DIE RAUH MANN: Rauh Welt’s Akira Nakai

January 14, 2011 1:21 am Published by

Note: I wrote this article a couple of years ago for a magazine, but it was never used for various reasons. It might be a little bit out of date, but here it is anyway. I put up some mobile phone pics of the workshop back in this post.

Several years ago, pictures of a flat-black S15 Silvia with a widebody kit and equally wide wheels started appearing in magazines and on the Internet. It was one of those cars that people seemed to unanimously agree looked extremely tough, even if it wasn’t to their own tastes. Shortly after that, pictures of an intimidating matte-black Porsche in a similar style also began to appear, and they both seemed to have something to do with a window banner that said “Rauh Welt” and a guy named Akira Nakai.

“Oh, you should have just said you wanted to come to the Porsche place!” the taxi driver said cheerily as I pulled up outside the Rauh Welt workshop in suburban Chiba, about an hour away from the centre of Tokyo. I had only given him an address to find, but it turns out that Rauh Welt is pretty well known in this area. There was no shop sign outside the large corrugated concrete shed we stopped in front of, but there were telltale piles of worn race rubber and bits and pieces of Porsches strewn around. Rusted exhausts, factory wheels, discarded panels and various lengths of moulded hoses. This was definitely the right place, but the roller shutter to the workshop was still closed. I knocked on the front door, to no answer. Peering through the frosted glass of the door, I could see the low and wide silhouettes of what were definitely Porsches, and hear music playing quite loudly, but there was no sign of movement.

I called Nakai’s mobile phone number, but it rang through, so I called the shop’s number. I could hear the phone ringing inside, but nobody answered it. I then suddenly remembered a conversation I had earlier that morning, when had I told my housemate where we were going that day.
“Are you sure they’re open? There’s a Porsche race on today at Tsukuba Circuit that a friend of mine with a 911 is going to. Nakai might be there.” he had said. I gritted my teeth and sighed in resignation as I called every number I could think of to try and find out if Nakai was at Tsukuba Circuit. I looked in every window and tried knocking on every door, but there was no response. Just as I’d resigned to what seemed like the obvious, my mobile rang.
“This is Nakai, you called me?” asked a monotone voice.
“Yes, I had appointment to come and interview you today. I arrived at the workshop about half an hour ago, but the doors are closed.”
“I’m inside. Just a minute” he said, before hanging up.

A few seconds later, the roller shutter cracked open and slowly rolled upwards. What greeted me was the low and grimy rear end of a Porsche painted in flat-olive, followed by a large, circuit-spec rear wing. As the shutter reached eye-level, I was confronted with a workshop unlike any that I had seen before. The left side looked almost typical, with Porsche posters, used race numbers taped to the wall, and the usual sort of advertising material you see in a workshop, but the right side was something completely different.

Where you’d normally see a tyre changer, a hydraulic press and tool cabinets was a pool table, old poker machines with trophies stacked on top of them, and wide 18-inch wheels with well-worn slick tyres stacked in front. Next to that was a glass display cabinet with smaller trophies and die-cast model Porsches, and in another cabinet were packets of cigarettes from around the world, most of them Marlboro. An old jukebox’s cracked glass top had been turned into a counter, on which sat a receipt book, address labels, sticky tape and a bottle of strong hay fever medication. Below the glass were about a hundred half-full cigarette lighters, arranged in order of colour. There were shelves filled with Porsche magazines, and an entire window was covered with empty stacks of Stella Artois bottles. A small glass fridge filled with various drinks sat next to a vending machine that served all kinds of tea, coffee and hot chocolate at the push of a button. Behind a dark cherry Chesterfield lounge were shelves that held everything from bottles of brake fluid to bottles of cheap champagne, and an endless mix of lounge music played through large speakers mounted in the corners of the room. I suggested that all he needed was a stripper pole and the place would be complete, but Nakai shook his head.
“This is just a place for guys and their hobbies. Girls are separate from all this.” he said.

After seeing the saloon-like interior of the workshop, it was easy to forget the reason I came here in the first place, but they were kind of hard to miss too. Nakai’s famous flat-black demon sat intimidatingly in the corner, quietly demanding me to take a closer look. The extremely low front air dam was fitted with a thick foam lip to make it even lower. The front and rear guards had been widened with Rauh Welt’s own enormous fender kit, just barely covering SSR Professor SP-1 wheels, cambered in so the tyres were just millimetres from the arch lip.

The look was not just a styling exercise either, as the car can also lap Tsukuba Circuit in the 57-58 second range, a highly respectable time for streetcar standards. Looking through the meshed “RWB” logo cut into the rear deck lid, it was easy to see the car’s 3.8 litre flat-six, topped with a set of filterless American-made PMO carburettors. The engine was built by Promodet, a Porsche workshop on the other side of Tokyo that specialises in body preparation and engines for racing. Nakai has owned this particular Porsche for over 13 years, and has slowly built it up into the car that gains him so much attention. His style hasn’t undergone a linear progression either, as the wheels, bodywork and colour have been through several changes before he settled on tsuyakeshi kuro, or “matte-black”. Even though Nakai was initially famous for drifting an AE86, he had always been inspired by the 911 shape, and admitted to having a favourite toy car of one as a child. About twenty years ago, Nakai learned the ins and outs of them as he worked in a Porsche dealership’s panel shop in Hachioji, a city on the outskirts of Tokyo that has a bit of a seedy, Yakuza-laced reputation.
“All day, I took these apart and put them back together. Again and again, all day, so I really got to know them well.” he said.

