Three years ago, almost to the day, Import Tuner published its review of the then-new Lexus IS F ("Driven", March '08), the first model launched by a Japanese automaker directly at European lux/performance platforms like the BMW M3, 'Benz C63 AMG, and Audi S4/5. As a loyal reader, you'll recall the praises we sang of the stock IS F's flared exterior, forged 19-inch alloys, Brembo brakes, and 5.0L V-8 that outperforms the M3's 4.6L mill in every regard. You'll also recall us closing the review with, "(We) F-in' want one." Well, now we F-in' have one, and it's better than stock in every way.
Of course, as a loyal reader, you already knew that. You read Power Pages back in the October '09 issue where we increased our IS F's output by 155.9 hp and 225.0 lb-ft of torque at the wheels with bolt-ons and nitrous. And, also as a loyal reader, you'll recall that it was all in preparation for its latest Super Lap Battle performance, documented in the March '10 issue.
The IS F was never billed as an all-out performer. And we, being a street/performance import authority, made enhancing both aspects of its performance/luxury dichotomy our top priority. And by "we" and "our," I really mean the good folks over at Tein, specifically Philip Chase. While we could go on about spending the past two years slaving over hot computers to bring you your favorite car mag in the whole wide world, it was Phil who handled all the dirty work, practically building our F-ing IS from the ground up. Let's share the story as he told it to us in a recent email:
"It's always important to start with a good foundation. Many are quick to overlook the chassis and focus on power, but chassis and suspension prep are every bit as important. Our first step with the IS F was to strip it down to the metal and assess how much weight we could cut without decreasing comfort, and how we could best reinforce the chassis. With the car on a lift at Tein headquarters, we removed over 30 pounds in sound deadening material alone. The stock IS F seats are heated, power-adjustable in every direction, and include side-curtain airbags and leather upholstery. In short, they're heavy. We replaced both fronts with Bride recliners and lost nearly 40 pounds.
Mack from M1 Fabrication stitch-welded all four door openings, and we did the wheelwells and strut towers in-house. All cars twist when thrown through the corners, and stitch-welding is a great way to reinforce unibodies without adding significant weight. Next, we collaborated with Japanese Toyota tuner Tom's by adding their signature bracing to the IS F's undercarriage, to reinforce its rear subframe and control arms, transmission/driveshaft tunnel, and sway bar chassis mounts. All that silver bracing in the photos is from Tom's.
The IS F's stock suspension offers very little alignment adjustability. On the street, this means less frequent need for alignment adjustments, but ideal street alignment settings don't usually work best on the track. We had Scott from SPD Metal Works (who prepped Dai Yoshihara's Formula D S13 chassis) fabricate some front camber-adjustable control arms-plenty strong for the street, and easily adjustable for the track.
The actual suspension we chose for the IS F comes with an interesting story. We wanted something that was sporty on the street but would also be well-suited for competitive driving on the track, all without taking away from comfort. The problem was that Tein didn't offer a suspension like that for the IS F back when we were getting started. So we made one. We replaced the 7kg/mm front/rear springs with a set of our Comfort Sport coilovers for the IS 350 with 12kg/mm fronts and 10kg/mm rears (to compensate for the IS F's increased weight, V-8 powerplant, and our track plans), and re-valved the dampers to match. The end result was a height-adjustable, 16-level damping-adjustable, mono-tube coilover that's comfortable, track-ready, and fully compatible with the EDFC we positioned in the center console within easy reach of the driver . . . just in front of the NOS controller.
