As you all know, there are many different facets to any culture. Fashion has its thrift store hunters looking for Prada or Gucci handbags at low prices. On the opposite end of the scale, there are people who love to blow money on brands that no one has even heard of because it’s made by a designer none of us care about. The car world is no different. People either see a car as an appliance; a point-A to point-B vehicle, or they appreciate a car as more than the sum of its parts. Japan, as a country, has this split personality with just about everything, including cars.
Most of us only think about one side of Japan’s car culture, the wacky, crazy side. Massive bōsōzoku (暴走族) cars like old Toyota Corolla TE71s and other older Japanese cars with body kits resembling twin-size bed frames. We imagine picnic bench rear wings, and exhausts as tall as a human being that scrape over small speed bumps in Odaiba… Or maybe we think about the most common facet of Japan’s wackiness.
Possibly my favorite part of their culture, if I’m being honest. Taking some scrap metal and figuring out how to add power and make it slide unnaturally sideways around corners was a foreign idea until the 1980s, when professional racers like Keiichi Tsuchiya, (also affectionately named the “Dorikin” or “Drift King”) started using the slip angles of bias-ply tires to their advantage, sliding out of corners for the most speed.
This culture was ever-changing in the 1990s. The simple tōge (峠), or mountain pass, is usually a two-lane road that connected towns and small villages between mountains and ranges of rolling hills. These roads were a necessity to infrastructure, but they took on a different use in Japan. Late at night, when traffic was at a low and no police were in sight, drivers would race on these challenging roads for fun as well as for reasons more illicit in nature. One popular manga/anime that capitalized on this part of Japan’s car culture was written by a man named Shuichi Shigeno. You probably know where I am going with this.
That manga/anime is Initial D. Insert all of the jokes you want about the Toyota Corolla AE86 Trueno GT-APEX here.
Initial D sums up a decent chunk of this part of Japan’s culture albeit in a dramatized fashion. There was no cliche about being a tofu delivery boy and racing up and down Mount Akina in his dad’s old Corolla when the manga was written, and when the anime came out in 1998. Most people weren’t “in the know” about drifting or racing like that, even in Japan.
This subset of their culture was exported Stateside around 2003-2005, at the peak of the Fast and Furious era here in the United States. When we all were in awe over Streetglow-d up Supras and RX-7s, there was a whole separate side to Japan’s car culture that we didn’t even know about back then.
During the age of drifting and bosozoku there was a secret culture that did not involve anything relating to backroads or drifting, because any slip of the tires would cause you to spin into the nearest car or a heavily reinforced concrete wall. Members of this culture were not “running in the 90s”, they were going to be running between 180 to 270+ km/h, enjoying every moment of it.
Has anyone gotten my hint yet? If so, you know what this article is about, but if not, you’re going to learn about one of Japan’s most guarded and most reckless pieces of car culture.
It all starts with one road. Just one. Not a network of backroads in Japan’s mountain ranges. It’s a part of a network of Japan’s Shuto Expressway (首都高速道路), Tokyo’s vast network of highways connecting Tokyo and its surrounding areas in… well, highway. The exact road I am talking about is labeled B, or most commonly known to Japanese officials as the Bayshore Route, hence the B. Everyone else around the world simply calls it the Wangan-sen, or simply the Wangan.
This 70 kilometer (roughly 43 mile) long stretch of road in the Tokyo Bay hosted one of the most notorious parts of Japan’s underground car culture. This new underground racing culture started in the late 1980s, right about the time when drifting was becoming a new fad in Japan. This group was founded, not by amateur racers looking to go fast, but because of motorcycle riders.
Remember when I talked about the Bōsōzoku? Well, the term doesn’t just apply to riced-out crazy cars. Matter of fact, it’s a subculture in Japan, famous for over-the-top modifications of motorcycles and cars. Also, the term bōsōzoku, in mainstream Japanese media, refers to a gang of motorcyclists who ride modified bikes.
That’s what started this whole underground street racing culture? Some idiotic violent dudes who rode around on some weird-looking motorcycles? Yes, yes it was.
In the late 1980s, some sports car owners were finally tired of the bōsōzoku’s antics. These guys were trying to race anyone they could and they scared normal people on their daily commutes. They felt it time to put an end to this madness. So, in 1987, the Middo Naito Kurabu, or simply the Mid Night Club (ミッドナイトクブ) was formed.
Hence, the most formidable, longest-running, street racing, motorized squid repellent gang was created. The Mid Night Club was enduring and formidable for one reason: vetting. All new want-to-be members were put through a very strict vetting process that made sure they got the best drivers racing for them. All new members were put in an apprentice-like period for a year, where they had to attend every meeting the Club had, usually on Friday nights in a parking area attached to the Wangan, often Daikoku Futo PA.
