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2002 Lexus IS300 - Best of the West

A world apart, some things are universal.

Colin Ryan
Nov 17, 2010
Writer: Staff Photographer: Eric Tong

[CLICK HERE FOR THE BEAST OF THE EAST]

We know what you're thinking. Plenty of cars are faster, quicker, and meaner-looking than this unassuming IS300; just what does this thing do best? Simple. It's the best at doing pretty much everything better than most, including getting away with it. This 850whp beast has done the quarter-mile in 10.22 seconds with a trap speed of 144 mph, after a few years spent cutting its teeth as a circuit car. And it's been driven hard on the street all the while.

Impp_1101_01_o+2002_lexus_is_300+front_view Photo 2/15   |   2002 Lexus IS300 - Best of the West

Its quarter-mile performance is a world record for a street-trim Lexus IS 300, and for an IS 300 with a manual transmission. It doesn't stop there. Its output to the wheels-850 whp and 705 lb-ft of torque, running Q16 race gas-is another record, this time for a car with a 67mm turbo and no nitrous. It belongs to New Yorker James Suh and it does all the stuff we Americans dream about building our cars to do-including avoiding undue attention. It's a car many of us just might call "perfect".

It wasn't always this badass, though-it used to have an automatic transmission. But now all its power goes to the rear wheels via a Supra Getrag V160 six-speed manual. Which brings us to another notable point. "One of my favorite features," says Suh, "is my Night-Pager/Works Bell paddle shifter kit, wired to a line lock-to lock the front brakes for burnouts-and a two-step/anti-lag, which allows me to build boost at the line." In a street car.

Impp_1101_16_o+2002_lexus_is_300+rolling_shot Photo 3/15   |   2002 Lexus IS300 - Best of the West

Perhaps we ought to back up a little. Suh was your typical young car nut, trying to recognize every make and model on the streets from the passenger seat of his parents' car. In the days before cable TV, he would still seek out every form of motorsport being broadcast, even the most American pastime of all, next to monster trucks: "NASCAR," he says. "I loved it all."

Suh had grown up during a time when Toyota was just starting to make interesting stuff like the Supra and the, um . . . Supra. And later, "When Lexus introduced the IS 300," he says, "it went to the top of my list." It's no secret that today's trends among Stateside enthusiasts originated in Japan, and Suh loved the clean, functional look of JDM-tuned cars. Since the IS 300 was platform-identical to the Altezza Gita Wagon, running a 2JZ-GE engine in Japan (as found in the Supra, minus the turbos), there were plenty of OEM and aftermarket parts for it.

Impp_1101_19_o+2002_lexus_is_300+srt_manifold Photo 4/15   |   2002 Lexus IS300 - Best of the West

"As soon as I bought the car, I started off with basic suspension (coilovers, sways, braces) and engine (intake, header, exhaust) mods," says Suh. "I also added JDM Altezza exterior mods and various sets of JDM wheels." Enter Fizz Autosports. This New York-based shop was one of the first on the East Coast to import JDM product. "Fizz sourced all my JDM styling, suspension, and interior components." Then two things happened. Motorsport: "I started getting involved in time trials." And the internet: "It was the early days of the IS300.net forums (now http://my.is) that showed me what was possible."

Through the forums, Suh made contact with Swift Racing Technologies (SRT) of Beltsville, MD. "When the speed and power bug hit, I started with a basic bolt-on turbo kit from SRT in 2005," says Suh. This resulted in a healthy 400 whp. Then a move to NYC meant no more need for a daily driver. That's when Suh decided to push that envelope.

Impp_1101_23_o+2002_lexus_is_300+vertex_wheel Photo 5/15   |   2002 Lexus IS300 - Best of the West

"My car was the first to feature many new SRT parts, but there were surprisingly few problems," says Suh. "The only issues we encountered were with learning the limits of various components. We'd approach the limit of a stock part, SRT would find or design a stronger, better replacement, and we would move on."

Having beefed up the engine and then run several time trials, a rebuild coincided with Precision Turbos introducing new billet turbochargers. So on went a PT6765H 67mm blower, and the straight six got built, balanced, and blueprinted. Compression went down from the stock 9.6:1 to 8.5:1, while the rev limit was raised to 8,900 rpm.

