Project X: The Ultimate Plot Twist
Wait, What?

Things have gotten a little weird since the last time Project X checked in with Speedhunters… At the end of last month, we’d simply had enough of our JZX110 Toyota Mark II. We’d come to Japan for three months to go drifting (and work for Speedhunters too, of course), and after four entire weeks, we had barely been able to limp the car around the streets of Tokyo for more than a day without a new problem arising, let alone even think about going anywhere near a circuit. After cancelling on track day after track day, the final straw came when trying to diagnose an intermittent, but very loud rattle. Apparently, besides all the other problems we had been sold, we had also inherited an unhealthy gearbox.

We’d already spent thousands getting the car up to scratch, and now, here we were at a fairly serious roadblock. Toyota R154 gearboxes aren’t exactly cheap, even in Japan, and even if we decided to replace the trans we’d still have what is essentially a factory JZX with stock steering, a stock torsen diff and completely destroyed diff mounts. At some point at times like this, you just have to swear a lot – maybe even brew up a few words that have never existed prior – and then be realistic with yourself.

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With the dream fading by the day, we were faced with some tough choices. We could either A) continue spending all our money and time trying to fix the JZX to maybe get an average track day or two in while fighting a sh*tty diff, poor steering lock and no doubt more problems, B) cut our losses and sell the car and give up on the dream, or C) cut our losses and sell the car, pucker up and start fresh with a new car that’s ready to go drifting the next day.

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You’ve no doubt already guessed which option we went for. In traditional car guy (and girl) fashion, we picked the least sensible option of the three. After all, we came to Japan with the intention of learning car control and the art of oversteer as well as we possibly could. If we didn’t want to miss another single track day, we were going to have to buy another car – specifically, a street legal, turn-key package.


That car actually presented itself to us a few days before we found out about the gearbox issue. On one of our many trips back to our local workshop Mercury to try and sort out the JZX110, we saw a new car on the lot – a late-model JZZ30 Toyota Soarer. Of course, it wasn’t much more than a passing comment of ‘nice Soarer’ at the time, but fast forward a few days, and the guys at Mercury were handing me the keys for a test drive. An hour and many more swear words later, we owned a 1999 Toyota Soarer.

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Despite previous experience, I still really wanted to stick with Toyota and the 1JZ-GTE powerplant, and this series 3 Z30 Soarer has the same late-model VVTi single turbo 1JZ as the Mark II, along with the same factory-fitted R154 5-speed manual gearbox coupled to an aggressive Exedy clutch. The engine itself is fairly stock, with only an exhaust, filter and intercooler, but that’s perfectly fine with me.

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It’s what’s underneath that interested me the most. The Soarer was already set up and very much ready to go with super-nice (and expensive) DG5 coilovers, Hey Man steering knuckles for extra lock, Ikeya Formula front arms and a 1.5-way LSD out back.

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I’ve loved the shark-like look of the Z30 ever since I first saw one as a teenager parked in a McDonalds car park back in my home town. This one is further enhanced with a full Vertex body kit and front fenders, and I think it looks pretty cool…

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Although, a small trunk lip and roof wing would go a long way towards sharpening up that big ol’ behind.

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Fortunately, the wheels and tyres we recently received from RAYS and Toyo for the JZX were also a near-perfect fit. I’ve got to say that they look even better on this car than they did on the last.

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We did need to purchase a pair of spacers to fill out the wider Vertex front fenders though.

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Inside, there’s simply a tired old Bride seat, a Momo wheel and a whole lot of brown, which, for some reason I can’t get enough of.

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We’d already wasted so much time, so the morning after picking the car up from the yard, we were sailing our big white boat down the Wangan expressway on our way out of Tokyo.

Joining The Local Community

We were headed for Minami Chiba course, a small, low-key facility that allows you to simply show up, pay some money and do some skids, seven days a week (unless there’s an event on, of course). We grabbed ourselves some all-day passes to one of the bigger areas and pulled into the pits where there were about five or so other drivers who had done the same thing.

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This was the perfect venue for two inexperienced drivers to test an unfamiliar car. Essentially, each participant is assigned a number and then you simply head out for a five-minute session when your turn comes up. This continues all day long, and when there’s only a handful of drivers out there, it equates to a whole lot of track time.

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Our Kiwi friend Toby, who has been an absolute legend and helped us out considerably over the past month, came along to check out the car, provide the tools and give us a few pointers. We also made quick friends with some of the other drivers, like Yuka Tsukakoshi, who was hammering the snot out of her S14.


