The Lexus IS300 before you is a cold-blooded killer—661whp from a built 2JZ, plus all the proper handling upgrades to make it a competitive time attack car. It's also a showstopper with amazing attention to detail from the custom widebody conversion, shaved moldings and rear door handles, and stunning metallic blue paint... It's the definition of a car that belongs in Super Street. But after talking with owner Dan Kang, who runs a shop called Zen Motors, perhaps the story behind how he got into IS300s and how this particular project survived is what makes it more special than the rest.
Dan started his journey into the world of automotive obsession at the age of 14, previous to owning a car or possessing a license. His first purchase was a set of car audio speakers. Although this may seem a bit random, we see it as a commitment—a promise to himself that regardless of what car he would eventually install the sound system in, it was guaranteed that it would not stay stock. Eventually the speakers found their home within a hand-me-down '90 Saab 900S. The Saab was unfortunately stolen and his prized sound system taken from the car. Despite this devastating setback, giving up was not an option—a Civic was purchased and the process started once again. Parts were ordered, installed, and enjoyed—until yet again Dan found himself as the victim of theft for the second time. The Civic was recovered but had been stripped of all aftermarket components. Dan put the car back to driving condition and started saving his money again.
During these trying times, he didn't lose faith in his love for cars. As he continued to drive his stock Civic to work every day, Dan learned of a new Toyota sedan that was nearing the final stages of development—similar in size to a BMW M3, rumored to be powered by the same legendary straight-six 2JZ engine as the Supra. He dug up any and all information he could find, keeping up with its release in Japan as the Altezza and in Europe as the IS200. When the U.S. debut of the Lexus IS300 was finally announced, he had saved enough to afford the car new from the dealer—he drove away with the first IS300 sold in the state of Connecticut. As any relationship goes, everything leading up to "the one" is simply an exercise to learn exactly what you want. In Dan's case, his third car was exactly what he was looking for, pure perfection in his eyes. That is, until the IS300 became available with a manual transmission, at which point he promptly traded in for a new one. Dan still owns this particular IS, although it's been more than four years since he's driven it. Today he's the neighborhood "IS300 guy," having owned several over the last decade and currently taking care of four in his possession. The one on these pages is easily the wildest.
In April '00, Dan was at the local self-service car wash (the only one in Hartford, Connecticut, in fact) when another IS pulled up. Since it was a brand-new car, it was rare to see another, especially modified. Out stepped De, and a conversation was unavoidable. It turned out that they were similar in age and heritage, and as fate would have it, De's car was also the first sold in its state. The two men instantly became friends and grew closer through the years. Ten years went by, and both of them kept their own and each other's passion for the IS300 alive—until one day De mentioned he was selling his car, subtly requesting that Dan purchase it. At the time, Dan was in no position to responsibly purchase another car. De kept the car listed but made no visible effort to move it, continuing to hint that Dan be the new owner. They both understood the sentimental value the car held for De and that it would kill him to see it in the possession of a stranger. De practically pleaded that Dan simply throw out a number. Dan finally caved and threw out an unreasonable amount that he thought De would never agree to, in the hope that his friend would find closure and sell the car to somebody else. To Dan's disbelief, De agreed—practically giving him the car. Even before receiving payment, the car was loaded into a transporter and on its way.
Dan received his friend's pride and joy in a matter of days and struggled to come up with an appropriate way to handle the situation. What was the best course of action? Leave it as-is and preserve the car exactly as his friend had built it, or change it to fit his own style? Dan found his answer after less than 200 miles. The freshly built engine developed rod knock, so Dan knew it was not due to any fault of De's but rather a classic case of an improperly assembled engine. He decided to install a spare 2J he had been rebuilding with a Supertech valvetrain into the car. Once it was operational, he ironed out the smaller details, fitting the IS with a longer final drive, a TRD limited-slip differential, and a quick-spooling Borg Warner turbo setup.
Dan has since treated this car as his own masterpiece, his primary car amongst the other three, building upon the years of work De had put in—a collaboration of two great minds that has become one man's pride and joy. Since its reincarnation, this car has accumulated several show awards as well as two Global Time Attack first place finishes at Road Atlanta in the Street class. "It's still an all-around car," Dan concluded. "I drive it during the course of the week and go to shows, meets, and the track. I have this to show people that you can build something and enjoy it. Doesn't have to be all show. Just be smart about it and take care of what you have." With a full schedule of shows and time attack events on the horizon, the story of this man and his unparalleled devotion to the IS300 doesn't show any signs of coming to an end anytime soon.
IS300 vs. Altezza
Words by Aaron Bonk
Toyota's Altezza is just another one of those painfully blatant reminders that A.) The Japanese have access to better cars than we do, and B.) You still don't live in Japan. The differences between North America's IS300 and the rest of the world's Altezza are important and, in some cases, go beyond skin deep.
The engine: The U.S.-market IS300 is based upon Toyota's 2JZ-GE—the naturally aspirated stepchild of the company's infamous 3.0L, twin-turbo Supra engine. Japanese models are made up of three different powertrains: the four-cylinder, 2.0L 3S-GE for RS200 models; the inline, six-cylinder 1G-FE for the AS200; and a 220hp 2JZ-GE similar to North American-bound models for the AS300. The 210hp, 2.0L 3S-GE and its six-speed manual transmission is the combination you care about, though. Toyota's high-compression, high-rpm BEAMS (Breakthrough Engine with Advanced Mechanism System) engine that features dual variable valve timing and titanium exhaust valves is one of the most remarkable naturally aspirated engines of its time.
The chassis: Altezza models feature Toyota badging, slightly shorter front and rear bumpers when compared to the IS300, which was stretched in order to meet U.S. crash-safety standards, and its infamous clear-like taillights that've transcended the word Altezza unto an entirely new meaning. North American versions also include bumper-positioned side-marker lights that you'll want to get rid of. Inside, Lexus appointments like heated leather seats separate posh American versions from select Japanese models. Underneath, differences are minimal save for slightly stiffer coil springs mounted onto the Altezza RS200's dampers, for example.