Performance Art: Akira Nakai Builds The RAUH-Welt Experience
For the most part, the Northeastern United States is relatively behind in modern automotive culture as compared to hotbeds of enthusiasts elsewhere. Styles and trends come and go before the oldest section of America recognizes them. To the masses, we’re late and don’t compare to others elsewhere in the US – this is where I must interject to share our perspective. Instead, we have the privilege of anticipation as we watch the world adapt to new trends and styles, which builds our passion.
Enthusiasts in many small towns can only dream of seeing a specialty vehicle such as a RAUH-Welt BEGRIFF (RWB) Porsche being built before their eyes. While an RWB is nothing new to view on the Internet, the uniquely modified 911 chassis has been absent from the Philadelphia area – until now.
For the uninitiated, an RWB is a Porsche 911, which has been outfitted with a myriad of new fiberglass body panels. These are attached using visible hardware, to make the vehicle appear lower, wider, and much more aggressive. Each one is hand-built by the originator of the design, master craftsman Akira Nakai from Narita, Japan.
The first 911 Nakai-san/RWB produced was his personal vehicle, a matte-black 930-chassis Porsche named Stella Artois. The next early adaptations in Japan all followed suit, with personalized names for each of the newly modified 911s. Most of these cars compete in the Idlers Cup racing series, a magazine and racing club for Porsche owners in Japan. The drastic changes to the bodies made these cars incredibly unique and pushed them into Internet stardom the world over. Nakai-san began traveling to different countries to build his masterpieces for paying customers, like the owner of this Speed Yellow 964-chassis, Philadelphia-area resident Max Fedorov.
I have personally been following along with these builds over the last 8 years or so, ever since I first saw these circulate among some of the blogs I follow. One of the (if not the) first American iterations came in 2011, when Mark Arcenal, the creator of the Illest clothing franchise, had his 964-chassis built, which he subsequently named Pandora One. In the 5 years since, the western and southern portions of the United States have had their fair share of RWB builds surface. Just as the rest of the United States has moved onto its third or fourth, Philadelphia finally received the RWB treatment.
I happened upon this opportunity after a chance meeting with Fedorov. Traveling down a busy main road outside Philadelphia, a couple friends and I glimpsed a small gathering of three or four Porsches in a parking lot. We made the executive decision to do the usual automotive enthusiast thing and introduce ourselves to strangers as we all stand in a huddle. A bright orange flared 964-chassis Porsche was parked adjacent to two newer 997-chassis examples. The vibrant color immediately grabbed my attention, but it was the familiar rear panels that drew me to the older chassis. Nearly identical to the famed RAUH-Welt widebody kits, this car wore a complete set of replica fenders and bumpers from a company called VAD. The letdown was impressive, as I initially stood there thinking I had stumbled onto an RWB near my hometown. After further discussion, I was told Max’s orange car was purchased as a temporary fix while he waited for his scheduled RAUH-Welt build date with Nakai-san in a month’s time.
The morning of the build I wasn’t sure what to expect as I entered the garage of RAV Collision in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. I had seen many videos online of the craftsman Akira Nakai assembling these widened automotive treasures, but was overwhelmed with excitement that I would be witnessing it firsthand. The years without seeing an RWB example with my own eyes had built a large amount of pent-up anticipation for the real thing.
The Speed Yellow 964 Porsche shell with virgin bodylines and a lack of exterior paneling rested atop four jack stands. The car was purchased with a weathered layer of black paint covering its flanks, and the body only needed minor work as it was transitioned into the blank yellow canvas for the widened masterpiece it would become. Each customer is shipped their RAUH-Welt kit beforehand so it can be painted to match the car, however, it is left uninstalled until Nakai-san can fit the kit personally.
The iconic air-cooled flat-six Porsche engine that normally resides in the rear of these cars was replaced in Fedorov’s vehicle with a water-cooled, turbocharged flat-six engine from a 996-chassis. The undertaking of such a swap is extremely uncommon, and in order to fit all of the extra modifications properly, the car needed its body kit installed before the fabrication of engine pieces could be finished at AIM Performance in South Plainfield, New Jersey.