I know it sounds kind of trivial, but I couldn’t help but love the fact that she was just there with a female friend – there was no dude in the background helping her change wheels or encouraging her to push her driving skills further. This is a fairly common sight at Japanese tracks, but as a foreigner, I still get a kick out of it every time.


Our other pit neighbour was Taizo Hatakeyama, who had swung down for the day to slide his beautiful Honda NSX around the course. A quick chat revealed that Hatakeyama-san, besides working in real estate, was also a highly competitive motorcycle racer.

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This is what I love so much about grassroots motorsport in Japan – every venue and event I’ve ever attended, there’s been nothing but cool, friendly people to meet. Sure, they might have a tendency to at first simply smile and nod politely, and then go back to what they are doing, but it’s usually because they’re not confident with English, which I completely understand – I’m not exactly what you’d call a master of the Japanese language!

Test Time
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Of course, we weren’t here to socialise – it was skid time.

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At 1,600kg, the Soarer is not what you’d call nimble. It’s big, it’s lazy and it feels planted, but as I’ve always driven big cars in the past, that suited me just fine. Despite my inexperience, right from my first lap in the car, I felt surprisingly comfortable behind the wheel of the gliding whale.

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The lazy switches, the ample 1JZ power delivery and the extra lock provided by the Hey Man knuckles really inspired a lot of confidence, and I was soon swinging my way through the entire course with the biggest grin on my face.

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Taryn was having a blast too. Like me, she’s in no way claiming to be an expert behind the wheel, but unlike me, she’s never actually drifted a car before besides the occasional loss of traction in her old MX-5 at track days back in New Zealand. So for her it was a case of starting from scratch – and the Soarer was perfect for the job.

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Taryn quickly mastered the basics, while I was trying to push for more angle and more speed, which didn’t always work out in my, or a few unfortunate cone’s, favour.

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As per the law of the land (which I may have just adapted from the timeless family trash can rule), if you pop a tyre, it’s your responsibility to break out the jack and fire some fresh rubber on the car.

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This will have to go on the Speedhunters HQ wall: ‘Taryn’s first tyre delamination’.

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By mid-afternoon we were really coming to grips with the car, and then the rain started to fall.

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I was secretly stoked, because it would give us an idea of how the Soarer behaves in the wet before we have to find out at a more intense track like Nikko, as well as go easier on tyres, fuel and mechanical stress. That’s scroogey of me I know, but with everything that’s happened recently, you’ve got to take your fiscal victories when you find them!

You can see how hilariously lazy the Z30 is in the wet in this quick Instagram video – especially at Minami Chiba where the surface is basically rubberised from the year’s worth of skidding. The water simply sits on top and provides no grip at all.

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We weren’t complaining though, it was huge amounts of fun and a chance to finally let off some steam after all the headaches of the past month.

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At 4:00pm the day was officially over, and we set about packing up our purring, solid-as-a-rock, unbroken car for the trip back home. What a shock to the system…

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I have to ask myself, if I hadn’t published this Project X saga on Speedhunters for the world to see in the first place, would we have put ourselves in financial harms way and still purchased the Soarer? Or would we have just given up quietly and bought ourselves a pair of train passes, safe in the knowledge that we hadn’t been talking a big game on one of the world’s biggest online automotive publications.

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I like to think we still would have picked option A. We’ve never been motivated by a fear of losing face and looking like we wimped out – we’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. Whilst it might have been one of those decisions that my dad would most definitely shake his head disapprovingly upon hearing about, and one that I’ll admit kept me up for a few nights in a row, we just couldn’t let a sour deal hamstring our goals.


Regardless, a day’s worth of sliding around at Minami Chiba has pushed those money worries right into the back of my mind – and it’s only the beginning. We’ve got a bunch of track days at various circuits around Tokyo lined up over the next month, as well as a few plans to head to some of the country’s best touges for a closer look.

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Of course, there’s a big difference between sliding around a cone course and hitting a proper circuit, but whatever happens, as always I’ll be documenting it in full – win or lose. See you then!

Peter Kelly
Instagram: speedhunters_pedey



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i'm a practical man. not a big fan of the general DO WHAT YOU LOVE ethos of throwing caution to the wind and going hard in the paint 25/7 because you love cars or whatever. real life is allowed to take priority over hobbies, i think.
rock on. you guys came to do a thing and you're doing that thing. if you didn't do what you had to do to have fun in japan, you'd just end up regretting the whole thing, which would just put a total damper on everything. money comes and goes, time just goes. you chose to put time into this thing. don't let that time go to waste because money got in the way.


