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 |   |  1-on-1 with Nissan GT-R Specialist Garage Active
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1-on-1 with Nissan GT-R Specialist Garage Active

12 hours with Garage Active Japan’s founder and hardcore GT-R enthusiast.

Micah Wright
Feb 25, 2021
Photographer: David Ishikawa

In order to get the full story of Garage Active, and its animated founding father, you would need more than just a single feature. In all honesty, you would probably need something along the lines of the Lord of the Rings sized trilogy, complete with all of the spin-offs, behind-the-scenes extras and perhaps even that bizarre animated rendition from the '80s. We're talking all-in, saga-level automotive modifications here people, and it's all based around a single leviathan: Godzilla.

002 garage active demo cars Photo 61/61   |   1-on-1 with Nissan GT-R Specialist Garage Active

Garage Active's creator and owner, Kazushige Sakamoto, traces his infatuation with Nissan's Skyline badge to a time when carburetors were still the preferred form of air induction. Over the course of the past few decades, this obsession has grown all the more fervid, and with it, so too has Sakamoto's creativity when it comes to fabricating parts for these mythical Japanese beasts.

With his salt-and-pepper hair, business-like demeanor, and preference for dressing modestly in work clothes, one struggles to imagine Sakamoto-san as the creative genius behind some of the world's wildest GT-R builds. But get him talking about his favorite automotive topic and the man suddenly transforms into this animated character, a GT-R zealot, with builds that are just as intriguing as their master.

Let's Get Active!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Garage Active, you can find its facilities located on the southwestern island of Kyushu, far-flung from the bustle of nearby Fukuoka. While touring the shop's operations (Sakamoto-san utilizes a series of locations for various purposes), I counted no fewer than 63 Nissan Skyline vehicles on premise. From fully converted carbon fiber widebody R32 show builds sleeping on bags, to project cars resting in pieces, to wrecked race cars of yesteryear rusting away in overgrown side lots, Sakamaoto-san's collection is just as all-encompassing as his shop's services.

Founded in 1992, Garage Active began life as little more than a repair shop focusing on the flipping of used automobiles. But these humble beginnings quickly faded, as Sakamoto-san's knowledge of Nissan vehicles and unique tuning skills caused Garage Active to become recognized as a brand-specific specialist.

003 r33 gtr Photo 61/61   |   1-on-1 with Nissan GT-R Specialist Garage Active

Today, the main location is stuffed inside the sleepy suburb of Yukuhashi, a stone's throw from the channel that separates Sakamoto-san from mainland Japan. Ensconced within a hillside embankment, the shop's massive muffler above its rooftop serves as a beacon for those in the know. Daily operations on the upper floor of Garage Active's headquarters revolve around clerical work, sales, customer support, and conference calls, with a service station underneath tackling the wrench-turning. Here, a team of technicians and engineers tackle everything from oil changes and tune-ups, to full engine overhauls and suspension conversions take place on premise. But that's just a portion of what this place offers Nissan enthusiasts.

Ranked as one of Japan's top ten HKS sellers, and heavily awarded for damn near everything it creates, Garage Active is a gold mine for Skyline treasure hunters. For instance, while downstairs we discovered dozens upon dozens of transmissions sitting on end, appearing all the world like a mechanical crop of produce, patiently awaiting harvest. Transmission rebuilds are but one of Garage Active's many services. Custom stroker kits, one-off exhaust manifolds, tailor-made HKS turbo kits, stitch-welded frame work, and much more are all available for the right price, with Sakamoto-san's clientele being just as diverse as his personal projects.

004 r35 gtr air suspension Photo 61/61   |   1-on-1 with Nissan GT-R Specialist Garage Active

Race, Tune, Fabricate, Repeat

Being that Sakamoto-san has long been a fan of drag racing, he is quick to confess that in his wilder, younger years, straight-line racing occurred on almost a weekly basis. And while he no longer actively competes in unsanctioned street racing, the man's passion for the sport, and acquired wealth, have given him the means to sponsor drag races all across Japan. His goal here is seemingly straightforward, much like the sport of drag racing itself: Encourage interest in drag racing by introducing automotive enthusiasts to the sport via a safe, fair and fun environment.

Note: Sakamoto holds the world record for fastest "bagged car" in the 1/4 mile, clocking an impressive 9.7 seconds @ 240kmh. Even more impressive is the fact that he accomplished this feat while on radial tires and drove the vehicle himself just to prove that he could do it.

Now as for the whole GT-R side of the story, that chapter begins with the purchase of Sakamoto-san's first R32, which, by this point, was well over 25 years ago. Like any hardcore enthusiast, the guy still has that old blue beauty, preferring to keep it in period correct form, complete with all of the scuffs and scratches that come with it. A memento if you will, serving double duty as a gateway to what once was, like a rolling reminder of how a GT-R legacy came to life.

