The thing I love about Japanese car culture, and I'm sure many of you will agree, is that it is so vast and varied and has so many subcultures that you'll almost never discover all there is to find. There are also a few facets of Japanese car culture that are so mysterious and steeped in legend and lore that they have captured the hearts and minds of many who love cars. For me, one of those scenes is the legendary wangan racing scene that had its peak throughout the 1990's. I'm sure if you clicked on this article you are familiar with the highly exclusive, highly secretive, and fabled Mid Night Club that were the undisputed kings of the street racing scene of the Tokyo Bayshore Route and surrounding highways (otherwise known as the wangan). Not much is known about this enigmatic organization that disbanded following a massive accident that broke their strict code of ethics and caused multiple fatalities (including civilians) in 1999, so information is passed through word-of-mouth and any insight into the club is extremely rare, heightening their legend. Of course, the coolest part of this team was the cars they all drove, as to even be considered for membership in the club, your car had to be comfortable at speeds exceeding 300 kph, and the coolest of them all needs no introduction...
Mid Night Racing Porsche 911 Turbo (930)
Thanks to Speedhunters' Japan-based correspondent Dino Dalle Carbonare, we got an in-depth look at the state of this street-racing legend that ruled the roads back in the 1990's (if you haven't already, check out his piece for more information on the car: http://www.speedhunters.com/2015/10/finding-the-mid-night-racing-930/). For those who don't know, this car started out in life as a 930 Porsche 911 Turbo, air-cooled flat-six and all, and was continuously evolved upon until reaching its peak form in the mid 1990's, where it was boosted to well over 600 horsepower. That may not sound like much now, but this was a time when the fastest production car in the world, the Mclaren F1, produced around the same amount of power, not to mention the fact that the 930 was a notoriously difficult car to drive in its stock form. Exterior modifications were few and far between, limited to Ruf-type wheels (as the car was meant to emulate the record-breaking Ruf CTR Yellowbird), a larger front bumper to accommodate extra projector lights for improving night-time visibility, more aerodynamic side mirrors, and NACA ducts where the quarter windows used to be to feed the turbocharged engine. Most of the money spent modifying this car was done on the engine, and estimates for the costs of the modifications are well upwards of six-figures, possibly in the millions. This car and of course the man who drove it, Yoshida-san, were the inspiration behind the character Tatsuya Shima of the manga and anime series Wangan Midnight, a surgeon by day who spends his high salary on modifying his 911 Turbo to be the fastest racer of the wangan. While the car was last seen in an Odaiba-based dealership called Premier Cars, it isn't known for sure where it is today, but lets hope the current owner still gives it a good thrashing to stretch its legs a bit.
Following the disbanding of the club in 1999, most members moved away from street racing and some away from cars altogether, however a few highly regarded tuning shops in Japan remain committed to the style and culture and their founders are even rumoured to be original members of the club itself. One such man is Kazuhiko "Smokey" Nagata, founder and chief of the Top Secret tuning house. Famous for pushing the limits of what performance can be extracted from a car, and then pushing the limits of his creations on the public road, Nagata-san is a mesmerizing figure in the Japanese car scene. One of his most infamous incidents occurred in 1999 when he shipped a ~1000 bhp MkIV Toyota Supra to the UK and hit nearly 320 kph on the A1 expressway. He was then promptly jailed for the night, fined, and ejected from the country. The Supra he used would then be transformed once again to create a truly iconic car...
Top Secret V12 Supra
Yes, the absolute madman put a 5.0L V12 under the hood of his already infamous A80. You may be wondering why he would ever remove the venerable 2JZ-GTE motor and its vast potential. However, the engine he swapped in is a gem of an engine, and probably deserves its own post. It is of course, the 1GZ-FE V12 that was found only in the 2nd generation Toyota Century limousine. Not only is it the only series-production V12 ever to come out of Japan, it is thought that the engine is essentially two 2.5L 1JZ blocks sharing a common crankshaft. Not only does that make it very reliable, it also means it should theoretically have great tuning potential. Smokey then added forged custom internals for the motor, and strapped twin turbos on it as well, meaning when the 2 ECU's (one for each bank of cylinders) were hooked up and programmed, it would produce around 930 bhp, making this the most powerful 1GZ in existence. On top of the wild engine conversion, Smokey developed a new aero conversion for the Supra, making it more slippery and giving it its distinctive face. Once the car was finished, it was shown at the 2007 Tokyo Auto Salon (an event that also needs its own post), and eventually shipped to Italy to achieve its primary goal, hit maximum velocity at the Nardo Test Facility's famous circular top speed course. The car delivered, hitting 358 kph (222.6 mph), but before all that happened, Smokey took the car out to the wangan to do what he does best...