Good man Peter, good man.  Fighting! (I know its a korean expression, but it makes sense in my mind)


Sorry to hear about all the woes with the 110, it made me bummed just reading about it. I can't imagine how annoying it must have been for you guys. Let's hope the Soarer loves up to the reliable name that we usually associate with Toyota's.

Will you guys be heading to the Summer Matsuri at Ebisu Circuit this year? I know it's been covered by Speedhunters plenty of times in the pas but I think it's always worth a visit :) If you do end up going I'll jump in for a ride with you please!

There's also some pretty amazing touges that aren't too far from Ebisu that may be of interest. . .


Swift springs too? Nice...


Congratulations on the Soarer, and I am glad you both had fun and learned the new car. It looks good with the sedan's wheels on it.


Nice move and great to see the fun you're allready having!
What is the black car with the yellow rims in the first 2 pics?


"Whilst it might have been one of those decisions that my dad would most definitely shake his head disapprovingly upon hearing about" reading this really made me laugh, I've discussed so much with my dad over the years when i decided to buy my actual car, and even after all the time i've spent working on it and trying to sort out countless problems I've never regretted my decisions. I have so much respect for your dedication and I hope you can enjoy this car properly!


Living the dream


That Soarer looks awesome, nice to see someone changed it to manual, And that ride height!! , Your right, those rims look far better on that too. Glad to see you guys finally had something go right!


Glad you guys have a similar car that actually works. Hope there will be plenty more stories to come.


I love this. Really inspiring to me for some reason. Fucking love it.


Glad to hear you guys got it sorted out. Your time in Japan is relatively shorts so you can't waste it fighting a losing battle. It sounds like you got yourself a nice, reliable carry you don't have to fret over. If you make it down to the Hiroshima area let us know and we'll take you out to Hadashi and the ghost touge.


Nice replacement I Dig both cars but understand the justification behind not sinking truck loads of cash into the chaser.  the Soarer is probably more fun with the same power unit under the hood. thanks for the updates while in Japan. Cheers from Detroit !


As someone who was an aspiring drifter who had to stop before he really started (kids do that) it somehow makes me feel like the dreams not dead, just on hold watching you guys tough it out to get it done. The circumstances are different but the goal is the same, to just be able to have some fun sliding a car around. Good on you guys!


Im so glad for you guys!
Almost feels like im part of this when im really just dreaming of doing the same and reading about your journey to feed taht dream!


Happy it worked out for oyu guys! :)


Thank you! That is my exact aim when putting these stories together, appreciate you following


Might just to wait a few more years and pick up drifting again when the kids are old enough then :) No one ever said you have to be a youngin to go drifting!


Cheers, yep it's been a lot of fun so far!


Maybe not this trip but we could well be heading your way when we come back in November


Thanks for the support! This car is actually factory manual, not converted.


Trying to Dong, trying to...


It's almost like a Dad's duty to disapprove haha


Yep, 20kg front 18kg rear... I think.


We are heading up next weekend for D1, then staying until Tuesday night to do some drifting, wish we could stay the whole week, but working from Ebisu isn't going to be the easiest thing in the world!


Right on, it sounds like we think much the same...


Peter_Kelly Youre doing an awesome job, proof beeing me coming back for more news!




Awesome story and those wheels look great on the car! Does anybody know if there are tracks that operate like this in the states? It seems like the perfect way to get some practice in.


Not related to the post (Soarer does look great going sideways btw), but I will be visiting Japan for the first two weeks of September. Would really like to get a taste of the local car culture while I'm there, grassroots or otherwise - anyone have suggestions?


That's great, glad you guys found a way to get out and play (even though it involved a new car lol). I don't see many Soarer/SC builds, we need more of these in the world.


I'm not much into paying for material possessions but I will pay for an experience and THAT is what you have paid for. It's not about the car, (It's nice though), you cant experience drifting for real with out paying for a car. Bottom line motorsport costs but experience is priceless


Peter_Kelly I'll be there on monday and tuesday so I'll come and say hello :)


yes a Soarer! watch out you might end up falling in love with it!


Peter_Kelly imo its mostly moms duty to disapprove dad just usually sits back and supervises until things go wrong then jumps in to lend a hand resolving the problem


I'm surprised R154 would cost a lot in Japan too , I thought it only sky-high price at some other place .


"I felt surprisingly comfortable behind the wheel of the gliding whale"  LOL!

Good to see you guys didn't give up, you must be so relieved now, good luck with the rest of your adventure!


Great post, doing what people can only dream!
What's the story with the red rex?
I assume you don't see many sliding?
Not sure I'd like to do it to mine!


