Nestled deep within the suburbs of Kanagawa, Japan, rests a piece of automotive history that has withstood the test of time since the '70s. Perhaps you've heard of this company that specializes in aero parts from reading Japanese tuner magazines or even owning one of these kits on your ride. The JDM manufacturer goes by the name Varis, and for one day, we stepped foot inside their facility for a special sneak peek into how this company has grown into one of the most influential aero manufacturers in Japan.
Years before the name Varis became synonymous with hard-core performance and aero tuning, company founder Mikio Yahagi worked as a subcontractor, designing body parts for small boats and various industrial goods. Back in 1975 when the JDM company first began, aero parts were not popular in the car customizing business so Yahagi-san resorted to making just about anything and everything to make an honest living.
As the automotive performance industry slowly evolved, so did Varis. Yahagi-san was passionate about cars from an early age with motorsports in particular. The JDM company slowly began receiving contract work to design prototype body parts for numerous automotive manufacturers. Then, in 1989, the company saw a rapid boost in popularity thanks to the Nissan boom and debut of the R32 GT-R, Sylvias, and 180SX. Within a six-year span and the debut of the ECR33 Skyline, the company decided to develop their first Nissan body kit known as the "Varis" brand and the rest was history.
JDM race teams in the N1, Taikyu, and Super GT race series caught wind of this small but reputable shop and knew they needed to hire their expertise. Companies were clawing at the doors of Varis to design custom race parts for their vehicles, but throughout the chaos Yahagi-san never lost focus of his true passion: designing aero kits for commuter cars including hundreds of manufacturers and brands, ranging from the Evo, STI, S2000, Celica, and even BMW.
Road to Success
It's often said that the path well traveled is the easiest way to obtain success. For Yahagi-san and his company, they didn't have the luxury of taking the path of least resistance when they first opened their doors in the '70s.
We had a chance to sit down with Yahagi-san's older son Naohiro, who now resides as president of Varis, for a candid interview on what makes the company so unique. "In order to make better products, we tried using many kinds of fiberglass and resin material. We achieved some success, but for the majority of the time, we failed. Throughout the years of trials and tribulation, we've made and continue to make prototype kits for Japan's largest automotive manufacturers. The level of accuracy and perfection to produce these items was painstaking but humbling as we learned masterful techniques to deliver dimensional accuracy in every part we made.
"We at Varis are always looking for that perfect balance between street concept aero products and race parts. There needs to be a balance between form and function, and that's something we decide with our subjective eyes. If we focus on the function portion of aero too much, the overall shape and design becomes worse, while on the flip side, if it's designed with too much form, there's no aero advantage to what we built. We have three criteria when developing products: downforce, weight, and high rigidity. It's important to design functional parts for cars, not based purely on decoration," he says.
Varis takes pride in their aero kits and the manufacturing method for every JDM kit on the market you see today is handmade, not machinery, and all done in-house. "From the design concepts to shaping the clay molds, to cutting pieces, it's a technique that has transcended from my father to my brother Tadao [head of planning and communications] and I. It might sound unusual but when we design a kit, the shapes and images all begin with a simple thought process. I simply detail everything in my head to our skilled staffs, and we begin work. I don't draw up a sketch for development. Designing the image in my head progresses the work faster than drawing up a sketch on a paper," he says.