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Midnight Club: Inside Japan’s most infamous illegal street racing gang

The Midnight Club shot to global fame thanks not only to its outrageous high-speed street racing.

Midnight in Tokyo’s Shuto Expressway, a 70km stretch of tarmac that traces the shoreline of Tokyo Bay. Lanes, three or four abreast, illuminated in the orange haze of sodium streetlights, the peace broken only by the occasional late-night street sweeper at work.

You could hear them before you could see them, which, given the extent of their wild modifications, was an impressive feat. The silence of twilight splintered with the sound of highly-strung, highly-tuned engines, a dozen modified cars thunder past at savage velocities, their taillights ribbons of blazing crimson slashed temporarily across the still night air.

They were the members of Middo Naito Kurabu, also known as the Midnight Club. One of the most well-known and highly-respected group of illegal street racers in the world, the gang shot to worldwide infamy thanks to its combination of dangerously high racing speed and aggressive driving styles, but also for its clandestine operations and strict code of ethics.

Originally regarded as criminals, the Midnight Club became the darling of the burgeoning tuner scene and featured in hundreds of editorial features as leading car magazines like the UK’s Max Power aimed to capture and glorify the gang’s high-speed, high-adrenaline activities and semi-mythical existence.

Formed in 1987, membership of the Midnight Club was not easy to obtain. 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 cars’ 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.

Such was the sheer skill level required to safely pilot a car at Vmax speed on public streets, only one in ten prospective drivers would qualify for full membership. Any member would be made to immediately leave if they were deemed to pose a danger to other road users or to other members of the gang.

The exact number of members is unclear but it’s estimated that there were around 30 hashiriya in the club at any one time, with racers meeting in designated spots around the Bayshore Wangan route between Tokyo and Yokohama at midnight.

While other gangs of street racers competed in drifting or point-to-point racing events, the Midnight Club specialised in one thing only: top speed. Races usually started at speeds of at least 75mph with the event officially started by one of the cars sounding its horn. Afterwards, the drivers would meet up and discuss the details of the race.

Winners were usually judged to be the first car that was fast enough to completely lose the rest, while one anonymous club member was reportedly once overheard saying: “Drifting and autocross is for the weak. We only do maximum velocity.”

The incredibly high standard of the drivers’ abilities made it difficult for authorities to catch them, and as police cars of the time were limited to the same top speed as any other car in Japan, police simply found it impossible to keep up with the Midnight Club racers.

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.

Meetings were organised on a clandestine basis too. In an era before the widespread use of the internet, the gang would organise races via the classifieds section of local Tokyo newspapers. In order to avoid unwanted attention, the time and location would be hidden among an innocuous-looking advertisement, for example for the sale of discount handbags.

Members would be briefed on what to look out for at previous meetings, and would meet at the scheduled spot to organise races. The Daikoku Parking Area was the most often used place for designated club meetups, and even today it remains a spot akin to the Mecca of the Japanese modified car scene.

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.

The Blackbird was the fastest car in the group and was owned by the Midnight Club’s anonymous leader, who was rumoured to have originally trained as a doctor. Its owner was rumoured to have spent more than $2 million rebuilding and modifying the 911, which bore an aggressive Auto Garage TBK bodykit.

With an output of 700bhp courtesy of a stroked 3.6-litre turbocharged flat-six engine, the Blackbird was capable of maintaining a top speed of 217mph for well over 15 minutes at a time. For context, the new Bugatti Chiron hypercar can maintain its top speed of 261mph for only nine minutes before its tank empties and its tyres disintegrate.

Considering that many of the Midnight Club’s cars were essentially home-brew vehicles, the outrageous performance and reliability of their machines, which still better all but the best of today’s supercars and hypercars twenty years later, was incredible.

It was this prodigious mechanical skill and the over-engineered appearance of the racers’ cars which originally enamoured car fans the world over and introduced a generation to the JDM scene, with the gang’s activities influencing everything from manga books to anime series and the Midnight Club videogames which bear the team’s name in homage.

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.

Midnight in Tokyo’s Shuto Expressway, a 70km stretch of tarmac that traces the shoreline of Tokyo Bay. Lanes, three or four abreast, illumin

The Mid Night Club: Japan’s Most Infamous Street Racers

Japan’s Most Infamous Street Racers.

Operating from 1987 until 1999, the Mid Night Club was one of the most notorious and highly respected street racing clubs to ever grace the Wangan highway between Tokyo and Yokohama.

Knowing about the almost mythic street racing team known as the “Mid Night Club” is essential knowledge for any fan of the Japanese street racing scene or the late 80s and 90s Japanese car culture that was bustling at the time.

The Mid Night Club was founded in 1987 built on a strong code of ethics to prevent any members of the club endangering a member of the public or any other members of the club. Mid Night had high entry requirements, the minimum requirement being that you had a car capable of going over 250km/h (160 mph). Although this is a minimum requirement, you will be at the back of the back as the Mid Night Club used to race along the Wangan highway between Tokyo and Yokohama at sustained racing speeds of upwards of 300km/h (190 mph).

