Once upon a time, automobile concept design was strictly an analogue art form, brought about by pen on paper. The digital era has changed things significantly, and while you can’t fake talent, the latest 3D rendering software is bringing ideas to life in the most convincing ways.

It was while poring over realistic, cyberpunk-style automotive renders that Chris Watson was inspired to create his own four-wheeled piece of sci-fi automotive art. But instead of doing it pixel by pixel on a computer, the 24-year-old did for it real inside a small garage in rural New Zealand.

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“I’ve been working on cars since I was 13 years old,” says Chris. My previous build was an S13 Silvia with a one-of-a-kind FJ22ET engine swap. It was a pretty challenging sleeper build where I focussed entirely on the engine and chassis, but after five years working on that, I wanted to try my hand at custom bodywork. Among other things, I’ve been a big fan of the cyberpunk genre and grew up with films and shows like Bladerunner, Akira, Ghost in the Shell etc… so a lot of that influence motivated this build.”

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Using the venerable first-gen Mazda MX-5 as the base for the build was a no-brainer for Chris. “There are a lot of people doing renders of cyberpunk cars, but I wanted to actually give it a shot in real life. I went for an MX-5 because it’s the perfect rear-wheel drive, ’90s-era sports car, and because it has pop-up headlights.”

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By contrast, Chris’s previous builds, which on top of the previously mentioned ’88 Silvia have included a ’93 Honda Integra and a ’96 Mitsubishi Lancer GSR, have all been quite tame. With the MX-5, the idea was to think right outside the box and experiment with new things, and Chris hopes that his build will encourage others to not be afraid to do the same.

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A huge amount of work has gone into the Mazda’s exterior, and for anyone interested, there’s an entire build thread where Chris updated progress on a regular basis. You can check that out here, and also his new YouTube channel here.

The defining feature of the bodywork is the the +100mm fibreglass overfenders, which Chris built from scratch. That is, by pouring foam to form the initial shape.

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Other modifications and custom touches included cutting and welding the original fenders to accommodate the wheels and tyres, and creating a GV-style front lip, custom-moulded bonnet vent, and front canards. F1-style fender mirrors were also added, along with a custom 3-piece ducktail and roof spoiler, and 1,450mm wing with custom 6mm clear polycarbonate struts. The list goes on with custom low-profile headlights and a high-power LED light bar, an external oil cooler (cosmetic only), LED under-glow lighting, and custom paint, wrap and decal work.

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There was only ever one direction that Chris could go with the wheels, and these custom creations have been perfectly executed. They’re 15×10-inch -50 offset steelies, built using Suzuki Swift factory wheel centres pressed and welded into speedway barrels, fitted with Toyo Proxes R888Rs in a 225/45R15 size. Chris says that his handmade fibreglass aero covers were inspired by turbofan wheels from ’80s and ’90s race cars.

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The cyberpunk theme carries through to the interior, which was stripped and resprayed silver before being pieced back together. Here, Chris has added a custom smoked acrylic (and backlit) switch panel, LED lighting, and gauges among other details. The highlight, however, is the custom-mounted ‘cyberdeck’.

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You might be wondering what’s under the hood of this unique creation, but don’t get too excited because right now it’s the MX-5’s stock B6ZE 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, enhanced only by a Yoshimura motorcycle muffler. Chris has some plans though, and they fit perfectly with the theme of the build. “Once I have the money for it, the [Mazda] engine will be swapped out for an electric motor,” he says. The conversion will likely feature a Hyper 9 120V AC motor kit good for 120hp and 173ft/lb, and a custom ‘hot swap’ battery layout.

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It’s taken 18-months to get the MX-5 to this point, and credit where credit is due, because Chris has done an awesome job of it. On top the EV conversion and a few other small changes, the future of the car will include ditching the wrap for a full exterior respray, a Ver.2 wide-body with side skirts, and hopefully road legal status once again.

And then there’s Chris’s ’00 Mitsubishi L300 van, a future bosozoku-themed project. But that’ll be another story…

Brad Lord
Instagram: speedhunters_brad
[email protected]

Build & Photography by Chris Watson
Instagram: tofuautoworks
YouTube: Tofu Auto Works

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How To join the IATS program: We have always welcomed readers to contact us with examples of their work and believe that the best Speedhunter is always the person closest to the culture itself, right there on the street or local parking lot. If you think you have what it takes and would like to share your work with us then you should apply to become part of the IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER program. Read how to get involved here.