Daikoku itself is a hotbed for Japanese car culture as it’s somewhere to go when you are bored. There are usually a handful of car guys there, but in some cases the whole place is full of them. On days like “3-2 Day”, where a bunch of different kinds of cars, from R32 Skylines, to a bunch of old Minis, to Datsun Sunnys (all sharing a 3-2 as a chassis code, etc) hang out on the night of March 2nd in Daikoku, to just have a bit of fun. Daikoku is the massive floating parking lot you go to for some Japanese car spotting.
Anyway, back to the rigorous vetting process of the club. You had to make it to every meeting the club had, but there was no Facebook or other forms of social media in 1987. One of the leaders of the club would put an ad in the newspaper that the club would be looking out for. Something like, “I have some small handbags for sale, meet me in the Daikoku PA at between 11 PM and 2 AM, thank you.” These ads told the racers where to go and when. If you didn’t make it, whoops, no membership for you. That wasn’t the hardest part of getting into the club. First, you needed a car that could go a minimum of at least 250 km/h (~155 mph) for a long period of time, although most racers went about 300 km/h (186 mph) on average on the Wangan. If you can’t hold that kind of speed, you were out. If you were reckless in any way (well, besides speeding) and/or endangering other road users (past, well…. speeding), you were out. It was hard to get through and only about 10% of the total people wanting to get into the club made it. Achieving membership granted you many things. Most of them stickers.
The famous “Mid Night” sticker in that cursive font on the top of the windshield was made for two reasons, both practical. The common sense reason was to show you were in the club. It’s like a members-only jacket, but for your car. The other reason was, since the writing was not reversed, (unlike an ambulance), a Bōsōzoku member would hear what was coming behind him, whip around to look, and emblazoned on your windshield was a sign that he should slow down and just accept defeat.
There was also a second sticker displayed on Mid Night Club members’ vehicles, a small white rectangular one affixed to the front bumper. It said “Mid Night Car Speciall” (yes it was misspelled, have to love botched translations), and beside it was sometimes a sticker saying “Caution! Wake turbulence” as a joke, I presume. That wake turbulence sticker sounds like one of those plaques in old muscle cars that, as a joke, say you have to make the vehicle airtight at 125 M.P.H so you don’t blow your ears out.
Stickers aside, what happened on those Friday nights on the Wangan? Most races began on the Wangan with a street racing start that most of us are familiar with, a “roll”, as opposed to a “dig”. Most races started at a speed of 100-120 km/h (62-~78 mph, or normal traffic flow) and the two racers would sit side-by-side, as a third car sat behind and honked his horn three times, as a countdown.
The race went on until they passed a certain point they agreed on, like a certain overpass or bridge or distinguishable landmark. Then they pulled into a parking area like Daikoku, and kept racing or just hung out. The club, during meetings and racing times, was only a group of about 30 people, so it was pretty much a dangerous, yet fun, pissing contest. Who can go the fastest, either in their new car or after installing a new part on their 320 km/h (~200 mph) monster?
Speaking of 350 km/h monsters, what kind of cars were engineered to hold that kind of speed for up to 15 to 20 minutes at a time, in a full-throttle chase to the limit? Well, the limit was quite high, but the power numbers might surprise you. The cars these men drove were engineering marvels in and of themselves.
20 minutes at top speed was quite a feat back then. Around this time, a Lamborghini Diablo would only hold its top speed for about 3 minutes before the mighty V-12 overheated and the modern Bugatti Veyron would only hold its top speed for about 12 minutes before it ran out of gas. To think that these back-alley tuned cars could hold an average speed of 180 to 220 miles per hour and outlast modern hypercars while doing it… that’s crazy.
So, exactly what cars raced as part of the Mid Night Club? Well, there is a bit of backstory we have to go over first.
Remember how I was talking about Initial D as a summation of the whole drifting scene, hitting the tōge, sliding sideways in your dad’s old Corolla part of Japanese car culture. The whole Wangan-racing side of Japan’s car culture also has an anime tribute. It’s a manga and anime called Wangan Midnight. You have most likely heard of it, or one of the cars in the fictional story. The basic plot is kind of the same as well, an 18-year-old high school student named Akio Asakura borderline drops out because he spots a Datsun 240Z (Nissan Fairlady Z, for the JDM market) and it catches his eye, unbeknownst to him, that is the “Devil Z” or the one car that has killed all of its previous owners on the Wangan-sen.
