Having a friend like Takahiro Ueno, owner of Car Make T&E, isn't a bad thing, especially if you're someone like Nobuteru "NOB" Taniguchi. The famed D1/Super GT driver keeps his schedule busy, competing for only the select outfits, including HKS and WedsSport. But in between competitions, you can expect that someone whose passion relies on drifting wouldn't let his downtime go to waste. This is where the master, Ueno-san, comes in real handy.
While the HKS Altezza and S15 Silvia are what Taniguchi gets paid to drive, he decided to add another to his talent roster with a Toyota Aristo. It would be a departure from the cars that made him famous but would also show his versatility by using such a heavy chassis. After the Aristo's completion, it was decided that NOB would use it as an exhibition vehicle in various drift venues in the States on behalf of HKS USA. This chassis, which you'll recognize on our streets as a Lexus GS300, is a popular yet very modifiable car known as the Toyota Aristo. But since this is also about as luxurious as it is sporty, one should also expect that twice the amount of time and effort be put forth when it comes to properly executing its buildup. Don't forget lots of cash, too.
After removing what seemed to be every unnecessary piece of plastic or sheetmetal, there wasn't much left except for the bare remnants of a dashboard, which now uses the center console as a control panel for the Aristo's electrical components, such as ignition and the HKS EVC boost controller. The round factory gauges were replaced with a single Stack unit, and the steering column is bare except for the Vertex steering wheel, placed perfectly within NOB's reach. Where the back seats used to reside is now a custom cover leading to the rear trunk, and an Okuyama rollcage stretches across the cabin from front to back and left to right. Ueno fitted carbon-fiber panels to each of the front doors and made comfort a priority by bolting in Bride Maxis III and Zeta III seats to the floor.
One major difference between the GS300 and its Japanese counterpart is the engine. Sure, the US comes with a smooth yet strong 2JZ-GE, but it doesn't even compare when put up against the might of Toyota's most famed engine, the 2JZ-GTE--yes, the same configuration found in the last generation Supra. Built like a tank yet hard to hit, the 3.0L inline-six relies on all-HKS power, including the massive T04Z hanging off the stainless exhaust manifold to generate at least 650 ps (that's 641 hp) on pump gas and nearly 1,000 ps (986.32 hp) if fed with race fuel! Ueno, who at first had the entire bottom rotating assembly fully balanced but left stock, later strengthened and changed things with HKS connecting rods, forged 87mm pistons, and a 3.4L crankshaft. It was also crucial that the cylinder head be equally built, so the combustion chambers were modified and the valve seats were cut. Then upon reinstallation, a 2mm-thick HKS head gasket was placed between the head and block to lower compression, allowing the 2JZ to become more turbo friendly. The camshafts were upgraded to V-Cam with Valvcon Pro spec'd out to IN=264 and EX=272. Getting plenty of fuel to the engine system is a pair of HKS 280L high-flow fuel pumps, which feed straight to an HKS fuel rail and is then distributed through six 1,000cc HKS injectors, controlled by an HKS fuel regulator. Air comes through an HKS Super Mega Flow and leaves through an HKS SPL titanium exhaust.
The power is altogether controlled but difficult to manage because of the HKS six-speed sequential transmission, geared up with a two-way LSD from TRD and a triple-plate HKS GD Pro clutch. Even moving it just a few hundred feet can be challenging, unless given the right combination of clutch and gas. Get it wrong and you'll stall for sure. When we inquired about how the Aristo felt in comparison to the Altezza, he explained, "I haven't had that much test time yet, so it's hard to tell. The Aristo is a much larger car than the Altezza and has much more torque. What I can say right now is they're both fun to drive."
Given that the Aristo chassis is plenty durable, it had to maintain and add to its stability, especially if it were to perform drift movements on a regular basis. Slipped onto each corner of the lower suspension is a set of modified 14-kg/mm HKS Hipermax D coilovers with Ikeya Formula pillow-ball mounts. To eliminate sway, the front and rear ends were also tightened up with DoLuck stabilizer bars. When we saw the car at TAS, it was still incomplete, devoid of graphics, but at the same time, Yokohama Tire had just launched its next generation of Advan wheels, including the new RS wheels you see now. These are NOB's personal favorites, which are also being used on the HKS Altezza. Selected are 19x9 for the front and 19x10 on the rear, all wrapped with AVS Sport tires. During a slide and as the car completes a few passes, NOB makes full use of the Project braking system, which operates with six-pot calipers at the front wheels and four-pots on the rear. Again, the finalized version of the Aristo is slightly different if you've only seen the way it looked at the Auto Salon, sporting the custom wide Vertex Ridge body kit matched to the T&E red color.
Most recently, NOB was allowed the opportunity to perform at a drift exhibition put on during the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix, where he drove alongside many of his top US peers. It was a great showing for the Aristo, giving the crowd plenty to talk about and get hyped up over. And since it'll be here throughout the remainder of the year, you can be sure to catch more drift action, as we're sure NOB hasn't even maxed out its full capabilities. When asked how the Aristo stacked up against his real weekend car (an S15 Silvia), he replied, "Nothing can be more precious than my personal S15. Come on now, it has a radio, CD, DVD, navigation, and A/C." Still, the Aristo isn't so bad for a personal car, is it?