I love hiking in the mountains of Japan. It’s a great way to escape the city, get some fresh air and, as it turns out, stumble across a secret collection of decaying Volkswagen Golfs.
That’s precisely what happened to me one day, two years ago. It’s taken quite a few emails and just as many phone calls to make it happen, but this winter I was finally able to enter what I’m calling the ‘Golf Sea’ at Spinning Garage to shoot this feature.
The owner of Spinning Garage is Nobukazu Tanaka, and he is a hard man to track down. Naturally, I emailed the garage immediately after first spotting it, but with no reply I gathered my Japanese thoughts (and a little courage) and made a phone call. Tanaka-san wasn’t in on that occasion, so I explained my request to a staff member and asked them to pass on a message to the boss.
A few weeks passed with no reply. Again, I sent an email, and again, after no reply, I made a phone call. Same result. I tried this combination once more and then gave up.
But almost two years later, after driving past the garage once more, I decided to try my luck and sent one last email. Hooray! A response and an open invitation to come and shoot the sea of Golfs.
I had of course asked to meet with the boss man, Tanaka-san but, unsurprisingly, he wasn’t there to greet me. No matter, because Spinning Garage’s 11-strong staff was more than welcoming.
Apparently, Tanaka-san’s love affair with the MkII Golf started when he was a student. He used to race them on track days with friends and did all the maintenance and tuning himself. It seems Tanaka-san knew he wanted to open a Golf-only specialist shop from the very beginning, and fulfilled that dream with Spinning Garage in 1998.Keeping The Dream Alive
Even after all these years, he never gets tired of the MkII Golf. And not just because he loves the way it drives and handles, but also because the community of owners, collectors and enthusiasts in Japan is warm and welcoming.
These cars are a rare sight on the streets of Japan, and in fact the world over. I think Spinning Garage have more MkIIs in their main yard than I’ve seen on the street during my entire lifetime.
Yes, it’s a little sad to see so many end up in disrepair, but at the same time amazing that so many are waiting to be brought back for a second chance. There’s obviously a huge Golf following worldwide, especially in Europe, but due mostly to the availability of parts in Japan and the dominance of the Mini Cooper in the European mini-car sector, Golfs have been relegated to cult status here.
It must be a bigger cult following than I’m aware of though, or they only come out at night. Because, with such a big team and more than six cars being worked on during my visit, Spinning Garage are flat-out keeping Golfs on the road, plus restoring and selling them too.
It’s safe to say the team can meet just about any request, from fixing window seals to completing engine swaps. They were shoe-horning an R32 VR6 into this MkII. It’s not a new engine swap recipe by any means, but it was interesting to see it happening in a shed in the middle of nowhere.
Stepping out of the workshop area is where things get interesting. Among the 200+ cars that litter the two yards, there’s a shed with not one but two Golf Country Syncro 4x4s produced by the military vehicle manufacturer Puch. Only 558 were made worldwide and only 110 where imported and sold in Japan. Of those 110, only 15 green metallic and 65 black cars were imported.
I’ll leave you here and let you wander around the yard. It may be a little bit spooky, but remember, Golfs are the friendliest cars in the world.
Where did Tanaka get all those MKIIs?!! Were they IN Japan or were they imported later? Got some very cool VWs there. Good find!
Are Mk2's getting that rare now? Not that rare in the streets of North America
Mk2's have an old school German feel to it that subsequent generations do not have and this makes them unique. Think of W460/463 G-Wagens or air cooled 911's feel and this would be along those lines
Never knew that there was a dedicated shop for Golf MKIIs in Japan and I love that they're keeping them alive
Ah, arguably the spiritual father of all hot hatchery!
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classic Golfs* might be the friendliest cars, yeah sure, but come to certain parts of the UK, and you'll see that they are THE car to have if you're a drug dealer wwwwww
Just to clarify. The Golf Country was made in around 8000 units, the normal one, a "luxury" version called Chrome and a basic (and more rare) Allround because the price was too high and in the time the sales suffererd.
Nevertheless it's amazing to find 2 of this rare Golfs in Japan.
That's a 12v VR6 in the mk2 that you showed early in the article. Those were never offered in a R32 because by the time the mk4 Golf platform was around they had moved to a 24v head, of which the R32 was based on. The intake manifold is a dead giveaway. The R32's VR6 was a 24v engine and had a vastly different looking intake runners.
Also, forgot to add, as with Subaru's you can Lego VW's as well. The mk2 platform was the basis for the Corrado. That model had a 2.8 and/or 2.9L 12v VR6 option. So it's a pretty straightforward affair.
Interesting find! Had never herd of Spinning Garage before.
We have a low mileage 16V Mk. 2 sitting at our place. Now I know where we might be able to get parts, whenever I get around to fettling it.