I popped my SEMA cherry ten years ago while I was still in college. At the age of 20, I was your typical car-crazy, import-model-obsessed fan boy. Going to SEMA for the first time literally felt like I had died and gone to car heaven. It was the biggest automotive spectacle I’ve been to and that statement still holds true today, believe it or not. For the next decade, I continued to make the annual Vegas trip, and for the last seven years as a magazine editor. Besides the industry parties or wondering who I was going to catch inside the Spearmint Rhino at 3:00 a.m., what I looked forward to most was the “cars of the show.” With this last SEMA show, it was clear what made the biggest commotion, not only when I talked to people at the convention center, but also reading feedback from hundreds of people on my Instagram and Facebook feed. Liberty Walk was back with a vengeance and its Nissan GT-R and Ferrari 458 Italia were the kings of the car show.
We’re guilty of spilling the beans on these two cars months before SEMA. Every preview of the 458 and GT-R was “double-tapped” or “liked” on our social media channels more than any other photo we’ve posted. Now I’m not claiming everything said on the interwebs is the gospel, but it’s hard to deny the popularity of the LB cars. And as an enthusiast who loves anything JDM, Euro or domestic, I can appreciate these machines for what they are. Liberty Walk didn’t set out to build time attack cars. Their goal was simple… to build showstoppers. Seeing photos of them online, followed by drooling over them at SEMA and being able to drive them during our photoshoot only confirmed what our readers were thinking—these cars are simply the shit!
While many of us have only heard about Liberty Walk in recent years, their story started in ‘93. Based in Japan, they began specializing in custom fabrication and created a name for themselves designing aerodynamics for Chrysler 300Cs, Suzukis and Dodge Chargers. Today, we’ve learned to recognize them by their super wide stance and slammed cars that are paired with the “works-style” riveted- or screwed-on over-fenders. Our first look at the LB style was on the Murcielago (see sidebar), followed by the BMW M3 kit introduced last spring. We can agree the use of these fenders is nothing new, but founder Wataru Kato has done something bold by applying the look on high performance vehicles many of us can’t even afford, let alone feel comfortable chopping the body up. It’s sacrilege to many, and you can bet it ruins the resale value of the car, but for Kato-san it was a way to standout and create something unique that the whole world could talk about. Which brings us to these two superstars…
Kato-san selected the GT-R as a project because to him, it was Japan’s last supercar—we’d have to agree! As for the 458, the idea came up after he got some seat time in one. It was love at first drive, he told us. From there, Kato-san collaborated with Kei Miura of TRA Kyoto—you probably know the name, he’s behind the Rocket Bunny styling. Miura-san is arguably the master when it comes to creating aggressive aero kits that utilize the riveted-on over-fender style. With his help and Kato-san’s direction, renderings of the GT-R and ‘Rari were revealed last summer. It spread across social media like wildfire. In fact, the Ferrari rendering still holds the record for most likes on our Instagram page. The anticipation was building, as people couldn’t wait to see how both cars would look at SEMA.
It took months to create the molds and prototype pieces of the body kit. Eventually, the FRP panels were finished in Japan and delivered to California where LT Motorwerks (LTMW) would be responsible for putting both cars together. But with 11 new cars to build for SEMA including other Liberty Walk and Rocket Bunny projects, LTMW had only a couple weeks to build the GT-R and 458. Was it enough time? You best believe it!
The GT-R and 458 are basically supercars out of the box. With that in mind, there wasn’t any heavy chassis or engine work needed. Platinum VIP took care of the air ride system in the GT-R to make the car easily adjustable to drive or slam for the show. The engine retains its twin-turbo 3.8-liter but gets a nice bolt-on package from Trust Japan along with an ECU remap to take full advantage of the VR38’s potential. The wheels are Forgiato’s which LTMW had to rebarrel wider once the kit was fitted on the car.
As for the 458, even less was done. We’re talking about some custom lowering springs from Liberty Walk, free-flowing pipes, CSD calipers from Japan and custom-built Rotiforms. The bread and butter of these two cars are ultimately the widebody conversions.
LTMW had its work cut out on both cars, especially since no one has ever cut the fenders of these two cars in the fashion needed for the Liberty Walk fenders—not to mention, they only had 14 days to finish the cars. Starting with the GT-R, LTMW used trial and error to cut enough of the body before riveting-on the new arches that extend the front 2" wider per corner while the rear benefits from 3.2" per corner. The fenders follow the line of the original GT-R arches and extends all the way down to the side skirts. The front fenders are so huge it follows the line of the side air vents. As for the rears, the arches are some of the wildest we’ve seen as it extends around the hip line of the rear from where the door ends to the bumper line. The fenders cut off short on the rear to expose the wideness of the tires—one of our favorite touches of the Liberty Walk/Rocket Bunny styling.
The rest of the kit is a work of art, for example the rear wing. It’s a inspired by Japan’s Super GT teams where the wing hangs from the bottom of the arches. It’s been called the “swan neck wing” and is one of Kato-san’s best ideas, in our opinion. A very open front bumper with an aggressive lip spoiler takes cues from a GT-3 race car. The rear lower section features a diffuser, plus added winglets to each corner. You can’t get a GT-R any more aggressive than this, folks!
LTMW wrapped up the GT-R in record time but the 458 was going to be a much more daunting task. It wasn’t anything too new to widebody an R35 but going widebody on a Ferrari, let alone a 458 Italia was unheard of, even blasphemous! But Kato-san pushed on with his vision.
