All it took was a few days behind the wheel of a sideways JZX in Japan to show Zen Thunsupap exactly what he wanted

Zen Thunsupap, a 24-year-old apprentice mechanic from Christchurch, has always wanted to own a JZX100 — arguably, the greatest sedan Toyota has ever produced. The thing is, the South Island is a little low on JZXs, and he’d never got the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Mark II, Chaser, or Cresta to see how it suited him. In fact, it wasn’t until Zen decided to nut-up, head to Japan, and buy a JZX100 missile from Power Vehicles at Ebisu Circuit that he actually got his first taste of the 1JZ-powered platform. From that point on, though, Zen was sold — he knew what he’d be building as soon as he got home.

“I jumped in the [Japanese] car and did what every other person with a missile does at Ebisu: I drove it like I stole it,” says Zen. “I was hooked; the car was perfect in every way I could think of.” Zen wasn’t even halfway through his trip to Japan before he was on TradeMe searching for the right car, soon finding just the right machine for his needs up in New Plymouth. In truth, the car in question wasn’t actually a JZX100 but a GX100 Chaser, meaning that it was originally a poverty-spec non-turbo slushbox taxi-mobile. The current owner had, however, already swapped in JZX running gear — most importantly, the super-tough 1JZ-GTE VVT-i single-turbo straight-six, backed by an equally strong R154 five-speed gearbox. Zen explains, “It had the right running gear — that was all I needed; the rest, I was going to worry about later. The car was tidy and reasonably priced at the time, so I couldn’t resist and had to buy it. As soon as I got back from Japan, I flew up north and bought it. The car was very tidy and straight when I saw it in person, but that didn’t last long at all.”

Like so many other builds, Zen’s new Toyota was originally given daily-driver duties, and he had no real intention to take it much further. That all changed only a few weeks down the track when a friend sent Zen a photo of a brand-new Lexus RC350 sitting on some big wheels. After some research, those wheels turned out to be Work’s very-limited-edition Emotion CR2Ps, of which only 100 sets were produced. The next morning, Zen hit up ex–NZ Performance Car staffer Falgoon Patel, who used his connections to order a set measuring 19x10 inches (-20) and 19x11 inches (-22) straight out of Japan. At the time, Zen didn’t really think too much about just how wide the new wheels would be, but he soon found out that his new Chaser would be one of those cars that would be built around the wheels, as opposed to the wheels being an afterthought to finish the car. Zen says, “Once the Works arrived and we fit them up for a laugh, we knew it wasn’t going to work. They were sticking out [from] the guards like dog’s balls, and that’s when the ‘getting-out-of-hand’ bit started, really — the wheels were never going to fit under the factory guards.” 

This new reality meant only one thing: it was time to get a little wild with the Chaser. Zen’s friend Jono Smith spent a huge number of hours creating the one-off set of super-aggressive 50mm front and rear guards, which were, believe it or not, at one point a set of ill-fitting Origin guards, before they were completely cut up to be used as a base for the unique new fenders. Once a full Traum bodykit was matched with the right aero accents and a few custom touches, and the Work wheels were tucked perfectly up into the fresh fenders, the Chaser was resprayed in a silver and bronze scheme, complete with subtle rainbow flakes, at Jono’s work, Doug Smith Panel and Paint in Christchurch. “I was really happy with the end result, but [the car] still felt like it was incomplete,” says Zen. “It was just missing a few bits, the interior was just average, and the engine wasn’t good enough.”

It’s an age-old problem for people like us, a whack-a-mole game of sorts that sees enthusiasts improve one aspect of their car only for that improvement to then make other deficiencies more obvious. But, that’s the life we live, and Zen accepted that with gusto, first turning his attention to the cream fabric interior, which was swapped out for an all-black look pinched from the top-spec Tourer V model. Bride Zeta III seats are now where the front lazy boys were, while the rest of the interior has been reupholstered in Bride Gradation fabric to match.

The last piece of the puzzle for this Chaser was hidden under the bonnet, as, although the original non-turbo wheezer had been swapped for a 1JZ-GTE, which provides plenty of grunt in factory form, the rest of the car was now at a level where a stock engine-and-turbo set-up was not going to cut it — not even close. The new set-up is based around a big Garrett TA3410 turbo sitting on a Sinco manifold. Of course, to get the most out of this turbo, it’s best to do some head work, so the motor was stripped down and an aggressive set of cams was ordered. As an apprentice mechanic, Zen knows his way around engines, but, at a certain point, he realized it’d be smarter to trust the specialists with the really heavy stuff, enlisting the help of NZEFI in Christchurch to get the most out of his refreshed 1JZ. With plenty of fuel and the new turbo pushing 19psi through the big front-mounted intercooler and into the head, the 1JZ spun up 345kW (460hp) at the rear wheels, tuned using a Link G4+ Fury. 

