Mixing subtle aero aesthetics with the bite of a four-litre heart, Philip Huynh’s ‘Hyper Roadster’ is every bit as rapid as its name suggests
The mark of a true craftsman is the ability to form objects of great quality with nothing more than a set of simple tools and their own hands. And through extensive practise of their craft, the craftsman may harness their experience to reach the level of a shokunin — the Japanese term for an artisan — and combine both function and aesthetics into an object that not only serves the direct purpose for which it has been built but also expresses the shokunin’s own journey and serves as a new benchmark for those around it.
In the words of shokunin Tashio Odate, “Shokunin means not only having technical skill, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness … [an] obligation to create greatness both material and spiritual."
For Auckland-based connoisseur of the ‘dirty bird’ and craftsman of feature cars Philip Huynh, the road to becoming an unofficial shokunin was not entirely a conscious one. In fact, the man behind the ‘Hyper Camry’ JZX100 formerly known as ‘WAAA’ (NZ Performance Car Issue No. 204) and its version-two counterpart, a Lexus IS-F, has always been a self-described Toyota guy at heart, so to unwittingly achieve this level of craftsmanship through the build of a Mazda MX-5 makes it all the more impressive.
But how does a Toyota guy get convinced to build such a car? Well, while the badge that once adorned the go-kart’s boot lid represents the famous Hiroshima automaker, it’s perhaps what lies in wait under the bonnet that drew Phil to the car and continues to cast a shadow of confusion over all those who hear it pass by. Yep, within this engine bay you won’t find a four-banger typical of the chassis but Toyota’s coveted 1UZ-FE V8.
Phil explains that the conversion was done by the original owner, who wanted a few more ponies in the go-kart-like chassis. He laid a solid amount of ground work, widening the engine bay clearance through cut-and-shut chassis rails, commissioning a custom six-litre short-sump, and fitting a Toyota W58 box that employs a 1UZ-to-W58 bellhousing adapter and custom one-piece driveshaft to deliver power to the rears.
It was eventually sold on and went through a long succession of neglectful owners before Phil got his hands on it. “A friend of mine had it before me and decided to bail out. Owning a variety of Lexus’ and Toyotas, it was a tasteful addition to my fleet, being powered by a reliable Toyota engine,” he tells us. “And I figured [that] it would be a nice base for me to improve on while adding my finishing touches. But I started to find lots of small things which needed attention.”
Wanting the MX-5 to tick all the boxes — to be good-looking, clean, reliable, and able to be beat on at the track but still comfortable enough to be driven out to Mission Bay for an ice cream or a blast out to Kaiaua for fish and chips when he feels spirited — constant niggles were never going to cut it for Phil.
“The goal was to get away from the ‘stanced’ MX-5 stereotype, which can have negative connotations for some people, and build a usable car that expressed my own flavour,” he says.
That would see the car stripped back to basics while Phil carefully curated his idea of the perfect example. Gone is the factory plastic and Enkei J-Speed wheels on which it arrived, with the vision calling on a selection of aero upgrades that do well not to destroy the factory bodylines. Instead, they enhance the Mazda base by beefing up the face with an RS Active Type-II front bumper, employing Nue front-guard cut-outs combined with Rev9 Autosport fender flares to restructure the front guards. The sills have been given a touch more width through Fujita Engineering–style side steps, while, down back, Project-G corner flares meet the Rev9 Autosport fender flares, with the boot finished by a KG-Works ducktail spoiler.
It’s complemented by a chance win on the local auction site that saw a 16x7-inch set of Bridgestone DTM Racing wheels travelling northward from Otago — which Phil outbid the writer for — and they, too, were stripped back and given a new lease of life with a fresh hit of gloss white, along with the rest of the car, by Jono at JNR Refinishing.
All the single-piece aero received custom Bridgestone decals, while the body was treated to a speed stripe that mimics the ’90s-era KFC logo, and sports the name of Phil’s trademark, Stylish Tuning Shop, and incorporates the car’s nickname, the ‘Hyper Roadster’, both of which were made by good friend Kimmi at Big Brown Industries.
While the exterior underwent a massive shift, Phil has left the mechanical side of things mostly as it came. He opted for reliability in rerouting a selection of lines and tidying up the engine bay — including a respray in VW Nardo Grey. It’s what some may consider a ‘simple’ package; however, 200kW at the wheels and a truckload of torque in such a nimble chassis will blow your face off without cracking a sweat.
