In the world of automotive engineering and street racing, the name Smokey Nagata is one that is whispered with absolute reverence. The founder of one of the world’s most popular automobile tuner and parts manufacturer –Top Secret Co. –and a legendary racer, Kazuhiko “Smokey” Nagata embodied what it is to be a ‘car guy’ in the ‘80s, with his name being practically synonymous with underground racing, like the Toyota AE86.
But it was his legendary stunt back on November 4th of 1988 on the British A1(M) that catapulted Smokey from car expert to tuning God.
Smokey Nagata and the Legend of the Doubleton Run
In general, British motorways have a speed limit of 70mph. Smokey, however, wanted to go almost triple that. At a little past 4am, Smokey put the pedal to the metal and brought his heavily modified, 1,003bhp Toyota Supra and careened down the highway. His goal? Hit 200mph.
There were, however, a couple of complications: first, the engine was running lean, meaning that the air-to-fuel mixture was too light, and secondly, his car’s hood was this close to being blown off somewhere around the 190mph mark. Ultimately, Smokey fell short of the double ton, but still clocked a highly impressive 194mph, a full 20mph more than the Mazda RX-7.
Highly impressive, but also highly illegal: as Smokey slowed to cherish his victory, police gave chase and arrested him. Smokey Nagata was jailed At Her Majesty’s Pleasure, which is a British way of saying “we’re going to keep you in jail for an indefinite period of time”.
Thankfully, Smokey Nagata only spent one night in a British jail cell, a relatively lenient sentence that, quite honestly, would never happen today. The day after his release, Smokey booked the next flight to Japan, and word of his doubleton run –documented on high-definition VHS –had started making the rounds in the underground racing scene, and thus, a legend was born.
Who is Smokey Nagata? An Early Life on the Fast Lane
With his reputation as both a speed demon and an auto-tuning genius, it’s no surprise that Smokey Nagata’s upbringing was filled with fast cars and tinkering mechanics.
Born in Hokkaido in 1964, Smokey Nagata grew up in a provincial part of Japan, with idyllic farmland and rolling hills framing his small town. Despite this, Smokey’s father was already tooling around with cars, giving Smokey a life-long obsession with automobiles.
By 15, he had bought his first car, a Mitsubishi Galant GTO. Despite being around a mechanic father, Smokey struggled to fix it up. Luckily, Smokey was noticed by the boss of the local Toyota and the older engineer helped the aspiring autotuner to turn his Galant GTO into a decent racing car.
Emboldened by his newfound skills, Smokey started driving his car to school. Unfortunately, the legal driving age in Japan is 16, and Smokey was quickly expelled.
A blessing in disguise, as it turns out because the local Toyota boss had felt responsible for Smokey’s dismissal from school, so he instead offered him a job at the prestigious car company. At the time, Smokey Nagata had just turned 16, making him the youngest employee Toyota had at the time.
Unfortunately, Smokey Nagata only lasted 4 years in Toyota before being fired. This wasn’t because he wasn’t a hard worker, however; for all intents and purposes, Smokey was a hard-working wunderkind who quickly picked up complex engineering techniques quickly. The problem was that he was getting too good: he was taking the skills he was learning in Toyota and applying it to his second-hand Toyota Celica on the side.
Unbeknownst to his bosses, Smokey had been tuning up his car and honing his driving skills in and around the mountains of Hokkaido. The Toyota bigwigs didn’t like this, however, and he was given the boot.
With no other places for him to work and with a non-existent racing scene, Hokkaido was no longer nurturing Smokey’s need for speed. And so with the skills he learned from Toyota, a road trip checklist, and the clothes on his back, Smokey moved 800 miles south to the capital of both Japan and the auto-tuning world: Tokyo.
The Birth of Top Secret V12 Supra
In Tokyo, Smokey cut his autotuning teeth further in the tuning company Trust. However, he was entrusted with ‘menial’ work like working on mufflers and turbos. But this only pushed Smokey Nagata’s appetite for tuning more, and so again, during his off-hours, he would take cars and soup them up in the company’s garage.
Naturally, his bosses found out, but unlike in Toyota, allowed him to stay on because, well, he was one of their most skilled workers. This is how Smokey’s legendary company got its name: it was a Top Secret project that was shared between him and his bosses at Trust.
For any auto tuner, the name Top Secret is synonymous with legend: they were the company behind the legendary V-8 powered Skyline GT-R and the twin-turbo V-12 Supra. One could say that Top Secret –along with Trust and Greedy –were at the forefront of the auto tuning renaissance of the ‘90s, with these companies supplying underground racers both in Japan and the U.S. with the fastest machines possible.
Over at Japan, various tuners and racers would compete to break max speed record after max speed record, with the now-infamous Aqua-line –a 9.6km highway underneath Tokyo Bay –becoming the preferred racetrack for all these JDMs.
It was in the Aqua-line that Smokey Nagata and Top Secret began building a reputation for speed: his R33 Skyline GT-R managed to go 0–300kph in 17 seconds at Yatabe racing track before breaking 204mph in the Aqua-line. The latter is often credited as being the kernel of the idea for his doubleton A1(M) run.
Smokey Nagata: Where Is He Now?
More than 20 years later, Smokey Nagata’s legendary almost-200mph run on the A1(M) is still the fastest speed ever accomplished on a British motorway. The record stands not just because it’s illegal but also because, well, no other auto tuner can match Smokey Nagata’s skill.
The whole thing was a PR stunt to promote Top Secret internationally, but when he got arrested, Smokey thought he was done for. It wasn’t until he landed in Japan when he realized that word had already spread about his A1 attempt, and it was getting the kind of attention he wanted. In fact, word got around so fast and so far that an Emirati Prince actually bought the Supra Smokey had used.
After the Emirati Prince bought the Supra back in ’98, Smokey went back and tuned up another Supra by slapping on a 5.0L V-12 he got off a Toyota Century, installed two HKS GT2540 Turbos, and ran cooling through the trunk using his very own Top Secret bodykit. He designed this car to try and break 400kph, or 249mph.
After a failed attempt at the Nardò Ring in Italy, where he was able to push the car to 358kph or 222mph, Smokey brought it home to the Aqua-line. It managed to achieve 370kph, or 229mph, still short of the 400kph/249mph goal. The car was sold in an auction in 2017.
Although the legend of Smokey Nagata’s 200mph run was pretty well-known in the underground racing scene, it only became more widespread in the 2010s, thanks to YouTube and social media. And more than 20 years since his legendary run, Smokey Nagata is still busy with Top Secret: he wants to break the 400kph goal. And quite honestly, that’s a record we can’t wait to see get broken