In the mid 1980s to late 1990s, there was a street racing team that gave life to Tokyo’s highways during the hours past midnight.This particular racing team is known and remembered by a small minority of people who truly understand the history and original meaning behind “JDM” tuning culture. The team was known as the Midnight Club. They held a strict code of ethics in a world where street racing is known for recklessness as well a high illegality, built machines capable of reaching speeds near or beyond 200mph, and engaged in top speed endurance races on the Wangan expressway.
Formed in 1987, membership of the Midnight Club was not easy to obtain. Meeting spots were advertised as miscellaneous services in the classified section of newspapers to avoid attention from law enforcement. The absolute minimum requirement for a hashiriya street racer to join was to own a car that was capable of going at least 160mph, and competitive drivers were expected to be able to achieve racing speeds of 200mph or more on Tokyo’s public highways.
At the time, all vehicles in Japan were electronically limited by law to a top speed of 112mph, and so members were also expected to have a high degree of mechanical know-how in order to boost their car’s performance.
Would-be Midnight Club racers were first accepted as apprentices for a year, during which time they were required to attend all of the club’s meetings without absence.
The club was bound by a strict moral code which dictated that members must refrain from putting any other motorist in jeopardy, regardless of whether they were a fellow racer or an innocent bystander and, despite operating outside of the law, the Midnight Club was highly regarded as a gang which put pedestrian safety far above their own.
Members would identify one another by wearing small rectangular ‘Mid Night Car Special’ stickers on their bumpers, often paired with large sun strips bearing the team name and side skirt stickers that read ‘Mid Night Racing Team’.
Club rules also forbade members from revealing any personal information about themselves, and in the event that some members were friends outside of the club they were required to keep silent about it. The professions of only two drivers were unveiled in a 1995 Max Power article, which stated that one was a property developer, while the other ran a car dealership.
Despite the fact that the gang and its operations were shrouded in secrecy, and that their identities have never formally been unveiled, it’s widely rumoured that the founders of many of today’s top Japanese tuning companies were original members of the Midnight Club.
There were heavy penalties for any outside drivers who attempted to cash in on the gang’s rising infamy by displaying lookalike stickers, with unauthorised racers facing harassment and the infliction of vandalism on their cars. In the Midnight Club’s heyday, there were many reports of non-member vehicles being destroyed because they were found wearing club stickers.
Given that each member’s car had to be capable of maintaining speeds of over 200mph along the Wangan expressway for extended periods of time, each was usually highly modified to make anywhere between 400 and 600bhp. Members’ cars included some of the most iconic JDM tuner cars of all time like Mazda RX-7, Toyota Supra and the R32 Skyline GT-R. The most famous of the Midnight Club’s cars, however, was a highly-modified Porsche 911 Turbo nicknamed the Blackbird. Its owner was rumoured to have spent more than $2 million rebuilding and modifying the 911, which bore an aggressive Auto Garage TBK bodykit
The Midnight Club officially disbanded in 1999, following a horror crash that hospitalised six innocent motorists. Members of a Tokyo Bōsōzoku gang, an outlaw biker group inspired by American motorcycle clubs and which revelled in intentionally scaring motorists by riding their motorcycles recklessly, had decided to try and mess with the drivers.
As the racers tore down the expressway, the Bōsōzoku were waiting for them. Forcing some of the members into a high-traffic zone, the interference of one of the Bōsōzoku bikers culminated in a huge chain-reaction collision which claimed the lives of two of the bikers and put two Midnight Club drivers and six civilians in hospital.
Club policy dictated that endangering innocent drivers was the ultimate offence, and so the gang permanently disbanded with immediate effect. Although the Midnight Club had been a significant source of stress for Tokyo authorities for many years, members were highly regarded for their strong sense of morality and honour post-disaster.
All members have since secluded themselves to secrecy with most flat-out refusing to talk about, or even mention, the club under any circumstances. The Midnight Club’s legacy lives on around the world, but the original hashiriya racers continue to exist as anonymously as they did in their heyday, top secret lives dedicated to the eternal pursuit of top speed.
POPCULTURE AND SPECULATION
Midnight Club the game derived it’s name from the actual team and uses the kanji for Wangan as homage. The club also inspired the anime series, Wangan Midnight. Two members of the club became the inspiration for Wangan Midnight’s main rivalry between the Blackbird 911 and Devil Z S30z. It is noted that the real Devil Z is a S130z, not an S30z like in the show. The Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune and Tokyo Xtreme Racer video game series are inspired depictions of the street racing conducted by the team. Although members were sworn to secrecy, some people speculate that many of the members were famous tuners. Whether it is true or not, it is assumed that Smokey Nagata of Top Secret, Ama san of Re-Amemiya and a few other tuners were members.
We've seen a few of these genuine Midnight Club cars come up for sale at select classic car auctions in Japan over the years. Price? Irrelevant.