Top Secret tuner: Skyline GT-R “650R” is a JDM golden child
Though the Nissan Skyline first appeared in the mid-1960s, it wasn’t until the ’89 Nissan Skyline GT-R that Nissan’s flagship car catapulted to legendary status among sports car fans. Just like its predecessors, the R32-generation Skyline retains a straight-six engine layout. The robust, eminently tunable 2.6-liter twin-turbo RB26DETT pairs with Nissan’s famous all-wheel drive system—Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrain with Electronic Torque Split, or ATTESA E-TS for short—that was cutting-edge tech in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Both on the street and in racing, the R32 Skyline GT-R’s combination of power and handling was so dominant it destroyed just about everything in its way. Given that it hailed from Japan, its nickname was almost inevitable: “Godzilla.”
Of course, Godzilla’s reputation was earned in part through the unbelievable performance that tuners managed to coax out of the R32 platform. One of the most legendary of these Japanese tuning companies is Top Secret, founded in 1991 and located in Chiba, an hour outside of Tokyo. The outfit’s latest Skyline GT-R, this shimmering machine it calls the 650R, is the gilded Mechagodzilla of R32s. It was recently imported to the U.S., bringing a piece of Top Secret’s hallowed machinery to these shores.
However, before we plunge deep into Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) culture and this highly customized GT-R, it’s important to meet the man behind Top Secret: Kazuhiko Nagata, also known as Smoky Nagata.
While the origins of Smoky’s nickname are cloudy, it’s widely understood that he earned it back in 1998. Depicted in low-res VHS footage that went viral at a time when homes with internet were still using dial-up, Nagata laid down monstrous burnouts in his Japanese-registered 1003-hp Mk IV Supra and then blasted to 194 mph in pursuit of the 200-mph mark—on a public U.K. highway. He spent the night in jail, paid £190 in fees, and was banned from the U.K. for a decade.
The plot thickens. Powering the Supra wasn’t the beloved 2JZ-GTE that tuners adore, but instead an RB26DETT from a GT-R, chosen for its top-end grunt. It’s the type of thing you would expect from Nagata, who built Top Secret’s brand on wild engine swaps and daring high-speed runs in Tokyo tunnels. His other notable car builds include swapping a Nissan Cima VQ V-8 engine into a Infiniti G35 that did 211 mph on the Autobahn in Germany, and stuffing a V-12 into a Toyota Supra and taking it up to 225 mph at the Nardò Ring in Italy. Nagata’s disregard for authority and obsession with speed turned him into an infamous outlaw tuner that brought attention all over the world. If there was a thing called an automotive influencer in those years, Smoky Nagata would be the JDM world’s prime example.
The GT-R 650R Gold was designed to be a street-legal car that doesn’t boast any Frankenstein engine swap under its hood. Instead it keeps the RB26DETT, enlarged to 2.8 liters and fitted with top-shelf JDM engine components: HKS pistons and crank, NISMO bearings, and Tomei camshafts. Long gone are the factory twin-turbos that originally came with the RB26, and in its place Top Secret installed a single GReddy T78 turbo. As the 650R name suggests, this R32 has 650 hp on tap. On the outside of the car you’ll find Top Secret’s bespoke aero kit, which includes the carbon-fiber front bumper, hood, and rear diffuser. And let’s not forget, no Top Secret car is complete without the signature gold paint. In 2019, the 650R Gold won Best Demo Car at the annual Tokyo Auto Salon car show in Chiba City—Japan’s version of the Las Vegas SEMA show.
Today, the 650R R32 belongs to a new owner: Reggie Draper, of Texas. Draper jumped at the opportunity when he saw the 650R on sale on Top Secret’s website, much in the same way that any Shelby diehard would move heaven and earth for the chance to buy one of Carroll’s personal projects. As a child, Draper was influenced by video games such as Gran Turismo and tuning videos from Japan’s Best Motoring, and Smoky Nagata was a JDM hero of his that inspired Draper to one day own a piece of JDM history.
“I wanted to ensure the car lived as a Smoky Nagata art piece,” says Draper, “so I was determined to have him sign it. I color-matched gold metallic markers at Michaels … I then shipped these markers to Japan so Mr. Nagata would be able to sign it as close to his Top Secret gold color as possible. He signed under the hood, on the passenger side dash, and behind his driver side Recaro seat.”
Importing a JDM car can be tricky, however, so Draper enlisted the help of Toprank International Vehicle Importers to ease the process. Toprank is one of the United States’ most respected importers of JDM cars, particularly tuner cars, and sources vehicles from all over the world to its dealership in Cypress, California. Brian Jannusch, the firm’s national sales manager, says: “I first saw this car when I visited Top Secret’s shop in Japan and again when Top Secret won an award at Tokyo Auto Salon with this car. TAS is one of the top motor shows in the world for modified and tuned cars, which speaks volumes of the quality and attention to detail on this car. I would have not thought then I would have a role in bringing it here into the United States.
“Of the hundreds of Skyline GT-Rs that we have brought to the U.S., I would have to say this one is my favorite.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Draper, though. He had a few hurdles to jump, such as the narrow Recaro Profi SPG fixed bucket seat, which Draper wanted to replace with another model of Recaro seat that used a gold mesh resembling the exterior paint. It was another rare JDM element that Draper had to track down but, luckily, a Toprank staffer suggested a Thailand seller that specializes in seats. As fate would have it, that same Thailand seller posted the gold mesh Recaro seats on his Instagram, and Draper bought them with the same enthusiasm he did the 650R.
What does a person do with a Top Secret Skyline? Draper respects Nagata so much that he wouldn’t dare change the design of the car. And he certainly isn’t thinking of a 200-mph attempt on a public freeway. Nobody is that crazy, right? Well, nobody else, anyway.