I’ve been playing around with cars for close to two decades now, and over this period have indulged in the fine art of ‘motoring for the shot’ many times. Think: burnouts, donuts, handbrake turns, and of course power sliding out of corners for that classic front-wheels-pointed-the-other-way image.
While it’s fun, I’ve always wanted to learn how to properly control the car rather than just stomping on the gas and hoping for the best. I’m sure the years of shooting drifting here in Japan has had some impact on that. So when ex-D1 driver Tomo-san hit me up, saying that he was starting a drifting school and asking if I’d like to come and have a go, I couldn’t accept his offer quick enough.
‘TomoCheca Drift School’ is run on the Fuji Speedway Gymkhana Course, and despite it being wet on the weekday morning that videographer Luke Huxham and I attended, we both had such a good time.
I could detail all the fun (and grief) that I personally had from behind the wheel of the JZX110 Toyota Mark II – my absolute favorite drift car base – that Tomo-san provided, but Luke produced a video so you should just watch that.
We were sharing the Gymkhana Course with some other drifters, who happened to show up in some pretty epic cars. Some of these people were from HKS, including Saito-san, the man that makes all the HKS features on Speedhunters possible. Saito and his wife share this JZX100 Toyota Mark II, and on the day he was teaching me the basics while she was demonstrating some epic car control.
Another HKS team member brought along his GDB Subaru Impreza STI, and I did see him get it all crossed up around the cones on the wet surface.
Then there was this little NA Mazda Roadster. It’s not the most popular drift chassis out there, but boy did the owner of this one know how to drive.
But of all the cars in attendance, it was this JZS151 Toyota Crown that really piqued my interest. Time for a closer look…The Crown Jewel
My day at the TomoCheca Drift School reminded me that, despite what it may look like from the outside, drifting is still alive and well in Japan. No, it’s probably not as big as it was in early ’00s, but it’s definitely not going away – it’s just evolving like anything else out there.
I’m not going to get into why there’s been a drop off in Japan when in other countries drifting seems to be growing, but it might be to do with a stagnant domestic series which has always prioritized protectionism over growth and evolution. But that’s a subject for another post…
What I want to do today is celebrate Japanese enthusiast-built drift cars, and this Crown is a great example.
Junya Kamiya is a member of the Low Brain family and has single-handedly taken this old Toyota and transformed it into a highly-capable drift machine.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in Japan, you’ll know that Crowns of all generations are usually driven under the speed limit by elderly gentlemen. The model is a real favorite for retirees looking for a mix of conservative elegance, comfort, and wafty performance. It’s also a go-to for the Japanese police; with so many Crowns on the road they for the perfect unmarked patrol car.
So to see a Crown drifting is beyond cool. But it makes sense – these things are cheap, spare parts are in plentiful supply, and being a ’90s-era Toyota they’re engineered like a tank.
Junya wanted to give his car a slightly more unique feel than your average drift-spec Crown, so he dumped the stock engine for something more aurally pleasing.
Keeping things in the Toyota family, Junya found exactly what he was looking for in a 1UZ-FE from a Celsior (Lexus LS400 in export markets). Over the years, we’ve seen this 4.0L quad-vam V8 transplanted into all manner of vehicles (and boats too), but it still makes me giggle when I find one swapped into an unassuming platform like this.
Why get rid of a 1JZ when you could simply bolt on a turbo and make far more power and torque? Simple – Junya wanted something with more character and a nice soundtrack. With this build he also set himself a challenge to do all of the work on his own.
When it came to the engine conversion, that didn’t just include modifying the front subframe and making a pair of custom mounts, but also persuading the steering rack to clear the headers. It’s quite a squeeze in there.
For both performance and visual reasons, the stock 1UZ intake was dumped in favor of eight OBX throttle bodies with open velocity stacks. The throttle response you get through this upgrade is exactly what Junya wanted, and he mated it to something you’ll see shortly when I get to the Crown’s interior.
