IMAGE CREDIT: TG Time
After modifying it to go faster, the first thing Smokey does is take his car to the street and pushes it’s limits, hammering the gas pedal through the curvy roads of the Hokkaido mountains.
Kazuhiko ‘Smokey’ Nagata, the god of speed, revolutionized tuner culture.
The Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) is often used as a shorthand to refer to the culture of car modification in that country. That is, cars getting tuned and modified, then sold. Many people, generally of a younger age, will tune their cars to be faster and then race them illegally. This originated in Japan and to this day, is most common in the region. However, JDM culture is spreading around the world and becoming more popular.
Smokey Nagata was one of the biggest influencers in the tuning community. He grew up on a farm in Hokkaido, Japan where he first fell in love with the feeling of speed.
“My father loved driving fast so I became obsessed with the sensation of speed and started tinkering with cars,” Smokey said in an interview with TopGear.
He got his first job when he was 16 years old at Toyota as a mechanic. This would be the first time he started modifying vehicles, which was also the reason he was fired.
From there, he strived to become a race car driver but there wasn’t much in Hokkaido other than farmland.
Nagata decided he would move to Tokyo, the city of racing, to pursue his dreams. With experience in modifying cars, he got another job at the company Trust/GReddy which specializes in performance tuning parts for cars. He applied there because they had racing programs he wanted to get into. After hours, he worked on creating his own parts as the company had been doing. After getting caught, Smokey wanted to quit instead of getting in any more trouble than he was already in. However upper management loved the work he did so they made him stay and keep it a secret.
This resulted in Smokey opening his own tuning shop and due to the circumstances, named it “Top Secret.” With access to parts and his own shop, he began to test his cars on the Aqua-Line.
This was a 9.6 km tunnel underneath Tokyo Bay where Smokey eventually tested his R33 GT-R Skyline and went from 0-186 miles per hour in 17 seconds and hit 204 miles per hour. Later in his career, he had a new goal in mind. A goal to hit 200 miles per hour in his Mk4 Supra.
This attempt was made on a British motorway in the UK at 4am. Waiting until there was no traffic, Smokey did a massive burnout with his 12 cylinder engine performing 930 horsepower with 745 foot-pounds of torque and took off. He hit a top speed of 197 miles per hour before getting pulled over by the police and spending a night in jail with a fine of £190. This is the holding record for the fastest anyone has gone on a British motorway.
After getting arrested Smokey was concerned this would drive customers away from his shop and he would close. When the footage was released, it did quite the opposite. It pushed business towards him and everyone wanted in. People wanted their cars to be that fast, seeing as though his supra was one of the fastest for its time.
Since Smokey’s Supra was so revolutionary in JDM culture, the very same one went to auction in January 2018 and was sold for $80,700 USD.
Smokey Nagata’s story is a perfect representation of what JDM culture is about. People who have a genuine passion for cars and making them uniquely theirs.
Nagata had goals right from the start and motive to reach those goals. “I will be the fastest,” he said. He definitely made sure of that.