The IS F is a balanced, reliable car that was meant to be driven hard without a second thought. When it came to improving performance, we wanted to preserve that luxury. Turbocharging a V-8 requires a lot of work and parts, translating to a lot of things that can go wrong. Supercharging is a little easier, but both are operational at all times the car is driven-meaning some limit to daily driveability. And both systems add significant weight to the engine bay of a car that's already front-heavy. Nitrous oxide is different. Nitrous likes compression, big(ish) cams, and displacement, all of which the IS F's high-output, 11.8:1-compression, 5.0-liter V-8 brings to the table. Nitrous can be deactivated with the flip of a switch for street driving, and a complete system is easy to install and tune, weighs very little-especially with our carbon-fiber bottle-and heavier components can be mounted nearly anywhere in a car for optimum weight distribution. An aftermarket intake is mandatory for any project car, and our K&N unit draws unrestricted cool air, provides an ideal mounting location for our NOS jet, and looks subtle underhood. Likewise, our Fujitsubo exhaust decreases backpressure with its 80mm piping, decreases weight with its titanium construction, and remains subtle in look and sound-perfect for a car with nothing to prove.
The exterior of the IS F looks nearly perfect on its own. The only way we improved upon it was with the addition of a prototype Five Axis carbon-fiber front lip to cut drag and increase downforce while adding to the car's aggressive styling. Likewise, the IS F's stock 19-inch alloys are pretty baller for a street car . . . but not as baller as Rays Engineering forged mono-blocks that shed rotational mass and look that much better while doing so. Eddie Lee from Mackin Industries set us up with 19-inch Volk RE30s for the street-in hella, hella-flush fitment-and a set of 18-inch Volk LE37s for the track, to shed as much weight as possible while still clearing the brakes: Brembo Gran Turismo mono-block calipers and vented/drilled two-piece floating rotors, complete with Baker Precision stainless steel lines. He even pulled some strings and got us Advan Sport street rubber and Neovas for the track.
The car's knocking on the sub-two-minute door at Buttonwillow Raceway; has gone 8.5s at the eighth-mile strip of Toyota Motor Speedway at Irwindale (without nitrous); was displayed at SEMA, CES, and local shows throughout SoCal; ran alongside exotics in the Targa Trophy road rally in San Francisco; and even guest-starred in a Continental Tire commercial and on SuperCars Exposed with Tanner Foust. Supposedly it has to be dismantled and sent back to Lexus soon, but we have some interesting plans for it if we get to hold onto it a little longer. Gimme a call sometime to discuss them.
I hope this helps your article!"
More than you know, Phil! Oh, and your phone is ringing.
Behind The Build
O.T. (original tuners)
You're holding it
Two years and counting
We do them for a living.
All of you!
Engine K&N intake; Fujitsubo titanium dual exhaust; Nitrous Oxide Systems wet kit, composite bottle, quick-release brackets, Ntimidator purge kit; P.O.D. system (bottle heater, remote bottle opener, pressure sensor); Tom's throttle controller
Suspension Tein Comfort Sport mono-tube coilovers, custom damper valving, 12kg/mm front springs, 10kg/mm rear springs; SPD adjustable front upper control arms; Tom's front strut tower bar, front suspension member brace, rear suspension member brace, rear body strengthening brace; custom stitch-welding
Wheels/Tires Volk Racing RE30 street wheels (19x9 front, 19x10 rear), LE37 track wheels (18x9.5 front and rear); Yokohama Advan Sport street tires (255/35-19 front, 265/35-19 rear), Neova AD07 track tires (255/40-18 front and rear)
Brakes Brembo six-piston Gran Turismo front calipers, drilled two-piece front and rear rotors; Baker Precision stainless steel braided brake lines
Exterior Five Axis dry carbon-fiber front lip spoiler
Interior Bride Brix II driver seat, XAX II passenger seat; custom-tinted trim pieces; sound deadening material removal
Electronics Tein EDFC; NOS P.O.D. controller; Memphis Car Audio component door speakers (x2), 12-inch subs (x4), amps (x3), equalizer
Gratitude Lexus USA; Tein; Mackin Industries; Brembo; Yokohama; NOS; Fujitsubo; K&N; Tom's; Memphis Audio; Five Axis; Rockstar; M1 Fabrication; SPD Metal Works