Is the end near? Is JDM tuning as we’ve come to know and love over? Are we all destined to be forced into an electric world?
Probably not, this is just me overreacting. But it’s these nightmare scenarios that keep me up at night, forcing me to hunt out tuning shops and reestablish a sense of security that all is still well in JDM land. Which is kind of how I found Garage Yamago.
This is a shop that epitomizes everything I found great about the JDM tuning scene when I first started covering it around two decades back now. Apologies if I sound like an old fart blabbering on about the ‘good old days’, but hear me out…
If I had to pick one aspect from the early 2000s that categorized the whole tuning world in Japan accurately, it’s that it was more cemented in its roots. Now it’s evolved and expanded, and given that the domestic automotive landscape has changed so much, it could never be what it once was.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing of course. There are still plenty of amazing things happening and people doing crazy things, but the energy is different.
Visiting Garage Yamago, however, took me right back.
Yamago-san used to be one of the top mechanics at JUN Auto. He was there for 15 years, working as the right-hand man for Susumu ‘God Hand’ Koyama – the guy that was responsible for the wildest cars and things that JUN ever got to do, be it high-power tuning, drag, time attack, high speed trials, and drifting.
Koyama-san sadly became sick, but Yamago-san stayed on at JUN for quite some time, working on a number of customer cars and company demo machines, like the R35 GT-R and the Synergy V8-powered BRZ.
Eventually though, the time came for Yamago-san to take the plunge and open a shop of his own, just a few kilometers down the road from JUN.
Having achieved so much in his career already, there is a relaxed vibe in Garage Yamago. Despite having visited JUN numerous times for shoots over the years, I had never officially met Yamago-san, but within a few minutes of talking to him at his shop, it became obvious that he has immense technical knowledge when it comes to cars.
As I was led around the shop’s engine building area, we started chatting about RBs. It was like I was talking to the Yoda of tuning.
It’s hard to find someone this looped-in to the global tuning scene, but Yamago-san knows what others are doing around the world with Japanese engines, and the variety of RB-specific parts being developed in Australia and the USA.
Once upon a time, tuning shops in Japan were very systematic. They followed what the Japanese domestic part manufacturers offered and what everyone else had always done, often being weary of using foreign parts. These days it’s different, and Japanese tuners have really been forced to look overseas as the domestic manufacturers have struggled to keep up with innovation.
Yamago-san has pretty much tested it all, and knows what combinations work best for a customer’s specific goals. His years at JUN have made him a jack of all trades, so while he has built a couple of Impreza demo cars, he’s not classifying his shop as an EJ-only tuning outfit. He’ll work on any JDM platform, but RBs and EJs will remain Garage Yamago’s bread and butter.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III I featured last week has been in Yamago-san’s care for the best part of a year. The owner, a Japanese car enthusiast from Bahrain, has a long list of cars built at JUN, and I’m sure you can guess which mechanic was behind them all.
When Yamago-san opened his shop around five years ago, the Evo owner followed, and it’s here at Garage Yamago that the car is being perfected before it’s shipped off to its home in the Middle East.
That’s the kind of trust I totally respect.
My conversation with Yamago-san naturally flowed through every topic you could imagine when discussing the general aspects of tuning cars, and eventually ended up at ECUs. Yamago-san told me that he’ll tune any aftermarket ECU, but when it comes to offering complete solutions to customers, he advises either Link or EcuTek, saying that they’ve done a good job of picking up where the iconic Japanese computers of years past left off.
The AE86 above is a long-term project that Yamago-san has tucked away in one side of the workshop. The turbocharged 4A-G is about to have a complete tear down and be given a breath of new life.
In true JDM workshop fashion, there’s a little area with a kerosene heater where customers can sit down for a chat when they drop by in winter to check on the progress on their cars, or just to hang out.The Customer Cars
Naturally, I wanted to take a closer look at some of the customer cars parked up outside. These are machines that Yamago-san has built and continues to refine and maintain.
This BNR32 Skyline GT-R is a recently-completely build featuring a fully-built 600hp setup with a few top-shelf components added to perfect the way it behaves.
Looking over this car, Yamago-san and I eventually ended up talking about ignition coils, and what sparked the conversation (no pun intended) was the fact that I saw a couple of different systems being used on the cars he’s built. I’m naturally interested in this subject as I have always been impressed at the difference a decent set of coils make (you might remember me swapping over to Ignition Projects coils on Project GT-R six or so years ago). The ignition system is one aspect of my R34 that I intend to readdress, as I really want something that has the same power and resistance to overheating, yet be able to fit under the RB’s spark plug cover.
At the far end of the parking area was this pristine Midnight Purple BCNR33 GT-R on a set of Enkei RS05RR wheels.
The car has recently been refreshed and tuned up to 500hp, taking what the RB offers and maximizing its potential in a reliable way. The R33, like the 996 for Porsche, has become the latest GT-R variant to explode in value.
There were also a couple of Imprezas, this wide-body converted STI catching my attention. That reminds me, I have a cool feature on a Tex Modify-built GDB coming for you Subaru fans.
Ever since I arrived in Japan I’ve always had love for the Nissan 180SX, and this one certainly deserved a closer look.
Aesthetically, it does a great job of being subtly aggressive with slightly wider front and rear guards topped off with a simple but effective set of Yokohama Advan RG wheels.
It backs up its exterior appearance with a nicely tuned SR20DET engine running a larger but still low-mounted turbo.
While this RPS13 is often put through its paces drifting, it’s meticulously maintained. In my mind there’s nothing better than a well built and well cared for car that gets abused every once in a while.The Shop
Here’s Garage Yamago’s lounge and office area where customers are greeted and can relax while smaller jobs on their cars are completed.
There’s a lot to look at on the shelves, and countless JDM tuning magazines and catalogs to keep you occupied while sipping on coffee.
It was in this waiting room that I noticed Garage Yamago offers a ¥5,000 (US$50) corner balance package, which struck me as being far more affordable than what other Japanese tuning shops charge. I’ll definitely have to bring Project GT-R over for that once my – spoiler alert – new wheels and tires arrive…
I left Garage Yamago with with a big smile on my face. It’s always nice to find a shop that continues to carry the original image of what JDM tuning is for most of us – simple and honest mechanical tuning to perfect every aspect of a car’s performance. It’s even better to find this spirit in a relatively new business.
My hunt to find more establishments like this one continues…
Dino Dalle Carbonare