Some people will tell you that the best in the business can only be known by word of mouth.
I’d say not necessarily. Discovering Komatsu-san and his wheel shop just necessitated a web browser.
And a plane ticket. And a rental car.
Broadly speaking Japan car culture has a few hearts : one in Tokyo, another in Nagoya and certainly one in Kansai area; that is more or less where most of the major carmakers are headquartered.
Living on the polar opposite of all this activity, Komatsu-san lives in Otaru, Hokkaido; a once rugged harbour city made of Meiji era industrial buildings that found a second life as a daytrip destination for concrete-sick Sapporo dwellers.
The main promenade is lined up with cute shops, bakeries and pastry shops; an alarming number of them serving « Sofuto kurīmu » ice cream. Try the matcha flavor one of these days.
Of course Komatsu-san’s shop is in another, less picturesque industrial center of the city : near the shoulder of a highway linking Hakodate in the south and Sapporo in the center of the island of Hokkaido, Japan second biggest island after Honshu.
You can find all of his work on his japanese only website, but i wanted to meet him in person.
I had an excuse to bother him during his hiruyasumi (lunch break).
I had sent a set of Speedlines 993 CUP, magnesium of course.
Now shops that are happy to handle magnesium wheels are few and far between, apart from its light weight its got all the disadvantages compared to working with an aluminum alloy.
Komatsu-san on the other end never worried : he gave me a quote for a normal wheel refurb with no extra cost and a time frame for completion. 2 months.
Later on I sent him the part number and specs to prepare the acid etchings on the lips but it felt like he had taken care of those things a long time ago.
There is a saying that pure competence is absolutely silent.
Just muscle memory and experience talking.
It felt like that with Komatsu san.
A blissful feeling when dealing with such expensive and finicky racing wheels !
Just when i was in Hokkaido he told me the wheels were ready. Perfect timing.
I got there and the wheels were already in boxes.
Original steel valves in a separate plastic bag.
The result was perfection. Every part of the wheel from every angle, all the way down to the most intricate details like the font of the SPEEDLINE FOR PORSCHE etchings and layout, the way paint is « sparkling » on that notoriously brittle magnesium base…
I just couldn’t stop taking pictures of them, which comes in handy today.
After telling me that yes indeed magnesium was more difficult to work on that aluminum, but only because i asked him and insisted to have his opinion, he proceeded to show me around his shop.
The photos will no less document my impression : it was a very normal shop.
Here is your sandblasting cabinet.
Here is your paint booth. Urethane or liquid paints on this shelf, powder based paints on this other.
There is the work bench to straighten out bends or irregularities.
Just your normal fare.
But that only contributes to fuel the mystic of true competence.
With apparently simple tools he can recreate the most intricate finishes.
To wit : you want a Primadona style finish on your BBS rs ? sure he will reproduce the two ton finish on the hex cap without breaking a sweat.
Want to restore a rare set of Speedlines for Porsche 964 RS 3.8 ? he is your man just the same.
I wonder how many of his numerous mainland (read : from Honshu, the biggest island of the Japanese Archipelago) customers actually go to pick up their wheels in person…
Oh well, that would be inconvenient as most people fly in and out of Hokkaido.
Just for the thrill of it then ? Unlikely, unless you are a proper « hoiru otaku » (wheel maniac)
When i was done assailing Komatsu-san with questions i began to realize that i had found the craftsman that every carguy needs. Someone that will just handle the difficulty without making excuses.
Before saying goodbye i made my way out of his shop and noticed all those neat wheel boxes made to order for his thriving business, ready to be picked up for shipping.
I then asked him who was his supplier ?
He made me understand that he didn’t feel comfortable telling me.
I thought nothing of it for the moment, but after giving it some though i came to the conclusion that a proper master doesn’t unveil his tricks and secrets so easily.
Fair is fair Komatsu-san i will come back to Otaru. Get an ice cream or two.