Jono Smith’s Soarer serves up pure JDM drift style from an era when power was secondary and swagger was king
"It’s not a show car; I don’t build f*cking show cars,” remarks Christchurch local Jono Smith, as our eyes survey the flow-coated hologram flake and perfect panel gaps of his ’91 Toyota Soarer. “I fang it pretty hard, but it’s still presented better than 99 per cent of the cars out there.” Jono has a point. His Soarer has had hundreds of hours of panel work spent on it — the same can’t be said for most drift cars. But when you earn your gas and tyre money through massaging panels, any standard below this is just not going to cut it.
The crazy thing about this sort of undertaking is that the hard work and dedication might all be for nothing when you’re regularly dicing with danger on the track. Any split second could spell disaster with one wrong move.
Genuine Lambo carbon underskirts have been fitted to the reshaped Vertex sideskirts. The bottom has been brought outwards in a BN Sport style
This is exactly what happened with Jono’s first 1.5JZ-powered Soarer. “It was about my eighth day drifting it,” he recalls. “I had just put a hydro handbrake, and knuckles in. It was a damp morning, and I was just testing it out. A dry line had formed, and my wheel touched the wet stuff, sending me into a half spin.” A newbie in hot pursuit failed to see what was happening and kicked the clutch, sending his car straight into the Soarer’s driver’s side B-pillar. It was a big hit — it bent the sill, roof, floor, and came close to bending the tunnel. Two years of hard work was destroyed in 10 seconds. But, hey, that’s drifting, and the show must go on. Not one to give up, Jono soon sourced a complete shell for only $1K. He had decided that starting with a bare shell would be easier than his original plan of stitching on a full side, even if it meant that he was back to square one.
Unlike the first iteration, mark two would receive a roll cage — probably more for added protection than anything else, as the Soarer’s chassis is built like a tank. In also went a set of front tubs, while some serious hours went into patching any and all holes in the shell, giving it a factory look. The bodykit was transferred from the old car, as Vertex is about the only Soarer kit worth rocking, in Jono’s eyes. A bonnet vent was grafted into the factory steel, while the sideskirts were heavily modified in a BN Sport style. Fitting 18x11-inch (+1) wheels under stock rear guards was never going to work, so the factory guards were pulled, and eight degrees of negative camber helps out the cause immensely.
Running eight degrees of camber might seem excessive to some, but, as Jono is quick to point out, that’s his vibe; form over function every time. “The camber doesn’t faze me. I think it looks better than having the wheels straight up-and-down and perfect tyre-wear and all that boring shit. I’m more about form over function, but it still functions remarkably well. It has so much traction that, when in third gear at 100km, I can put my foot down and it doesn’t even spark up; it just hooks up and f*cks off.”
That ‘f*cking-off’ power comes courtesy of the 1.5JZ sitting in the immaculately presented engine bay, which is a carbon-copy of the first iteration. The engine was actually destined for Jono’s old S13, a project he abandoned midway. But, he says, “I drove the Soarer around for a bit and found it to [have] a way better chassis than the S13, so I sold that, and turned the daily into the drift car.” At the time, the Soarer was mild, at best, with nothing more than an R154, stock 1JZ, and coilovers. The push to go all-in came when the 1JZ suffered some kind of frustrating electrical issue — so, into the bin it all went.
The 1.5JZ was built to handle the 370kW power goal, so aftermarket internals were deemed unnecessary. It was given ACL bearings and ARP hardware with a factory rotating assembly and valvetrain. The current 22psi tune is maxing out the Garrett and 650cc injectors
With the goal of making 370kW, the first 2JZ bottom end was rebuilt by a friend of a friend, using a factory rotating assembly, ACL Bearings, and ARP bolts. Although, as they would find out the hard way, adding ARP bolts to a stock block is a recipe for disaster if you don’t hone the bearing journals. “That’s a wee pro-tip for ya,” says Jono, “do not put bolts in a standard bottom end without honing it first.”
A freshly built 1.5 found its way into the new shell, along with all the existing bolt-ons from mark one. Rob from RaceFab had been responsible for the custom plenum with 90mm throttle body, and the low-mount turbo manifold, which is certainly not the norm on JZs. “I did it purely for the look — I mean, how many JZs do you see low-mount?” On the NZEFI dyno, the somewhat-unique package didn’t sacrifice anything. With a tank of 98 octane, 22psi of boost, and a maxed-out turbo and injectors, Jono had his 370kW, with change to spare.
The fact that the Soarer is making over 370kW at the wheels is the icing on the cake for Jono, because it’s form that really drives him. His approach is one reminiscent of that of early Japanese drifting, when your car’s style was the only thing that really mattered.
While many of these cars make a statement with wild graphics, Jono lets the heavy dose of hologram flake do the talking. Laid on by his boss, he certainly went the extra mile, flow-coating the entire shell. That’s base colour, flake, clear, bake, sand, clear, and bake again — yep, it’s total overkill for any race car, but who cares when it looks this damn good?
Rocking a ride height and fitment this low required some upgraded springs. While in Japan, Jono took a trip to 326power and picked up some 36K and 28K springs for the BC Racing coilovers
But don’t for a second think that the paintwork will deter Jono from pushing hard. “I’m totally not fazed with any minor damage. Blowing the kit apart or scraping a wall is fine. Even if someone does something cool and puts a wheel in my door, I don’t care. If I hum a wall or something with the back bumper, I’m not fixing that — that’s awesome. But if you derp it into a wall, that’s something completely different,” he says. Jono regularly visits Ebisu in Japan to hone his craft as a driver, making the yearly pilgrimage to slap walls in his drift missile. While there, he also likes to dabble in a bit of scrounging — sifting through back-blocks, looking for those bargains you can’t find on the net.