That series sums up about ¼ of the Wangan racing frenzy during the 90’s, but it is actually loosely based on real life. The Devil Z and Blackbird are two actual cars in real life, but they aren’t quite identical to their real life counterparts. However, The rivalry between the two cars was frighteningly real. Two Mid Night Club cars were fighting constantly for the top of the ranks, two cars only known as the Yoshida Specials Porsche 930 Turbo and the ABR (Air Breathing Research) – Hosoki Datsun Fairlady Z S130Z (the 280ZX to us Americans.)
In Wangan Midnight, there are two cars. The first, a black Porsche 930 Turbo, that is tuned up to roughly 500 horsepower at the hands of Tatsuya Shima, a surgeon who spends almost all of his income on his car. He makes it faster and faster over time, until he hits a roadblock and it gets destroyed. So, he bought a 964 Turbo 3.6 and used that in the later part of the series. He tunes that 964 Turbo up to 800 horsepower with the help of Kitami Jun, an infamous tuner who has inadvertently killed a few racers with his over-the-top tuning techniques, giving him the nickname “The Tuner From Hell”.
The second, Akio’s car, is a bright blue Fairlady Z S30 (or the Datsun 240Z here), that was found in a scrapyard with all of its racing parts already mostly installed, like the twin-turbo L31 triple-carb engine, and all of its racing suspension. Little to Akio’s knowledge, the car was tuned by Kitami Jun years prior, and the previous owner who wrecked the car. Over the course of the series, the car was rebuilt two or three times, and it only got better and better as time went on, although power figures didn’t really increase all that much.
However, in real life, The story is a little different.
The Yoshida Specials 930 Turbo is just the start of our differences. The owner of the car was actually the leader (or one of the leaders) of the Mid Night Club, and so he wanted to build a car that would beat absolutely everyone at their own game. He was practicing to be a doctor but changed career paths.
From the time he bought the car, to roughly 2003 (says an inside source) it was in a perpetual state of tuning, figuring out how to get every single km/h out of this beast of a machine.
Reportedly, the Yoshida 930 has been through roughly two distinct stages in its journey. Promodet, a revered Porsche tuner in Japan, worked mostly on the Yoshida Specials car by themselves (save for another shop called Mid Night Porsche Works, although I don’t have the information to confirm this). The owner just kept asking for more and more. Sources point to the car being tuned for an average speed of 334 km/h (207 mph) in 1989 when the mysterious owner bought the car.
Up until 2003 (presumed), the car just kept going faster and faster at the hands of Promodet, who themselves tuned a 964 Turbo to 352 km/h (219 mph) in 1995, so that should give you a hint to how fast the Yoshida Specials car is. Also, it reportedly had about 700 horsepower or more at the end of its tuning stages in 2003, which is a lot of power for how little the car weighed.
I cannot tell you how much the modifications over the years cost, but it was a lot. Things like NACA ducts for rear quarter windows and a whole Auto Garage TBK body kit were big-ticket items, but the owner spent an estimated $2 million USD tuning the car over the course of 15-ish years, which is a lot of money for one car. But it was enough to stay on top, especially when there was a competitor for the top dog in the Mid Night Club.
That competitor was the ABR-Hosoki Fairlady Z S130 (or the Datsun 280ZX in American-speak.) ABR themselves made an entire body kit for their S130 and I think you could possibly buy another one from them today for the rough equivalent of $6000 USD, or so says their website. Also, it wasn’t just a body kit slapped onto any normal 280ZX, oh no. ABR took the standard Nissan L28 inline-six engine and tuned it from the late 1980s, until 1995, when reportedly it was not being modified anymore. It was actually a “demo car”, or essentially the car the tuning shop would make to show off their specialties to enterprising customers interested in their work.
How fast was this “demo car”? Well, it is reported to have an L30ET engine in it, which is the standard L28 stroked to 3 liters, with twin turbos and electronic fuel injection. It kept up with or beat the Yoshida car, but it was usually just a little bit slower. It’s presumed to have between 600 to 680 horsepower, which kind of aligns with the car Akio Asakura drives in Wangan Midnight. It has a variety of oil catch cans and other trickery to make things like oil pressure a non factor at high speeds on the Wangan. What kind of high speeds? Reportedly, it was tuned for an average speed of 330 km/h (205 mph) on the Wangan.
These two cars, the Yoshida Specials Porsche 930 Turbo “Blackbird” and the ABR-Hosoki Nissan Fairlady Z S130 “Devil Z” were the rivalry of a lifetime, in the Mid Night Club as well as the popular culture surrounding the cars.
However, in the Mid Night Club, there were many other cars that raced on the Wangan besides these two. The BNR32 Nissan Skyline GT-R was a popular choice among Wangan racers because of its RB26DETT engine and ATTESA AWD system that made quick work of tuning the engine to crazy levels of power. With the aid of all-wheel drive, traction was endless at such high speeds. In his own Motorworld, Jeremy Clarkson stated that the R32 GT-R he was driving was most likely “to be seen in the Mid Night Club” as opposed to driving on the streets.
