Artists continually endeavor to make a statement, lukewarm creations and fitting in for many means certain death. For Mitsuru Haraguchi sticking to his guns, and constantly striving to create his own vision of what a car should be, has not only earned him a reputation, but praise as one of Japan’s most colourful automotive creators with a vision unlike any other.
Haraguchi-san is no stranger to the tuning world, and while many of you may not be overly familiar with the name, you will certainly recognise the brand – 326POWER. Responsible for taking the VIP scene and giving it a good shake-up, Haraguchi-san is no stranger to style, in fact it seems he was born with style seething through his veins. Growing up in Hiroshima, Haraguchi-san started out in drifting circles, running the back roads before moving into competition level events. He is one of the few to have won events in both D1 Grand Prix and Formula Drift, and is considered by many as one of the OG drifters.
It isn’t only his competition success that most will remember him for, but rather one particular yellow FC3S that turned up in D1GP at a time when many of the cars lacked any real style or character. Haraguchi-san has always had one simple philosophy, ‘never compromise on looks’ and this was the motto with his BN Sports FC D1GP machine. Easily one of the most aggressive drift cars of all time, it now holds legendary status and reflects the character of Haraguchi-san down to a tee, the FC is basically Haraguchi-san in automotive form, wild, untamed, and doesn’t really care about anyone else’s opinion.
His build philosophy of creating useable yet aesthetically wild creations seems to be reflective of the Hiroshima scene as well. Hiroshima has been pumping out incredible automotive culture for decades, and at the forefront of that has been the ‘shakotan’ movement. The most impressive thing is in that neck of the woods, shakotan has never really died off; it has merely spawned a modern twist that has been continued by many of the current tuners.
When Haraguchi-san founded 326POWER, it was merely a group of friends tinkering with cars, and upon deciding to hang up the helmet he has gone on to expand the name, and create wild aftermarket tuning parts with that distinctive Hiroshima twist. With such an original style, 326POWER has been on my bucket list for a long time, and after 3-years of unfortunate timing finally the stars had aligned and I was going to get a close-up look at some of the creations and meet the man himself.
As we arrived at the 326POWER compound, the first sight greeting me was the VIP shakotan Lexus RC-F showcar that caused a huge stir at the 2015 Toyo Auto Salon. Not the sort of car that one would expect to find sitting around outside in the carpark. It quickly became obvious upon closer inspection that this RC-F was no show pony, rather it was Haraguchi-san’s daily to get to and from work. Sitting laid out on the ground, the RC-F was a sight for sore eyes. We weren’t in central Tokyo where the roads are as smooth as glass either, and my NZPC business card didn’t even make it far between the tyre and fender.
It wasn’t until I peered underneath to find no airbags, rather totally static coilover suspension all the way round. Haraguchi-san laughed later at my astonishment and remarked ‘you won’t find bags in this workshop’ as he comes up to shake my hand. The long straggly hair, unshaven-face with a scary yet welcoming smile that showed through while chewing on gum which is certainly a trademark of Haraguchi-san. Anyone who knows Japanese-tuning, is well aware that this man is top-shelf and the trademark drivers of today will instinctively bow when they even mention the name ‘Mitsuru Haraguchi’. To say this visit was bucket list would be an understatement.
As I was visiting early on a Saturday morning, not all the cars were around, but as he opened up the workshop roller door a few more creations were revealed. A Toyota Celsior from Club Liberty VIP sitting pretty on Work Meister M1 3-piece wheels, the 326 Fairlady Z and VW with custom bodywork to flush-fit the oni-camber wheel fitment. One thing every single car had in common was that their belly was mere millimetres off the ground. Haraguchi-san truly has perfected the art of ‘slammed-sleds’ on static suspension while keeping them truly drivable.
‘Anyone can lower a car, but there is no room for error when you have the chassis slung so low to the ground’. He opened a door on the side of the workshop and gestured for me to follow. As we walked up a dimly lit corridor he opened another door with shelves and parts boxes visible through the bright light.
Not too often do companies take you behind the curtain with a camera and let you run free. I was now in the assembly line, the heart of 326POWER, which consisted of 4 sets of hands, and one single large workshop bench. Despite being an international company, 326POWER is actually driven by the same small group of friends who have been tightly knit together since those early days. The range of dampers known as ‘Chakuriki damper’ is designed by Haraguchi-san for a range of cars from Lexus LS, GS, IS, and SC models, Fairlady, Inifinity G35, S13, S14, and S15. Of course the Euros aren’t left out, Audi, BMW, VW, Mini are all catered for and for those worried about emissions, no worries, you can even slam your Prius.
The small assembly room was flat out; off to one side a laser-etching machine was branding the suspension components due for assembly while the team worked on boxing up previous orders and others were assembling new ones. While Haraguchi-san was assembling a custom order, I noticed a few things that were different to other dampers. Firstly the 326POWER springs are much less tightly wound yet they are thicker to give a more linear rate while maintaining stiffness. The cars that they were designed to carry aren’t exactly on the slim side so it makes sense.
Another thing is that the suspension is designed to work with as much or as little camber as you like. Usually many other dampers have issues with the lower mount slots, where the bolt doesn’t want to grab well and slips under hard driving conditions. Haraguchi-san has found the perfect workaround by using a square washer. A hole is drilled in the side of the washer, and you can rotate it to move the bolt further inwards. The washer locked in place via tabs that are welded to the lower mount ensuring there is zero chance of slip. Once fitted up, the suspension behaves like you would expect. You can ride super low without sacrificing the performance of the damper, and while cornering you can feel the weight shift and the car ‘plant’ which is important when sliding Haraguchi-san explains. ‘There is no reason for a car to ride horribly just because it is super low’ he laughs while putting a complete damper carefully into the box.
Looking around, the additional custom parts on offer were very fitting with the build theme of all his car, long bullet wheel nuts, custom brake calipers, and all in super bright, loud colours. ‘If you are going to create something, you may as well stand out from the crowd and make yourself noticed’ he says while watching another box of suspension get taped up ready to ship.
You can tell Haraguchi-san has taken the path less travelled, has handcrafted his personality like his cars based out of things that make him tick.
His dark mysterious eyes don’t see things as they are, but rather exactly as he wants them to be. ‘I believe that when it comes down to it, our cars are an extension of us’ he explains, and despite the staunch, cambered, and attention-demanding creations not being everyone’s cup of tea, he has achieved his goals perfectly. He has done what every good artist does – divides opinion, runs with the outlaws, and took risks in creating a modern style of VIP shakotan unlike any other.