Super awesome that you finally got to go do some drifting! Hopefully this is an omen for positive change from the drift gods guys! Keep it up, I'm really ebjoying reading about your adventure.


What did you end up doing with the JZX110, I might want to take a look at it! ;)


BimmerDTM We've still got it, wanting to sell it to free up some much needed funds! Send me an email if you're interested -


Elonexx The RX-8 was a nice car - turbocharged and pretty quick. He put semi slicks on in the afternoon and was running some grip laps of the small circuit on site.


Oompa Exactly our thoughts!


KHitch So tempting to keep in long term and make it awesome.


I'm glad you included video footage, Peter_Kelly! 1600kg + 1JZGTE + coupe + Toyota = sounds like a poor man's R34 GT-R! 

Not big on drifting but can appreciate it, glad you guys got to do what you set out to do.

What's the deal on a more aggressive clutch anyway? Does it make the biting point much lower or heavier pedal? Even though its near-bone stock that's okay, you guys got to experience the car in stock form which imo is a good thing.


John Key NZ Peter_Kelly certainly a heavier pedal feel, but by more aggressive I simply mean it's a lot grabbier and therefore stronger/more capable of taking abuse.


maxvr6 Doing my best to represent my home country!


Peter_Kelly sounds just like what I, I mean, the car park hoons need!


Ah man, that's awesome!


I love everuthing about Soarer's! It's like japanese Mustang for me. I'm still waiting for Dino to do a job on them even though I know that he is doing an event like articles, not specific car model hystory.


My Dad once asked me how much all of the work and aftermarket parts my brother and I were fitting to our S14 was adding to the value... it genuinely had me stumped, as I'd never seen the money as going anywhere other than down the drain... the reward is in the driving, without any consideration of resale value!

... to be honest, I'll be a lot happier if the car ends its days in a tyre wall whilst enjoying myself, rather thaAn having to sell it!


second car plot twist might get you a second pint.... I'm impressed how well you guys have shaken off the issues and moved forward, I'd of been locked up for terrorising the person who did the checks on the first car, you guys have shaken it off gone as far as you could and made the change when other issues arose.
Christ, I think that was almost an adult move, watch yourself there or you will be drinking milo before bed :P


John Key NZ Peter_Kelly Most people upgrade to a heavy duty clutch on a drift car for two reasons. The first being that "Clutch Kicking" is an almost essential way of gaining angle when the car starts to grip up and fall out of the powerband. The second is that doing these clutch kicks generates a ton of heat. It is very easy to overheat a stock clutch to the point of slipping in one run. Hell, I know first hand after playing Drift Taxi in my Lexus a few weeks back at one of the local grassroots events. It is now top of the list for next upgrades to the car.

Glad you guys at least stuck with the good ol' reilable 1JZ VVTi platform. Have fun with it!


Peter_Kelly I mean, I support that idea. For a long time I've been considering making a big bruiser out of one of the 4.0 V8 models.


Great to see you guys finally getting a break, having some fun, and ultimately doing what you went there for :)


Great article Peter - It is good to see you showing the frustration as well as the victories; most of us know it goes hand in hand but sometimes it is easy to read the articles and think it must be so easy for other people. New car looks way better than the old one!


I would VIP'd the shit out of that Mark II if it's not fit to drift again lol


I would VIP'd the shit out of that Mark II if it's not fit to drift again lol


No X, No Care.


@MyLifeAsLouis So would I if I could afford to fix it and not sell it!


After all those issues, I bet yo're feeling like this...
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(I thought of it because it had the word 'soaring' in it...also replace the word 'birds with 'skids'.)


Great choice of car! glad you guys are enjoying it!


the car was very good 
really really like to see the car that shiny new car fits like made ​​for walking trailsthe car was very good" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> and very fast" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> mix of colors" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> from which to" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> make want pobud see hatnya" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> kecepatanya" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> was very nice ," rel="dofollow" target="_blank">  suitable for a "" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> sharp bend or not sharp I guess motorists like this is" very skilled in the speed I hope I can membilinya someday will whether there are new cars are better I" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> 'll wait for it , with a stylish car classic" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> style I" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> also like" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> to see would be whether there is a" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> car that is as fast and forius like in the " movie , the car very good car designed a way apparently hopefully there will be new cars more good and the price is quite pantastis then chances are I can membilinya the same as you have at this time


Hey, question about the window moldings on the Soarer. Are the black window moldings, opposed to the chrome trim you see on most jzz30's moldings, an option, or is any all black window molding you see just painted black? Please let me know, I just bought a sc300 and would like to get black moldings in the future, think it looks much better. Thanks.