If you were to put together a list of the greatest Japanese cars of all time, there are few models that would receive unanimous nominations. The Skyline GT-R would probably be one of them, so would the Fairlady Z, along with the Mazda RX-7 and the MX-5. A good case could be made for cars like the Supra and the Honda NSX as well. One car, however, that I personally feel belongs near the top of that list is the Lexus LS.
Sure, it might not be a legendary backroad burner or motorsport hero like some of the others I mentioned, but it was an absolute game changer. The development of the original LS400 was one of the most ambitious (and expensive) projects in automotive history. It also proved that the Japanese could build a true world-class luxury sedan. And without the success of that car it’s doubtful that the Lexus brand would have gone on to become what it is today.
Aside from its historical significance, the LS is a damn cool car in its own right. It has a velvety smooth quad cam V8, classic luxury sedan looks, exquisite build quality and it’s known for being one of the most reliable automobiles ever built. It’s the type of car that makes me think turning into an old man might not be such a bad thing…
But beside from its original target market of well-to-do businessmen and old folks, the LS and its Japanese market twin – the Toyota Celsior – also have a very strong following among customizers. It’s one of the quintessential vehicles of Japan’s VIP scene, and in the past decade or so American builders have been following suit with their own unique takes on the Bippu movement.
That brings us to an American-built 2004 LS340 representing a group called Squad One. What is Squad One you ask? It’s a fellowship of VIP enthusiasts out of Las Vegas that includes the car’s owner Vireak Sar, and his friend Jonothan Carino who is responsible for building it.
Vireak and Jonothan have known each other since junior high school and Jonothan has always been the major gearhead of the duo. He’s an experienced mechanic and bodyman with an automotive history that includes everything from Honda race cars to a customized ’67 Impala.
So when Vireak acquired the Lexus back in 2009 with the idea of converting it into a full-on VIP machine, it was decided that all the work would be undertaken in Jonothan’s garage rather than paying a shop to do it. Over the last several years, with the help of their Squad One buddies, they’ve turned the LS into a car that’s surely one of the top VIP builds on US soil.
Accomplishing that required much more than just a nice set of wheels and lowered suspension though. A lot of the 430’s inspiration was taken from VIP cars of Japan, which typically feature one-off bodywork along with fully customized interiors. I’ve got to say that they’ve succeeded in their mission – the LS looks like it’d be right at home parked in front of a hostess club in Osaka.Recipe For Style
Body styling is the key to any good VIP build, and the guys could have easily sourced any number of attractive off-the-shelf kits from Japan for the project. But instead of that, Jonothan decided that he would build his own body parts from scratch.
The custom kit includes a one-off front bumper with carbon fiber lip, side skirts and rear bumper. The parts certainly don’t look homebuilt, and that’s a strong testament to Jonothan’s body skills.
The factory steel fenders have also been custom-widened with integrated vents added to the front for a more aggressive look.
All of that is set off by simple roof and trunk spoilers from AIMGAIN, along with a nice coat of Mercedes-Benz Artic White paint and some subtle striping.
Nothing is more crucial to pulling off the proper VIP look than ride height and wheel setup. To get the big Lexus sitting tough without sacrificing comfort on the road, the LS has been fitted with Tein Comfort Sport struts mated with a Universal air bag system. Pressure comes from twin Viair 444C compressors fed by a 7-gallon tank, with adjustments performed by a 9-switch controller.
The other part of the equation is wheels, and I don’t think you’ll find many objections to the choice of Super Star Leon Hardiritt Ordens with a diamond machined finish. There’s just no arguing with the traditional large face, five-spoke design on a car like this.
The wheels measure 20×9.5-inch in the front and 20×10.5-inch in the rear, while the tires are 225/30R20 and 235/30R20 Falken Azenis FK453s respectively.
Like on most VIP cars, the 3UZ-FE V8 beneath the hood of the LS has been left stock. There is, however, a custom exhaust system that helps give the Lexus the rumble it deserves.
Dress-up work has been done though, and includes a smoothed and painted engine cover, and chrome plating on the radiator support, hood hinges and many of the nuts and bolts.First Class Accommodations
When I asked Jonothan what his favorite part of the car was, he said it was the interior. Once you see what’s gone into the LS430’s cabin, it’s not difficult to see how he arrived at the answer either.
The upholstery has been completely reimagined in rich red leather with a diamond stitched pattern, and the dashboard and other interior panels have been dyed to match.
Along with the the custom upholstery, all of the requisite VIP interior additions are present and accounted for. Jaguar rear seat tables? Check. Neck pillows? Got it. Rear seat monitors? Yep.
Pop the trunk and you’ll find wooden flooring with piano black trim, red leather paneling and custom housings for the air suspension setup and Alpine audio equipment.
Not to be forgotten is the custom lighting throughout the car, including two-color halo headlights, LED marker lights and LED accent lighting both in the cabin and in the trunk.
It’s always been the personalized touches that separate the truly impressive VIP builds from the crowd, and this car is packing enough of them to put it at the forefront of America’s ever-growing VIP scene.
Whether or not you agree with my view of the Lexus LS being one of the greatest Japanese cars of all time, there’s no denying the effort that has gone into this build.
It’s not only an appropriate tribute to the Japanese roots of the scene, but the homegrown touches and high quality of work have given Jonothan, Vireak and the rest of Squad One something to be very proud of.
Photos by Larry Chen