Thursday, 1pm. After nearly 2 years living in Japan, I finally got around to scheduling a visit of the well-known tuning shop Rocky Auto, located very far from my place, in Okazaki, Japan, a whole 10 minute drive away. Why on earth didn’t I schedule anything earlier than that? Absolutely no freaking idea.
Sitting in front me, a cheerful Watanabe-san, the owner of the place, fighting with a screwdriver and an non-cooperating Hakosuka steering wheel, tells me what he certainly told many car enthusiasts from all around the world, explaining how he started his company 32 years ago, fixing and modifying classic Nissans, in Kamoda, one of Okazaki’s districts, growing big enough to move closer to our local mall, to finally end up in the current offices, a bit outside of the city, where he moved in 2014. “I really wanted a roof over the cars. They didn’t have one at the old shop, where cars had to be parked outside. It’s the main reason why I moved here.”
Of course, the new place is also much bigger. Not only can he still store cars outside if needed, but now, the whole building itself is packed with a selection of some of the greatest automobiles Japan has ever produced. “I actually own about 3 times the amount of cars you can see here, stored in two other places around Okazaki”. My jaw dropped way further than I thought possible. Millions of dollars on wheels were already sitting behind me, I simply had no idea that he owned other facilities. The other cars are either part of his own private collection, donor vehicles or simply cars for sale that couldn’t find free space in the main building.
According to him, he is the biggest owner of Skylines and Fairlady Z in the world. Guess what? I’m pretty damn sure he is! “But where do you source all those cars? How do you find them??” I asked, hoping for some kind of industry secret he may have to find and buy cheap KPGC10s. “I don’t really look for cars, people who want to sell theirs come to me. If they have proper paperwork in hand, I just buy whatever they have to offer. The condition of the cars doesn’t really matter either, we can restore anything.”
Surprisingly, only 3 mechanics work with him on cars, yet he manages to modify or restore close to 100 cars every year. The more difficult work, that some cars require to be properly restored, is not done in house. In total, he works with about 100 companies, to get or custom build parts, do bodywork…etc. In Okazaki, everything is assembled, tuned and get ready to leave to new owners.
I also asked him if he had any idea how popular and famous his work was around the world. “We don’t sell many cars outside of Japan. Maybe about 2% of all the cars we produce are sold to foreigners and leave. Nobody here can speak English, so when people from outside of Japan want to buy cars from us, they need to bring interpreters which does not make things very easy.”
While he understands that his cars are popular and famous outside of Japan, only in the past few years did he start understanding how much drooling he generates among people like us. Last year, he was invited in California for an event and seemed a bit astonished that they actually paid for him to ship his cars and flew him all the way there. “We brought 2 suitcases full of goodies to give away or sell to people. Everything was sold out 30 minutes BEFORE the opening of the show. We never expected something like that. We don’t sell much promotional stuff here in Japan.”
As we were done drinking the ice-coffee that his secretary brought us, it was time to stand up and check out all the cars. It’s very hard to describe the emotion when facing all those beauties at once, being able to touch them, admire all the work done to sometimes modernize, sometimes restore to original spec some of the nicest classics in the country.
As I was admiring a KGC10 Hakosuka fitted with an RB26 and 3 Mikuni carburetors, he opened the door to start it for us. I turned to my wife who came along: “Honey, that’s going to be very loud.” SO. FUCKING. GLORIOUS. Never would I have expected something that great… As I was laughing uncontrollably at all this ear-blowing greatness in front of me, I started thinking about all the articles I would have to write AND sell to get the 130k$ required to have it parked in my garage. Yeah… I stopped laughing.