Rocky Auto: Where The Magic Happens
The House That Rocky Built

If you are the least bit interested in classic Japanese cars, then I’m sure you’ll be quite familiar with Rocky Auto – the workshop responsible for building some of the world’s coolest Skylines, Fairlady Zs and other old school JDM machinery. We’ve featured a number of Rocky Auto’s projects over the years, and if you’re anything like me you just can’t get enough of them.

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When I had the chance to spend a few days hanging out in Aichi Prefecture earlier in the year, a visit to Rocky Auto’s headquarters in Okazaki was an absolute must. While I’d seen plenty of Rocky Auto’s vehicles at events over the years, this would actually be first my time to visit the place where they are built. I was excited to say the least.

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But as it turns out, we didn’t pick the ideal day to stop by. A rare snow storm had just rolled through the area, and everything was coated with a thick blanket of the white stuff.

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While this would make shooting photos a pain in the ass, the snow certainly added an interesting, almost surreal effect to the whole experience.

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But before I would wander around the shop, it was time for a chat with Mr. Rocky Auto himself, Yoshiya Watanabe.

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Watanabe-san is a busy individual, and when I visited he was in the midst of finalizing the move to Rocky Auto’s all-new headquarters in the Aichi countryside. As cool as the original location was, it was clear that the company had very much outgrown its digs. In that sense, you can consider this story the last look at the ‘old’ Rocky Auto.

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Looking around the place, in every corner there were stacks of vintage car parts, numerous complete engines and dozens of classic cars. So much cool stuff in fact, that it was hard to tell if I was at a museum or a workshop!

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But amidst the chaos, Watanabe-san was happy to sit down for a chat about cars and to share some of the crazy ideas brewing in his head.

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He told me about how the company originally started nearly three decades ago as a spot for gearheads looking for more speed from their L-powered Skylines and Fairlady Zs.

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As the cars became more valuable, he became more involved in the restoration side of the business, and then in the 1990s he first started swapping modern RB-series motors into classic Skylines, along with contemporary upgrades like air conditioning and power steering. It was there that the Rocky Auto story really took off, and ever since he’s been finding ways to constantly reinvent Japan’s classic cars.

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To me, this is one of the most fascinating things about the man. The cars might be aging and getting more valuable, but Watanabe’s got a mind that never stops planning, and he’s always thinking of the next engine swap or conversion he wants to do. As we saw at the Tokyo Auto Salon this year, he’s even begun to completely re-body R32 Skyline chassis with authentic-looking Kenmeri bodywork.

New Tricks For Old Cars
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While RB-powered cars are still a huge part of Rocky Auto’s business, the company has also started experimenting with VQ engine as a swap candidate for vintage Nissans.

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These days RB motors are almost becoming vintage themselves, and there’s no denying the weight advantage of the VQ – especially when it’s set well back into the engine bay like this.

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Time will tell if the VQ swaps become the default choice, or if customers want to stick with the more traditional RB retrofits.

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Despite their aging design, there’s still plenty to be said for the classic RB – especially the variety of ways in which they can built. Whether it’s retro-themed build with a carb conversion, or something crazy with a stroker kit and single turbo, Rocky Auto has a solution to satisfy the needs of all owners.

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It should be obvious by now that Watanabe-san is anything but a purist when it comes to modifying classic cars. We’ve seen a few of his Skylines and Zs powered by Toyota 1UZ V8s, and he’s also tackled a few 2JZ-GTE projects – like this S30 with five-lug hubs, big brakes and other modern goodies.

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But along with all of the innovative builds and unusual engine swaps, Watanabe-san also has a deep respect for the history of the cars he works with.

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The man knows his roots, and this fully restored and detailed KPGC10 Skyline GT-R is one of the most prized vehicles in the Rocky Auto collection. I wouldn’t count on this one getting an engine swap anytime soon!

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I’ve had the chance to visit some amazing workshops over the years, but it’s really hard to top Rocky Auto when it comes to the sheer amount of cool builds you’ll see in one place.

Lot Of Dreams
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Despite the snow and slush on the ground, I headed outside to check out the cars packed into the storage lot. There I found that nearly every style of classic Fairlady Z and Skyline was represented.

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Not only that, but there was the odd classic Toyota in the mix too, like this tidy little Celica LB.

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You have to remember that aside from its famous engine swaps and conversions, Rocky Auto caters to all sorts of classic car owners and enthusiasts – including those looking for full restorations and classic L-series motors.

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One car that immediately caught my eye was this red Hakosuka sporting a set of gnarly over-fenders. I wonder what’s hiding under that snow-covered hood?

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It wasn’t all Hakosukas, Kenmeris and S30s either – I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of C210 ‘Japan’ Skylines among the group as well.

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And how about a Z31 Fairlady for good measure? As they get older, could these things become a future candidate for full-scale Rocky Auto conversions?

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To use the old cliche, there really is something for everyone among Rocky Auto’s vast inventory of Japanese classics.

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Yet for all the inspiration I found while visiting the facility, there’s still plenty more to come in the future now that the move’s been made to new premises.

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From what I’ve heard, the new location is amazing and I can’t wait to check it out for myself the next time I’m in Aichi.

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There’s also a rather crazy-sounding secret project that Watanabe-san is planning to debut at the Tokyo Auto Salon in January, but we’ll have to wait hear more about that one…

Whatever the case, you can always count on Rocky Auto to keep reinventing the classic Japanese cars that we love, and we’ll definitley be there to share them with you guys.

