Air Breathing Research: Yatabe Densetsu

    Months ago I had come to piece together a significant chunk of this story together, but I had been unable to write it and so a channel called Hunter's Moon beat me to the punch by publishing his video first. While we both use the same sources, I'm more focused on the history of ABR as opposed to its connections to Wangan Midnight. 

    Most of my information, by the way, comes from secondary sources- mostly Auto Team Retro and Auto Mode Japan. Sadly, Auto Mode Japan has removed their online presence. Auto Team Retro is still around, thankfully. I found the interview with Masaru Hosoki on an old reddit post that sadly no longer has working links. On the plus side, I screenshotted what I could, and it is safely preserved in my google drive before it was taken down. The pictures of the white ABR kitted S130Z are from another blog that unfortunately I can't seem to find with searching. Pictures of the Mid Night S130 as well as some small information comes from a GTPlanet wishlist thread. The "Yatabe Densetsu" is from Google translate so I apologize if it's wrong :)

    Finished in 1964, initially Yatabe test track started out as a proving ground for production cars. By the mid-1970s, magazines looking to highlight Japan's fastest cars would use the track's banked angles as a test of top speed. Several of Japan's most famous tuning houses were formed and molded by this era. There were three high-end tuning houses: HKS, known for their role in developing turbochargers, RE-Amemiya (the RE is shorthand for Rotary Engine, their specialty), and TRUST, known as GReddy in America (you may know them as the distributors of Rocket Bunny/Pandem kits). Each of these houses has their own history and their own style that has made a massive impact on the world of cars.

    Those who really know their Japanese car history, though, will immediately think of another name when asked about that era.

    Masaru Hosoki founded Air Breathing Research (ABR) in 1977. One of the many who originally raced on the streets, Hosoki went from simply making engine parts to working on a Team Toyota Europe Celica in 1978, to now entering the high-speed world of Yatabe. ABR ran a variety of cars- Toyota Celicas, a pair of Toyota Soarers and even a FC generation RX-7 throughout the years. There was no preference to what car he would run, so long as he could develop parts for it. His approach to tuning and single-minded determination for speed made ABR a premier tuner for speed-seeking clients. One of these clients would be the man who would thrust ABR to eternal automotive fame: Garry Mitsunaga.

    Garry Mitsunaga was born in Hawaii in 1945. His racing career began with a Mazda RX-3 at Tachikawa Air Base, a popular spot for drag racing. There, he met Hosoki, and the two soon became known for their Chevy 327 powered S30Z that became a mainstay at Tomei and drag racing events. Soon Mitsunaga set his sights on a new goal: claiming a speed record.

    The weapon of choice? A DeTomaso Pantera. Produced from 1971 to 1992, the Pantera was DeTomaso's most famous and most produced model. Marrying American power with Italian styling made the car hard to beat as an everyday sports car. Mitsunaga's Pantera was one of the early 1970s models- a clean, elegant form that had little in the way of the wide fenders and aggressive wings that would soon come. It was the perfect car, really, for a high-speed run- a sleek wedge shape gave it a low drag coefficient and having a massive Cleveland V8 in the middle meant that it could put down serious power even stock.

    This V8, however, wasn't enough. Instead, it was swapped out for a Chevrolet LS7, tuned to the order of 710 bhp. What's more, the NASCAR racer Mario Rossi tuned the engine. His story isn't too relevant here, but the more comprehensive version is featured in this video. All of this was completed in 1981 with Hosoki doing the prep work in Japan. He worked on it obsessively to the last minute.

    Kunimitsu Takahashi, the famed "father of drifting", was tasked with taming the monster machine due to his immense experience with racing cars. He got the car to reach 307 km/h, which made it the fastest car in all of Japan. With a record like that, ABR became a name on every tuning magazine in Japan. However, Mitsunaga and Hosoki knew the car could have easily gone faster. The engine had issues with oil and cooling which severely limited the run. If ABR could solve that, then it would certainly be able to hit the magic 320 km/h. If Mitsunaga's Pantera were able to hit that speed, he would have the fastest car in Japan.

    Only a few days later, the car was ready. All Mitsunaga needed was a venue.
    Though the banked curves of Yatabe could let him unleash the car's awesome power, it was not enough road to hit the magic number. So, he took the Pantera to the expressways. After picking up a journalist at a coffee shop, Mitsunaga floored it down Tomei, without mercy. The details are naturally quite fuzzy. The recorded time was 6 minutes and 20 seconds, over 38.7 km. This would yield a higher speed than 320 km/h, 366.63 km/h. The average speed recorded, however, was 250 km/h.

    I'll leave you to decide whether it did hit that speed or not.

    There were plans to make the car faster in 1982. The goal was to increase the output to 800 bhp and go on Yatabe. Sadly, these plans would never be realized. After the run, Mitsunaga dropped off the journalist and on his way home, lost control of the car and died in the resulting car accident. The Pantera was a lightweight car, mostly made of fiberglass. Fitted with racing slicks on a cold night, it would be hard to control even in the best of situations. 

    There is a legend that says the Mitsunaga's monster LS7 was put into another car, and it roams around Tokyo looking for more opponents to defeat...

    Those who know ABR, however, know it as the tuner for another car. 

