In my last Project LS update, I covered off the custom stainless steel exhaust build – the car’s first modification. Next on the list was wheel options and getting the car lower to the ground, and that’s where we’ll pick things up today.
When I began looking at LS 400s, I also started doing an internet deep dive of modified examples. It’s no surprise then that my vision for this build came from all the awesome VIP-style LS 400s and Celsiors (same thing really) rolling around in Japan and the USA.
Part of the appeal for many guys is the challenge required to drive low all the time, ie. with static coilover setups, but given the state of our roads here in South Africa – riddled with potholes, speed bumps and stupid-angled driveways – I just wouldn’t be able to deal with all that effort or risk damaging the car’s undercarriage day after day. I really respect people who run cars low on static setups, but this doesn’t look fun to me. And neither does this.
Air ride just made sense, and thankfully, Speedhunters’ awesome partner Air Lift Performance got behind Project LS and supplied me with a full system for the car.
What’s great about Air Lift Performance is their large range of car-specific kits. With the LS 400 having quite a big following – especially in the United States – they have an off-the-shelf system that can be fitted without any suspension modifications.
First up are the front and rear struts. These feature double-bellow bags, 30 levels of dampening adjustment and threaded adjustable shock mounts. The fronts allow you to drop 90mm while the rear allow a height loss of up to 125mm.
Air Lift Performance also sent me a 3P manifold and everything that goes with it, including the harnesses and digital controller. The 3P system controls and monitors everything by pressure, which works great for the LS 400.
Lastly, there’s a lightweight FLO billet air tank, twin Viair 480C compressors for quicker inflation, and of course all the required air lines.
With the parts ready, it was time for the installation. This was a job I handed over to my friends at The Lowdown Co. to undertake. They do some of the best work in South Africa, and I couldn’t wait for Project LS to be down on its belly.
I dropped it off for Stratten to start working his magic, but as I had quite a busy week I couldn’t stick around. He promised a few updates along the way, but essentially the next time I saw the car it would be on the day the air ride was operational.
According to Stratten, this was one of the easiest cars he’s ever installed an air ride kit in. The struts themselves required just a few bolts to be loosened, and then it was just a case of swapping them for the brand spanking new Air Lift Performance units.
The adjustable top mounts allow you to easily adjust the stiffness of the suspension, although to access the rears you need to remove the back seat. Luckily, Stratten set them up perfectly for me, so I’ve felt no need to make any adjustments thus far.
With the Lexus being so popular in the stance and VIP scenes, one of the the first pieces of vital information that I found online is that you should tuck the wire harnesses on both sides of the car when going lower. Stratten knew about this already when I told him, so my information was useless in the end. But hey, it’s always good to be sure as a sliced harness would be an epic fail.
After a few days, Stratten gave me the call I was waiting for – Project LS was ready. I was super-excited and quite beside myself as I’d been waiting to see what this thing would look like slammed ever since I picked it up.
It might have still been on planks, but when I saw it all laid out and tucking the wheels I was beyond satisfied.
For the time being, the boot install is temporary. Abdul from Autosound Gezina will soon be doing some custom work in here, and part of that will include the final display setup of the air ride components.
I love these big-bodied cars, but Stratten loves them even more. This is his own Audi A8 project, which has seen some crazy work done to it so far. I can’t wait to see it finished, but in the meantime it’s great that Stratten can make other people’s low car dreams come true.
Back to Project LS… While I was at The Lowdown Co., the wheels were removed a few times so that clearances could be checked as the suspension was aired down and up, as this was still the testing phase.
Yes, I know the wheels I bought for the car are way too narrow, but of course there’s a plan. Quality, non-rep aftermarket wheels are very hard to come by in South Africa, so when I found these 19-inch Riverside Traffic Star STRs for a good price, I knew I could make them work.
Their current – weak – widths are 8-inches up front and 9-inches in the rear, but after some measuring we settled on what they’d need to be widened to. For the fronts, I’ll actually be using the 19×9-inch rears as they are. That just leaves the 19×8-inch fronts to be widened out to 19×11-inch and used on the rear. Zahid from The Wheel Shop Repairs & Customizing in Johannesburg – the person I bought the Riversides off in the first place – will carry out the rebuild and do a full refurbishment of all four wheels at the same time.
I left the car with The Lowdown Co for a few more days so that Stratten could finish up all the small things, calibrate the system and set heights for me.
I picked the old girl up a few days later, and seeing it slammed and out in the wild for the first time was sublime. With every step of the build, I just fall more and more in love with the car.
I’m a firm believer in driving as low as possible when you have a slammed car, and for this reason I knew air would be the best way for me to enjoy Project LS to its fullest. This is my second car on air, and for me, the look you get with it and the functionality of being able to drive over speed bumps without leaving half your car behind is unbeatable.
Another thing I can’t believe is how smooth the ride is. The LS 400’s stock suspension is akin to driving a comfy couch, but the Air Lift Performance system rides even better.
What I’d really love though is a woodgrain-finished controller to match my interior. I know they don’t exist, but I can dream, right?
Now that the Air Lift Performance system is in and working perfectly, Project LS will finally be going for paint. Looking underneath the car though, I think we’ll have to change the design of the exhaust to raise it up higher into the tunnel.
The car is also without most of its interior right now, as Autosound Gezina has started on a full retrim. As you’d expect, the seats were quite worn from more than 20 years of use and almost 300,000km.
In the next update I’ll hopefully be looking at paint options and be able to share progress of the wheel widening.
For now, it’s back to the stock wheels, which were also recently refurbished. I’m still in two minds about whether I should have hub-centric spacers made up for them, or go all-out and step them up to 18-inch. Either way, it’s crazy how different even a stock car can look once you lower it to this extent.
So to conclude this chapter, when it came to the main reason I chose air over coilovers for this build, I dig the static look when a car is belly-scraping, but I’m just not quite up for that level of pain. Air was definitely the right path to follow.