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…

Japanaholik’s Journal | First Day in Tokyo

I threw up a rough itinerary beforehand, because when travelling Japan for two weeks, ideally, you need to know when and where you want to visit in an organised fashion. Simultaneously narrowing down the must-see spots and then ensuring they are within fair proximity of each other is a task and a half. Tokyo, as big as the metropolis is, has an efficient and smooth-running public transport system, so I didn’t even bother hiring a car out for the first portion of the trip.

Tokyo and its greater area is home to many famed tuning shops and motorsport outfits. But its the lesser known garages that I wanna check out, so I made it out to Car Make Corns’ location in Edogawa, just outside central Tokyo. The ‘Corns’ in the name is a literal metaphor for the kernels found on a corncob. It represents the unity between Roadster enthusiasts and how the members of the community are one and the same. This might sound a bit idealistic, but I met some cool lads on my visit, and they all owned MX5s so I can verify the company’s quirky name.

CMC is a well established company from what I could see, and I know that their online presence is healthy, with distributors in both the UK and the USA. CMC USA distribution co-ordinator a.k.a. MiataMan happened to be there at the time I went. He was helping out at their vending stall at the Karuizawa Roadster Meeting (the event I missed by a few days!).

Anyway, heres the stuff I got to see.

The conversion kits caught me by surprise, and definitely look even better in the metal. I’m glad these kinds of modified MX5s exist, as it shows how limitless creativity can be without sacrificing quality and execution.

I mean, that off-white/cream Pit Crew NA wasn’t exactly showcar quality, as the owner clearly drove the car well, but it exudes character and charm. Even when you look at the interior, every detail is thought out and nothing clashes at all, from the billet CNC-machined handbrake lever to the custom quilted dashboard.

As you can see from the photos, a lot of their product range consists of accessories and dress-up items for your Roadster, but they do manufacture some of their own parts such as stainless-steel exhausts, bucket seats, and the CMC-03 14″ pepperpot-design lightweight wheel. They also have a good link with Mazda themselves which allows them to source and sell those old and hard-to-find OEM bits to the hardcore purists.

After hanging out for a bit, I felt like I ought to get going, because the longer I stayed there the more emotional I got due to being an ex-Roadster owner. Since I was only window shopping, we bounced and headed in the direction of Tokyo over the Arakawa River to the most R.E.spected tuner of the land.

The first time I saw an RE-Amemiya FD was on Gran Turismo in the form of the 2004 JGTC car the company built and powered using the extraordinarily turboless 20B 3-rotor engine. It was the first RX7 I had come across with fixed headlights, so it took some time for me to warm to it, but as we’ve gone through 15 years of awful styling (especially in the west when it comes to race cars) the car looks better than ever.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to live out my childhood dream by witnessing the car up close in the “real world”, but the guys at RE-Amemiya were working on a bunch of cool stuff, including the next D1 Grand Prix season’s competitor: 20B RX-7 ft. forced induction.

This location base the company have in Tokyo is quite compact in comparison to their Chiba shop from what I have seen of it online. I regret not taking time out to visit the other one, especially with it being close to the airport… there’s always next time…

I am by no means a keen Toyota enthusiast, and I have always looked at the brand a bit sideways as they tend to cater for the masses, especially in recent times. Nowadays, cars are measured by their numbers and stats, and it appears that Toyota does that very well, but lacks the vital property that is SOUL.

I won’t go off on a tangent in this blog post, so I’m gonna let you check out what’s under the roof of the ‘Megaweb’ situated on the artificial island, Odaiba. It’s part-museum, part-R&D centre, part-dealership, surrounded by and connected to a retail shopping complex.

Thats it for the main body of this post of my third day in Japan. Plenty more to come, and I promise that it will get better!

Scroll for the extras…

Below the Surface: Tom & Co’s Underground Unit

It was a bit miserable and rainy last Saturday, but I had been meaning to utilise my workpal’s (Tom, who might pop up in another story if and when he completes his 1st Gen Mustang Fastback) car lift in a den he shares rental with.