Suh outgrew the desire for a million horses long ago. "I've stayed with this particular turbo because it spools fast, hits hard, and gives me much more usable power in the midrange, which is needed for road racing and the street," he says. Even on 93-octane pump gas, the engine develops 655 hp and 504 lb-ft of torque, all measured at the rear wheels. "You have to baby it in each gear," Suh says. "On the street, it will step out in Fifth."

Impp_1101_20_o+2002_lexus_is_300+aeromotive_fuel_pressure_regulator Photo 8/15   |   2002 Lexus IS300 - Best of the West

The third strand of this build came courtesy of Matrix Auto of Flushing, NY, who helped with the suspension. The arrangement includes Tein HA coilovers (set up so the car sits 2.5 inches lower at each end: "Not so low that I destroy it each time I drive on the pothole-riddle streets of NYC," says Suh), plus TRD race anti-roll bars front and rear, and Altezza strut braces. Naturally, SRT had a hand in it, and contributed aluminum suspension braces, rear subframe-stiffening spacers, and custom control arms.

His car being as multi-talented as it is, Suh runs three wheel/tire combinations. For the street, it's ultra-lightweight Enkei RPF1s with Falken Azenis RT615 tires. For time trials, same wheels, but with Hoosier R6 rubber. On the drag strip, Suh uses Centerline 15-inch skinnies up front and HRE 16-inch fatties at the rear, wearing sets of Mickey Thompson ET Street tires. "Done-Rite Autobody of Eldred, NY, pulled the rear fenders about an inch on both sides, making room for the rubber," says Suh. "But I also had them smooth out the Vertex aero. The look is aggressive, but clean."

Impp_1101_24_o+2002_lexus_is_300+vertex_horn_button Photo 9/15   |   2002 Lexus IS300 - Best of the West

As well as its world records, Suh's ride has earned a few Firsts and Seconds for "Best Lexus" at shows. "I never wanted the car to be a dyno queen or trailer queen," he says, which is good, because while the IS300 does many things better than most, it's not known as a champ in the company of cars like the Supra, EVO, or Skyline GT-R. Logistically, some might argue such a performance-based build as Suh's wouldn't be the "right" way to build an IS 300. When questioned on his decision to do so, "I set out to build the best street car. Period," he says. "An IS 300 proved to be the logical choice." The naysayers stand corrected.

Head to head:
Suh's Lex vs the world
Quarter-mile passes of 10.22 @ 144 mph, and output of 850 whp and 705 lb-ft of torque are pretty damn impressive-but just what can James Suh's IS 300 outrun?

Impp_1101_22_o+2002_lexus_is_300+swift_racing Photo 10/15   |   2002 Lexus IS300 - Best of the West

He pled the Fifth when we asked him for some street racing kill stories, but let's not let that stop us from engaging a little bench racing.

Suppose you're James, sitting at a light, with a desolate stretch of pavement in front of you, when you hear some revving in the next lane. Running an 11.5-second quarter-mile in stock form, if it's coming from an '06 Z06 'Vette, you're in good shape-same as you'd be should any SRT-10 Dodge Vipers come knocking; they're good for an 11.7-second pass at best, though both are technically quicker than the Saleen S7's 11.8.

Also at 11.8 seconds, a '92 Ferrari F40 would present this IS with no real challenge. Even the quickest Ferrari of the stable-the 11.2-second Enzo-would get walked all over.

From a roll, forget about it; 850 rwhp translates to about 1,037 at the crank, which bests all of the above. Even the mighty Bugatti Veyron falls a hair short, putting out less power than this IS 300 and managing a best 1320 of only 10.8 seconds.

Factoring in its 2,600-pound curb weight and estimated 650hp output, however, the Pro Stock R34 a few pages back may be a different story. Our math shows it good for quarter-mile blasts between 9.24 and 9.74 seconds-not bad for a time-attack machine! Good thing we were only counting street cars . . .

Behind The Build

Name. James Suh

Impp_1101_27_o+2002_lexus_is_300+rear_view Photo 13/15   |   2002 Lexus IS300 - Best of the West

Age.
34

Hometown.
New York, NY

Build time.
seven years

Hobbies.
Music, photography

Quote.
"there is no greater driving experience than a high-powered rear-wheel-drive car, but you must respect the power and learn to handle it."

