Following on from my ‘school trip’ to Nismo in Tokyo last Christmas, I found myself with the opportunity to visit the main outlet of one of the other big Nissan tuning houses – Impul. I wasn’t expecting to have time to go seeing as the whole family was in Japan with me this time, but when everyone announced they would like to spend an entire afternoon in the relative tranquility of Bunkamura department store, I seized the opportunity to bunk off tour guide duties for a couple of hours.
Much like the Nismo visit, I had to jump on a train out to the sticks of Tokyo to get there. This time, though, I was heading west out into the huge and largely residential Setagaya Ward, to the Sakuragaoka area. I hadn’t had time to do my homework other than to find out which station to get off at and which of Tokyo’s many rail lines to take to get there, so it would have to be a flying visit.
Two trains, a brief walk and the obligatory stop at a Calpis vending machine later, I was there. Impul’s garage is an unassuming building at the side of a busy, leaf-lined road, hemmed in between an American car importer and a vehicle hire firm. It’s not so much ‘blink and you miss it’ as ‘don’t look up and you miss it’, because the only obvious external cues are the big signs on the wall and above the windows.
Impul have been responsible for countless GT and Formula Nippon triumphs, running consistently at the front in Japanese motor sport over the last decade. Their founder Kazuyoshi Hoshino has an impressive record in top-level international racing, including appearances as a Nissan works driver at Le Mans and Daytona and even a brief stint in Formula One. Their main international claim to fame is probably running the Calsonic Nissan team in the Japanese GT series, the blue number 12 car familiar to millions across the globe as a result of their appearance in the Gran Turismo computer game series.
Despite being such a slick outfit on the track, there’s something very homely about their main showroom. Three cars are rammed in bumper to bumper, surrounded by a few cabinets containing parts and merchandise. There’s a rack stuffed with dog-eared magazines, some mismatched tables and chairs at which a customer sips tea while he waits for his car, and an adjoining office piled high with invoice slips and manuals.
On top of the cupboards and right the way around the showroom – which can’t measure more than twenty square metres – are scores and scores of awards the team has won over the years. There’s Benoit Treluyer’s second-place plaque from Formula Nippon 2009, various Super GT trophies the famous Calsonic team has picked up, and a helmet belonging to team founder Kazuyoshi Hoshino. Particularly endearing are the home-made models of Impul’s vehicles that intersperse the trophies, hand-painted 1/24-scale model kits and hastily-assembled radio-controlled cars. Right next to a championship trophy is a dusty model of a roadgoing Fairlady with the rear-left wheel missing.
You’d be wrong if you thought this was a mom-and-pop garage team. Very wrong. No object in the garage sums up the significance of the Impul team to world motor sport than the glass case by the far window. It contains a beautiful three-foot replica of an old Calsonic Skyline, presented to the team by none other than Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. The hand-signed plaque attests that the replica was given to team founder Hoshino-san in recognition of Impul’s services to raising the profile of the Nissan brand.
All the racing cars live at Fuji Circuit, so what’s in the Tokyo showroom are specimens of Impul’s latest roadgoing offerings. They do bodywork and performance enhancements for the whole spectrum of Nissan cars, from the Micra (or March as the Japanese call it) through to the big people carriers. In today is a Juke with a full-on Impul bodykit, including a ludicrous WRC-style spoiler and massive alloy wheels. It looks like none of the Jukes I see waiting outside the Edinburgh private schools at home time. This isn’t about making the kind of cars you’d see on MTV, though – under the hood is a strut brace and a suite of engine modifications, all designed and built by Impul themselves for the newest Nissan models. As the thank-you gift from Carlos Ghosn attests, Impul and Nissan seem to enjoy a close relationship, and the design and workmanship of their efforts drips quality.
On the other side of the door is a Fuga – Japan domestic market-only executive saloon that looks more than a little bit like an E-Class Merc – in full Impul regalia. This version is clearly the product of some effort, given the nondescript appearance of a common garden Fuga. The huge shiny alloys, angluar side skirts and aggressive vents everywhere certainly serve to make the hybrid-power Fuga look mean, but they also make it look even more German. Perhaps that’s the plan.
Lying astern literally four centimetres behind the Fuga is an Elgrand people carrier than would have been indescribable ten years ago when the word ‘pimping’ had still to enter common parlance. You occasionally see Elgrands in the UK as grey imports, with good reason – they are huge, comfortable and just, well, ultimate pimp-mobiles. The maxed-out Impul package for the Elgrand is pushing five figures UK price, not including donor car, so again it’s a serious bit of performance enhancing kit.
The catalogue the workshop manager gives me confirms that there’s no Nissan Impul won’t turn their hand to, including the Patrol off-roader, Serena MPV and (amazingly) Tiida. Indeed, a quick glance into the workshop when I leave confirms that all kinds of Nissan driver can come here to have their car fettled.
It may not have been the biggest or snazziest place I’ve ever been to, but Impul’s main garage in Setagaya offers a lovely little slice of motor racing history. One somehow can’t imagine Ron Dennis ever putting his team’s race trophies out in the reception area at Woking and mixing them with hand-made Tamiya kits.
In such a rush was I to take some photos and soak in the surroundings before bolting back to Shibuya that I forgot to make sure I had all my possessions with me. So if you’re ever watching a Japanese Super GT race on the obscure motor sport channels, be sure to keep an eye out for the Calsonic Team Impul Nissan. If it’s a wet race and you see one of their race crew using a blue and white floral-patterned umbrella, it’ll be mine.
The Impul showroom is about a forty minute journey from the west centre of Tokyo. Make your way to Chitose-Funabashi station on the Odawara Line (you can get there with one change from Shibuya, Shinjuku or similar). Turn right on exit, and keep walking to the first big junction about 500m away. Turn left and the garage is straight ahead after about 200m.