Japanese streets are small. Japan is mountainous. Japanese driving roads are twisty. Ideally, Japanese sports cars are compact, handle well and are often all-wheel drive. But what if you love British culture, racing history and classic cars? What track weapon do you select? For Kamiya-san, the answer is simple: the classic Mini.
Garage Kamiya is nestled in the foothills of Oyama, Kanagawa, an area I frequent for hiking and weekend drives. It’s for this reason that I chanced upon the handsome green shop one day, immediately pinning it on my Google Maps list of interesting places to check out.
Returning a week or so later on a public holiday, I introduced myself and asked to arrange a shoot. As we chatted about Speedhunters, the conversation quickly steered to Kamiya-san’s son, Junya-san (JJ), who you may remember as one of the members of the Low Brain drift team. As it turns out, JJ works with his father building race Minis and customizing British and domestic Japanese classic cars.
It’s a small world and the world of modified cars is even smaller. It was awesome to find some common ground and Kamiya-san was more than happy for me to take a closer look at his workshop setup.
As a technologically advanced nation, it’s funny to think that Japan never actually invented any of the tech themselves; the train, the car and even the computer where all invented in Europe. However, the Japanese are masters of reinventing the wheel. The shinkansen (AKA bullet train) is a prime example of Japan saying ‘let’s take this technology and push it to the absolute limit.’
It’s the same story with Nissan’s historic A and E-series engines.The E engine was designed by the Austin Motor Company and licensed by Nissan in the 1950s. Nissan’s venerable A engine was a modified version using different intake and exhaust porting and an aluminium cylinder head.
It’s this engine that introduced Kamiya-san to the world of Minis, via some reverse cultural exchange. His first car was a 310 Sunny Coupe with a factory-fitted A-series up front and, while working as a Nissan mechanic, Kamiya-san discovered that the engine he loved so much actually came from Britain.
This realisation led him to his next job, when in 1992 he started work as a mechanic at Garage Morris, which is still open to this day. Shortly after, Kamiya-san bought his first Mini and quickly fell into the racing world.
During my first brief meeting with Kamiya-san I thought all the cars in the garage were customer cars, but actually the three Minis are all part of the Kamiya Racing Team. They’re all in various stages in of development and that makes them all the more interesting for us to look at.
The street-registered silver car is a recent purchase and is currently undergoing its first makeover under the knife and spanner of Kamiya-san.
The bright orange Mini has already had a lot of work done and the race results to back it up. In 2019, this car won the Fuel Injected class of Japan’s Mini championship.
Feeling a little like Goldie Locks and quite fancying some porridge, I was told that the third Mini was just right. Years of track time and development has gone into making this the ultimate classic circuit-spec Mini.
The base car is a 1992 Rover Mini running its original 12A (1,275cc) engine, albeit now pushed out to 1,460cc through an 86mm Swiftune full counter long-stroke crank, Swiftune H-section connecting rods and 73.5mm Omega forged pistons. The cylinder head has been fully race-prepped with an extensive port and polish, big valves and deck processing, and the fuel/air mixture is delivered via a Weber 45DCOE carburettor.
A lot of attention has been paid to the Mini’s handling, and on top of some extensive rear chassis work and Aragosta coilovers, the Mini features a full suite of KAD (Kent Auto Developments) parts from the UK. There’s KAD adjustable front lower arm and tension rods, a KAD rear subframe, KAD aluminum radius arm and KAD stabilizers to name just a few.
The classic eight-spoke wheels are 13×7-inch Panasports shod in Yokohama Advan A050 175/60R13 semi slicks.
Amongst all the other racing essentials, the interior features a custom welded-in roll cage, Racetech 4119 seat (mounted right back in the cabin) with TRS 6-point harness, an OBP floor-mount adjustable pedal box and a one-off steering column.
All told, Kamita-san has shaved a massive 110kg (242lb) from the Min’s original weight, providing a super-healthy 224bhp per tonne. That must feel very fast considering the driver’s seat is almost touching the ground.
While the Mini is undoubtedly Kamiya-san’s spirit car, he does also apply his talents to other makes and models. On this visit he had the most beautiful Fairlady Z I’ve ever seen in for a suspension overhaul, along with a couple of MGs.
One of these MGs was very special indeed, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait to find out what lies beneath the inflated body work.
Talking with Kamiya-san about his work, he told me that while he loved British cars and British racing history, he’s never actually been to the UK, and like many Japanese people of his generation, can’t speak English. He was keen to hear stories of classic racing and late summer night drives through the British countryside.
It was past 7:00pm by the time we wrapped up the shoot and the boys were still tinkering away on the cars, saying they’d be there until around 9:00pm. I do hope that one day Kamiya-san will take some time off from building his monster Minis and take a trip over to the UK. I think he’d really love a weekend at Goodwood.