Yakuza Mercedes

John Vogel

The 90s were a vibe. Desert Storm, Baywatch, Bill Clinton’s antics, the fall of the USSR. It was a beautiful yet weird time in America. Across the Pacific though, Japan was going a different way..

90s Japan chose flash, style, and speed.

In the 1980s, Japan’s economy boomed. With various international trade agreements in place, Japan became a major exporter of video games, watches, computers, kitchen knives and TVs. Being several steps ahead of American technology had its benefits. By the next decade, the average worker was making more than 1,000,000 yen compared to 10 years before. While Americans were buying N64s and Seikos, Japanese were putting money into their rides.

Car clubs became a fixture of Japanese nightlife in the 90s. Sport and muscle cars from Germany, America, Sweden, and Italy began appearing like werewolves at a full moon on Tokyo’s Shuto and Tomei expressways, and street racing became as commonplace as baseball on TV. The Bosozoku culture of custom motorcycle clubs/gangs had been active since the 1950s, but with the newest surge of souped up sports and muscle cars on the road, drivers looked to squeeze more power, drip, and flair out of their vehicles. The bigger, the cooler, the rarer, the better.

The Yakuza refused to be outdone.

Japan’s most notorious organized crime syndicate traces its roots back to the 17th century. Overseeing everything from prostitution to gun running, The Yakuza never settle for subtle. Fulltime members receive full body tattoos known as irezumi. They wear designer suits, they apologize for misgivings by removing digits of fingers starting with the pinkie and working their way up. And they party hard—Yakuza don’t half-ass anything.

With the major car boom of the 80s and 90s, Yakuza realized their stock Mercedes weren’t the nicest cars on the highways. Facing sheer disrespect from other drivers passing them by, subtlety was not an option.

In comes the Mercedes S72. At the start of the 90s, Mercedes looked to outdo their BMW competitor’s E32 7 series. The two manufacturers were leading luxury brands, but the 7 series featured a V12 loaded into a luxury passenger vehicle which was unveiled in 1986. Mercedes held back the W140, not wanting to be one-upped. In 1991, they unveiled the now V12 option in the W140. In 1995, Mercedes unleashed the S72 on Japan after seeing the surge in demand. The engine was upgraded to a 7.0 liter, kept the V12, widened the body and slapped on a price tag of $120,000. 4800lbs of luxury resting on airbag-controlled suspension. Gangsters took notice, but wanted more.

As fast as S72s were unloaded, they were being sent off to Mercedes AMG Japan for upgrades. AMG is Mercedes’ custom racing department and made specifically for those that don’t settle for stock models. The plastic dash and trim were replaced with wood—lots of wood. The nearly plastic interior was replaced with full leather. A computer control screen was installed allowing GPS, radio controls and handsfree calling. It put 600lbs more on the frame, upped the horsepower to 518, and added $120,000 more to the final price tag. The Yakuza weren’t just winning the race, they were keeping the competition off the streets all for the hefty price tag of almost half a million.

Only a handful were made and even if found, it was nearly impossible for the average person to afford. A car with the S72 badge and an AMG badge parked out front of a bar was a disinvitation to go in. If spotted on the expressway, it was in your best interest not to attempt to pass it, race it, or even gesture at it. You may lose more than a finger.

It is possible to find import S72 AMGs online for prices that don’t require mafia money, but without the irezumi, Mac-10’s, designer suits and overall fear factor, you’ll never harness the Yakuza vibe.

At least you have all your fingers.

Editor’s note: The lead image was created with AI as the Yakuza apparently aren’t fond of people photographing their vehicles. 

From the FE Films Archive

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