Finally, the car looked amazing, sitting low over a beautiful set of wheels, and had more power than Zen could ever need. Realistically, it was now the polar opposite of the car that had inspired this new build in the first place — Zen’s beat up, stock-engined JZX missile, which he still owns and is awaiting his return to Ebisu Circuit later this year. So, how does he compare the two? “That’s easy,” Zen laughs. “I prefer driving the car in Japan. It’s got way less power, but, with the Kazama gear, it’s got heaps of extra steering lock, so it’s a lot more fun — when I go back in November for Autumn Matsuri, I’ll pick up some knuckles from Kazama for the [New Zealand] car.” But, for now, the difference between the two vehicles was made very obvious recently when Zen debuted his new car on the track at Ruapuna. “I just need to get used to the set-up,” he says. “This car has double the power of my other car, and, with the standard steering, it makes it pretty hard to drift.”

Despite these growing pains, Zen loves it, and, really, unlike his other track-dedicated Toyota, this machine is a street car and needs to be driven like one, especially considering he pilots it around one of the worst cities in the country for slammed big-kitted machines, thanks to the unpredictable messed-up roads. “It’s not too bad down here, really,” says Zen, though. “I know which parts of the city to avoid taking it.” 

Zen never expected his car to turn into the sort of project that would end up as something that’s more than worthy of an NZ Performance Car cover feature, but these things have a way of creeping up on you, and Zen’s need to be different, to stand out from the crowd, has resulted in a machine that he can safely say is like no other in the country or, perhaps, the world. This, he admits, was only possible with the help of others: “The car would never have gotten this far with me on my own, but, thanks to the support of my friends and family and other contacts around Christchurch, this car is what it is now.”

From gaining inspiration high up in the mountains of Fukushima Prefecture to wowing the crowds at the V 4&Rotary Nationals earlier this year, Zen and his Chaser have come a long way, and, now that the car is finished — well, as finished as any project car can ever be — the time has finally come to enjoy it. Look out, Christchurch.

Tuning Menu
MAKE AND MODEL: 1997 Toyota Chaser (JZX100)
ENGINE: Toyota 1JZ-GTE VVT-i 2500cc six-cylinder
BLOCK: Factory
HEAD: Kennelly Cams custom cams, Brian Crower valve springs, Tomei adjustable cam gears
INTAKE: K&N air filter, 600x300x76mm intercooler and piping by Dylan at NZEFI, traction-control delete / modified throttle body
EXHAUST: HPC-coated Sinco manifold, three-inch system, custom downpipe, lobster-welded tip
TURBO: Garrett TA3410
WASTEGATE: Turbosmart 50mm Progate
BOV: Turbosmart
FUEL: Bosch 1000cc injectors, Tomei fuel-pressure regulator, Walbro 400L/per hour in-tank pump
ECU: Link G4+ Fury
COOLING: GReddy radiator, electric fan, GReddy oil cooler
EXTRA: Custom catch-can with in-built radiator overflow by Dylan at NZEFI, Weld coil cover, gold glitter rocker cover
GEARBOX: Toyota R154
CLUTCH: OS Giken twin-plate
FLYWHEEL: OS Giken lightweight
DIFF: Tomei T-Trax two-way limited-slip, Tourer V rear-end conversion
STRUTS: BC Gold coilovers
OTHER: Ikeya Formula adjustable arms, strut brace
BRAKES: Factory
WHEELS: (F) 19x10-inch (-20) Work Emotion CR2P StanceNation limited-edition, (R) 19x11-inch (-22) Work Emotion CR2P StanceNation limited-edition
TYRES: (F) Toyo Proxes 255/30R19, (R) Toyo Proxes 265/30R19
PAINT: Silver and bronze with rainbow flakes by Doug Smith Panel and Paint Christchurch
ENHANCEMENTS: Full Traum bodykit, custom Chachacha 50mm front and rear widebody guards by made by Jono Smith, Origin Labo canards, Origin Labo carbon-fibre roof spoiler, custom-mounted D-MAX rear spoiler, Ganador mirrors, custom rear bumper for GT86 light, Garage Evergreen smoked park lights and headlights, tubbed rear guards
SEATS: Bride Zeta III
INSTRUMENTATION: Defi boost, oil-temp, oil-pressure, and water-temp gauges
OTHER: Bride floor mats; Bride reupholstered door cards, rear seats, and centre console; Bride seat rails; Tourer V interior swap
POWER: 345kW (460hp) at the wheels on 19psi

Driver/Owner: Zen Thunsupap
Age: 24
Location: Christchurch
Occupation: Apprentice mechanic
Build time: One year
Length of ownership: One year
Thanks: Jono Smith (Jesus) for the body work; the Chachacha crew; Andrew, Brad, Alex, ‘Skid King’ Sam, and the rest of the team at NZEFI; Dylan Field for the awesome fabrication work; Adam at Kennelly Cams; Mark and Sam at Sparks Auto Electric; Falgoon Patel for the wheels; Jonny at The SignLab; Jesse Streeter; Nick at North Shore Toyota; Mike Scott Imports; Chris at Mag and Turbo, Christchurch; Agnew Bros Auto Upholstery, Christchurch; my boss, Tim Monk, at Miles Toyota for the workshop use; Arthur; Jared; Caleb; Phil; Matt Speedy; Mum and Dad for understanding my car addiction; and anyone else who I have missed out — you all made this dream of mine come true, thanks!