This was only meant to be a side story, but after meeting Garage Active’s owner and GT-R demi-god Kazushige Sakamoto, it turned into a trilogy, jam-packed with forged internals, dry carbon body armour and joyful banter that I won’t forget any time soon.
This is the first of those three stories.
As part of our Japan Month theme, I wanted to capture something unique to this country, so I set off to the far reaches of Japan’s many islands, to Fukuoka in Kyushu.
It turned out that a group of Kaido Racer owners I had planned to meet up with were affiliated with members of the yakuza, and for fear of offending them, requested I bring my Japanese friend along from Kanagawa. It all started getting too difficult and inevitably the shoots were called off. I do use all my fingers on a daily basis, so it’s probably for the best.
Hunting around for some more story opportunities, Mark suggested in passing, “maybe check out Garage Active, they’re down that way.” I was happy to fill my diary.
I was well aware of the full-carbon BNR32 Skyline that Mark had shot last year, but I hadn’t quite comprehended how much of a big deal this GT-R specialist tuning shop is.
The Garage Active empire is spread across three facilities, and this is the main office and customer service garage. Posters of ’90s drag cars hint at the history behind Sakamoto-san and the wealth of knowledge, experience and balls of steel that have made him a legend in the GT-R universe.
First up, I had a quick snoop around the front yard, because who doesn’t love the sight of priceless Skylines slowly returning to the earth from where they came. That led me over to the dyno area and back into the workshop to find Sakamoto-san and see how his 2022 Tokyo Auto Salon builds were coming along.
Back in the day, Sakamoto-san was building and racing drag cars, as well as breaking and setting records with them. Nine-second cars were the name of the game, and Sakamoto-san knew all the moves. On the day I visited, a customer’s drag machine was in for work, which was nice because it gave me an idea of the kind of GT-Rs that Sakamoto-san would have once thrown down the quarter mile.
It’s safe to say that Sakamoto-san knows a thing or two about building quick cars, but as the Garage Active empire has grown, so have his ambitions. Not content with building some of the fastest Skylines in the world, Sakamoto-san now builds some of the coolest.
I use the word ‘cool’, but really there’s much more to it than that. This is not just Snoopy wearing sunglasses cool, this is David Bowie playing a duet with Snoopy while they both wear sunglasses levels of cool. This is the Nissan Skyline GT-R entering the world of Singer restomods and somehow managing to steal the spotlight.
What Sakamoto-san has created is, put simply, the best version of a timeless classic. And yes, his favourite GT-R is the BNR32.
While he does have a few 800hp monsters parked up around the place, the real stars are his full-carbon wide-body R32s.
The thing I admired the most about Sakamoto-san was that his passion for his cars shines through for all to see. Out of all the shops I’ve been to so far in Japan, Sakamoto-san has been the only one snapping photos of his cars at every opportunity. He has also been the only one whose gaze is constantly transfixed on his creations, as if noticing some new refinement that needs to be done. His love for the GT-R platform is what makes his cars so special.
I’ll be taking a closer look at his black, full-carbon car shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a few teasers from the shoot:
I’ll also be showing you around Sakamoto-san’s personal car collection, the main workshop where cars are built, taking a sneak peek at some upcoming feature cars, and of course I’ll be catching up with the Garage Active crew at Tokyo Auto Salon this weekend.