Being a modified car enthusiast in Minneapolis can't be easy. The city claims the coldest annual mean temperature of any major metropolitan area in the lower 48 states. Its record low is an engine-block-breaking 41 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). How bad would it suck to have your motor let go while the car is still parked?!
Darren Braml describes the climate as he drives his Chevy Blazer through the slush: "There's snow on the ground pretty much all winter. Having a rear-wheel-drive with power is not a good idea, especially with the other drivers that aren't that great. They also salt the road, which is another reason I don't drive in the winter. It's finally starting to clear up, though. There've been a couple of 60-degree days in the last couple of weeks, which is pretty nice for us this time of the year."
Despite the frigid thermal environment, the social climate for the local tuning scene is very hospitable. "The Minneapolis tuning community is actually surprisingly big. And IS's specifically have a pretty good following around here," Darren explains. "There's a core group of 10 to 15 of us who get together regularly, which is good because we push each other and share ideas." When not meeting with friends, Darren passes the time on a number of Lexus-specific web communities, where he can research potential mods as well as prepare for better days.
I could hear the anticipation in his voice as we discussed the upcoming spring season. Each year when the ground thaws, life changes. The local black bears wake from hibernation, the Twins head off to batting practice and Darren gets to drive the immaculate Lexus IS300 that you see here.
From a distance, all you can see are the incredibly rare Manaray Sport Vertec VR5 wheels and the nicely packaged intercooler. But as you get closer, subtle details begin to stand out and then it becomes obvious that it is a heavily modified machine. In the photos, things like the carbon-fiber hood, mirror caps and TRD grille are indistinguishable from the factory Graphite Gray Pearl paint. This is something that Darren had planned on from the day he drove it out of the showroom. "It's a color I specifically wanted because it blends so well. For example, when you have a white car, the carbon-fiber really stands out, and it looks good when you have a lot of it. But it's not quite as clean as the look I'm going for," Darren says. Yet there's a lot more to the exterior than just the paint.
Tasteful upgrades can be seen from every angle. A TRD front lip, RMM side skirts and a Carson Tuned rear lip drop the car's lowered stance even closer to the ground than the Tein Flex coilovers already do. Then up above that, every light has been customized. These include MMsport LED taillights and custom-painted corners, but the things that really stand out are the fogs and headlights. They are the rare black chrome housing versions and the headlights have been taken a step further with custom AAC angel eyes.
The interior is a little less subtle, but by the time you get there, the cat's already out of the bag that every part of the car has been upgraded. Sparco seats, harnesses and a harness bar secure the occupants during the inevitable epileptic seizures that are to come from the array of electronic gizmos which face them. Second to the radar detector, the most important apparatus is the volume control for the healthy sound system, which is cleverly tucked away in the trunk. The beauty of the install is that it leaves room for luggage, a necessity for those road trips to distant car shows
The engine is boosted by a Precision SC61 turbocharger. Darren and a few friends installed the system which was sourced through Swift Racing out of Maryland. The kit put down 392 whp and 380 ft-lbs of torque, but some parts have recently been replaced in anticipation of having a more capable transmission. "I found a different intercooler that filled out the front bumper more the way I wanted it to [as seen in the photos]. Then next I'm putting in an AEM EMS to replace the Haltech. We have a lot more AEM tuners up here than Haltech, and the AEM has a lot more features," Darren says. "I'd say power-wise, I'm pushing the limits of the stock transmission. The manuals are known to be weaker than the autos. They're limited to around 350 to 400. The thing is, a good strong tranny is kind of expensive and I don't want to half-ass it and just get one that I hope will work. I'll probably go with a V160-the Supra 6-speed. That's bulletproof."
It's obvious that Darren loves his car and all of his friends that he's met in the tuning scene. And with his induction to the Lexotic Concepts national car crew, it's clear that the community respects him and his car too. Keep an eye out for it while the weather's still good, because come November it's going back into hibernation.
When asked if he had any plans for when the car comes out of the garage this year, Darren responded enthusiastically, "Oh yeah! Hot Import Nights was at Minneapolis for the last two years, but they're not coming here this year so I plan to go to HIN Chicago. And then locally there is a forum, Minnesota Sport Compacts, and we have smaller weekly meets and a big spring meet that draws a couple hundred cars. I mean, I'm going to various events I'd say about twice a week, whether they be local shows, meets or fundraisers for different things. And then there are the big shows where we go out of town..."
Swift Racing Technologies exhaust manifold, intercooler piping and exhaust with Vibrant muffler; Precision SC61 turbo, Blitz BOV, 2.5mm head gasket, Fidanza exhaust cam gear, 870cc/min injectors, Walbro 255-lph fuel pump, NGK spark plugs, Optima Red Top battery, AAC carbon-fiber covers, PLP radiator panel, TRD oil cap, Figs battery bar and hood prop kit
AEM EMS, Blitz boost controller and turbo timer
Tein Flex coilovers w/ EDFC
TRD front lip and carbon-fiber grille, Seibon carbon-fiber hood w/ Aerocatch pins, RMM side skirts, Carson Tuned rear lip, Black chrome foglights and headlights w/ AAC angel eyes and C-West eyelids, MMsport LED taillights, Altezza short antenna
Sparco Torino seats, harnesses, shift knob, harness bar; AEM wideband A/F and fuel pressure gauges; Alpine head unit, amps, 12" sub; Focal speakers, Pac video bypass unit, custom-mounted 30BG iPod and Valentine 1 radar detector, carbon-fiber trim accents, MX250 fire extinguisher
392 whp and 380 ft-lbs of torque