Locale: Garage Mak – Nagano’s Total Tuning Shop

Years ago I had the good fortune of befriending a couple of Garage Mak customers who have close relationships with the Miyagawa brothers; owners of the Nagano based tuning powerhouse, Garage Mak.  Amemiya, Tsubaki, Seki, and others, have become good friends of mine, and have also given me the opportunity to meet, and work with, the two men behind one of Japan’s most comprehensive tuning shops.  This last week I made the drive out to Nagano again to talk to Tatsuhiro and Kazunori Miyagawa about the upcoming Attack season, and get a better look at their new line of R35 GTR aero.

Started in 1994, Garage Mak was conceived how many tuning shops around the world are, out of a desire to build cars bespoke to their own ideas. With the brothers’ home track being Maze Circuit in the Niigata prefecture, they had an eagerness to build cars tailored to that specific track.  Starting with an S13 platform, they built their first demo car in the early 90’s in hopes of improving performance at Maze.  Eventually, pivoting their experience on the S13 they built, they garnered the knowledge and made a name for themselves with their unique tuning approach.  At their current shop, they have all the means to build a complete car for any medium their customers request.  In addition to working closely with HKS in parts development, they also (perhaps more famously), are known for their in-house production of beautifully functional, carbon aero pieces.  Specifically for various Nissan platforms, their Revolution line of body parts have made an impact world-wide, and are among the most widely recognized.  It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to meet up with friends from the area, so I was looking forward to both seeing what was new at the shop, and reuniting with everyone from Nagano.

I knew the 260 kilometer drive by myself from Yokohama was going to be a little boring (or as Sekinei would put it, it was a drive fit for a lonely carboy), but surprisingly it wasn’t that bad.  At the beginning of the year, Sekinei and I drove to Suzuka; a drive that’s almost 400km.  I thought that was pretty far at the time, but we were able to do that drive together, so time passed slightly quicker and we were able to take turns to break up the distance.  So I figured it wouldn’t take that long to get up North.  At any rate, Thursday morning I set off in my borrowed Toyota Wish, with the navigation guiding me towards the North.  I had never been in that area this time of the year, and was looking forward to seeing the how the changing season affected the landscape.

First step was getting out of the city.  As much as I dislike Tokyo, at least it provides interesting things to look at while you’re crawling through the cities horrendous traffic.  No matter how many times you drive down the same street there’s always new things going on, or construction changes.  An hour into it the traffic though I felt like I was back in Los Angeles, so I pulled over and got some gas and coffee.

As the attendant was filling the car up, this FD pulled up behind me.  It’s refreshing to see these types of cars in abundance around the city.  Makes me excited for the new Civic.

I gave up on canned coffee a long time ago.  Sekinei turned me on to the fresh brewed coffee at convenience stores; typically it’s less expensive, and fresher.  They’re all pretty similar, but Lawson has the cutest marketing with their MACHI Cafe line.  It’s too bad the cups are horribly designed, and even with the paper sleeve it burns your hand.  While it’s nice that the Lawson attendant makes it for you, I’ve found that 7-11 has the best tasting.  Plus I like pushing the buttons on the machine.  One thing for sure is that they’re all better tasting than Starbucks.

Once out of the city and onto the open expressway, and after a few more coffee stops, it didn’t take long for the scenery to change from overbearing metropolis to rolling green hills.  Cool suspension bridges and a plethora of tunnels led the way to my destination.

About 3 hours into the drive I came out of a tunnel to see the Akaishi Mountains, or ‘Minami Alps’, in Yamanashi, whose several peaks already capped with a light dusting of snow.  Which also reminded me that ski season is here, and I got super stoked just seeing mountains.

The sun was already well on its way down when I arrived at Garage Mak.  Amemiya was just pulling in as well in his S15; good timing.  We exchanged greetings and I made my way in.  I talk to Amemiya pretty regularly through messaging apps, so it was almost as if I’d seen him just last week.

Here it is; Garage Mak.  The three part shop sits on a corner lot on a very unassuming street in Aokijima.  The office is nestled in the back behind the carport that houses their demo cars.

Ame just got done fabricating the new, one-off wing for his S15.  It’s large to say the least; think Voltex Type 16 big.  I got to shoot this car again, so check back in a bit for that.

This extremely pristine R32 belongs to Tatsuhiro, who not only refreshed the entire chassis, but took it to a whole other level.

Graphite colored TE-37SL’s match the resprayed grey paint perfectly, and the R35 brakes help improve stopping power over the OE brakes.  Which, in all honesty was probably a necessary upgrade given the amount of power this car makes.

