Cranking An Exige S Street Car Up To 11
JDM Roots

Wheels, suspension, aero. Intake, exhaust, and a tune. Rinse, repeat. There’s nothing wrong with this, but some people like to go further.

Eric is one of those people, and after modifying mostly Japanese cars over the previous 15 years, he says he “took a step back to assess the path [he's] been following. The way I try to modify and upgrade cars has always been the same, meaning I try to make them more distilled and more race-inspired. Nothing is more important than the foundation, so why not start with a car that’s already built to be like a street-going race car?”


After graduating from his highly-tuned AE86 and his LS-swapped FD3S, both of which were modified through and through, Eric stepped up to a Lotus Exige S.

When I heard the news I was a little disappointed, in the sense that I wasn’t sure how far he would be able to take this car. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of big-budget Lotus builds for the track, however, when you look at Eric’s previous cars I didn’t think he would able to crank this one up in the same clean and cohesive way for the street.

Sometimes, it’s nice when your wrong.


Eric built on his foundation of modifying Japanese street cars and carried the same ethos over to this British coupe. Everything has been torn down, replaced, or made better. Extremely well-engineered factory components have been replaced for even more impressive aftermarket ones, and while the car has become more aggressive looking through the process, it isn’t overly so.


Like his Mazda and Toyota I shot previously and featured here in 2017 and 2018, Eric’s Exige S retains its fantastic factory body lines. No gaudy wide-body, no ridiculous aero, and a lower but sensible ride height.

Still, form follows function close behind, and the package as a whole is simply an elevated version of the factory car. They’ve all looked phenomenal, and the spirit of the car is still there behind the wheel, despite all of the aftermarket parts.


Considering a stock Exige, I’ve always thought of them as leaning toward the exotic side of things despite carrying a price tag similar to cars that, while nice, are very mundane. Eric, like myself, says his “pragmatic side has always kept [him] away from new-age luxury cars and supercars due to their complexities and electronics.”


He continues, “but I fell in love with the interesting blend of features the Exige has: very raw, an almost unfathomable 2,000lb curb weight, mid-engined, exotic looks… and actually quite practical. I like to be able to know how to work on and maintain my cars myself, and it doesn’t get more simple than the Toyota powertrain and underrated supercharged 2ZZ.”


Like Eric’s other cars, this Exige has been a home-brewed affair, built entirely in personal garages. However, usually when I think Lotus, I think sterile. Proper British engineering (if there is such a thing), owned by likewise proper businessmen or well-to-do track day enthusiasts.


In other words, these aren’t cars that seem synonymous with wrenching in a garage late at night, waiting on parts from Japan, performing your own suspension setup, carefully fitting carbon fiber trim yourself, and so on.

And yet, here we are.

Late Nights

Precisely, this time around we’re in Ezekiel Lee’s home garage where the suspension and exhaust were getting overhauled. The vibe here is what I think Speedhunters is all about; just a couple of guys, wrenching away on a Toyota engine, hands dirty, sticker-bombed toolbox, just having a good time despite the setbacks and frustrations that come from any project like this.

It just so happens that the Toyota four-banger in this case is supercharged, and bolted to a British go kart. Otherwise the sentiment and the process have been the same as Eric’s other cars.


When we hung out while the Lotus was under the knife, Ezekiel still had a day job and was just rebuilding gearboxes and doing other service for friends (and friends of friends) during his spare time at night or on the weekends. Ezekiel has since graduated to a shop in Fremont, California – CM Autohaus – where he has been able to scale up his operation.


We met up nearly two years ago, in fact, and it’s been really inspiring to see Ezekiel’s progress since that time. Ezekiel embodies the Speedhunters-type hustle that so many of our readers have, and he has moved from this being a hobby, to a job, and into a growing career.


Some of the most well-executed cars come from the most unlikely places, and this small garage in San Jose was where Eric’s very special Lotus got a few steps closer to completion. Of course, there were tons of other nights after work and long weekends that Eric and Ezekiel spent together, as well as plenty Eric spent on his own with the car in his own garage.


