Few outfits are as synonymous with the wide bodykit craze than Japanese tuner shop Liberty Walk. Located in a quiet neighborhood in the city of Nagoya sits the headquarters of crazy fender-cutting company.
Liberty Walk has come a long way from their origins as a used car dealer for imports such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Hummer. They opened up their used car shop in the early 1990s and their growth since then, particularly in the last five years, has been phenomenal. Their first kits started out as bolt on additions such as front lips and wings. It wasn’t until the 2009 SEMA show where they showed their first full bodykit for the Lamborghini Murcielago. Yet this wasn’t the wide bodykit, and the response was somewhat lackluster as it didn’t lead to any orders.
In 2012 Liberty Walk tried again, this time with the first wide Murcielago. This car introduced the world to the “LB Works” style we now associate with Liberty Walk. Cutting up an exotic supercar and sticking over fenders on it got everyone’s attention.
They still cut the fenders of the car to install the over fenders, but for the Aventador and Huracan they just replace the panels completely.
In the following year, with the support of DUB Magazine, the shop showed off the Nissan GT-R and Ferrari 458 kits at SEMA. They grew from there with more than 200 cars in Japan carrying Liberty Walk bodykits and more than 350 cars overseas. Now they literally have kits for more than 20 different cars ranging from McLarens to Infinitis. Liberty Walk now operates with three separate factories; their kits are manufactured in Shizuoka prefecture, while paint is done at another factory in Nagoya, and finally the installation of kits, exhausts and air suspension are done in another factory.
There’s no sign of them slowing down either, their latest products are Honda’s two current sports cars; the NSX and S660.
According to Toshiro “Toshi” Nishio, International Sales Manager at Liberty Walk Holdings, the S660 kit was something of an indulgence due to the limited market of the little roadster—it is a Japan-only car after all. But it came out simply because Wataru Kato, Liberty Walk’s colorful CEO, wanted something like a “sibling pairing” with their NSX kit. It’s basically just a big marketing move, but a fun one.
Their exaggerated widebody look came about because Kato-san wanted to combine old school “Kaido Racers” style with modern exotics. It was a sort of mix-and-match style where they’d retrofit headlights from other cars and cut the body work to install over fenders. Sound familiar?
This “bosozoku” style shines through with Kato’s personal taste in cars. His original Hakosuka GT-R and Kenmeri GT-R are kept in the main Liberty Walk showroom. However, it’s what he keeps in his private man-cave that shows the clear inspiration for his current work. That one was held in yet another unassuming garage in a residential neighborhood.
It wasn’t anything too fancy—nothing about Liberty Walk screams fancy. Despite their fame and huge success, their showroom and Kato’s warehouse were still modest. It was cluttered with random Americana relics around the walls with classic Japanese cars parked mere inches from each other.
The main showroom itself was just as cluttered with boxes of parts scattered everywhere, tools just laying around, and a 458 left sitting with the interior basically gutted out. Half the cars inside were customer cars while the rest were Liberty Walk company cars.
There’s a method to this madness. It was somehow better to have walked into a tight, messy showroom that was basically just a garage than a perfectly kept and clinical showroom. This felt more like Liberty Walk and in keeping with their ethos of “walking freely.” There’s definitely no conformity here.
Their next project is the Version 2 kit for the Nissan GT-R. It makes sense for Liberty Walk to update the GT-R kit—according to Toshi it is their most popular product. This will be shown at SEMA this year. However, further down the line we might see Liberty Walk kits for the Ford Mustang, Lexus LC, Mazda MX-5 and, possibly Mercedes G-Class.
This is good, as I think we can all agree the G-Class simply was not ridiculous enough to begin with.
Every new kit idea springs from Kato-san’s imagination. His team will tell him about their market research, which cars are coming down in price and how that’ll effect the prices of the kits they’d make for that model. But it’s clear, like in the case of the S660, if Kato-san wants it done, they get it done.
Toshi said Liberty Walk have three designers who work closely with Kato-san to turn his ideas into reality. From the idea to reality takes about four to six months. Sometimes an idea doesn’t make it to the final stage, in the case of their kit for the Lexus RC F which wasn’t “special” enough to get the final sign off from Kato-san. Sad.
As well as their body kit business they also have an equally colorful cafe. It was opened last year as a place for customers and fans to relax. However, it’s not really a “profit business”, Toshi claimed. Liberty Walk also continues to be a used car dealer. All the cars lined up outside their shop are for sale and ready to be driven off.
Speaking of the shop, like any brand that’s got global recognition, Liberty Walk’s merchandise shop will sell you all kinds of stuff. A Liberty Walk skateboard, sure thing. The usual t-shirts, stickers, mugs, and keychains were there too. Model cars and even pedal cars for kids are available too. Kato-san, as silly as he can be, is a smart businessman.
America is still Liberty Walk’s biggest market outside Japan, with Asian markets such as China and Thailand growing rapidly. They’re also looking at the European market closely, but Toshi cites stricter car regulations there as an impediment.
One thing that’s often asked about Liberty Walk cars are whether or not they have performance upgrades. According to Toshi they don’t really “care much about that” but can do so at individual customer requests.
Their kits can be ordered anytime, as most are not limited production products. The Murcielago kit and the kit on Kato’s personal Fairlady Z can be special ordered depending if Liberty Walk feels like making or not.
It was great to have gone and seen their facilities in Nagoya. It took me a while to finally see it myself and would recommend anyone going there to take a look. It’s about a 30 minute train ride from Nagoya station, plus a 10 minute walk from Sango Station to the showroom. The staff were very friendly and welcoming—just be warned the merchandise shop can be very tempting.
There’s no doubt the Liberty Walk movement will keep on going. I’m looking forward to seeing what crazy kits and ideas Kato-san and his team will have in store in the future. After all, the 2018 Tokyo Auto Salon is only a couple months away.