The Ferrari kit follows suit just like the GT-R with the riveted fenders following the original arches of the car. In this original grey color, it’s surprisingly subtle when looking at it from afar. But up close, you can really notice the crazy width of the car. According to Kato-san, the fronts are 1.2" wider per corner while the rear features 2.5" wider per corner, and the rear fenders feature a similar cutout to expose the massive tires. LTMW reported that the body had to be cut 4" front and rear, even the frame had to be trimmed and modified so the car could run as wide as wheels as it does and sit this low. Was it worth it? We think so but the haters will hate!
The front bumper was replaced with a completely restyled bumper that features a large center opening, brake cooling ducts and lip spoiler with metal adjusters. One of the sickest parts of the car is the rear spoiler. You’re looking at a ducktail on a 458, something we’d typically see on a Silvia, but it sure looks wicked here! The body kit is finished off with a more pronounced rear diffuser and SVR side skirts.
With everything fitted, LTMW told us they had to adjust the suspension seven times on the 458 to get the ride height perfect for Kato. In all honesty, the car was stupid low at the show and at time of our shoot, it took them thirty minutes just to get the car out of the shop for us. We hate to break it to many of you but it’s not drivable at this ride height. However, at a show or if a completely smooth surface permits, the 458 looks absolutely stunning and sounds magical with its aftermarket exhaust—I had the pleasure of revving it to redline a few times and cruising it up and down during the photoshoot. This car is pure sex.
With all that said, it’s no mystery why these two cars aren’t the most practical at their current setup. But that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t reap the benefits of a Liberty Walk kit when done right. With the proper chassis modifications, you could actually make one of these Liberty Walk conversions a viable street, track or drift car. But hopefully you have plenty saved up in the bank… The GT-R kit costs just above $15K while the 458 parts will run you almost $26K. Yep, you could almost buy a car for how much this fiberglass kit costs. Honestly, if I won the lottery, I’d do it. I can appreciate what Kato-san has done—to be unique and break necks at the world’s largest car convention and create one of the biggest uproars in our tuner community that was liked, commented on, and shared around the world.
2009 Nissan GT-R
Owner Wataru Kato
Hometown Aichi, Japan
Occupation President of Liberty Walk
Engine VR38DETT with Trust intercooler, blow-off valves, Gracer Airinx air filters, front pipes, center pipes and exhaust
Engine Management Remapped ECU
Footwork & Chassis CSD Platinum VIP air-cup suspension system
Brakes Z32 brake conversion and stainless lines; R33 E-brake cables; Suspicious Garage brake line tuck
Wheels & Tires 20x11" front, 20x12" rear Forgiato Maglia wheels; 285/35R20 front, 315/30R20 rear Toyo R888 tires
Exterior LB Works front bumper, over-fenders, rear diffuser and swan-neck rear wing
Interior Newing leather upholstery
2010 Ferrari 458 Italia
Engine 4.5-liter V8 with Armytrix titanium center pipe, Innotech Performance Exhaust muffler
Footwork & Chassis Liberty Walk lowering springs
Brakes CSD front and rear caliper upgrades
Wheels & Tires 20x9" front, 20x12" rear Rotiform LVS wheels; 245/35R20 front, 295/30R20 rear Nitto Invo tires
Exterior LB Works front bumper, front lip spoiler, over-fenders, rear diffuser; SVR side diffusers; ducktail rear wing
What peeps are sayin’
When Wataru Kato asked if he could debut his new GT-R in our booth at SEMA, it was a no brainer. We had his Murcielago in our booth last year and it was a huge success. Sure enough, the R35 was an even bigger hit. We had crowds all week long as people gathered to check it out, to meet Kato and to capture photos. —Stan Chen, Manager of Motorsports & Events, Toyo Tire
Ballsy. Artistic. Massively unique. Refreshing. They’re #DGAF on wheels, and they’re mega cool. Kato-san’s meticulously crafted machines may not set lap records at the circuit, but they’ll always get you pole position at valet. To a select group of eclectic serial super car owners, that specialness, that OMG-WHAT-IS-THAT, is worth every penny (or yen). —Nate Martinez, Online Editor, Motor Trend
The public reaction to the 458 was quite different from any vehicle we had in our booth before. It definitely created a lot of noise and was well received with the enthusiasts. SEMA is all about bringing something unique and this was definitely it! —Harry Kong, Marketing & Social Media Strategist, Nitto Tire
While I applaud the aesthetics of these two particular cars, the massive uproar that they have caused is a bit dumbfounding to me. Personally, I appreciate a car that’s been modified in every aspect—its drivetrain, exterior, interior, etc.—rather than an essentially stock exotic that’s had the fender flare treatment. To me, it’s all about form that retains function and when I see a Ferrari or GT-R like these two I can’t help but wonder, are they as fun to drive as they were stock? —Peter Tarach, Editor-in-Chief, Modified Magazine
Fucking Madness! We love it. They have balls the size of Japan and could not have turned out a cooler car than the 458. —Jason Whipple, Co-founder, Rotiform
It was only a year ago when Liberty Walk made waves at the 2012 SEMA Show with its brushed aluminum-wrapped Murcielago. It graced our March ’13 cover and it’s only fitting they return exactly one year later with a GT-R and 458. Now walk it out!