And don’t think for a second that the Hyper Roadster has been relegated to show-queen status, because it hasn’t — far from it. Peer inside, and you’ll find a four-point roll cage for the off-chance that things get wild, with the occupants strapped into Bride Vios IIs thanks to Takata Drift II harnesses. Underneath, the guards hide BC Gold coilovers along with Racing Beat front and rear sway bars. Braking power has been upgraded with Wilwood Dynalite four-pot calipers and 280mm rotors, while the steering rack has been switched out for an unpowered example for better road feel. Since the rebuild, Phil has treated the car to laps around Pukekohe at the V 4&Rotary Nationals and enjoyed the ‘scenic route’ to Hahei for Leadfoot Festival.
It sticks to terra firma under heavy acceleration as if the Hankook Ventus rubber were constructed from tar, thanks to a serious amount of mechanical grip built into the car. And nothing beats hearing a small-capacity V8 letting loose through a good 2.5-inch exhaust–and–Flowmaster combo.
The finished product has a seriously clean aesthetic that is careful to use nothing more than it needs to — we wouldn’t blame you for mistaking it for a super-rare factory trim upgrade spawned in the late ’80s. It’s a car that anyone can appreciate — the sound of a hulking muscle car emitting from something the size of a fried-chicken bucket and doing so in pure harmony. If that ain’t the definition of a shokunin’s work, then we don’t know what is.
OCCUPATION: Fried-chicken connoisseur
BUILD TIME: One year
LENGTH OF OWNERSHIP: One year
THANKS: Stylish Tuning Shop; my dad Andy Huynh at A Team IT; Matt Tasker at YSM Workshop; Jono Rowlands at JNR Refinishers; Jerry, Kimmi, and Todd at Big Brown Industries; Avery Wong at Beaurepaires Greenlane; AJ Shepherd and Nathan Malmo at Pitstop Albany; and David Chen
1989 Mazda MX-5 (NA)
ENGINE: Toyota 1UZ-FE, 3968cc, V8
INTAKE: Alloy intake elbow, Fram pod filter
EXHAUST: Custom twin 2.5-inch-into-one system, Flowmaster Super 44 muffler, three-inch stainless tip, custom headers
FUEL: Walbro fuel pump
IGNITION: NGK spark plugs
COOLING: RPS dual-pass alloy radiator, 14-inch electric fan, Tridon pressure-releasable radiator cap and high-flow thermostat
EXTRA: Custom steel six-litre sump, engine bay resprayed in VW Nardo Grey, intake manifold resprayed, Volvo overflow tank
GEARBOX: Toyota W58 five-speed, 1UZ-to-W58 bellhousing adapter
CLUTCH: Exedy heavy-duty
DIFF: Mazda RX-7 FC 4.10 limited-slip
EXTRA: Custom one-piece driveshaft
STRUTS: BC Gold coilovers; (F) 10kg springs, (R) 8kg springs
BRAKES: (F) Wilwood Dynalite four-pot calipers, 280mm rotors,
braided lines; (R) factory
EXTRA: Unpowered-steering-rack conversion, engine bay widened, modified subframe with custom engine mounts, custom power plant frame (PPF) driveline brace, four-point half cage, Racing Beat front and rear sway bars, drive shaft hoops
WHEELS: 16x7-inch (+38) Bridgestone DTM Racing
TYRES: (Street) 205/40R16 and 205/45R16 Hankook Ventus, (track) 205/50R16 Dunlop Direzza ZII Star Spec
PAINT: Resprayed in gloss white by Jono at JNR Refinishing
ENHANCEMENTS: RS Active Type-II front bumper, Nue fender vents, Rev9 Autosport fender flares, Fujita Engineering–style side steps, Project-G corner flares, KG-Works ducktail spoiler, Stylish Tuning Shop–modified OEM tail lights, Stylish Tuning Shop ‘Hyper Roadster’ side stripe in KFC red, mirror tints, ceramic protection using Hikari Diamond, LED light conversion
SEATS: Bride Vios II, super low fixed seat rails, Takata Drift II harnesses
STEERING WHEEL: Moco-Moco 320mm, detachable boss kit
INSTRUMENTATION: Stylish Tuning Shop custom GPS digital-speedo conversion, relocated temperature gauge, LED illumination
OTHER: Cusco handbrake button, carbon-fibre gear knob, Broadway wide-angle rear-view mirror, Sparco floor mats, door cards retrimmed in Bride gradation, manual winding windows, air-con delete
This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 256 — to get your hands on a print copy click the cover below