Long story short, I ended up doing no “work” on my car but that can be rationally excused due to the unnecessity of a 2010 Mazda 2 fuel filter change. It’s one of those inline filters and we couldn’t work out where it lived under both the car and bonnet, so I thought frig it, theres a fresh Lotus outside thats waiting to be drooled over…

This Series 2 Elise belongs to Nev, a resident (literally) of the decently sized industrial unit Tom and his mates share to store and fiddle with their cars, bikes, vans, and tractor.
I met with Nev once before, when I was running the MX5, and I think it was he who kindly donated a set of wheels for me to drive about on whilst my Buddyclub SFs went in for a desperate powder coating. He happened to be working on his El Camino on that day, but immediately got distracted when I asked if it would be cool if I shot some pics of his Lotus parked up outside under the dull sky. Kindly agreeing, he then jumped at the opportunity of whipping his own pair of compact-system cameras out and decided to join me in capturing as much of the iconic aesthetic of this 2-seat B-road-beater.
Every curve on the car is near perfect, and that is probably why this car has not aged in all those 18 years of existence. It is extreme in its nature, but the intensity of its striking demeanor is not overpowering or distasteful. In a subtle way the Elise is graceful, perhaps it is this colour that makes it so.
I had never seen an S2 in this colour, both in real life and Gran Turismo (virtually the same thing). When I made my thoughts known to Nev, he informed me that his car was in fact of a darker blue hue before his ownership which could be seen by the graze on the passenger side’s wing mirror. This meant that it has had a respray in the blue tone seen on the latest S3 Elise, which suits the S2 sweetly.
As the rain kept on coming, Nev decided to bring his car into the unit, which is access only by a cobbled driveway tilting downward, which was scarily dodgy for me when I brought my MX5 down for the first time. Once through the roller shutter, you are greeted by this place that is booming with character. In some way it is an escape from the bores of everyday life; guys just wanting to let their creativity and madness loose.

Nev plans on taking this thing out on a track once the weather pick up and he finds the time. I hope I am able to join him to catch it flying on some open road and hearing that 1ZZ-FE engine emit its signature exhaust notes when that does happen. Lotus geeks will also be wondering what a pre-2008 model Elise is doing with the Toyota engine as opposed to the Rover K-series that the first batch inherited from the S1. I am told, this non-swapped example is a pre-production test model that Lotus built back in ’03, but even I am surprised at the fact they chose to sell it to the public. Were they that confident in the new powertrain configuration? Well, it is a Japanese unit after all…

The ‘Unit’ as its referred to, is a pretty cool hangout built up by all those that occupy it. I don’t know the exact count of heads who rightfully own the garage, but Tom is kind enough to let anyone he knows to freely use his and his mates’ gear for any repair or maintenance.

The Mercedes-Benz van you see before you, roller-painted in a military-esque grey, is where Nev and his girlfriend Neo dwell. You can catch them on their travels on Instagram [@vanwankers]. It is cool to meet people who steer off the beaten track and I admire their free-spirited personality.

Internally marrooned. Tom needs to get in gear and make progress on this classic machine.

Here we have yet another dusty item on the racking. This RX7 FD shell belongs to guy from my workplace. He rolled it into the unit more than a year ago, no engine or gearbox, along with a half empty interior. I am unsure on what the planned future is for this car, but I am praying that it has a long and prosperous one, with a rotary motor (queue jokes about the “unreliability and short lifespan of rotaries”).

I will end this entry with some of the shots I got when light-painting for the first time. This photography technique is epic if you can get it right, so that is going to be my mission heading forward so you might/will see more. Low-light/Night environments are not favourable when it comes to getting the best out of your DSLR, as you tend to get noisy and not-as-crisp shots unless you use a tripod and keep the camera as still as possible to draw sufficient enough light.