I’m sure this resonates with many of you, as well as many of us here on the team, who don’t have a ‘professional’ space or all the tools that we wish we had. And yet, Eric shows us again just how far you can take things with limited or no help from a full-scale shop. This leaves more money for parts, and as with his AE86, Eric seems to have spent all of it.

Parts, Parts, Parts, & More Parts

The mod list on this car is a mile long, and far exceeds the level to which I thought anyone would take a street-driven Exige. The nice thing is, unlike many of this car’s track-going equivalents, great measures have been taken to ensure the car still works through a crowded downtown and also to retain the factory charm and aesthetic.

These cars are fairly stripped down and somewhat brutal from the factory, with their firm ProBax bucket seats, exposed aluminum tub, and few amenities. In Eric’s usual fashion, he’s taken this and simply enhanced it.


There’s a sound system with JL Audio speakers and a subwoofer built into a custom enclosure between the carbon fiber Tillet bucket seats, an Android-powered in-dash receiver, GRP carbon fiber components including extended door sills, console trim, and switchgear surrounds, a carbon fiber rear-view mirror, and an impressive InoKinetic shiftR111 shifter that also included replacement linkage and cables. The door panels, portions of the dashboard, and headliner have been covered in Alcantara, and parts like the satin handbrake lever and aluminum cupholder were poached from a newer Lotus.


Gone is the somewhat cheap, plasticky interior experience that is delivered from the factory. Needless to say, it’s now a function-first cockpit that happens to also look fantastic thanks to the high-end components and thoughtful combination of parts from various catalogs.


Outside, you have a Benetec dry-carbon rear wing and three-element diffuser that sort out the rear end and are balanced by more carbon fiber components including Shine Auto side skirts and a front lip. Beyond the rear wing these are relatively subtle parts, but there’s no way the awkward factory deck lid wing would look at home here.


Another nice touch are the updated version of GRP’s LED taillights, which are plenty bright while maintaining a soft, consistent look. I’ve met Greg from Greg’s Racing Parts at the track before, and it’s cool to see so many of his parts ending up on this street build.


Another interesting move that furthers the factory aesthetic is that OEM wheels and brakes are retained. The Lotus Sport 240R Cup wheels leave nothing to be desired, and the same can be said of the AP Racing front calipers that were taken from an ’08 model. Two-piece AP Racing rotors from EliseParts have also been added at each corner, along with G-LOC R8 front and InoKinetic rear brake pads.


At the core of the suspension is a set of Quantum Racing One.Zero coilovers, which were going in when I visited Eric and Ezekiel in the garage way back when. These are paired with Quantum Q2 damper mounts, and billet front and rear uprights were purchased from EliseParts. Billet knuckles also replace a weak link in the factory suspension assembly, and many more intermediate parts have been thrown at the car to make it all work.


Under the rear deck lid, the factory-supercharged 2ZZ-GE has been enhanced with a ReallyLightStuff intercooler, which is paired with dual SPAL fans. ARP hardware was used where possible, silicone radiator hoses replace factory pieces, a DeatschWerks fuel pump feeds Bosch EV-14 injectors, an ITG cold-air intake has been installed, and a Fidanza aluminum flywheel is utilized.

I’m just naming a few things here so you can get the gist; because covering it all just wouldn’t make sense.


What I do want to focus on when it comes to the powertrain is the titanium ARQRAY exhaust that had arrived from Japan when I visited Ezekiel’s. Eric is holding the muffler up above at the beginning of the article and it’s amazing just how much lighter it is than the factory exhaust.

Titanium is a wonderful thing, and paired with a DMZ Ultimate exhaust header, the four-cylinder sounds solid. Have a listen for yourself.


As extensive as that list was, it’s truly just scratching the surface.

The Experience

What matters in the end is how the car actually drives. Has this plethora of parts actually improved the experience? Has the big budget made the car more fun to drive? Does it look demonstrably better than when assembly was completed near Hethel airfield in Norfolk, England?


Yes, yes, and yes.