'02 Lexus IS300

Output: 850 whp / 705 lb-ft of torque

Impp_1101_31_o+2002_lexus_is_300+front_view Photo 14/15   |   2002 Lexus IS300 - Best of the West

Engine Manley connecting rods; Arias +2mm pistons, rings; Kelford 270/272 T202-C race camshafts; Titan Motorsports adjustable cam gears, Titan Motorsports/ATI harmonic crank dampener pulley; Supertech dual valve springs, titanium retainers; ARP head studs; CARR rod bolts; Clevite race bearings; Precision PT6765H T4 billet turbo, 1,260cc fuel injectors; Haltech E11v2 stand-alone engine management system, twin ignitors; HKS DLI ignition amplifier; Tial 44mm wastegate; Blitz Super Sound Dual Drive blow-off valves (x2), SBC i-D III boost controller; Walbro 255 lph HP fuel pumps (x2); Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator; Koyo radiator; ARC titanium radiator shroud, oil and radiator caps; Toyota Supra Twin Turbo head gasket, oil pump, coil packs; SRT custom Stage Two port and polished 2JZ-GE head, custom engine mounts, tubular exhaust manifold, V.2 race intake manifold, custom intercooler w/4.5-inch core, custom polished intercooler piping, fuel rail, fuel return kit w/CNC dual-fuel pump hanger, 3.5-inch downpipe, 3.5-inch turbo-back exhaust w/Tanabe muffler, five-bar MAP sensor; 75mm throttle body, custom oil catch can

Transmission Toyota Supra V160 Getrag six-speed manual transmission, axles, clutch master cylinder; Carbonetic flywheel, triple-plate carbon clutch; SRT Lexus GS400 rear-end; Kaaz two-way LSD; custom one-piece driveshaft w/driveshaft loop

Suspension Tein HA coilovers; TRD Yellow race anti-roll bars, front and rear strut tower braces; SRT CNC-machined billet 6061 aluminum rear subframe suspension brace, rear subframe stiffening spacers, custom boxed-in control arms

Wheels/Tires Enkei RPF1 street/track wheels (18x8.5 +40mm offset front; 17x9.5 +40mm offset rear); Falken Azenis RT615 street tires (245/40 front, 275/35 rear); Hoosier R6 track tires (245/40 front, 275/35 rear); custom 15x4 Centerline front drag wheels; custom 16x10 HRE rear drag wheels; Mickey Thompson ET Street drag radials

Brakes Endless six-piston calipers, 345mm two-piece front rotors, stainless steel braided brake lines; Project Mu SCR rear rotors

Exterior Vertex S-Endurance race-type front bumper, canards, +15mm aero fenders, side skirts; JDM Toyota Altezza neo-customized rear skirt; OEM rear bumper, sports grille; Varis carbon fiber hood; VIS carbon fiber trunk; Craftsquare carbon fiber racing mirrors; C-West eyelids; Chargespeed carbon fiber roof diffuser; Sard smoked inner taillights; Seibon carbon fiber trunk spoiler; Sparco hood pins; custom-painted flat-black headlights; OEM black onyx paintwork

Impp_1101_28_o+2002_lexus_is_300+rear_side_view Photo 15/15   |   2002 Lexus IS300 - Best of the West

Interior Blitz Power Meter i-D III, FATT IV turbo timer; Defi-Link BF-series gauges (boost, EGT, oil pressure), Control Unit II; AEM wideband UEGO controller; TRD gauge pod; Bride Zeta III driver's seat, Ergo II reclinable front passenger seat, gradation custom-wrapped interior; Takata four-point harnesses, gel harness pads; Vertex 325mm steering wheel; Night Pager/Works Bell short boss, paddle kit (custom wired to line-lock and two-step); Eclipse AVN5435 DVD/navigation head unit; JDM Toyota Altezza double-DIN dash kit; MB Quart speakers; JL Audio 10W3v2 subwoofer, 250/1 amplifier; SRT custom shift light

Sources

Vertex
San Diego, CA 92111
888-383-7839
http://www.vertex-usa.com
Enkei USA
Columbus, IL 47201
812-373-7000
http://www.enkei.com
By Colin Ryan
180 Articles

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