The RB26 was pulled and enhanced with GT3RS twin turbos and a plethora of ancillary upgrades to support the extra power.  The RB makes a hefty 750 horsepower; plenty for a daily that is more than track ready.

The car has a very humble exterior in comparison to the companies demo cars.There’s no added aero parts on the Skyline, instead opting to keep the OE pieces.

The office houses a very welcoming atmosphere to it, with warm colored flooring, and decorative plants by the door.  Two desks in the back provide a work space for the brothers and staff.  Walls are lined with shelving displaying an array of parts, as well as trophies and awards for various events and shows the shop has participated in.

Shelves like this are always interesting.  I feel like I’ve collected enough stuff in my travels to fill several, but it would drive me nuts having all that stuff lying about.

Outside the office is the main shop floor, accessible by two large bay doors, and a door from inside the office.  3 lifts occupy the space, with plenty of square footage to work on several cars at a time.  They had two cars currently in the shop, both undergoing routine maintenance.

This great looking, very simple S15 with Garage Mak aero, on Work Emotion series wheels…

…and this shop sponsored sedan that was getting new brakes.

Stored in one corner of the main shop floor were a plethora of Nissan motors, mainly SR20’s.

Various tools, parts and other stored items were also along the shop walls.

Through a separate door in the shop, you can access the engine room where their builder has a place to put together the more intricate parts of a motor.

Behind that is the place where all the magic happens; the composites room.

After I took a walk around the grounds and grabbed some photos to share, I wandered back outside to get a closer look at the demo cars for everyone.  Tatsuhiro was wrapping up some work, so I had some time to kill before we went to photograph the R35.

The last time I saw their Z33 was at Fuji Speedway during HKS Premium day, I believe 2 years ago.  There has been a few changes on the exterior since then, but not too much.  The main difference has been in the engine and tuning of the Z car.

New fender and hood vents have been added to help facilitate air flow through the front end of the car.  A larger set of canards also adorn the front bumper, giving the car a slightly more aggressive look.

The motor has been upgraded with a large, Borg Warner turbine in place of the old HKS GTS8555 turbine from 2015, and a new tune which greatly increases the responsiveness of the added power.  According to the brothers, they’ll be competing the Z once again in HKS’s upcoming events.  The car was built specifically for competition at Fuji.

The best recorded time to date at the famous international circuit is a 1’48.82 with Orido behind the wheel.  They’re looking to greatly cut that down at the beginning of next year.

Sitting next to the Z33 was their S-chassis demo car, which was in the process of showcasing the reiteration of their exterior parts that will allow you to fit literally the largest tire you could imagine on your S13.

It also has the universal air vents on either side of the hood.

Enkei’s popular 18″ RS05RR wheel wrapped in Advan A050 are mounted to the demo car.  Garage Mak has a good relationship with Enkei Japan, and it is the chosen wheel for the majority of their demo cars.

Without the 30mm spacer in the rear, the overs look very…unfilled.  However, you can imagine how well they would work with the right setup on the car.

Tim Scheuer’s Z33, a customer and friend of Garage Mak, had his car stored here while he is back in the states.  Before he return, the car will be re-tuned and ready for him to drive it again.  No doubt he’s missing it!

A friend of Ame’s stopped by to say hello, and pretend Ame’s new wing is an umbrella.

He owns this blue S15 that is equipped with an HKS Supercharger.  I thought that was pretty neat, as you don’t really see SR’s with Superchargers in Japan…or, rather anywhere for that matter.

Pretty cool.

In addition to tuning and maintenance, like many shops, Garage Mak also deals with car sales.  They had a couple vehicles on the lot, like this JZX, S15, and (to my surprise) an EK4.

Shortly after, Ame, Tatsuhiro and I went to a nearby location to photograph their R35 demo car.  The colors of the changing leaves made for a nice backdrop, and I can’t wait to share the photos.

We said our goodbyes, and Amemiya and I set off together to Azumino to meet Tsubaki and his wife for dinner.  Initially we were going to cook dinner at their new house, but decided to go out to eat ramen, and head back to the house to chat and catch up on things.  It’s about an hour away from Nagano, in the opposite direction of my hotel, but it was worth the drive to catch up with old friends.

The next morning on the drive home, after stopping by a few more local shops, I headed back to Yokohama as the sun was setting.  The drive back ended up being much longer, as I was in prime rush hour traffic headed back into Tokyo.  I didn’t mind though, as my mind was refreshed with good memories and inspiring cars to reminisce on.

Many thanks to Amemiya, the Miyagawa brothers, and Baki for being such gracious hosts.  Can’t wait to return in February – this time to ski!