Every once in a while I get a reality check. I’m reminded of the true depth of the Japanese automotive culture and am forced to look at things a different way. Even at the age of 35, the secrets of the deepest oceans of Japanese tuning history continue to unlock, forcing me to re-evaluate, re-consider and re-assess the way I previously saw things…
And so it was with this particular 1990 vintage R32 GT-R and the story behind it. Nagai san and I chose to meet at Daikoku Futo; that legendary car park known for its automotive diversity the world over. There are no surprises there since Daikoku P.A is more known to Nagai than almost any other person in the world. The plan? To get some work done with little thought given on my part to the weight the words for the story which would accompany the shots would carry.
What you are looking at is a legitimate Mid Night member car and there are certain matters pertaining to the discussion therein that I can disclose and some things I cannot go into detail over. Such is life when the Mid Night club is concerned and since I am close to a great many members of the club, for their protection, I have promised to withhold certain information.
Nagai san and I have been friends for a while but I mistakenly considered him to be a “normal” part of those who frequented the Wangan outside of the clubs you and I know of more famous natures. This was a big oversight on my part, revealing more than a little naivety.
Truth is, the car you are looking at was bought brand new from a Nissan dealer in 1990 and Nagai has kept it ever since, progressively turning it into the monster you see before you. He has had this car for over 20 years and has been a member of the Mid Night club for over 15 years. Think about these truths for a moment.
I had to stop, brow furrowed, mind racing, as I took it all in. Here was a man with this incredible machine that has circled the C1 and C2 loops, Wangan roads and other roads besides in and around greater Tokyo at up to 300kph with some of the most legendary street racers in the world for over twenty years. A small amount of shock from those realizations had, by that point, well and truly set in and I was transfixed to every detail there after.
And it is truly vexing me because I am not sure what to focus on; the engineering masterpiece that is Nagai’s GT-R or the Mid Night backdrop story that comes with it. I will resolve myself to spicing up the dialogue with hints of Mid Night madness in order to strike that delicate balance. Over the course of the next 6 hours, Nagai san and I talked; Nagai animatedly recounting some of his fondest stories and also some of his sadder ones during his time among the legends of the night. The Mid Night club was and on many levels, forever will be shrouded in secrecy.
I can tell you this. Nagai and the Trust blue R32 you see here ran with the owner of the Porsche Blackbird for many years. Yes, that Blackbird. It’s not a GT-R built for top end speed but more so for cornering balance and instant response so it comes as no surprise that Nagai is a C1 and C2 specialist.
Getting straight to the heart of the matter is the cherry red engine which was built and tuned by another legend of the tuning scene here in Japan, Hosaka Tuning Factory. Hosaka san used a complete R34 GT-R Nismo engine in N1 spec for the task which contains an N1 block, pistons and water pump. Incredibly, at the time N1 engines were made available they were the same price as the stock R34 units. Providing the thrust is a twin turbo set up consisting of super responsive HKS GT 2530 Kai snails that, when wound to 1.3 bar of boost, generate 550hp. That may not sound like a lot but as I mentioned, this is a response machine and point to point, is a real weapon for cornering and acceleration.
Providing go-juice are Sard 660cc injectors mated to a custom fuel rail and backed up by an HKS surge tank. Hosaka san also installed venerable Z32 AFM’s and tuned the engine with his own custom ECU map to achieve ideal response characteristics. When Nagai is topping out at just over 300kph on the Wangan, intake and fluid temperatures need to stay as cool as possible, so a Sard double core radiator and Trust triple core intercooler help to keep water and air temps under control.
Expelling the spent gasses from the powerplant is a full custom stainless steel Hosaka Tuning Factory exhaust system from the turbos back. Nagai has done thousands of kilometers around the Wangan and runs almost every single weekend so it was amazing to learn that the engine in this configuration has lasted 10 long years. Just as interesting is the fact that Nagai doesn’t run air conditioning; after having the condenser blow on him 3 times, he just gave up and took the system out. “I only run at night so I don’t have to worry about air conditioning!”, he says. 5 years without air conditioning!
Backing up the bulletproof engine is a stout drivetrain consisting of an R33 GT-R gearbox with longer ratios, an OS Giken twin plate clutch and flywheel assembly and a Nismo two way differential with a 4.1 final gearing.
Stopping this madness is a set of dependable AP racing 4 pot front calipers mated to 320mm Blade rotors. Surprisingly, the rear brakes have been left standard but Nagai explains that the R32 is nose heavy so the front brake set-up was most important.
One of the most appealing additions to the package in my opinion is what contains the brakes; a set of gold Panasport G7 17 inch alloys, wrapped in sticky Dunlop Direzza Z2 tires measuring 255/40 on all corners.
In the suspension department is a supple yet aggressive Ohlins DFV system. Nagai previously ran a PFC system but found the Ohlins were much more comfortable on a day to day basis. Backing up the adjustable coilovers is a complete Ikea Formula pillow ball set. When all this is combined at Tsukuba and in the hands of Nagai himself, the car is capable of a one minute, three second lap time which is not slow by any means.
You are probably admiring the beautiful bodywork of the R32. It’s pure function; no fat, no fads, all fast. Like a 100m sprinter bursting from the blocks, Nagai’s GT-R bursts from corner to corner during the early hours of the morning resplendent in Trust Blue, fronted by a Garage TBK front bumper with inset fog lamps to help see the road ahead…
…shouldered by Veilside Combat over-fenders and held down by an Esprit GT wing and Sard front canards.
A D-Max carbon front bonnet adds visual appeal and sheds a few kilograms of weight…
The TBK item is particularly special as it originates from the same people who took care of the Blackbird 911.
From the cockpit, things are just as serious with the GT-R receiving added bracing via the Cusco 10 point roll cage. Nagai straps in with Takata 4 point harnesses over re-trimmed Recaro SRII Phantom semi buckets.
From the seat, he has access to a number of performance enhancing gadgets including an HKS EVC, HKS ATTESA controller, radiator fan controller and a very visible Blitz boost gauge.
The vital signs of the engine and drivetrain are monitored via dash mounted Defi gauges that take care of oil pressure, oil temperature and water temperature.
All this tuning adds up to a heady and intoxicating mix of mechanical madness. It is truly amazing that one owner can spend half his life with the same machine. It’s actually deeply romantic to me as a true gear head. Nagai’s passion for his R32 GT-R is heady and the car is literally a real life reflection of the man. A reflection that, during the time Nagai and I spent discussing matters related to everything that surrounds the night time culture of street racing in Japan, left a deep impression on me and a new found respect for what was and what is. What will be is yet to be decided of course.
You don’t spend over 20 years with the same car unless you truly love it in some way. The Wangan is like that too. And in many aspects the R32 will always be like that as well. It’s a willing partner, constantly fawning. Nagai told me an amazing thing as we wound up the conversation. “I had 15 accidents on a motorbike. My parents were worried sick and actually, I am lucky to be alive. A lot of my friends died over the last 20 years doing what they love but I still love the thrill of driving the Wangan.”
I totally understand the appeal. It’s something that should be experienced by everyone, if only for a moment.
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Words and Photos – Adam Zillin