Michael Balasko likes to refer to his 1997 Lexus SC300 as a "poor man's Supra" but given the $45,000 he's put into the car it doesn't seem so poor anymore.
The idea for Michael's weekend warrior came about back in early 2002 when he moved into a new house and saw that his neighbor had a wicked silver Supra parked out front. That car belonged to none other than Nils Leufven and it pushed out a whopping 671 hp. Nils was nice enough to give Michael a ride and it was from that point that he was blown away by the power of a TO4R-equipped Supra. He knew he had to have one.
Michael, a long time Turbo reader, isn't new to owning vehicles pricier than pieces of art. His previous car was a 1995 VW GTI VR6 that appeared on the covers of both European Car and Max Power UK (yes, the magazine with the topless girls and no, we aren't allowed to show boobies here.) After selling his GTI, he was in the market for a new project vehicle.
Michael began to set the wheels in motion by researching everything he could about Supras and the potential of the 2JZ-GTE engine. Unfortunately, thanks to a certain movie with cars that have neon lights and blue flames shooting out of their "Motec" exhausts, Supras crept out of Michael's price range.
A year went by when Michael came across Clint Pohler's Lexus SC300 videos on the Internet. He was immediately hooked and began to research what it took to drop a GTE motor into an SC. At this time he also read about Turbo's very own Project SCerious. He says that was the last sign he needed.
Suitably inspired he searched long and hard to find a worthy SC300 of his own. Being that Lexus' hold such high resale value it is very difficult to secure a clean-titled SC for a decent price. That being a feat in and of itself, you can imagine how long it took for Michael to find the '97 Royal Sapphire Pearl five-speed you see before you. That search took him to Colorado, buying the car without inspection and having it shipped to the city of Lost Wages on a leap of faith. (It safely arrived in March 2004.)
While Michael was on his search to acquire the actual vehicle, he was already purchasing the parts he envisioned for his SC300. We can all relate to this phenomenon; buying that perfect performance product for a dream car you don't even own yet.
In November, 2003 Michael began what became his daily routine for four months. He scoured eBay and Supra forums for parts every few hours, trying to get what he needed before anyone else could scoop them up. After rounding up the ECU, cams and tranny, Michael sensed "that I probably needed a motor and a car to put it on."
Knowing that the guys at Virtual Works Racing (VWR) of Las Vegas, Nevada are famous for their high-horsepower Supras, Michael had no problem leaving his baby in their hands. Having acquired all the parts by the time his SC had arrived from the slopes of Colorado, all that was left to do was to assemble it like an Erector Set.
Building a good foundation is the most important part of generating four-digit horsepower and a solid bottom end is crucial. Accurate Machine, also of Las Vegas, was responsible for boring and honing the 2JZ block to accept the 8.9:1 low-compression Arias pistons. Once all the machining was performed, Adam Dahl, of West Coast Racing Engines, Las Vegas once again, was put in charge of assembling the bottom end. Swinging on the stock crankshaft are Crower connecting rods with custom Arias pistons attached to the ends. With a bottom end built to handle over 1,000 horsepower it was important to have the engine properly lubed. Virtual Works modified the factory oil system for increased flow and pressure.
The 2JZ-GTTE cylinder head was also sent to Adam Dahl to have larger valve seats installed. This required machining out the old seats and then having the new seats pressed in to accommodate the 1mm oversized valves. With the new seats in place Ben Waage from Virtual Works ported and polished the intake and exhaust runners for increased flow. Special attention was paid to the bowl area of the runners for optimum airflow.
Once the head was ported Dana Westover took over in assembling the 24 Ferrea valves and Crower heavy-duty springs and titanium retainers onto the 2JZ head. HKS 272-degree bumpsticks complete the valve train assembly.
Engine compression comes by the way of a Precision 74S turbocharger mounted on a Virtual Works tubular manifold. Exhaust gases exit the rear of the SC via a four-inch exhaust system before splitting into two 3.5-inch Burns stainless steel canisters custom built by VWR. This SC's exhaust can looks pretty small but it is damn loud. When the car isn't moving it appears almost stock but when it takes off it let's out an earth-shattering throaty scream.
On the compressor side, the turbocharger pumps compressed air into a custom Virtual Works Racing front-mount intercooler. Once chilled, the four-inch I/C piping directs the charge air into a 90mm Accufab throttle body connected to a Virtual Works Racing intake manifold. The compressed air is combined with high-octane fuel from the 1000cc Precision injectors.
Fueling the fire are dual Walboro 255lph fuel pumps supplying enough flow to fill a good-sized bathtub in a matter of minutes. From the tank, dual -8 stainless steel hoses prime the Virtual Works fuel rail that is regulated by a Walboro regulator. Igniting the compressed mixture is an AEM CDi ignition box controlled by an AEM EMS. Analyzing the air/fuel mixture to ensure maximum output is an AEM UEGO 02 sensor relaying information to the EMS box.
Not afraid of getting his hands dirty, Michael rolled up his sleeves and set up the suspension himself. He selected front and rear H&R shocks and coil springs to bring the SC closer to the tarmac.
Borrowed from a Supra twin turbo are front brake calipers equipped with TRD pads. Stopping power is further aided by Goodrich brake lines and Motul 600 brake fluid.
Enclosing the brakes are 19-inch iForged Aero wheels running 9.5-inches wide up front and a fat 10-inches in the rear. Michael opted to go with two different brands of tires for the front and rear. With the front of the SC running 255/35 Michelin PS2 while the rears are 285/35 Pirelli Corsa Rossa gumballs.
Last but not least, Michael is held snug during his racing by a RaceTech 4009 WHR bucket seat and harness. We can personally confirm that this race seat and harness are needed as Michael appears to engage in numerous road battles.
On the way to the photo shoot he blew away a turbocharged 240SX on a freeway entrance ramp. Then while at the photo shoot a Yamaha R6 then came up whom Mike had previously beat on a freeway race. Apparently the sport-bike rider recognized his purple opponent and stopped to congratulate Michael on a good race.
You know you have one hell of a car when your losing opponent actually gives you props for how badly you blew him away. But then again, Michael doesn't actually race-didn't you see his license plate? His car "gos slo."
With all that being said and done, what was once conceived as a poor man's Supra actually turned into a really nice car - both in terms of appearance and performance. Michael would like to thank the following people: Dana Westover and Ben Waage from Virtual Works, Roland Graef from H&R Springs, Brian Oleshack from RaceTech Seats North America, and Vincent Wong from iForged.