Nakai’s workstation was this polka-dotted children’s blanket covered in fiberglass dust and yellow panels. I had seen the battered brushed aluminum case online and knew it was his personal tool chest containing everything he would need to transform the Porsche.
Spare parts populated each corner of the shop, like these custom RAUH-Welt BEGRIFF-branded Work Meister M1 wheels, which were shipped overnight direct from Nakai-san himself to replace an ill-fitting prior wheel purchase.
First on the agenda for Nakai was to fit the bumper onto the front end. The addition of the water-cooled engine required three radiators located at the front of the car for sufficient cooling. This meant more openings were necessary in the bumper to create more airflow to the radiators and keep the engine temperatures at a reasonable level. After a few glimpses of the bumper on the car, Nakai used only pink masking tape, a dated buzz saw, and hand sander to carve and finish a perfect rectangle that matched the other openings into the center of the bumper.
The additional radiators also caused fitment issues, forcing Nakai to adjust and cut pieces from the bottom of the bumper. Where a normal craftsman would simply cut the piece that needed to be removed, Nakai used his saw and sander to form artistic crescent shapes that flowed with the bumper design, in the process creating more room for the radiator piping to fit behind it.
With the bumper fitted, Nakai seamlessly moved onto the task of fitting the fenders. He started by attaching the first fender at the front, and following the bodyline to the door where he attached the rear of the first fender. Staring directly down on the new fender, he used a small piece of masking tape and a measuring tape to map out the exact line the fender ran along the stock panel. There was no guesswork; he knew just by looking at it exactly where to mount this new panel for it to work perfectly with the rest of the kit before the kit was even installed.
Buzz saw in hand, he didn’t hesitate to start removing the perfect OEM metal on the front fender just below his tapeline.
His trusty sander followed each cut from the saw on every panel. Concentrating solely on the job at hand, Nakai continued to visualize the panel fitment using just his eyes. He was less of a bodywork technician, and more of an artist. In today’s SolidWorks and CAD/CAM-oriented world, his expertise was a sight to behold.
He applied a urethane trim section to close the gap between the bumper and its neighboring panels. The trim segment was sealed with black caulk and the front end was given a rest while he turned his attention to the rear of the car.
After finishing sections of the car, Nakai-san would sit alone and smoke cigarettes, visualizing his next step before he undertook it. Like watching a painter with a canvas, he planned every stroke in his mind before committing to it with his hands.
As he sawed off the last remaining OEM fender of the car, he was constantly glancing around different areas of the car, making sure his current move was aligned with other features of the car.
Adjusting on the fly is something Nakai has come to expect as he continues to create these one-off vehicles, each unique with their own special needs. Similar to how the front end needed adjustment for the radiators, the rear bumper didn’t fit over the turbocharger. With the help of his saw and a heavily used dust mask, he elected to remove the entire center of the rear bumper.
The material removal severely affected the structural integrity of the bumper, causing it to flex in the middle. Within seconds, Nakai started to create a set of aluminum braces to strengthen the flimsy fiberglass.
No measurement device was used other than his eyes. It would take him seconds to cut a piece of aluminum pipe down to size with cutting pliers, hammer the ends flat at differing angles, and drill mounting holes.
What was once a weak open void became a sturdy piece of art directly showcasing the rear-mounted turbocharger.
The mock-up was now completed, and the wheels were temporarily mounted to check their fitment with the additional RWB pieces.
It must have been a surreal experience for Max to finally see his RAUH-Welt beginning to take shape. The car was purchased months before, then he was forced to wait for the scheduled build date.
Satisfied with the wheel fitment, Nakai continued by fastening each of the new fiberglass fenders into place using a drill, a tube of Japanese adhesive and designated black hardware.
While the wheels were temporarily installed on the car, Nakai revealed his homemade recipe for aligning these vehicles. Placing his forehead on the edge of the fender, he laid a long piece of tape on the ground that was even with the edge of the wheel along with two smaller pieces at the ends of the wheel’s diameter.