Mike Garrett
Instagram: speedhunters_mike

Cutting Room Floor
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Is that yellow S30 on 2003-2004 Cobra wheels? Interesting.


I've never liked the Z31, but that one is absolutely stunning.


@nicknorm I don't think so. Those look to be 18" and Terminators only got 17". Cobra wheels also didn't have indentations around the lug holes.


dreams are made of this...


WOW! The Epicenter of style! From a true love of the car; to the expression of all that's cool with them! True "#JOYOFMACHINE!"


I wish there is a Rocky Auto shop around here, anywhere, in Europe for cars like this to be taken care of by somebody how knows what he is doing....


Z31 is aging quite well.


To be honest i'm not a fan of those modern swaps, give me a Hako with a L-series or S with some nice carbs!


Amen brother. But I still have to respect good craftsmanship.


whats the story on the Toyota 2000GT in the background of the Kenmeri shot. Cant believe you didn't show it


@grndfx That's not a real 2000GT, it's a replica and I think I read somewhere that it will have 2JZ


How rare are z31s? I never see any other one besides the one I got.


are all those cars in the yard for sale or customers cars waiting for work / pickup?


Damn, wish I could afford to ship my car over there and afford for them to do some work to it. Perhaps someone could sent some lottery winnings my way!


"no denying the weight advantage".. sure but Good luck cornering with a VQ mounted all the way back there hehe... That will under steer something crazy!!!!


Rocky Auto is at the top of my list for when I one day visit the promised land


Here are some pics from my trip to Japan, last year. I had gone all over Japan(was there for a total of 26 days, going somewhere new each day) with my girlfriend and noticed we were near. So we hopped off the train and took a cab over. There was a wide variety of cars. A little less than Half looked to be customer cars, but who knows. My Japanese is not the best and simple questions were asked. Lol. Either way, I saw some excellent cars and would love to save up my pennies again, possibly to go to the new location? ;)

Gianluca FairladyZ

BrentBynum  mate i am an absolute fan of what you did. i'm planning exactly the same thing like you. i'm planning to go 3 weeks next year with a good friend of mine. Is it difficult to get along there with some basic japanese? And how are the people there, when a "gaijin" comes to have a friendly chat about the both shared passion?


We need more info on that R32 to Kenmari conversion! I'm sure there are heaps of people who would love to turn a $15,000AUD Nissan into a near $100k JDM legend...

BiTurbo from oppo

It's a personal dream of mine to do something, anything, like this but with small-chassis Triumphs (Spitfires & GT6s).

There's no money to be made in modifying such cheap cars, but as a platform they've got some really cool options.

There's the fairly standard TR6 6-cylinder swap (which I'm doing at the moment). Then there's the Dolomite Sprint I4 which is a little monster of an engine, or the featherlight K-Series.

Then we've got my favourite idea. Looking at the dimensions of the Saab B234R (a distant relative of the Triumph slant 4), it should be possible to make one fit with some modification. Those engines can be easily be brought up to circa 300bhp with truly minimal modifications (making for a power-to-weight ratio of ~350bhp/ton in a featherweight GT6), and up to 500bhp on stock internals (far too much power to be putting onto the ground in a sub-ton car).

Certainly lots of potential there :)


Gianluca FairladyZ BrentBynum Japanese are the most friendly people in the world. They are super helpful, super friendly it was almost like they were more excited to show us stuff than we were looking around they are all about it!!!


@LowFairladyNZ not sure if serious or poor attempt at a troll......


The red hakosuka might have the worst fender flairs ever built.


I would recommend hostels. They are cheap and sometimes nicer than hotels. (Use the hostel world app) A lot of signs are in Japanese and English, including the train stations. Most Japanese folk are really nice! But if you happen to try to ask someone if they speak English, they may not make eye and continue on their way. My Japanese friend said they don't want to bring shame upon their family due to them not knowing English well enough. So don't be offended, if this happens. We missed the last train out of Kyoto during golden week.....aka ZERO places to stay.....and a college couple took us in/fed us/let us return, they got to practice English and we talked about our favorite animes....they would not take ANY money.....
Also, there is free wifi at 7-11 stores, you just have to sign up for it. 7-11's are on every corner.....seriously.....


BiTurbo from oppo Those are some good ideas, but yeah like you said it's all a matter of what someone will play for me. Would def be awesome as a personal project though!


BrentBynum Good stuff! Weather looks slightly more pleasant than when I was there haha.


ae70 It's a bit of everything actually. Too many cars, not enough space - but the new facility helps in that department.


@grndfx It might have something to do with that secret project I mentioned ; )

hash the toyota man

i am seriously starting to like the z31, looks really good on watanabes.  and i really need to visit japan, government regulations where i live make modding a car really hard:(


That Kenmeri  bodied R32 looks so convincing!


Thanks! But you got to go INSIDE the shop where the Magic happens! Not to mention you met the owner and you definitely had a better camera for your visit....I used my ipad ii? It is all I had at the time.....
I might have some more pics......
I also went to Top Secret, but Smokey said I could look at all of the cars but no pics of the cars inside the shop(customer cars/race prepped cars)....everything outside was fair game.


Rocky Auto  Rocks, hail to the King of Restoration

33 much Datto porn.......

Gianluca FairladyZ

BrentBynum  Hey thanks mate, some very good information here! Thank you very much! So you don't get treated like the bad "gaijin" from the movies? :) I have to post it on insta when i finally get there...

Gianluca FairladyZ

ae70 Gianluca FairladyZ BrentBynum  Sounds good to me :)