The grainy, subtitled video above is a piece by Japanese car magazine Option, who also ran a video series (pre-YouTube) called Video Option (V-Opt) and is a real treat for anyone who loves Japanese car culture.
Toyota's were not the only thing he would put under the knife, as he was very fond as well of the Nissan Skyline GT-R (who isn't?). However, back in 2004, development on the then-upcoming R35 GT-R was taking too long for Nagata-San, so he decided to make his own.
Top Secret Nissan Skyline V35
Starting with the base chassis of the then-current Nissan Skyline Coupe (V35), known to us in North America as the Infiniti G35, he set out to make it into a car worthy of the GT-R badge he'd affixed to the front. He started by getting rid of the VQ35DE V6 that came standard, and then put in a 4.5L VK45DE V8 from the Nissan Cima sedan (sensing a theme here?) which he boosted with two HKS turbochargers, to the tune of 712 hp. He also fitted all necessary sopporting mods, a new aero kit, and much-loved Volk GT-C wheels, and then guess what he did...
Smokey has back catalogue of legends, including a custom widebody 996 911, the famed Competizione R R34 and R35 GT-R's, and an R32 GT-R with a full R35 drivetrain and interior swap, to name a few.
Bringing it back to the Mid Night Club though, Smokey Nagata was not the only tuning shop head rumoured to have been a member of the team. Another was a man named Uwabo-san who had a hand in creating the 930 Turbo seen earlier and has been tuning cars since the late 1980's. His tuning house still remains active today.
This is where it starts to get a bit more difficult for me, writing this article, as there is little to no information about Uwabo-san's work with the Mid Night Club and his projects after beyond the fact that he was a member. However, one thing that I, and likely anyone who has heard of Abflug, knows is that they have created some of the most polarizing aero conversions to come out of Japan.
One such conversion was on this R33 GT-R, bearing bolt-on overfenders (almost a decade before it was cool), a contrasting hood scoop, and if you look at the top of the windshield, the infamous Mid Night Club banner. This can only mean that the car was no show car, however, details on the build are essentially non-existent (if you know something about this car, please let me know in the comments). To me, this only heightens the mysteriousness of the club and the Abflug tuning house.
Abflug S900 Toyota Supra
A car with a bit more information available on it is this Abflug S900 Supra. Fans of Forza Motorsport 2 may recognize this car. Along with the love it or hate it bodywork, the engine was stroked to 3.1L, a bigger turbo, titanium exhaust, and upgraded suspension were also added to the car with a net result of 800 bhp and a top speed in excess of 350 kph. Abflug also carried out similar conversions on the FD3S Mazda RX-7 and Porsche 911 (pictured above).
Today, Abflug still manufactures aero conversions, but their focus has shifted somewhat to provide distinctive bodykits for higher-end luxury and exotic cars.
Other Names Worth Mentioning
There are other tuning houses that have followed the same path, as famed house Veilside once was a producer of high speed builds that frequented the Option magazine's high speed challenges such as the above R1 Skyline GT-R R32 with 1000+ bhp. Although not based in Tokyo (actually based in Tsukuba), Veilside was still an iconic name in Japanese street racing and tuning. Veilside then went on to create aero kits that were immortalized in the first 3 Fast & Furious movies, the most famous of which being the orange and black Veilside Fortune-kitted RX-7 driven by Sung Kang in Tokyo Drift. Veilside however also have shied away from high power, crazy-aeroed builds in favour of upscale aero parts.
Another name that is well known for crafting some impressive wangan racers is tuning house Pentroof.
Not as legendary a name as the likes of Top Secret, Pentroof is a straight-to-the-point tuning house that focuses mainly on tuning cars to be competitive on the wangan. Examples of their builds include the above Z32 Nissan Fairlady 300ZX, which includes upgraded aero parts for added high-speed stability, and uprated suspension and brakes as well. Under the hood the highly upgraded VG30DETT twin turbo V6 is pushing 660 bhp and 562 lb/ft of torque.
With increasingly strict police and tightening rules around emissions, big names in the wangan scene have nearly died out. However, the culture refuses to die and the expressways of Tokyo still remain a popular place for hardcore drivers to push their fast cars, particularly on the C1 loop section of highway. To find evidence of this, check out YouTube car-spotter LMS5050 who frequents the famed Daikoku PA (a large parking lot in Yokohama on the outskirts of Tokyo which is an extremely popular meet-up spot for car enthusiasts) and particularly Tatsumi PA (another parking area in downtown Tokyo near the C1 loop). While their videos generally focus on supercar spots, it's hard to miss all the highly tuned JDM and Euro sports cars there for a quick breather in between fast runs. This just goes to show that no matter what we face, our passion for cars will keep the culture alive, no matter what.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and tell me what you would use to attack the wangan!