Using a measuring tape, he simply adjusted the suspension arms until he achieved identical measurements at the two smaller pieces of tape surrounding the wheel.
The time to link the front and rear fenders had come, so the wheels were removed and the car was placed on jack stands again to raise it into the air. Nakai held the sideskirt up to the car, smacking it closer to the car in different places to fully understand where it was struggling to fit. His temperament toward the panels was split between finesse and force, as he wasn’t afraid to hit, tug, pull, shave, or cut any of them at any time to make them fit.
A distinct feature of a RAUH-Welt Porsche is the use of ordinary black caulk to seal gaps in the aftermarket panels. When Nakai applied two linear pieces of pink masking tape to the body, a crowd formed around him, knowing they were seconds away from seeing the famed caulking process.
Much like the simple nature of other processes on the build, the caulk is applied using an ordinary caulking gun. In a sign of a true artist, Nakai uses the tip of his index finger to smooth the substance buildup between the tapes.
The removal of the tape yields a clean and straight caulked connection between each panel. The only way I can describe this process is that he must have cultivated this skill through a lot of practice mating new panels to older cars.
The trunk hardware was misplaced between removal and the install day, however Nakai was able to source some replacements from his personal collection of hardware that he’s accumulated over the years.
The new trunk’s fitment would have been good enough for anyone – except Nakai – as he used his entire body’s weight to jerk the trunk/wing sideways a fraction of an inch at a time, until the panel gap was equal on both sides.
The aftermarket taillights required the use of small plastic washers, which also had been misplaced. Without missing a beat, Nakai proceeded to use an old piece of fender liner to cut small rectangles out, to be used in place of the absent plastic washers.
The rear was now at a suitable stopping point, with all of the lights, the trunk, and bumper now installed.
The car’s badging was next on the list. Some of the most coveted stickers would now make their way onto the nearly finished masterpiece. The rear badging involved two iconic die-cut vinyl stickers adhered to the rear in perfect symmetry, with Nakai-san again using only his eyes and a piece of plastic as a makeshift measurement tool to place them perfectly.
The front windshield banner used a golden base vinyl with a black banner fixed on top. This ties together the contrasting colors used throughout the entire build.
Reminiscent of the original RAUH-Welt builds in Japan, Nakai then painted the tires with the “idlers” whitewall badge adorned upon many of his creations.
Like a newborn animal attempting to walk for the first time, the rebirthed Porsche – with the RAUH-Welt panels installed – was dropped onto its own wheels for the first time. Nakai called for Fedorov’s help as a sort of bonding endeavor for the owner with his new car.
Since the car was without a running power plant, a small lot of the gathered spectators were used to gently back the car down off the lift and onto the ground where Nakai could complete the remainder of the finishing touches.
After fitting the freshly-painted wing to the rear, the car was finished (other than some small odds and ends) and Nakai-san congratulated Fedorov on the completion of his new RWB Porsche 964 dubbed Don Julio, for the owner’s love of tequila.
The artist packed up all of his tools and cleaned up the surrounding area to rid any evidence of his presence. Each tool now organized, Nakai continued to admire the creation in solitude. It was enriching to see an artist who was still passionate about his work even after building countless examples.
All tools were put away except for Nakai’s most important tool, his hands. These hands are solely responsible for a dramatic incline in Porsche popularity among modified automobile enthusiasts. As a symbol of his devotion, the artist’s hands match his undying passion by displaying the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears poured into each project over the years. The dirt and stains throughout each digit will remain just long enough to keep the memory of this build fresh in his head before starting anew. Following the RWB Don Julio build, Akira Nakai had a series of three trips planned over the coming week, where he would be called on to create more masterpieces for more customers eager to bask in his vision.
We in the Northeast United States might not have been the first to experience Nakai-san at work, but my appreciation for what I have witnessed has only grown larger after observing the creation of his masterpiece