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Strike One Mark

29 May 2021

Few prospects should scare you more than the double threat that is a high-300kW JZX100 street shark capable of tearing you to shreds on the road only to stun on you in the car park with a collection of chrome-dripping rollers

Words: Jaden Martin Photos: Keegan Clarke-Latham

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Throwing bids on auctions and seeing where it goes should be a competitive sport. The way many play it, it kind of already is. The rush of finding an undiscovered gem and slowly bettering the price point to see how much of a steal you can nab is one that can’t really be described; you’ve just got to do it to know for yourself. Cars and components are won or lost by the dollar, last-minute snipes, and knowing when to call it. It can be brutally heartbreaking when you lose out over pocket change — although when you win, well, you already know what that is.

Like any budding car enthusiast, a young Keegan Clarke-Latham from Auckland’s backroads of Pukekohe knows a thing or two about finessing auction websites. A day-to-day spanner spinner and part-time photo taker — the enigma known as ‘KCL Photography’ — he spent a serious amount of hours surrounding himself in all things automotive. It was at one of these outings, an event dedicated to the pursuit of destroyed tyres and sideways angle chasing, that he was introduced to a chassis that he would eventually go on to pursue and obtain for himself.

He recounts, “I was a young buck and started going to those Drift Junkies days at Hampton Downs. There was this white big-bodied car that sounded really cool and I had no idea what it was. I’d never seen one before, so I went up and spoke to the owner. He told me what it was and what it had. That was the first JZX100 I ever saw.”

It would leave a lasting impression, as only a few years later, Keegan found himself perusing Japanese car auctions and noticed the hundreds of JZXs going up for sale. He instantly recalled that first encounter and began scouring the offerings. The following six or so months were spent throwing bids on cars to see where it led. Nothing particularly special appeared, so the bids were kept conservative. After having told a rep at work to watch out for a good one, as the rep’s cousin was a car importer, Keegan found the example he had been waiting for: a white 1996 Toyota Mark II with Vertex bodykit, Tein coilovers, and a front-mount intercooler. It was otherwise factory, with just 97,000km on the clock and a five-speed manual gear-swapper in place of the factory automatic offering.

It was, for all intents and purposes, perfect. This was the one that Keegan was prepared to open the wallet for, and he threw down a generous bid to ensure he snagged it without a hitch. But hitch there was, when he discovered that he had lost out by a mere $800 landed.

Accepting defeat, the next day Keegan arrived at work only to be greeted by an ecstatic rep who declared he had found a car. It was a white ’96 Mark II with 97,000km and basic upgrades like coilovers, front-mount, and a manual conversion. It quickly dawned on Keegan that it was the very car he had been bidding on, and that the two had gone up against each other! Thankfully the rep was more than happy for Keegan to take the car at cost, as was always the plan, and the succeeding six weeks were spent eagerly waiting for the ship to arrive.

The plan from the outset was simple: do the usual array of critical maintenance and get the car complied and road legal. As per any fresh import, there were a couple of small tasks to take care off. The radiator had seen better days and the front-mount intercooler had required the front bumper support to be cut, which didn’t meet compliance standards. Both were switched out for Fenix units, with the intercooler scaled down to sit behind a factory support.


Things started to get complicated around the manual conversion. While having used factory-fitted parts from a manual example, albeit with the later JZX110 R154 gearbox, which is touted as having stronger internals, the conversion technically required certification from the Low Volume Vehicle Technical Association (LVVTA). Faced with this requirement and knowing that further modifications were to be made down the line, Keegan decided to forgo compliance for a while in order to upgrade everything that would otherwise be covered by the certification process. This would see a fresh set of BC Gold adjustable suspension added, as well as a series of Cusco and Hardrace adjustable arms, and the likes of the Nardi steering wheel replacing the factory airbag unit and Bride front seats.

With a fresh green tick from both the LVVTA and the compliance centre, Keegan’s JZX was issued its first set of New Zealand plates and enjoyed as it was for “ages”. It would probably still be exactly the same if it weren’t for winding up as the guinea pig for good friend Dan Walsh’s 1JZ manifold development.



A fabricator by trade, Dan, operating as Walsh Motorsport, convinced Keegan of the benefits that come with upgrading the factory turbo. This was reinforced by a test drive in a recently completed example owned by Adrian Andrews of Fenix. So Dan was tasked with creating a brand-new top-mount stainless-steel manifold and a Garrett GTX3076R Gen II was selected to sit atop it. Unfortunately for Keegan’s piggy bank, it was during this process that little upgrades started turning into bigger ideas. You know what we’re talking about — the classic ‘while you’re here, you may as well do this’ mentality.

“We were doing the catch-can set-up and that meant taking the rocker covers off to weld on AN bungs,” explains Keegan. “Then it was basically, we should do the cams while the covers are off. Next was the ECU, and that meant doing the R35 coil conversion too. It just snowballs.”


With a set of Kelford cams on board, 1000cc injectors, and a series of other supporting pieces, the package would make a hearty 350kW on 20psi as tuned by Glenn Suckling at GDS Automotive. The work was completed just in time for the 2019 Chrome Expression Session where, by his own admission, Keegan gave it “an absolute hiding”.

With anything modified, upgrades shift pressure to new links in the chain and the weakest was found in cylinder one, which starved itself of oil. That’s why, after a replacement long block was dropped in, you’ll now find a PWR oil cooler and filter relocation kit in place.

Running gear aside, the car packs an absolute catalogue of wheels that are run on rotation. These started out with Keegan ordering a pair of Work VS-KFs from Japan, but while those were in transit a pair of SSR Minervas popped up and he couldn’t refuse. Then it only made sense to buy additional pairs to make both a set. If that wasn’t enough, he’s “accidentally” bought two further sets of SSR Vienna Courages. These are all three-piece examples, and each has been re-lipped to suit the Mark II. Keegan reasons that, much like a pair of shoes, you own more than one. Hard to argue with that logic, really.

As for the exterior styling, Keegan tells us that the Mark II, as opposed to the Chaser equivalent, has always looked the part for him. The only difference now is that the Vertex kit has been replaced by an Origin Labo Streamline kit, inspired by an example spotted out of Canada. It’s paired with BN eyelids and an Origin roof spoiler, and most recently a set of neons that aims to induce Need for Speed nostalgia.

For the most part, the JZX is completed, although Keegan thinks that a water-meth injection system would go down well for gaining extra ponies. He has also just acquired a 180SX and has bad ideas about transferring the complete 1JZ package into that, electing to rebuild the fried long block mentioned earlier into a 1.5JZ package for the Mark II. Those are all down-the-line-type ideas, however, and for now he’s just enjoying the ever-growing collection of wheels that can be bolted on and blasting away the tyres when the desire strikes!


This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 287