Noticing the registration plates, I asked if the car was actually street driven.
“Of course. I drive it to the track, race it and drive them it to the workshop again on the same tyres. That’s Rough World style.”
“So these cars actually pass registration inspection?” I asked.
“Of course not, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be registered.” said Nakai with a slight raise of his eyebrows.
The English version of the Rauh Welt name, “Rough World” should be a familar name to old-school Japanese drifting fans, as the team’s AE86s were a regular feature in Japanese magazines and videos, as well as on the roads of Tsukuba Mountain, where Rough World reigned supreme. One of the other major members of the team was Kazuhiro Tanaka, better known these days as a former driver for Team Orange in the D1 Grand Prix series. After mentioning Nakai and Rough World to a D1 driver I know (who shall remain nameless), he lowered his voice and said; “Nakai and Tanaka had some big arguments in the past. They are both genius drivers, but they could never agree on anything. Nakai is all about his way or no way at all, so the team eventually broke up.”
These days though, Nakai can usually be found racing in events held by the Idlers car club, a relatively large organisation that puts on several sprint race events a year for Porsche, Mini and AE86 classes, as well as other classic Japanese and Euro classes.
“I only like driving with Idlers. Idlers is ‘anything goes’ racing, so I drive with them.” said Nakai, lighting up his fifth cigarette in a row.
“All these other racing clubs require full fire suits and safety equipment. They have all these rules and the driver briefings go on forever. Have you seen the kind of people who usually race at circuits? Everyone takes things so seriously.” he continued sneeringly.
A quick look at the vehicle regulations of an Idlers Games event shows that they only “strongly recommend installing a roll-cage” and “strongly recommend installing a fire extinguisher” even though the races are regularly run door-to-door at high speeds by amateur drivers.

“Do you want to get some lunch now? You like ramen?” Nakai asked before stubbing out his cigarette and leading me outside to a black Honda wagon. With the seat pushed back so far that his long-toed, worn leather boots could barely reach the pedals, Nakai drove off with no seatbelt, gripping the steering wheel with his right arm locked straight and hand at the twelve’o’clock position, the classic hard-man driving pose. After a few minutes of navigating through deserted back lanes, he pulled a slim, glossy black mobile phone out of his jeans and snapped it open with a flick of his wrist in the same way a delinquent would open a switchblade, and made a call.
Every seat of the tiny ramen restaurant was filled with lunchtime customers, except for a single empty table in the far corner of the room. I couldn’t help but think they knew we were coming. Nakai strode in and sat down with his back against the wall.
“I only eat the spicy miso ramen here. What do you want? Do you like gyoza?” asked Nakai.
“I’ll have the same.” I said.

As we started on our garlicky gyoza dumplings, I commented on how good Nakai’s black car looked compared to the ones around it when displayed on “G-Works” magazine’s stand at the 2009 Tokyo Auto Salon.
“Yeah, they invited me to park it there with all the other shiny cars. Everyone else was in there for hours with polishing cloths. I just drove it in, parked it and left. There’s not really any point in cleaning a car all that much. It gets dirty when you drive, and that’s what you’re supposed to do with it.” he said.
Even though he was wearing a Hollister jacket and designer jeans, 42-year-old Nakai’s hands were dry and dirty, with flecks of auto paint around his cuticles. He was obviously the kind of guy who knows exactly what he likes, so I asked him what he thought of newer Porsches?
“Yeah, they’re OK. Of course I’m interested in them, you know, but…” Nakai trailed off before making a facial expression that seemed to say “but I couldn’t really be bothered with them.”
“My cars are fun enough. I wouldn’t mind a 930 though. I really like the shape of the 935 too.” he said, before sucking down another mouthful of ramen.

Back at the workshop, I asked Nakai to roll one of the cars outside so we could get a better look at it. The engine started with a crack and the idle through the extremely short and unmuffled exhaust pipes was almost painful to listen to in the quiet suburban surroundings of the workshop, which was mostly made up of houses, small businesses, and the occasional agricultural patch.
“What do you do about the neighbours with these loud exhausts?” I asked.
“Oh, I just smile at them when I see them.” he said, breaking into a grin for the first time, which was funny from it’s unexpectedness.
While Nakai’s strength is his distinctive body styling, his mechanical and driving knowledge allow him to supply complete cars that suit racing or cruising. The most surprising thing about his shop is that a lot of Porsche owners basically hand him their cars with only a vague briefing and trust that they’re going to like the result. Nakai has been known to change his mind on what colour to spray a car at the last minute, and hand it back to the customer without even calling them first.
“They always like what I do.” he said.

As Nakai’s style gains more fans, customers have been bringing in even more exotic cars for a custom Rauh Welt-style widebody kit, such as a Ferrari 355, as well as Nakai’s traditional staple, the Toyota AE86. All the cars that come out of the workshop are extremely intimidating, and the “Rauh Welt” style is easily distinguishable from almost any other modifying style seen in Japan. I had to ask if he had any ideas for the future that we could look forward to seeing.
“I don’t know. I don’t really think about it too much.”
“So an idea pops into your head one day like a lightbulb and you follow it?” I asked
“Yeah, that’s exactly it.” he said, stabbing the air with his finger, before following with a statement that seems to sum up the Rauh Welt philosophy perfectly.
“Whatever it is, the car has to look good. If your car doesn’t look good, sound good, and feel good, you’re not going to drive it like you should.”

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This post was written by Alexi