The lower ride height is not such that the car is unusable, but in the already great chassis you can truly feel every last thing it’s doing. With the engine riding along right behind you, the car has insane balance. It’s the type of experience you can only feel, and words won’t do it justice.


It’s also hard to sum up a build like this, where so many incremental improvements have been made all around. Still, Eric gave it a shot: “As good as the Exige is from the factory, it was still just a starting point for me as there are a few easily identifiable areas where Lotus had to cut corners for costs. My plan was to address all these ‘shortcomings’ and realize a higher-spec Exige that could have came from the factory if Lotus was willing to sell the cars new at a higher price point.”


And that’s the interesting thing about any stock car. There’s a certain balance that manufacturers need to strike between many factors; cost, safety, fuel consumption, compliance, comfort, and other such checkboxes. It’s pretty impressive what can be added to and taken away from an engineered car by an individual in their own – or a friend’s – garage.


I had to ask Eric if, all said and done and after several build over the last few years, the Lotus suffices. He answered, “it has a fighter jet-like driving experience that further adds to its allure, which is something my previous cars lacked. They just felt like cars at the end of the day.”


As satisfied as Eric was in this Exige, I could tell when we shot that he already had the itch to do it all over again. Still, Eric kept the car longer than any of his others before making another jump into one of his dream cars: a Porsche 993.


This time around, he says he’s adjusting the strategy, and is quite happy with the car right out of the box. I’m sure he’ll eventually go down the inevitable rabbit hole and starting making some more serious changes, but time will tell.

Through all of these builds, though, one thing is clear: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Trevor Ryan
Instagram: trevornotryan

Cutting Room Floor


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Shout out thanks for putting this cute upgraded exige out on the market, looks like respectable BAT-worthy work put in. The 993 will also be fun for the trendy while, but like the bonded aluminum exige, the platform is (eventually) the weakness.
Knock yourselves out arguing at the engineers that did the exige from factory, but these were all great day one, with only decades of aftermarket attention to allow this prosumer build to exist. This DIY style of sports car ownership needs focus: what about an end all platform that WASN'T "sublime" from factory?
Get an Alfa 4c, an actual carbon tub that doesn't need few G's in fiber cabin covers but would fly given the right, creative drivetrain... Or what about an Ariel, using the wrench time to develop an original body and some new approaches to making power... Or even an old jeep, learn to weld chromoly frames and drop in a race-spec LS and tell anyone that isn't pure driving experience, open diffs and stiff springs like F1 ressurected from the 70's. There was a lotus build on here recently, a Benz weapon behind the seats, and that makes sense. This is just... "Uh huh."
Congrats to the owner and all, most of us know it was fun, but speedhunters: come on, man.


I am making a fair pay from home $3400-$4700/week, which is shocking, under a year back I was jobless in a horrendous economy. I offer thanks toward God reliably I was regarded with these bearings and now it's my commitment to give preemptive grace and offer it with Everyone........­w­­o­­r­­k­­s­­7­­9­­.­­c­o­m


You make a compelling point, StraightR - a well-considered set of bolt-on mods on a cool semi-exotic shouldn't feature here in place of a 4C with a 690T engine swap, or an Ariel with a bespoke body and aero package, or an old Jeep turned into a trophy truck. You should definitely contact the editors here and get them to feature all of these cars of yours. I'm sure we'll all be very interested when you can back up your talk with your own work.


Eric's Exige is a car that needs to be seen in person to be appreciated. The thought process put into each detail can't be shown in pictures. I've been in stock Lotus Elises and Exiges, and Eric's car remedies all the short comings from the factory *cough* cheapass interior. The InoKinetic shifter feels amazing, the ARQRAY exhaust sounds mental for a 4 pot, and the car just RIPS! It's a perfect combination of doing just enough and touching almost everything without being overdone.


I am now making a good home based income by just doing very easy and simple online work. Last month i have made $17583 from this easy home based work in my part time. I am a full time college student and doing this easiest job in my part time not more than 3 to 4 hrs a day. Everybody can now easily makes extra cash online by joining this home job right now by just follow details


I already loved how the Exige looked but I must say he has made the car look even better, I can't wait to see what he does with a 993.


