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We went and saw Akira Nakai cut away at an old 911. We left questioning the nature of art.

RWB Porsche 911 Build RWB Porsche 911 Build

For the first time in more than 20 years, smoking is legal indoors in Connecticut. Well, probably not, but no one stops Akira Nakai from lighting up a Winston when he’s not holding a reciprocating saw to a pristine Porsche 911.

Nakai is the founder of RAUH-Welt Begriff or RWB, perhaps one of the most infamous Porsche tuners on Earth. Based out of a small garage in Chiba, Japan, Nakai has long built his own idiosyncratic takes on the Porsche 911. Inspired by air-cooled 911 race cars, Nakai fits monster fender flares and other addenda by hand to G-bodies, 964s, 993s, and the occasional 997. 

His creations are a reflection of Japan’s customize-everything car culture, and for a while now, a major export. Nakai travels the world building RWBs. You buy a body kit from him—this 993 kit starts at $28,000 including installation—wait a year, and he comes to you and builds the car. We’re seeing him in the middle of a US tour, where he’ll build a handful of cars across the country. 

Over an unseasonably warm February weekend, Nakai visits Connecticut Porsche shop Butzigear to apply his signature treatment to a 993. It’s an extraordinary experience.

On arrival, photographer DW Burnett likens it to a “ceremony.” The 993, fresh off a glass-out repaint sits on jack stands perfectly lit in the middle of a shop. A crowd quickly gathers. They came from all over the Northeast. A family from New Jersey, a guy from Vermont. 

Butzigear owner David Esposito let onlookers register for morning and afternoon sessions across two days to watch Nakai work. T-shirts, stickers, and even signs were made. Seemingly every Mk7 GTI owner in Connecticut shows up. At one point, I count seven people with cameras in hand, including three as part of a film crew hired by the car owner. They speak to one another via headsets. Nakai hasn’t arrived yet.

I expect applause, but Nakai shuffles in with his assistant and a beagle named Bagel in tow. The car is roped off to the public, and after the first cigarette, Nakai gets to work.

RAUH-Welt Begriff translates roughly to “rough world concept” in English. 

“You could say ‘Rauh’ really stands for the pure, rugged, style each human exhibits,” Nakai told 0-60 Magazine back in 2010. He travels the world with rattle cans and a set of basic air tools to complete each build. Hardly high-tech. And while you might see him wear a mask from time to time, generally, there’s no PPE here. If the 10,000 cigarettes don’t kill him, the fiberglass surely will. 

“What this is to me, and with the body shop, we’re meticulous in how we work and how we build stuff, and how we try to be protective of the pieces and be careful,” Esposito says. “But then it’s that ‘everything-matters’ mentality and workflow is handed off to Nakai, which is the ‘rough-world’ concept, how he works. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just how he does it.

“That’s a finished product for someone looking for a restored 993,” he adds. “And now he’s going to cut it.”

Nakai doesn’t interact much with the crowd. His assistant is there helping, and when they take cigarette breaks, they sit scrolling their phones. But Nakai books about two days to build each car, and there is much work to be done. 

Car owner Justin Ashworth is astonished at how quickly it all unfolds. He bought the bodykit from RWB four years ago – COVID made scheduling the build complicated – and in a flash, Nakai turns his Polar Silver 911 into something radically different. 

“The whole thing’s pretty surreal,” he says. “It’s gonna be over before I know it. I’ve envisioned this so many different ways for so long, and now it’s here.”

Cutting the fenders draws the crowd in closer and brings out the iPhones. Everyone gets quiet. Nakai holds up the new fiberglass piece to the body, marks the edge with tape, then takes a small air saw to the body. He cuts freehand, below the tape outline, and when the first bit of bodywork is shorn from the car, Ashworth holds it up for an applauding crowd.

It’s perhaps the most important part of the build. Once the saw bites, there’s no way back. 

“I thought it was going to be pretty wrenching, but I did my thing, Dave did his thing, this is Nakai’s thing,” says Gary Dullin Jr. of Dulin Collision Center, the body shop that prepped the car. “I’ve got like, 360 hours, 38 days into this car, and now it’s just being lopped apart.” But he’s not sad about it. On the contrary it’s “badass” as the vehicle comes together.

The whole ceremony is a piece of performance art. 

“He just wants to share it with everyone,” Ashworth tells Motor1. “He’ll build a car in front of you in your own garage, or in front of 1,000 people. Whatever the owner wants, and as long as everyone else is respectful, it’s cool.” 

There’s about 50 people here today, all extremely excited, but everyone leaves Nakai to his work.

Whether or not you like the end product or the philosophy behind it, Nakai’s self-assuredness is admirable. And not just in where to cut the body, where to file pieces down to fit, etc, but in his vision. It all feels so improvised, too. Yes, Nakai’s done hundreds of cars before, and there is a pretty clearly defined process, but he’s also just figuring it out as he goes along. And quickly, too. There’s time for cigarette breaks, but no time to contemplate every last decision.

Watching the process raises a lot of questions that don’t have easy answers, or any answers. Is this sublime or ridiculous? Is it art? What is art? 

The ever-perceptive photographer Burnett just says it’s a bit of fun, and if you hate this, you probably hate fun. That’s possibly the best conclusion to draw here. While the crowd observes Nakai with reverence, and he works with total focus and commitment, he’s just taking a car and putting his own vision on it. And isn’t it fun to have fun in the too-serious world of Porsche? 

In any case, it’s a treat to watch Nakai work. You can spend a lifetime with cars, working on them, watching other people work on them, and never see anything like this. Ceremony, recital, a laugh, an RWB build is unique.

Photos by DW Burnett

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