More behind the scenes tours of Japanese tuners:
326POWER Japan
AIMGAIN
Racing Paddock Miyoshi

The Garage Active builds of today are on a totally different level than these earlier builds. From replacing every ounce of an exterior with house-made carbon fiber and then candy coating the woven surfaces for a richly pigmented impact, to swapping ITB setups onto RB engines and dropping sequential gearboxes in just for shits-and-giggles, Sakamoto's vision of what can be is equal parts impressive and unorthodox. Oh, and speaking of dropping things, you'll be hard-pressed to find one of his more recent projects not dropped to the ground on bags, an aesthetic upgrade that Sakamoto-san believes amplifies the lines of the aero kits his business creates.

005 garage active founder Photo 61/61   |   1-on-1 with Nissan GT-R Specialist Garage Active

Perhaps the World's Greatest GT-R Collection

During the course of our dozen-or-so hours with Sakamoto-san, we were overjoyed to discover that we were being granted access to his top-secret secondary garage. Housing a smorgasbord of show and race engineered GT-R's, as well as an RC racetrack and movie theater on the second floor! This nondescript building is unlike anything I have ever encountered. Hidden away in a quiet residential area, dozens of security cameras serve as the only sign that you have arrived at what is arguably Japan's most extensive Nissan Skyline GT-R collection.

While we don't have time to go through all of the custom-built vehicles we encountered while perusing Sakamoto-san's private collection (there were literally dozens to choose from), we can discuss what sets the vehicles we shot down on the wharf apart from other Skyline builds.

006 blue carbon r32 Photo 61/61   |   1-on-1 with Nissan GT-R Specialist Garage Active

First of all, it is worth mentioning that Sakamoto-san shamelessly adores the 100% carbon-clad blue widebody R32 pictured here, which he lovingly refers to as his "dream car." Bagged, caged, and packing over 800whp, this beast offers its owner the ability to own the drag strip, the open road, and any car show he chooses, thanks to its flawless infusion of performance and curb appeal. When asked for further detail, Sakamoto-san laughed and explained that he prefers his cars to resemble a sexy woman. Fast moving, cool, and curvy are what this man looks for in both females and automobiles, both of which he confesses are quite fun to fool around with.

One of Sakamoto-san's more recent projects is a maroon colored R32, which earned Garage Active the coveted Super Street/ENEOS "Best of Show" award at Tokyo Auto Salon in 2020. The build contains an overbored N/A "RB31" motor with a custom billet ITB setup, and a 7-speed sequential automatic gearbox. As you might expect, this unorthodox showstopper came loaded with one of Garage Active's signature full-carbon widebody kits, which sat slammed to the showroom floor due to bagged suspension.

When asked about what the toughest part of that maroon R32 build was, Sakamoto-san says that getting a carbon fiber body panel to match the one sitting next to it is always a challenge. This is because the weave that makes up the structure of a carbon body component must first flow evenly from a crease along a corner, and then feed fluidly into the seam that connects it to its neighboring body panel. Another, far more build-specific issue arose in the paint booth, when the Garage Active crew discovered that shooting candy red paint onto the car's un-tinted carbon fiber turned the surface purple!

007 carbon fiber widebody r32 Photo 61/61   |   1-on-1 with Nissan GT-R Specialist Garage Active

Not all carbs are bad.

For those of you who may be wondering what these Garage Active carbon fiber machines weigh once completed, we've got the specs to back it all up. Apparently, the blue R32 comes in at just a hair over 1,300 kilograms, or 2,866 pounds, with its grayish/black brother tipping the scale at 1,400 kilograms, or 3,086 pounds. These weight reduction plans have encouraged quite a few Skyline enthusiasts to order these ultra-exclusive (and expensive) kits, while those who are more interested in aesthetics, opt for their FRP alternatives.

Exhaustive photoshoot and interview complete, we headed back to the shop where we discussed meeting up with a few local enthusiasts near a bridge in Fukuoka-city. Nothing crazy, just a few dozen cars, followed by a group photo. Sakamoto-san's ears pricked-up at the sound of this ad hoc meet-up, and he quickly inquired as to whether he was allowed to attend in one of his carbon GT-R monsters. When we realized that he was serious about making the two-hour trek over to Fukuoka after shooting and interviewing all day, an open invitation was our most obvious option.

008 grey r32 skyline gtr Photo 61/61   |   1-on-1 with Nissan GT-R Specialist Garage Active

Man of the people

A few hours later, as we stood around the shadowy warehouses lining the waterways of Fukuoka, crowds gathered around Sakamoto-san and his flawless grey Skyline GT-R. I smiled as onlookers gawked in awe at its glory, eagerly asking the man standing beside it about its inception. Noticing my nods of approval and knowing smile, Sakamoto-san offered an earnest wave and a wink in my direction before turning back to the crowd standing around his car as he began to recite the tale of Garage Active for the millionth time.

Garage Active's slogan states: "The Passion For GT-R Is Infinite"

By Micah Wright
82 Articles

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