15 Apr 2019

Bodywork artist breathes new life into old Porsches

Porsche bodywork tuner Akira Nakai-san is a man of mystery.
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Japanese master Porsche bodywork tuner Akira Nakai-san has a small but fiercely passionate band of followers around the world, including in Australia.

For decades, master Porsche bodywork tuner Akira Nakai-san quietly practised his art in Japan, witnessed by only a few dedicated acolytes. But in recent years his following has exploded around the world, including in Australia.

Known as RWB, the movement that has built up around his cars is small but fiercely dedicated and passionate says, Chern Wong, head of RWB Australia.

“RWB all centres on Akira Nakai-san,’’ says Chern.

“He’s been doing this for many years, building one car a week all by himself. Each one is unique, and is given a name by Nakai-san.’’

Internationally sought after

 Overview

Nakai-san’s racing-inspired car makeovers are internationally sought after, and he has collaborators and partner workshops around the world, including in Europe, North America, Hong Kong and his home, Japan.

Chern said Nakai-san currently has a 12-month waiting list of eager Porsche owners. To date he has conducted five builds in Australia. Chern is the proud owner of the first RWB in Australia, a pink 1986 Carrera named “’Southern Cross”’, and has produced a documentary film about the build and Nakai-san’s journey to Australia.

 Overview

“Nakai-san is this mysterious figure who nobody really knows much about,’’ says Chern. “He looks a bit like a tall version of Bruce Lee.

“Customers come to me as his local liaison, and I arrange the build details between them. Nakai-san is restricted to 20 hours per build. He travels the world with his personal set of tools, but to build a car you need a mechanical workshop and details like paint, tyres, engine and suspension arranged beforehand.

 Overview

“My job is to arrange all that and ensure a hassle-free build by Nakai-san for the client.’’

Subculture within a subculture

Chern describes RWB as a subculture within the subculture of people dedicated to maintaining the older generation of air-cooled Porsches, the last of which was built in 1998. He says that owning these models requires a true passion for the brand and a willingness to get your hands dirty.

“Back when I first got into these cars, nobody wanted them,’’ he says. “They appealed to a very specific crowd, to people who really love them, who enjoy repairing and maintaining them themselves.’’

Booming prices

Then a boom in the market for older Porsches started in 2013, following Porsche’s celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Porsche 911. That kicked off an explosion in values across Europe and the US, and the trickle-down effect reached Australia about a year or two later.

“So prior to 2014, 2015 we could get these cars for $15,000 to about $60,000,’’ says Chern. “But right now you’d have to triple this price range. It’s amazing how much prices have gone up.’’

Labour of love

With the help of some close friends, Chern is currently rebuilding Southern Cross and is considering a new kit by Nakai-san. The car still runs well, but at over 30 years old it requires regular work, and spares can be a problem.

“Going through this rebuild, I have found out that Porsche has over the last five years or so stopped some of the production lines in terms of spare parts,’’ he says.

“That has pushed up the resale value of used parts, and they are also getting harder to find by the year. It took me about four months just to track down a couple of critical suspension components.’’

Given these issues, the RWB community are preparing to expand their affections to the newer generation of water-cooled Porsches, and Nakai-san’s goal is to offer the first one, a kit for the Porsche 997, by next year.

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