I’ve always wanted to own a big-body luxury sedan, and now I can tick that off. It feels great to finally have a project in the SH Garage.
Before I introduce Project LS, I should share with you my car history, because the Lexus is a real break from my norm.
Since my very first car, it’s been Volkswagen all the way. This hasn’t been for any reason other than VW’s being really reliable, having good resale values and generally being quite popular here in South Africa. My first was a Citi Golf, which were more modern Mk1s that Volkswagen continued to produce in South Africa until 2009. I have no pictures of that car, but it had really simple (read: just out of school, no money) modifications, namely 15-inch wheels, a lowering kit, cone filter and a de-badged grille. Nonetheless, it was a perfect student’s car, and it lasted me a good five years.
After that came a Polo 9N3 1.9TDi with Audi RS4-style wheels, a big front-mount intercooler, an ECU flash and a straight pipe. This little car served me well too, and I sold it with just over 200,000km (124,000mi) on the clock.
Next came my first real hot hatch, a Mk5 Golf GTI, complete with coilovers, a full exhaust, KO4 turbo and all supporting upgrades like injectors, intercooler, EVOMS intake, and fuel pump. The GTI sounded really great and it performed too, hitting 230kW (308hp) and 440Nm at the wheels on the dyno.
The best part of this build was the Work CR-Kai wheels, which to this day I still regret selling. This car left my ownership after around four years, with the only repair work I ever had to do being a fried clutch (no surprise) and a worn wheel bearing.
When I became a dad, I did the sensible thing and bought a family car. The CC was such an amazing vehicle, and I have to admit that I still miss it. With its 2.0TDi engine it was crazy light on fuel, plus it had massive amounts of cabin and boot space. Did I mentioned the ventilated cooling seats? Best invention ever.
I replaced the CC with my current daily, a 2017 VW Caddy Alltrack that’s fully converted me into a van lover. As you can clearly see, it’s not static. The Air Lift Performance air ride system makes it really practical as a photographer’s work van – loading gear and grabbing tracking shots from it is really easy. It also has a full Rockford Fosgate sound system, aftermarket exhaust, software tune and a custom Golf 7R front bumper.
The wheels have since been changed from the OEM Cadiz items to OEM Spielberg wheels from a Golf 7.5R.
I love having the Caddy as my daily, but the idea of another project car has never escaped my mind. Unfortunately though, here in South Africa secondhand cars don’t really ever come cheap – unless you’re buying a hunk of junk. Luckily though, I found the perfect project for me…
Enter my 1999 Lexus LS 400. I picked this up just over a month ago, and to say that I’m loving the old tank would be an understatement. I’ve already done over 1,000km in it, which hasn’t been cheap in fuel, but I don’t even mind a bit.
It cost me the equivalent of US$3,000, and although it has some cosmetic issues it really does drive flawlessly.
There’s not a single vibration or shudder, all the electronics still function as they should, and the air-conditioning blows ice-cold. It just seems like it’ll go on forever.
The interior has some wear and tear – especially around the driver’s area – but for something built 22 years ago, it’s not bad.
Despite having almost 300,000km (186,000mi) on the clock, it really does feel like it’s only been run in.
Shortly after purchasing, I sent it over to Cameron from Gloss Monster Detailing for a good clean up in order to see the actual condition of the paint and interior. A 50/50 shot revealed what Cameron and his team were able to do. The exterior improved massively, especially the headlights. The left light still has a leak somewhere that’s making it fog up, but that will soon be sorted.
The interior was probably the most improved area and now almost looks like new.
I’m really excited to see how this car turns out. I have some big plans for it, including a full repaint, custom wheels (which I’ve already acquired), air suspension, and a full exhaust – which is the next step.
In the next post, I’ll show you how Lexus managed to keep the 1UZ-FE V8 so quiet, what 22 years of exposure to the road looks like, and the amazing outcome of a new custom-built stainless steel exhaust.