1UZ-FE MX-5 GO-KART
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 onepiece 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 goodlooking, 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