Meeting The Great Minds Behind Tommykaira

On a balmy summer’s night in the foothills of Mt. Fuji, I stood in the dark, on the edge of a forest at a bus stop – long after the last bus for the day had departed – my camera bag weighing me down and my thumb out in the hope of getting a lift to the nearest train station.

As I expected, every car drove past without as much as a toot. I had come from an event at Fuji Speedway, so there was a hope that someone might pity a fellow car enthusiast and stop to ask where I was headed. After 30 minutes, I started coming to the realisation that I’d need to start making the 20km walk to civilisation, but my thinking was interrupted by the sharp beep of a horn and the glow from the rear brake lights of a GD series Subaru Impreza wagon.


I hurried towards the car in disbelief and jumped in. It turned out that the driver, was not only a fellow photographer, but had been at the wheel of some of the classic Mazda race cars I had been shooting all day. Luckily he recognised me; it would have been a long walk otherwise.


As we chatted about cars, he asked if I knew of Tommykaira. ‘Yes, of course,’ I replied, to which he casually announced while gesturing to the passenger seat: “This is Kaira-san.”


I wasn’t sure if he was joking until, out of the darkness, the mysterious front seat passenger passed me his business card. In the blink of an eye my dire situation had become an unforgetable life moment.

We exchanged LINE details during the drive, and then said our farewells at the train station. But this chance encounter wasn’t going to be our last.


Over the next few months I arranged to visit with both Kaira-san – and the second half of the outfit- Tomita-san on their home turf in Kyoto. When that day finally came, we met at the Tommykaira showroom.


What struck me very quickly during our first meeting, is that these two old friends have a chemistry which is very much The Odd Couple in dynamic. Kikuo Kaira (wearing eye glasses) is softly spoken, deadpan and witty. Yoshikazu Tomita, Kaira-san’s business partner and friend of almost 40 years, is a typical Kansai local – colourful, enthusiastic and never far from a joke.

But despite their differences, the pair have been friends for 48 years and colleagues since 1984 – around the time Kaira-san joined Tomita Auto as an engineer.


There are so many industry connections and threads which form the history of this story, but to keep it simple, it went a little something like this: In the late-1970s and early ’80s, Tomita Auto was a dealership and distributor of various European sports cars from Mercedes-Benz and BMW, as well as the first Hartge dealer in Japan.


Having established a reputation as a brilliant engineer and designer in the UK with Tom Walkinshaw’s Formula 2 car, a podium finish in the Japanese Grand Prix and not least being the chief designer of the Toyota DOME 84C Le Mans car, Kaira-san began work with Kojima Racing in Kyoto to develop their new F1 car – the KE007 for the 1976 Japanese GP. Kyoto isn’t a large city, and it didn’t take long for Kaira-san to pay a visit to Tomita Auto.

Perhaps the two young men recognised each other’s strengths, but whatever the reason, a friendship was formed and ultimately a plan was hatched to develop tuning products for the popular performance cars of the day. And thus the brand we now know as Tommykaira was born.


With technical guidance from the brilliant Kaira-san, Tommykaira didn’t stop at tuning parts, eventually creating complete, special edition cars based on the GT-R, Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution platforms. They were even responsible for a Hartge-tuned Skyline GTS.


As if producing what have now become highly collectable special editions of halo cars from the golden era of tuning wasn’t enough, Tomita-san and Kaira-san set their sights on developing a lightweight, exhilarating sports car that could match the performance of supercars of the day, the result of which was the Tommykaira ZZ and ZZII. But that’s a story for another day. Trust me though, it’s worth waiting for…

The amazing thing is, this pair is not quite finished yet. Kaira-san is designing high-end lawn mowers for golf clubs around the globe, and Tomita-san is negotiating with sponsors to get the ZZII into production.

Having met Kaira-san while essentially hitch hiking, his quiet, gentle manner made it easy to forget the genius he is. The same goes for Tomita-san; he’s a brilliant man with real standing in the Japanese automotive industry.

It truly was an honour to meet two of the greatest and loveliest personalities in car culture.

Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_

More stories from Japan on Speedhunters



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I still remember the joy of driving the ZZ2 on Gran Turismo more than 10 years ago. Thanks for the biographies of the wonderful people behind the brand!


What an amazing story. We have sold several Tommy Kaira Skyline R34's over the years, and I have had the pleasure of driving twisty roads in a group of sportscars. I vividly recall following a ZZ with an owner who is very enthusiastic about his little car. They're very light, snd go well with their SR20 engines.


Awesome read. There is a Tommy Kaira R34 GTR in my area and it is really cool to see at meets.


I just can't get enough of the ZZII look I just really really really like
I don't know why but I'm just so obsessed with that one Tommykaira car


One of the most interesting articles on SH. SH please take this as the best opportunity for rest of the world to know about TommyKaira.

It's been way too long since those early Gran Turismo days. Hope we can somehow contribute anything to help regenerate TommyKaira's legacy with exposure of these innovative designs and automotive geniuses.

Crossing fingers that the ZZII gets sponsorship approval for remanufacturing so some lucky enthusiasts can finally be able to experience what TommyKaira originally set out to do with that design!


There's so little technical detail on the net for the ZZII, but going from old photos and now your brand spanking high red new one, I'd say it ran the RB26DETT "in reverse"? Maybe the whole GTR drivetrain, with the diffs inverted maybe?


It will be amazing to see TommyKaira at 2025 auto salon.