Japanaholik’s Journal | Gunning to Gunma in the Honda Inte-R(ental)

This point in the Japanese journey was one I was looking very forward to. Every carboy’s dream is to live the ‘Initial D’ life, and become one with the touge. This time round, I made sure to book a rental car out with more horsepower and pizazz than your average Daihatsu Micromachine. Luckily for me, a company based in Noda, Chiba has a fleet that would make any JDM-fanboy swoon/faint, so why look anywhere else when these lot had all you could ever want.

My criteria for a hire car to get about in on a three-day road trip included the necessity of boot capacity for two large suitcases and a backpack, so the Lamborghini Gallardo was out the window (as if I could afford it). Since binge watching a playlist of all the Best Motoring videos with English subtitles on YouTube, I became to admire the DC5 Integra Type-R, so much so I started looking at ones for sale. They appeal to me as a do-it-all car; drive it to work, load it up with shopping, take it to trackdays. The rental company did have a Civic FD2 Type-R, which is supposed to be the successor of the Integra coupe, but I didn’t need 4 doors, so I made my choice months in advance because I had never experienced a pure Type-R behind the wheel and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

The fact that I fantasized almost every day and night leading upto my voyage in the ‘InteR’ solidifies the reality of the naive overestimation I projected on my adventures around the mountain routes of Japan.

This Honda had over 250000 kilometres on its digital clock (~150000 miles) and most of that mileage appears to have been some fair abuse/neglect.

It all started off well; Recaro seats hug you tight, the gearbox was precise and every shift in ratio could be felt, and that K20 can bring the ruckus on full tap! I did notice, however, the steering felt heavy and a bit uncommunicative, like the power steering had been deleted or something. A few miles into the journey towards Saitama, just north of Tokyo, the throttle didn’t want to open until you had pushed the pedal with enough force which in turn resulted in nearly breaking your neck and claiming whiplash injury. It seemed as though it was jamming shut which I guess is safer than being wide-open, but still not what I had expected and to make matters worse the “engine check” light illuminated. The car ran fine, but I wasn’t taking any chances by beating on the car anymore than necesscary, so I just had to drive it at a pace I could have driven a Daihatsu Matchbox :(…

Arriving with the “Teg” in one piece and running on its own K20 power, we park up in the front of Panspeed. It doesn’t take a detective to know what this tuning house is all about, with the colourful array of rotary-engined beasts lined up on the forecourt and stacked up on the ramp.

Panspeed are synonymous with RX7/RX8 performance tuning and racing. They are known for their wild, squared-off widebody conversions and sending their demo cars around Tsukuba in sub-minute times. More then anything, I admire the outlandish style of the cars that come out of this Saitama-based shop. Nobody cares about the fastest car around a track if it doesn’t stun you visually.

After pestering the chief mechanic (whose name I have embarrassingly forgotten) who took his time out to not only show us around, but also kindly spray some lubricant on the throttle cable winding of the Integra (which didn’t manage to cure the sticky pedal), I grabbed a T-shirt and we were on our way to the hotel in Gunma, the middle of nowhere when compared to the pigeon-coups of Tokyo.

Before we raced up into the mountains of the prefecture ‘Initial D’ was based on, I planned on making a pitstop at a lesser known garage in Maebashi that goes by the name of ‘Total Car Service Usui’.

I first came across TCS USUI featured on the Narita Dogfight site, as Sean caught some shots of Usui-san’s time-attack NA8C MX-5 Roadster at Tsukuba a few years ago at an Attack event.

Not only was it special because all I ever see is Hondas on NDF (not a bad thing when they’re shot and annotated by a truly knowledgable car enthusiast), but when do you ever see an MX-5 this well done and this well used!? Here in the UK theres a few time-attack runners and then you have the spec-car race series which, in my opinion, lack individuality and total freedom when it comes to vehicle design and setup, but that, of course, is inherent in particular type of motorsport.

All I knew beforehand was the address of TCS USUI, and that incredible Roadster the guys have built.

I turned up to what seemed like a very plain roadside used-car dealer. A handful of standard-ish MX-5s, kei cars and a quirky off-road Jimny were all I could see. I assume Usui-san saw me taking photos of his motors outside, so he came outside to greet a delivery man and then looked my way. This is where it got awkward because of the language barrier, but I reckon he sensed my reason for being there.

He welcomed me in to the interior of his shop where there was a counter in the middle buried by all sorts of stuff, from retro oilcans to numerous volumes of the Wangan Midnight manga. You do a 180 degree turn and your faced with inlet manifolds, oil coolers, alloy radiators, steering wheels, crankshafts, engine blocks, and more oil. Its mad how in Japan even the tiniest shop can have shelves rammed with parts so neatly organised.

Then I came clear with my intention – I wanted to see his attack machine for myself. He smiles and leads us outside. Behind this double-door of a makeshift garage, there it was. Usui-san was pretty cool about me taking photos, so I just went crazy and shot as much as I could.

It has obviously changed since the last time I saw it in 2016. No longer is there a white exterior panel on the car, as it has been resprayed in a dark blue, along with revised front and rear aero. The amount of detail and workmanship that has been executed is nothing like I have ever seen before on a Roadster. Man, I wish I asked Usui-san to fire it up, but I fear not because I plan on making it out to an event when the car has its legs stretched out on track sometime in the future, you can count on it.

After a pretty busy day of mostly driving, we get some indoor DIY BBQ aka teppanyaki, and call it a night.

Thats all for this entry. Hope you saw something you liked, maybe one of you were Roadster owners who now feel they need to up their game, haha. As always, keep scrolling for bonus portraits. In a bit…

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