Common cars in the club were Italian exotics such as the Lamborghini Countach or the Ferrari Testarossa, and local heroes such as the Nissan 300ZX, Nissan GTRs, the Toyota Supra and the Mazda RX7. Once you were accepted into the club, you were an “apprentice” member for the first year, and you would have to attend every single meet to keep your membership status and to become a fully fledged Mid Night racer. Only 10% of the apprentices would go on to become a true member, that’s a pretty high turnover rate for the most notorious street racers to ever grace Tokyo’s streets.

Mid Night R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R by Stevejdm

In a rather classy fashion, the Mid Night club only operated on a first name basis and did not allow club members to chat about each other’s professions in an attempt to keep a basic level of Anonymity between them, if you joined the club with a friend then you were encouraged to keep tight-lipped in the presence of other members. Only on two occasions has a members profession been revealed, both in an interview for the magazine Max Power where it was revealed that a driver of an FD Mazda RX7 was a Property Developer, and the driver of an R32 Skyline GTR ran the family car sales business. It is believed that a lot of the long-standing established Japanese tuning shops are owned, or were founded by previous members of the Mid Night Club.

In order to organise a meetup, the club leader would agree at the previous meet that all members would look for a specific type of advert in a local newspaper specified by the leader. These adverts would contain secret messages that the members would look for to know when and where to meet up. One example of an advert would go something like this:

“For sale: Small handbags at discount prices. For more information, I am available for meetup at Daikoku Parking Area on Thursday, between 11PM and 2AM. Thank you.”

This advert in the local newspaper would let members know that the meetup will be happening between 11PM and 2AM on a Thursday at the Daikoku Parking Area, which has become a dedicated area for Street Racing gangs to meet up in the city and become a mecca of the Japanese car scene.

Unfortunately, the Mid Night Club met an untimely end when the local Bōsōzoku biker gang (A Motorcycle gang culture in Japan based on rebelling) decided to try and play with some Mid Night members on the Wangan as they were racing. A few members of Mid Night decided to give chase and a race between the Mid Night Club and the Bōsōzoku began. Because of the high speed nature of the club, the race quickly got out of hand with the Bōsōzoku members leading the group into a high-traffic area, where an unfortunate accident occurred which killed two members of the Bōsōzoku club and hospitalised 8 motorists, 6 of which were innocent civilians and 2 presumed to be Mid Night members.

Due to the clubs ruling on not endangering motorists, and this being an incredibly high profile incident the club was disbanded immediately. Cars involved in the gang were hidden away or destroyed, and the members are still reclusive today and do not speak about the club or any activities they took part in.

We wouldn’t be able to talk about the Mid Night Club without speaking of one of it’s most famous vehicles: The Yoshida Special 930s. This car was owned by one of the members of the club who was rumoured to be studying to become a Doctor before they settled down and ran their family business. It has been reported previously that the car had $2 Million dollars put into it to increase its performance capabilities.

Although we won’t go into detail here because our colleagues over at Speedhunters did an excellent job of covering this beautiful car, here are some of the basics: The car featured a 3.6l Stroked Turbo Flat Six engine which was rumoured to output between 650HP and 700HP. It also featured some weight reduction modifications such as bucket seats, and to aid aerodynamics had some low-drag wing mirrors and didn’t run any windshield wipers to avoid any unnecessary drag.

The car also featured large cooling ducts to feed the thirsty engine some of that sweet sweet Wangan highway air that it so desperately needs to avoid blowing up at 300km/h.

This car was created by Yoshida-san to dominate the Wangan highway and also to rival the RUF “Yellowbird”, which is where its nickname among popular culture of “Blackbird” came. Unfortunately, it never managed to reach the 347km/h benchmark set by the German tuning house, but it gave it a good run for its money.

We can’t speak about the Blackbird name without bringing up the Yoshida Special 930’s most infamous rival in the club: The Air-Breathing Research Hosoki Z-Car, which was a Naturally aspirated Datsun 280ZX which featured a 630BHP L30ETT engine. This would be the basis for “The Devil Z” in the Japanese anime “Wangan Midnight” which depicts the rivalry between the Blackbird and the Devil Z, racing along the Wangan Highway and the C1 loop throughout the night at speeds upwards of 300km/h.

Other Mid Night Club vehicles and members have been spotted around the internet, and taking their cars out every so often such as a Lamborghini Countach which was unfortunately crashed at a track day in Japan, where it’s Mid Night Club stickers were immediately removed upon its arrival back to the pits. Speedhunters featured the car in an article but removed the article a few days later at the request of the owner and the remnants of the club as to further the disbandment of the club.

We won’t show the images here either out of respect for the owner. Other cars have been spotted at car meets such as a Nissan 300ZX which was spotted at the Nissan Nismo Festival at the Fuji Speedway circuit this year.

Although the club may be disbanded, it still lives on in the hearts and minds of all Japanese fans and drivers. The heritage of the machines they created still exists within the Japanese tuning scene. The gentleman racing ethics that the club followed to its end is what made them so respected among the street racing community and their impact is still being felt to this day.

Operating from 1987 until 1999, the Mid Night Club was one of the most notorious and highly respected street racing clubs ever – The Back Roads