His current Nardi steering wheel is one such bargain, picked up during a visit to Bee*R. “I spied a wheel hanging on the wall and I asked Imai-San if it was for sale,” Jono explains. “He said, ‘No, no, no, it’s used. We sell new ones,’ and pulled out a new wheel with Bee*R on it. I said, ‘Nah, I really want that one — it’s better.’ He just couldn’t fathom that I wanted an old, used wheel [instead of a] new one … so he said [that] if I wanted it, that’s fine. It was out of his original AE85, which he showed us, tucked deep in the shop. I then got him to sign it. It’s probably my favourite part of my entire car. I swapped out a brand-new Nardi Deep Corn for it.”
It’s all the little touches like this that give Jono’s Soarer so much soul. Sure, it can smash tyres and rub doors with the rest of the pack, and it has a ton of power, rad wheels, and loads of style, but it’s the blood, sweat, and tears (we can’t confirm if Jono has ever cried over it) that have gone into the Soarer over the past five years that make it what it is. From that big ol’ T-bone to coming back out stronger and doper than ever. The best move Jono ever made was giving up on that S13 and going all-in here. Well played, sir, well played.
Occupation: Panel beater
Build time: Five years
Length of ownership: Six years
Thanks: Huge thanks to my boss, Nathan Roberts, at Doug Smith Panel and Paint for putting up with me and the car, and laying on a ridiculously good coat of paint; John Salisbury, for the countless hours of wiring; Nick Murchison at MFS for the cage; Rob at RaceFab, for a lot of the fab work; NZEFI, for the tune; Ewan and Shane at Stacked inc; Sealy, Lachlan, Vinny, Spoody, and anybody else who has, in any way, helped over the years; also thanks to Mark Connell for making bad decisions
Soarers are basically JZA80 Supras underneath, so there is a whole range of aftermarket parts that bolt on, but as Jono puts it, they have “Supra tax” loaded on, so he makes his own: “I turned up the solid subframe bushes myself on my mate’s dad’s lathe. Battle version ones were $1K — I just grabbed $200 worth of alloy”
ENGINE: Toyota 1.5JZ-GTE, 3000cc, six-cylinder
BLOCK: Toyota 2JZ-GTE block, ACL race bearings, ARP main studs, ARP big-end bolts, custom baffled sump
HEAD: Toyota 1JZ-GTE head, 1JZ-GTE cams
INTAKE: RaceFab custom plenum, 90mm throttle body, HKS filter, custom V-mounted intercooler
EXHAUST: Three-inch stainless straight-through
TURBO: Garrett TA3410, RaceFab low-mount stainless manifold
WASTEGATE: TiAL MV-R 44mm
FUEL: Bosch 044 main pump, surge tank, Tomei fuel-pressure regulator (FPR), Bosch 650cc injectors, top-feed fuel rail, braided lines throughout
IGNITION: In-cabin coil packs with built-in igniters, custom leads, NGK copper plugs
ECU: Link G4 Xtreme
COOLING: Custom radiator, HKS oil thermostat, 13-row oil cooler, power-steering cooler, RaceFab header tank
EXTRA: Fully de-loomed, tubbed guards, custom power-steer and overflow reservoirs, RaceFab oil catch-can, alloy water-pump pulley, solid engine and gearbox mounts, Weld cam cover, heavily polished alloy
GEARBOX: Toyota R154, five-speed
CLUTCH: OS Giken twin-plate
FLYWHEEL: OS Giken
DIFF: Locked factory
STRUTS: BC Gold coilovers; (F) 326power 36k spring, (R) 326power 28k spring
BRAKES: (F) R34 Skyline GT-T four-pot calipers, race pads, braided hoses; (R) dual factory calipers, Tilton master cylinder, Parts Shop Max handbrake, custom bracket, braided hoses
EXTRA: Nolathane lower-arm bushes, Nolathane rack mounts, deleted sway bars
WHEELS: (F) 18x9.5-inch (+14) Work VS-KF, (R) 18x11-inch (+1) Work VS-KF
TYRES: (F) 215/40R18 Achilles 123, (R) any 235s available
PAINT: Factory red with gold-rainbow flake by Doug Smith Panel and Paint
ENHANCEMENTS: Custom BFH guards, fibreglass bonnet vent grafted into factory bonnet, Origin 1750mm carbon wing, custom wing stays and mounts, Origin roof wing, Origin boot lip, Vertex kit, modified Vertex sideskirts, Lamborghini carbon underskirts, Power Vehicles carbon vortex generators, modified S15 Ganador mirrors, facelift tail lights, strobes fitted to head- and tail lights
SEATS: Racepro, Takata six-point harnesses
STEERING WHEEL: Limited Edition Nardi (owned and signed by Imai-San of Bee*R), Works Bell hub, Nardi boss kit
INSTRUMENTATION: Link display, white-faced SMI gauges
ICE: Please refer to exhaust specs
EXTRA: Six-point roll cage, ‘ricer’ footwell neons, Tomei gear knob, carbon panels, Broadway mirror, carbon boot floor,
POWER: 387kW (520hp)
FUEL: 98 octane