A TRIBUTE TO A LEGEND
HIROYUKI HASEGAWA: THE MAN BEHIND SOME OF THE GREATEST AFTERMARKET PERFORMANCE PARTS TO HIT THE WORLD
Hiroyuki Hasegawa — founder of iconic Japanese tuning house HKS — has passed away aged 71. We take a look at his life and the huge number of accomplishments and advancements he achieved, from Formula 1 to drag and time-attack domination. A true pioneer of the scene, he will be missed, but his legacy will live on through HKS for years to come.
Hasegawa-san founded the company in October of 1973 alongside Goichi Kitagawa, and with funding from Sigma Automotive (aka SARD), with the ‘ H’ from Hasegawa, the ‘K’ from Kitagawa, and the ‘S’ from Sigma Automotive forming the name ‘HKS’.
Hasegawa had been a Yamaha engineer, and his automotive empire had humble beginnings inside a small shed at the base of Mount Fuji in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. His goal was simple — to develop an original racing engine for the Japanese market — and he set out to create high-performance engines and components that original-equipment manufacturers could not produce. Hasegawa developed his premier HKS-74E engine in 1973, but it was never introduced to the world due to a lack of funds. So he switched focus and, by July 1974, had successfully engineered and built the world’s first off-the-shelf turbocharger kit for a passenger vehicle. The FET kit was designed for the GC100 Skyline’s L20 engine and improved stock power by 40 per cent, from 85kW to 118kW. This invention shocked the rapidly expanding local car scene and kicked off the Japanese turbo era — in a mere five years, most automakers had begun fitting turbochargers to their stock vehicles.
Wanting to better the success of the FET turbo kit, HKS purchased a turbocharger developed in the US, quickly reverseengineering it and improving the design to develop an all-new original kit. These were fitted to carburetted Skyline L20SUs and 18RG-equipped Toyota Celicas. Since then, developing turbocharger upgrades and bolt-on turbocharger kits has become the core business for HKS, and a US subsidiary was established in 1981.
The early ’80s saw a boom in electronic fuel injection and other computerized technologies entering the market, and Hasegawa wanted to remain on the cutting edge. In 1982, he developed the first commercially available electronic turbo timer, the F-Con enginemanagement system, and the EVC ( electronic valve controller). Hasegawa also played an instrumental role in developing the HKS M300. Based on a Toyota Celica XX, the M300 clocked 301.25kph at Yatabe Max Speed — thus becoming the first Japanese automobile to exceed the 300kph mark. The engine was based on a 5M-G, which underwent a lot of trimming and fine-tuning, and had some downright magic performed on it to achieve the remarkable record. The company states that, since then, “Many others have challenged [ the record] and failed.” With Hasegawa at the helm, the company went on to work closely with automotive manufacturers to develop engines for their motorsport programmes. Of note is the HKS 134E, which was built for Mitsubishi’s Ralliart Starion. The entirety of the engine, bar the block, was designed, developed, and built in-house at HKS. It achieved good results, and the HKS 134E went on to contest numerous rallies and later ventured into drag racing in the US.
After building a series of successful engine packages, HKS took a note out of Ruf Automobile’s book, deciding to do with R32 GT-Rs in Japan what Ruf was doing with Porsches in Germany. These GTRs were called the ‘HKS Zero-R’ and packed an impressive 336kW, with 492Nm of torque — they were altered so much from original, that many considered the Zero-R to be a new variant in its own right, and the government at the time agreed. After building four ZeroRs, HKS was required to register them as a separate model that was no longer related to the Nissan brand, which is when things went south. The regulations at the time meant that the cars had to be crash tested to pass homologation approval, and the call was made to abandon the project altogether when costs totalled up to ¥13M per car, back in 1990! HKS kept three Zero-Rs, and the fourth was sold to the Sultan of Brunei. That is, official numbers only say
four cars, but images have surfaced showing a factory loaded with a few more, perhaps kept unofficially by Hasegawa for weekend drives …
Regardless of the Zero-R’s failure, HKS got straight back to work building an engine for use in Formula 1 — a personal dream of Hasegawa’s that was finally realized in ’92 with the HKS 300E. The 3.5-litre V12 generated 500kW, with a redline of 13,500rpm, on pump fuel. It was tested inside a Lola T91/50 F3000 chassis, although it never did make its way to competition use. Nonetheless, HKS was able to improve its engineering, technology, and brand value as a result.
In the following years, Hasegawa pushed the company to cover practically all motorsport disciplines locally and abroad, from motorcycles to drag cars. The A70 twin-turbo Supra become the first car to break the eight-second barrier in Japan’s RRC dragracing series, running a 7.91. HKS also entered into the Japanese Touring Car (JTC) Group A series with its R32 GT-R, which famously wore the iconic blue, green, and purple–on–black livery that would later be found on nearly all HKS-backed cars.
At this point in the story, we’d normally step away from our hero’s business achievements to focus on the man himself, but, although those who knew him described Hasegawa as a friendly, kind-hearted person, he was, fittingly, all business — known to wear the same grey jumpsuit that the company’s employees wore to show that he was as much in the trenches as they were. He remained staunch about constantly bettering his previous achievements, and it was common to see the Zero-R, Drag GTR, and HKS Driving Performance drag Supra wasting away on the grounds of the HKS headquarters — this wasn’t mere neglect, however. Offers to purchase the Zero-R from Dave Pankew, former editor of Modified Magazine, were refused by Hasegawa, who said, “I would never sell a Zero-R to you, no matter what the price. You are a Skyline GT-R owner and this old car doesn’t have the performance expected today, and is not reflective of HKS’s abilities. It would be a dishonour for HKS to have you drive it in America.”
You have to appreciate the man’s attitude towards development, and you would be hard-pressed to find a single branch of motorsport that Hasegawa and his company did not improve, develop, and pioneer in. Credit must be given to him for expanding the Japanese car culture and the availability of high-end performance parts to the world. Although he may be gone, passing at 71 years of age, his legacy and company continue to thrive.
Rest in peace, Hiroyuki Hasegawa.