This will give you a hint.
There was a second swap too: ditching the car’s factory automatic transmission in favor of an R154 5-speed gearbox that’s connected via an XAT bell housing conversion kit.
The third and final swap is a JZX100 rear subframe, cradling a JZX100 differential and drive shafts. All these bits are from the turbo version of the 100, which got beefier parts. A 1.5-way TRD LSD completes the driveline upgrade.
Without hearing this thing, you couldn’t possibly understand the amazing sound it makes and how quickly it responds to throttle inputs, so hit play above and you’ll get an idea.
The big Crown sits on a set of 326 Power coilovers with camber plates to dial in plenty of negative camber, and doing so allows the 16-inch RS Watanabe wheels to sit just as Junya wanted, giving the car a menacing stance and look.
The fenders had to be played around with to open up enough room for the wheel and tire combo, and that’s something Junya is finalizing now. The idea here was to drive and drift the car around for a while and see if there was any tire-to-fender rubbing, and if so, adjust and test again.
Speaking of clearance, the Watanabes only just miss the JZX100 caliper upgrade.
I always love seeing the quick-release methods drifters come up with. A spaced-out bolt and ziptie usually does the job.
After a whole day of drifting in a variety of conditions, Junya’s Crown Royal Touring – as it’s named in this spec – was looking positively filthy. Precisely how we like our drift cars.
One thing I really love about luxury barges converted to drift spec is the mix of race seats and race steering wheels in plush, velour-covered cabins. It’s so Japan it hurts.
In true Toyota big-body sedan fashion, the steering column automatically adjusts vertically to allow for a comfortable ingress and egress. With the Racetech bucket and Nardi wheel, it just looks plain weird.
Here’s the other addition Junya made along with the intake conversion, a floor-mounted OBP adjustable pedal box to dial in the perfect driving position.
A Skid Racing hydraulic handbrake has also been added to facilitate those snappy entries. One look in the cabin and there is no doubt what this car has been built for.
The dry flowers set in resin shift knob gives that touch of peculiarity that Japan is so well know for, but refocus your eyes behind the shifter and you’ll find that the pop-out cup holder, which is usually reserved for a can of Boss coffee, now holds an AEM air/fuel ratio gauge.
The whole engine setup is managed by a Link ECU, and Junya likes to keep his laptop handy to refine settings. Like most project cars out there, it’s still a work in progress.
The good thing about a big drift sedan is the ability to carry spare wheels in abundance.
If Junya was out to build something unique with this platform, he’s certainly achieved it, and at the same time proven that grassroots drifting in Japan continues to evolve and perfect itself. Now, the next thing I need to do is hit up his brother who has done something similar with a JZX100…
Dino Dalle Carbonare
Lowbrain Junya’s JZS151 Toyota Crown
Toyota 1UZ-FE (non-VVTi), OBX throttle bodies, Link G4 Storm engine management system, 3UZ direct ignition coils, custom-made engine mounts & bushings, custom exhaust
Toyota R154 5-speed manual transmission, XAT Racing bell housing conversion plate, XAT Racing flywheel, ACT clutch, JZX100 (Turbo) rear subframe, differential & driveshafts, 1.5-way TRD LSD, 4.9 final drive
Suspension & Brakes:
326 Power coilovers, 18kg/mm front springs, 12kg/mm rear springs, V1 knuckles, front upper arms, modified steering rack to clear headers, JZX100 (Turbo) front & rear bakes, R32 Skyline rear discs
Wheels & Tires:
RS Watanabe R-Type 16×9.5-inch -19 front & rear, Toyo Proxes R1R 205/45/R16 front, Kenda KR20 205/45/R16 rear
Custom widened front fenders, rolled rear fenders
Racetech RT4009 seat, Nardi Classic 350mm steering wheel, OBP floor-mounted pedal box (for BMW E46), Skid Racing hydraulic e-brake lever, AEM air/fuel ratio gauge