Tillet seats = awesome. CA car registered in Montana = not cool. Overall = still awesome (-8


Why not cool?


Because if you have a physical address in the SF Bay Area and have an LLC with a PO Box somewhere in Bozeman to register your car; you are evading taxes. Sure its legal. Still makes you an asshole though...


Because he said not cool - therefore obey


'Proper British engineering (if there is such a thing)' Careful Trevor, some of us might take offense at such a statement! :D I never liked the factory wing, the Benetec one here looks like it was made for it. Kudos.


OK, stupid statement, it was made for it


But you know what I meant......... :D


Ha, yes I do! I think it looks great as well especially compared to the stubby stock wing.


Lotus are just amazing sports cars


I have seen this lad on YouTube. He's never happy.


The wing and the lights looks almost stock but makes it so clean. I really love the exige but are out of my range.


Love the Exige in its standard guise, this is absolute perfection. Sensible well thought modifications and subtly improved OEM looks. Stunning!


The only beef I have with these cars is on a bright day you can see through the tissue paper body when you open the trunk etc and things have been known to fly off these things at high speed aka 130


I am making a fair pay from home $1400-$2700/week, which is shocking, under a year back I was jobless in a horrendous economy. I offer thanks toward God reliably I was regarded with these bearings and now it's my commitment to give preemptive grace and offer it with Everyone........­w­­o­­r­­k­­s­­7­­9­­.­­c­o­m


Really cool seeing a car with Quantum dampers. The only street cars I've seen them on before were some of the Yashio Factory cars.


I am now making a good home based income by just doing very easy and simple online work. Last month i have made $17583 from this easy home based work in my part time. I am a full time college student and doing this easiest job in my part time not more than 3 to 4 hrs a day. Everybody can now easily makes extra cash online by joining this home job right now by just follow details here....


Brilliant Pics from a car i love since i saw one 15 years ago.
Thx for the story and my new alltime favorite wallpapers :)


Love watching his videos. Some of the best car content out there as he really takes the whole "do it once, do it right" mantra to heart. Was sad to see the AE86 and then this car go but I understand. His take on the 911 is definitely interesting and it just sucks that there is so much time in between videos but at least it's quality and not quantity.


Thanks for the article. As an Exige S owner this made for interesting reading. Have to call the writer for his clear lack of understanding around the Lotus brand though: “ usually when I think Lotus, I think sterile... In other words, these aren’t cars that seem synonymous with wrenching in a garage late at night“.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Lotus has always famously been cars built by enthusiasts for enthusiasts... not in sterile factories but in iconic premises next to a proving circuit nestled in the heart of the British countryside. Also, as any Lotus owner will tell you, these cars are built for performance, not reliability, which means that late-night wrenching is a necessity, not a lifestyle choice. Put simply, suited businessmen who don’t like get grease under their nails need not apply.

Apologies for my brand-based pedantry but that context feel crucial for understanding the soul of this car.


Thank you Will for "calling out my complete lack of understanding of the Lotus brand." I did nod to the factory where these were built, and I think pretty much any factory in 2020 is pretty pristine. Granted, Lotus may have a more gritty history than some. And it might have to do with my other job where I've sold many of these cars, but both there and at California tracks I can confidently say that at least 69% of these I'm aware of out of dozens and dozens are all owned in exactly the manner I described. Maybe that's the California Bay Area corrupting my sample, but it's not like I said this for no reason. Glad you seem to work on yours, but plenty of businessmen who don't like grease under their nails have had their applications accepted and are happy to pay $160/hr to keep theirs running for the weekend track day here and there.

Personally, I would be on your end of things, wrenching on it myself if I had one.


The Lotus is a kit car outta the box and only gets better with improvements from its real driver owners.
Roger Becker [RIP] told me what ever you do to the car to make it better is a plus not a negative .


Nice to see the Lotus bug is not dead. Keep up the good work..