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This secret garage in Tokyo specialises in British cars
Welcome to Garage David: a Japanese tuning shop with a particular interest
The best thing about Japan, as we’ve come to discover, is its eclecticism, enthusiasm, and general love of cars. But there’s a tiny goldmine secreted away on a nondescript main street somewhere on the outskirts of Tokyo that’s a highlight of incongruous.
And it’s called Garage David.
This is not some big, flashy dealership - you approach down a large and free-flowing dual carriageway and, if you’re not careful, you might miss it; the only thing that gives it away are the clutter of original Minis parked outside. Pull into the front parking space - beware, because the entryway is shared with the flower delivery shop next door - and you’ll spot a few other delicacies off to the left. Pretty much all, notably, UK stuff.
That’s because Garage David, and it’s Director, organiser and chief mechanic Masato Hiroto, specialise in the kind of gently aged stuff that’s a hobbyist’s dream in the UK. A weird little slice of home in a place on the opposite side of the world. The small forecourt space houses a wonderful semi-race Lotus Europa skulking under a cover, tiny and pared, a set of original Minis, one black, one white, one red and sporting the ‘David’ logo on the bonnet, complete with it’s reversed second ‘D’. There’s more than one BRG Cooper, an MG racecar on a lift, an Elise racer wrapped like a slightly grubby Christmas present underneath. Not a huge range of vehicles, but one that speaks of specific quirk.
Here is a man that it is literally impossible not to like
We meet Masato-San, and I feel an immediate kinship. We step into the garage proper, and it’s like falling through a portal into a serious enthusiast’s garage in Hampshire. Except 45-degrees and sweaty enough to make you fall over. There’s a brace of Sevens stacked in the back corner, an incongruous Messerschmidt replica and more Minis, in various states of repair and restoration. Stuff everywhere. There are disassembled parts scattered seemingly at random, carbs, suspension and fuel tanks. Neat mess, organised chaos. It really does feel familiar, and any home builder in the world will know what the place feels like, without ever having visited - the piles of ‘important’ things, the boxes of ‘potential’.
It also doesn’t take long to realise that here is a man that it is literally impossible not to like. Yellow shop dungarees, for a start. He smiles with his entire face, eyes crinkled up, smile wide and genuine. He laughs a lot, and even though we don’t really speak each other’s language, we communicate in the pigeon-of-auto, swooping on common words, arms flailing when language fails. I swear we have one chat just shouting ‘A-Series!’ and using sign language, another miming the entire handling characteristics of the Caterham Seven.
And Masato-San’s story is just brilliant. Because the entire business comes from a desire to be an engineer, a particular passion and a very specific Manga comic that featured a Lotus Europa - I think this is probably the ‘Circuit Wolf’ series featuring a white Europa, published in the late ‘70s. He begged for a job, literally did anything for a local garage, and when that premises became defunct, struck out on his own with David, fixing and mending UK-centric cars.
The bulk of the business is original Minis, and they make sense here - they even meet Kei-car rules with the 998cc engine - have that element of vintage British cool that the Japanese love, and are, as ever, pretty good city cars. Garage David will fix anything classic British - the small library of books on the wall could have come from any garage in the UK - and Masato-San organises races for Lotus owners, events and shows. You get the feeling that this place will never be huge, but it is satisfying to its owner, credible and cool. The overwhelming feeling is of warmth, mind. We even get to meet Masato-San’s daughter, and she’s called - you guessed it - Minnie.
It’s a wonderful experience. But one question remains before we go: why is the place called Garage David? Well, it turns out that Masato-San didn’t want a specific name, something that limited the things he could work on (like, one assumes ‘Mini Garage’ or similar). He also just thought ‘Garage David’ sounded nice. I think it’s just about perfect. Like a mate you can rely on. And it feel like Masato-San might be exactly that, too.
Photography: Mark Riccioni