Besides the Nissan Skyline R32, there were many different kinds of cars running in the Club, from Mazda RX-7s to Z32 Nissan 300ZX models, even one with a prototype Bonneville Salt Flats tuned motor directly from Nissan that was dynoed at roughly 800 horsepower. There have also been Supras in both A70 and A80 variety ripping up the Wangan, and even a Ferrari Testarossa.
Also, the owner of ABR (and the creator of that crazy S130) also apparently has built, in cooperation with Speed Shop Shinohara, a Toyota Soarer that is rumored to go 350 km/h (217 mph) on the Wangan. There are no pictures or other details about it however, from my inside source or on the Internet anywhere, but it was reportedly the fastest Toyota in Japan at the time, after moving his focus from the Z.
There are pictures of a lot of these Mid Night Club cars from scans of High Power Magazine back in the day, and most of them are when the cars were ripping up the Yatabe Test Track, a test track that was opened in 1964 by the Japanese Automobile Research Institute. That is where the Toyota 2000GT broke many different speed records in 1966, on the banked speed test bowl… which was also where the Mid Night Club tested all of their various cars for top speed testing and where we got all of these glorious photos:
There was a few reasons the Mid Night Club lasted so long: they didn’t get caught. Have you ever heard the expression “You can’t drive faster than the radio?” Well, it’s because, in a police chase, more and more cops can be called to hunt you down. Apparently, that trope does not exist in Japan. Police cars in Japan are limited, under some regulation, and they can only travel at a maximum speed of 180 km/h (112 mph). So, if you go above 180 km/h for your travel, no cop in the whole country could chase you, even if they had these cool cars.
Another reason they lasted from 1987-1999 is the fact that the Club, as a group, were very highly secretive. All information about names, addresses, professions, how they make the money to tune the cars, and everything remotely personal was highly guarded and was never leaked to anyone inside or outside the Club. If members were already friends, they were obligated to be quiet about it around the Club. Even if many famous Japanese tuners were assumed to be Mid Night Club members, no one actually knew.
Also, in the Club, there was an unspoken custom that anyone who displayed the Mid Night Club or Mid Night stickers on their car (In Japan, at least) that didn’t belong to the Club would either be harassed or have their car vandalized (in some cases, to the point of making the car effectively totaled) by Club members, for showing off something that was sacred to this group of men. It sounds like something the Yakuza would do in all honesty, but it makes sense.
But, all good things must come to an end. In 1999, on an average Friday night, there was a crash that resulted in the hospitalization about eight people. Bōsōzoku members wanted to “play” with the Club when they were racing, and some Club members took the bait. They raced until there was suddenly a stop in traffic. None of them could quite stop from 250km/h or so to 0 in the blink of an eye, and so the accident was pretty gruesome. Two Bōsōzoku members were hospitalized, as well as six normal commuters on the Wangan who just trying to get where they needed to go. Per the club’s rules when they started in 1987, the club would be disbanded if there was any injury to any other motorist. So, in 1999, the club was officially disbanded.
If the crash hadn’t happened, the Club would still likely be disbanded by now, since the Japanese authorities have had a crackdown on different types of gangs since the 1980s, including a lot of the Bōsōzoku gangs that started the Mid Night Club in the first place.
Hence, the longest-running and most notorious street racing gang ever was taken down, albeit voluntarily, and they left quite a legacy. Even today, references to the Club are quite rampant, including calling street racing gangs “akin to the Mid Night Club.” There was even a video game named after the Mid Night Club, aptly named as such. You probably know of these games, although the members of the real Club weren’t too happy about it when the name was so similar to their own.
That is the tale of the Mid Night Club, from their rise in the late 1980s, to their fall in the late 1990s.
Now, where can I get one of those nifty stickers?
Just some legal mumbojumbo here!
All information contained in this article, or most of it really, is easily found on the Internet. I did source quite a bit of very specific information about the Yoshida Specials 930 Turbo and ABR S130Z from an inside source that is affiliated with the Club in personal connections, but is not an actual member of the Club itself.
The information portrayed in this article is only as late as 2016. Some information may have changed and some may be totally inaccurate. All of this was gathered via the English-language web between 2015-2016.
I tried my best to leave all personal information about members of the Mid Night Club out of this, as I am not even technically allowed to tell you the names of the owners of some of these cars, even if it can be rumored for who owns what.
The YouTube video from the channel “Noriyaro” is used with complete permission for this use by the creator and host of the channel and video itself, Alexi. It also saved me about three paragraphs of explanation, so thank you Alexi for letting me use the video!
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