EXPIRED: 06/23/10 – Hiromu Naruse, 67, liked to drive fast. In fact, he was so good at it he was paid handsomely to do so. That’s how Naruse found himself to be the chief test driver of the Toyota Motor Company.
When he joined Toyota in 1963, Naruse held a level-2 certificate for the abacus and was nearly placed in the Accounting Division, but he opted for a slot as a temporary auto mechanic in the their Vehicle Evaluation and Engineering Division.
He worked his way up through the ranks to become a test driver. During the first 10 years after joining he was involved in motorsports projects, and headed up production of the Toyota 7 and Toyota 2000GT.
He lived to drive – and died doing it.
In 1970, Naruse was stationed in Switzerland where he was involved in the formative years of Toyota Motorsports, including Japan’s first participation in the Nürburgring and Spa-Francorchamps races, influencing development of sporty mass-production vehicles like the Toyota 2000GT and the MR-S.
Naruse was regarded as one of the most respected test drivers in Japan and is believed to have clocked more time on the ‘Ring than any other Japanese driver. Even Ferrari acknowledges his expertise, giving him the nickname “Nur Meister (One and Only Master Craftsman)” and referring to him as the “man who knows all the world’s roads.”
Well past what should have been his retirement age, Naruse continued to conduct road tests on the autobahn and drives through mountainous areas with his wife on his days off to keep up his driving skills.
But that wasn’t what killed him.
Naruse was also the lead of Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s racing division. And his driving caused a crash on highway 410 near the famed Nürburgring race track in Germany while driving the recently spied Lexus LFA Nürburgring Edition prototype, worth 1.5 million Euros. Naruse veered into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with two other test drivers in a BMW production car. Those drivers survived. Naruse did not.