    In 1980s Japan, if you wanted a car for top speed, you would have to import a car from America or Europe. Domestic cars wouldn't be capable of hitting the 300 km/h mark until 1983, when the HKS M300 passed 300 km/. The JDM hero of the time was the Nissan S30Z. It's L20 was easy to build up, and it was possible to reach 280 km/h with the right aerodynamic kit. Nissan released the second generation S130Z in 1979, with the same engine and an updated design. The Z's ability for top speed and its low price meant customers could bring their Zs to a shop and gun for the fastest car. 
    One such customer was a Yamada-san who went to a smaller company called Ekibasha to tune his 1979 Nissan S130. Red in color, a lot of money was poured into the entire car, for one purpose: go faster than his rival, Yoshida-san in his Porsche 930. Both racers were part of the same club: The Mid Night Club. The car at this time was known as the Super Z, and with 394 bhp, it was already quite fast.

[Translation of above Page:]
To be clear this twin turbo machine has a crazy level of workmanship. Tomei forged pistons are used in the 3L build by Ekibasha, all the usual parts that can be considered are already processed. For the turbo chargers, KKK K26 twins are used, boost pressure of 0.8~1.2 kg/cm controlled by HKS race wastegate. Stainless steel exhaust manifold, chamber, muffler, and pipework are all original by Ekibasha. To increase fuel there are four new yellow nozzles in front of the intake chamber, fuel is injected by both pressure switch (0.9kg~1.1 kg/cm^2) and rotating sensor (at 5000 RPM). Radiator is a 4 layer core, oil cooler is genuine race type with dedicated electric fan. Additionally, fan and duct for the turbos, aluminum spoiler for the lower part of the front bumper, you can feel the originality. For the footwork, pillow ball assembly on the front with HKS large capacity rotor, Koni tapered coils, GAB shocks, front at Rear Fortran stabilizer. The twin turbo machine is packed with work and ideas that cannot be written fully; the street specification has a maximum speed of around 240 km/h. However the acceleration has great punching power.
[Translation of the engine bay caption:]
As a turbo injected engine the L28 Twin turbo is the most beautiful  
[Translation of the interior photo caption:]
Cockpit of the twin turbo is spartan. In addition to the meters added in the center, the glove box is equipped with F-con and retarder.
[Translation of the control box caption and photo:]
Control box for the fuel, original produced by the owner

    Eventually "fast" became "not fast enough". ABR, now famous for the Pantera, took on the challenge to make the S130Z faster in 1985. ABR fitted a new kit in addition to building the engine further, and the Z grew faster alongside its Porsche rival. In 1994 the car logged 265 km/h during testing, and through the years it kept growing. As it grew faster and faster, the fame of the Mid Night Club also grew. Even during the Mid Night Club's street racing era, the S130Z was well known, becoming the poster child for the club. This car traded hands several times throughout the years, ending up in the hands of a man known only as Toshi-san. In its 'final' form, the car was rumored to be capable of 320 km/h, though like the Pantera, it was never documented. However, this S130 is still alive and well, as is its rival, so perhaps one day we will see it hitting 320 km/h for sure. Considering how long this car has been around for, it would not surprise me if it already has done so.

        The power from the S130Z as of now is said to be 680 bhp. This isn't outside the realm of implausibility. This S30Z has 558 bhp with a single turbo. I remember reading an anecdote about the Mid Night S130Z, saying that starting the car was a ritual. It may be driven on the streets, but this S130Z has the heart of a true racing machine. The car enjoyed recognition through the 1990s and the 2000s. The below picture is from ZCON 2004. With Mr. K, the father of the Nissan Z-car (the man in the red hat on the left), is sitting behind the car. It almost feels full circle to me.

    The Mid Night S130Z is still alive and well, though I don't imagine it is seen very often. The most recent article I found is from 2019, from Web Option. And its rival is still around as well.
    That body kit is not unique at all to the Mid Night S130Z.

    ABR was also approached by the movie director Hisashi Watanabe. He asked ABR to tune the hero car, a midnight blue S30Z for his new movie, but ABR was too busy at the time. Instead, he took the Z to another shop, the tragically short-lived Speed Shop Shinohara, which I covered earlier. I think you may already know what that blue Z eventually became.

    So, one last question remains. Why isn't ABR more famous?

    Air Breathing Research only existed as a way for Masaru Hosoki to build the fastest cars in all of Japan. An interview with Hosoki appeared in an issue of Max Power back in the mid-1990s. Explaining his motivation for tuning, at least back then, Hosoki stated that his focus was not on making profit but to build the fastest cars. To do that, excessive money must be spent on development. His desire was to "search for ultimate power so that it is like driving on snow", and that if he wanted to make money, he would not build the fastest cars. With the new popularity and coverage of drifting, it's also hard to imagine someone focused only on building high-speed cars would be able to stay relevant today. 
    Hosoki also had a huge distaste for anything but pure freedom. ABR never promoted themselves within professional motorsport unlike RE-Amemiya or HKS; to Hosoki, regulations made professional motorsport too boring. Even the now-popular Mid Night Club became a shadow of its former self according to him- the club lost touch with its purpose, with members looking too much like boy racers. The kind of people who will go to ABR are also the kind of people ABR wants to work with: only those who are in the search for ultimate power.

    If you are one of those people, here's a link to ABR's website. The rightmost tab in pink is for inquiries.