The love of going fast evolved into the pursuit of perfection, the same passion for cars expressed in a slightly different way.
We all have that one friend amongst our immediate group of car enthusiasts who is just that much crazier about cars than everybody else. He or she seems to always have the answer when any of the others have a question. This person possesses that little extra talent when it comes to wrenching, welding, or bodywork. I can imagine the majority of you have somebody who naturally comes to mind when reading this criteria—and some of you may be able to relate on a more personal level by actually being that person in your own group of friends. The advice and skill of this person seems invaluable to any crowd when it comes to a competitive car club, whether it be a show crew or a racing team, this person often becomes the backbone of the group, having the final say when it’s crunch time and a car absolutely needs to get done.
In the story of this particular LS430 owned by Vireak Sar, his friend Jon-Jon Carino plays the backbone. Vireak purchased this ’04 Lexus LS430 in 2009 from another member of Squad One, the car club that both Vireak and Jon-Jon belong. He immediately brought the car to Jon-Jon for both consultations on the build and the execution of which that soon followed. At the point of purchase, the car was already mildly modified—fitted with air suspension, wheels, and a few other personal touches here and there. The car was already what many people might consider a respectable VIP-styled car, one that could also double as a reliable and comfortable daily cruiser. Fortunately, Vireak and Jon-Jon decided that this particular Lexus was destined to be much, much more. Vireak dropped off the car at Jon-Jon’s house and all but gave him free reign of the build, reasonably asking to have the final say on Jon-Jon’s ideas for the car.
Vireak had purchased the car in its original color—black. He might have kept the paint untouched if it wasn’t for the unfortunate intervention of a vandal. A random person decided that they didn’t like the paint on Vireak’s car one day and decided to key it to the point that a complete respray would be necessary. Looking at the bright side of the situation, Vireak decided on a complete color change. While talking over the possibility of a new color with Jon-Jon, the two of them decided on a shade, which would coincidentally be on the polar opposite of the color spectrum—white. Wisely, the two teammates started to construct a plan, envisioning the car to be flared and radiused, something that is still growing in popularity in the Untied States but practically required in Japan—where “VIP style” originated. After multiple trips to the junkyard and test-fitting many different body panels, Jon-Jon started on the bodywork by choosing the new wheel arches from a very unassuming source—an ’88 Prelude. The arches were carefully emancipated from the outdated Honda to start their glamorous new life, welded to each corner of this luxury sedan, smoothed over to perfection, flowing perfectly with the smooth Lexus body lines.
At first glance, the most eye-catching aspect of this car is arguably the interior. Naturally, the color grabs your attention, but the details are just as impressive. During the color change, Jon-Jon pulled out the entire interior to ensure that no overspray would reach the plush factory leather. Vireak had originally decided on having just the seats and door inserts wrapped in leather but Jon-Jon suggested doing the entire interior while it was out—offering to do the majority of the work himself. The steering wheel, seats, door inserts and armrest were sent to their friend Gary Gravy to be wrapped in the beautiful red leather complete with diamond-shaped stitching added for contrast. While Gravy worked his magic on the leather, Jon-Jon got busy with the suede, wrapping the headliner and other smaller miscellaneous parts. They contemplated wrapping the dash with leather as well but opted to dye it red instead; it would look cleaner, especially with smaller items that required fitting into tight spaces that would not allow for the added material. All the wood and plastic trim was removed to be painted piano black to keep the color scheme as simple as possible. When Jon-Jon started prepping the trim for paint, he made an interesting discovery: The wood trim was actual wood that had been clearcoated unlike much of the interior “wood trim” pieces used in more modern cars. Regardless, it was painted in accordance to the original plan. Other touches, such as the rear tables that were pulled from a late-model Jaguar and painted to match the trim and integrated into the Lexus’ interior, really showcases the amount of thought that was put into the construction of this car. Likewise, the front table is not a mass-produced part but custom made of glass. Vireak and Jon-Jon described the theme of the interior makeover as functional yet unique and stylish. “We didn’t want to flood it with accessories, but rather improve on the original design—newer but different, a modern luxury car.”
