proper street cred.
Inside the shop, Kato shows the world how merchandising is properly done.
A lot of effort goes into this side of the business, with 15 to 20 staff working on it.
The shop opens up into what used to be an office, but has now been turned into a model car gallery. These aren’t for sale; it’s just a collection of one-off built examples.
Also in this area is a massive Zero Fighter plane replica that’s purpose is to push air through the building via its massive propeller, and look really cool.
Accessible from the outside is the final piece of the puzzle – the LB Cafe diner. At the time of my visit they had this 1:1 Hot Wheels packaging backdrop, so people could park their cars in front and take a picture. What a cool idea!
Inside you’ll find seating for about 60 people, and there is just as much space outside too. Upstairs is Kato-san’s office, from which he can look down onto the fruits of his labor.
The cafe serves up a nice selection of comfort food both at lunch and dinner time, and speaking from personal experience, the burgers are especially good.
Liberty Walk started out in 1996 as a secondhand car reseller; 25 years later it’s one of the biggest and most recognizable aftermarket automotive outfits to have ever come out of Japan. And it’s all testament to the hard work, dedication, and passion of the man behind it.
Stay tuned for more from LBW…
Dino Dalle Carbonare