Being a Japanese car enthusiast in the United States hasn’t always been easy. For starters, many of the coolest Japanese models were never even sold here. Nissan Skyline GT-R? Nope. Toyota Chaser? Nope. Honda Civic Type R? Nope. And unlike many other countries, our laws don’t allow for the easy importation of secondhand Japanese imports. Even our friends up north in Canada are much better off than we are in that department.
And even if we do get the cars, they are often changed or watered down for the stateside market. Take the S13 and S14 240SX for example. Everywhere else they came with potent turbo motors, but here in the US we had to make do with an engine borrowed from a Nissan pickup truck. It’s not hard to see that we really got the short end of the stick on that one, and it’s no wonder Nissan decided not to import the S15.
But sometimes things aren’t so cut and dry. On occasion you’ll find US-spec cars aren’t necessarily worse than their JDM counterparts – just different. The Lexus IS300 is definitely one of those cars. The first generation IS was badged a Toyota Altezza in Japan, and in RS200 guise was available with a high-winding Yamaha-tuned 2.0L 3S-GE four cylinder engine. The US Lexus version however, was exclusively sold with a 3.0L inline six.
Of course, this wasn’t just any inline six. It was the naturally aspirated version of the legendary 2JZ from the Supra. In terms of performance there wasn’t a whole lot that separated the Altezza RS200 and the Lexus IS300 – they just went about doing their thing in very different ways. It was a choice between revs and response or velevety smooth torque.
With its bulletproof motor, the one thing that US market car offered was a ton of aftermarket potential – something that’s led to some pretty radical IS builds over the years. Which brings me to the red machine you see here, belonging to Faiz Rahman.
‘Fizzy’ as he’s better known, works as an automotive photographer and spends a lot time around modified cars (hmmm… sounds like a few people I know). He acquired the IS300 about two years ago, convinced by his friend to do a 2JZ-GTE build.Joy Of 2JZ
Sure, he could have bought a Supra, but he liked the idea of a sedan, and the IS300 was an easy choice seeing as it came equipped with a 2JZ from the factory. His idea was to build a fun and powerful car that could be enjoyed on the street and also at the occasional track day.
After many all-nighters spent in the garage putting the car together with friends, the finished version of Fizzy’s IS300 emerged this past fall. And having the chance to check it out at a couple events, I can say it’s easily one of the most impressive IS builds I’ve ever seen.
Helping out Fizzy when it came to the engine part of the build were a pair of his friends named Chris and Mike, and he greatly appreciated their expertise when it came to piecing together the motor. Based around the VVT-i version of the 2JZ, the engine is fitted with a single Comp Turbo 6767 ball bearing turbocharger and a number of supporting upgrades.
These include a TiAL wastegate and blow-off valve, a full 3-inch exhaust, a Delta Fin front-mount intercooler and a very trick ARC Super Induction Box with dual filters.
Having plenty of streetable power was Fizzy’s biggest goal with the 2JZ build, and he says that once he installs his new fuel injectors and gets the car properly tuned, it should be seeing just upwards of 500 horsepower to the rear wheels.
But it’s not just about power. Engine bay aesthetics were also high on his priority list and thanks to touches like a powder-coated valve cover and intake manifold, along with burnt titanium fasteners, the bay looks clean enough to eat from.
Building the motor was just the beginning though. If the car was going to be an all-rounder that could be taken to both car shows and track days, it was going to need a lot more than horsepower alone.
Suspension-wise, the IS300 has been fitted with a set of Fortune Auto Dreadnought Pro two-way dampers with external reservoirs, and there’s also a Fortune Auto Müller Air Cup Lift System to help the Lexus get over those occasional obstacles in the road.
Other upgrades to the car’s footwork include a front tower bar from Juran Racing in Japan and a rear sway bar from Hotchkis Sport Suspension right here in the US. Stopping power has been improved with a Rotora big brake kit up front and drilled/slotted rotors in the rear, with a Wilwood brake porportioning valve.Style + Function
In stock form the IS300 has simple, attractive lines, and it’s actually one of my favorite car designs from the late ’90s/early ’00s. When it came to the exterior styling, Fizzy decided to build on those looks with a few off-the-shelf parts from Japan and lots of one-off custom work.
The front bumper for example is from Vertex, but it’s been fitted with a custom lower lip and front splitter. The splitter was actually designed by Matt from the F.A.S.T, who handled most of the custom aero work on the car.
Matt has lot of experience working on time attack cars, and it shows in the work completed up front, the rear diffuser and the custom aluminum mounts for the APR GTC-300 wing.
Other additions to the body include a set of of C-West side skirts and rear add-ons from Varis. Let’s not forget the retro style over-fenders as well.
Sitting beneath the flares are a set of RAYS Gram Lights 57DRs in satin black finish. The fronts measure 18×9.5-inch while the rears are 18×10.5-inch.
The tires are Toyo Proxes 1s sized 265/40R18 in the front and 295/35R18 in the rear, and they’ve been finished with white lettering to complete the racecar look.
Inside, the cabin has treated to a number of parts from Statüs Racing including a pair of GT racing seats with matching six-point harnesses and Statüs Racing side mounts.
Other details in the cockpit include a Personal Trophy suede steering wheel with an NRG quick-release hub, and a custom pod for the AEM UEGO wideband controller and Prosport gauges. Next on the IS300’s to-do list is a roll bar setup.
What Fizzy enjoys most about the car is the balance. Despite being heavily modified, he loves the comfort of the suspension and the seats, the refined nature of the interior and the easy take up of the clutch. All while having all the power and handling he could ask for in a street car. It’s this combination of drivability and performance that truly defines the car.
When Toyota decided to fit the US version of the Altezza with the 2JZ engine, it was all about smoothness and refinement rather than screaming redline shifts. But as Fizzy’s IS300 shows, it was a decision that actually turned the little sport sedan into the perfect tuner machine.
See, it isn’t always doom and gloom for Japanese car fans in the US.
Photos by Larry Chen