If you don’t recognize the body kit, it’s not your fault. This kit, which consists of a front bumper, side skirts, and a rear bumper, is actually not some rare set brought over from Japan, but rather a one-off design that Jon-Jon created in his garage. He spent the majority of his free time for two years designing and constructing this kit. The rough shape was set by wooden frames, and the details were worked in with the use of modeling clay, body filler, and spot putty. The original bumper was cut in half lengthwise to retain the basic shape in the areas that mount to the car; the rest was molded and shaped by hand. At this point, the kit was mostly dense modeling clay. Following the test-fit to ensure nothing had tweaked while working out the details of the design, Jon-Jon laid down a gel coat and a layer of releasing agent, then began to cover the panels in resin. Four layers of fiberglass were then laid over the resin while it was still tacky. After a final coat of resin was applied, the mold was ready. The models that Jon-Jon had spent years perfecting were now trapped in the mold. I can only imagine the bittersweet feeling of destroying the original parts so that a usable part could be created. At this point Jon-Jon had single-handedly put together the majority of the custom interior, installed the air suspension, and created a one-off look for the exterior of the car—impressive to say the least.
When it came time for the final assembly, Jon-Jon towed the car to his workplace, where he had constructed a makeshift paint booth. He chuckles recalling the stares and strange looks he (understandably) received while towing a newer Lexus without its hood, trunk, or doors down the road. He says, “Everybody must have thought the car was stolen.” As soon as the car arrived at the destination, Jon-Jon went to work mixing and laying down the paint himself. Although it is practically impossible to tell now, the car was sprayed in an uncontrolled, open-air environment. Sometimes you simply have to make do with what you have. However, one thing you always have control over is your own patience and the amount of attention paid to the smallest of details, which in this case is clearly visible. When the paint cured, Jon-Jon went straight to work installing the door and hood hinges as well as the door handles, which had all been chromed. Finally, the massive Leon Hardiritt Ordens were mounted to the car, fitted perfectly to the now flared wheel arches at 20 inches in diameter, 9.5 inches wide up front and 10.5 inches wide in the rear, wrapped in 225/30/20 and 235/30/20 Falken FK453s. It was finally time to enjoy the fruits of their labor, the years of hard work, and the countless hours sacrificed to create this truly unique work of art. I can only imagine the feeling of that first drive.
Vireak and Jon-Jon met and became friends in middle school, long before either of them owned a car or could even drive. When they earned their drivers’ licenses and bought their first cars, they continued to stay friends. They created Squad One in 1998 along with some of Vireak’s extended family members who lived in San Diego and Palm Springs. At that time they were more concerned about how fast their cars were. Jon-Jon shared with me that they were heavily into the drag racing scene in the late ’90s and early ’00s. I imagine that may have meant a variety of things, but we didn’t go into any further details, like the “venues” where these races may have been being held. As they both grew older, matured, and slowly sold off their sport compact Hondas and Nissans, they found a new way to enjoy cars in VIP style—much less risk is involved, both with their cars failing as well as with the law. The love of going fast evolved into the pursuit of perfection, the same passion for cars expressed in a slightly different way. When I asked Jon-Jon what he and Vireak had in store for this car, his answer was simple but to the point: “There is always room for improvement—it’s a project car after all.” I can only imagine what this car will look like the next time we see it, but I know that this team from Las Vegas that has stayed together for 14 years will not disappoint.
Behind the Build
North Las Vegas, NV
Food and beverage
Sports and cars
“WE wanted to build a dope VIP car.”
2004 Lexus LS430
Engine Painted engine covers, chrome-plated radiator support, and various nuts and bolts
Wheels/Tires Leon Hardiritt Orden diamond machine finish 20x9.5 +1, 20x10.5 +0; Falken FK453 225/30/20, 235/30/20
Brakes Glass black painted OEM calipers and slotted rotors
Exterior Custom body kit (front bumper, side skirts, rear bumper); Aimgain rear spoiler, roof spoiler; Mercedes-Benz Arctic White paint; ’88 Honda Prelude fender flares; custom LEDs in headlight housing; DRL foglights with signal; custom-made body kit; de-badged grille; JDM door visors; chrome door handle covers; side mirror signals; rear bumper LED parking lights; aluminum/carbon-fiber stubby antenna
Interior Red leather and suede diamond-pattern stitching on seats; dyed dash and various panels to match red leather; all-factory woodgrain and various plastic pieces painted piano gloss black; leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob; custom mounted front, rear glass tables; Jaguar fold-down seat tables painted gloss black; neck pillows leather wrapped in matching diamond-pattern stitching; custom embroidery on front pillar covers; chrome-plated door, trunk, and hood hinges; JVC KW-AVX840; headrest monitors with painted gloss black trim; custom integrated iPhone/iPod dock in center console; Beat Sonic stereo dash kit
Gratitude “I would like to thank my family and crew Squad One in Las Vegas, San Diego, and Palm Springs; Freddie Fernandez and Autofashion in San Diego; Jprint Graphics; and my boy, Jon-Jon Carino, for helping me build the car that we envisioned.”
VIP Style Cars