Throwback: Lone Star Hustler – A 1,100hp Drag Lexus
2024 Intro

If you were to build a drag car, the first-gen Lexus IS300 probably wouldn’t be the first model on your list. But that doesn’t mean the rear-wheel drive, four-door sedan from the early ’00s isn’t an ideal candidate for quarter-mile action, especially given the 2JZ-GE under-hood that’s just ripe for a big turbo build.

In 2014, Matt Owen‘s drag-spec Lexus was selected for a Speedhunters feature while being displayed in a Fatlace show at Formula Drift Texas. But there was no 2J to be found beneath the hood of this IS300. Matt had yet to run the car down the strip at the time of its original feature, but that did happen, with 8-second ETs coming immediately.

As far as we know, Matt still owns the car today, so the story of this IS300 in his hands may not be over just yet. In the meantime, let’s revisit the original feature from 10 years ago…

2014 Feature

If someone was planning a trip to the United States to take in some American car culture, the first place they’d probably think to visit would be California. It’s certainly hard to argue with that, because the Golden State has great weather and a diverse, thriving automotive scene.

But there’s another destination they should consider before packing their bags, and that would be the state of Texas…


They say everything is bigger in Texas, and whether it’s famous events like the Texas Mile, TX2K or the amazing facility that is Austin’s Circuit of The Americas, the state’s love of cars and motorsport cannot be overlooked.


For me, Texas car culture brings to mind brutally quick late model streetcars that roam the drag strip by day and the highways by night. We’re talking Toyota Supras packing well over a thousand horsepower and supercharged Corvettes that wag their tails at triple-digit speeds.


Sure, Texas isn’t the only place you’ll find these types of cars in the US, but it is the place where they congregate in large numbers and stretch their legs across the state’s wide open roads.


This all brings us to Matt Owen – the owner of the 2003 Lexus IS300. We came across this car at Fatlace’s Offset Kings show during the 2014 Formula Drift Texas event, and it was our clear pick for the #FeatureThis prize.


Matt’s love affair with engines began as a teenager when he rebuilt and serviced lawnmowers for extra money. Naturally, this interest expanded into cars and Matt quickly found himself building a turbocharged, engine-swapped, Honda Del Sol in his mom’s garage. Later, he worked at a local shop that specialized in MR2s and other high performance Toyotas.


It was there that he developed a taste for fast Toyotas, and in the years since he’s owned nine different Supras and no less than 30 MR2s – most of them heavily modified.


In 2014, Matt was working at T1 Race Development where he specialized in engine building and fabrication for Nissan GT-Rs making as much as 1,800 horsepower. Just the sort of crazy machine that Texas is known for.


While he might be intimately familiar with the GT-R now, Matt still has plenty of love for Toyotas – specifically, the Lexus IS300. When Lexus started importing the IS300 to the US in 2001, the idea was to take a bite from the BMW 3 Series market – and the IS became a solid seller. In the following years, the first-generation IS picked up a strong following among tuners thanks to its compact size and bulletproof 2JZ powerplant.


Despite having plenty of experience with Toyota’s legendary turbo six, Matt has a particular affinity for fitting the IS300 with GM’s LS series V8s. He did it for the first time back in 2010 and has built several V8-powered examples since.


In August 2013, Matt was on Craigslist hunting for IS300 parts when he came across a rare IS chassis with a basic cloth interior and no sunroof. Immediately, visions of a race car danced in his head.


He bought it, of course, and soon after began transforming it into one of the world’s fastest IS300s, with, yes… GM V8 power under the hood. This wouldn’t be just a simple swap, though. Matt’s goal was to make a splash at Tx2k – the crazy race gathering that happens in Houston each spring.


Given the performance figures he was aiming for it would take a lot to transform the Lexus from a mild mannered sport sedan to a quarter mile bruiser, but Matt ended up fabricating just about everything on the car himself.


The engine itself is a 5.3L aluminum block LC9 V8 that’s been massaged by the crew at Watt’s Shop for maximum performance and durability.


Among the V8’s many modifications is a bottom end that’s been beefed up with 11.5:1 Wiseco pistons and Scat rods, which sit below a custom-ground camshaft from EPS. The real story, though, are the power adders.


Boost comes from a custom twin turbo setup built around a pair of Precision 6266 turbochargers and a custom-fabricated Garrett A2W intercooler. There’s also a full MoTeC M150 engine management system to oversee everything.


Altogether, the package is good for an impressive 1,162whp and 936lb-ft. Big numbers that come with the challenge of effectively getting it all to the ground.


While most drag cars with this sort of power output would be running a built automatic transmission, Matt takes great pride in rowing his own gears. The transmission is a Tremec TR6060 6-speed manual mated to a custom carbon fiber driveshaft.


Next, Matt knew the rear end was going to need some serious upgrading so he went with a full 9-inch conversion from The Driveshaft Shop. Broken diffs should not be an issue here. To help it dig in, the car has also been fitted with custom lower control arms, subframe bushings and a set of Afco drag coilovers.


As for the exterior, the IS300 remains almost completely stock – save for the things like the large intercooler and cut outs in the front fenders for the wastegate dump pipes.


But the narrow and wide Weld RTS wheels with 275/60R15 Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial Pros out back leave little doubt as to the car’s true purpose.


In the cabin there isn’t much to convince anyone that this car’s anything but a stock IS300 with a few minor upgrades.


The only major upgrade are the front seats – a pair of Japanese market Recaro buckets that Matt grabbed from one his many MR2s.


Keen eyes might notice the MoTeC C125 dash unit, which suggests that the IS might be packing some extra punch under the hood.


While I’m not sure if everyone will call Matt’s Lexus a ‘sleeper’, I think the understated exterior and interior treatments do a nice job of keeping things under the radar.


Brutally fast, fully street legal and bold in its execution. It’s hard for me think of a single better machine to represent the craziness that is Texas car culture.

Mike Garrett
Instagram: japanifornia

Photos by Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto

Cutting Room Floor


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I love Texas. Their philosophy on tuning is very American and very close to how you improve a car from a physics stand point: more power. Bigger tires. Less weight. Etc etc. it relies more on physical principles than technology and computers generally speaking.

American tuning is very close to the core of what actually makes a car fast and it’s why we continually smash Europeans when actually get our shtuff together and go after a goal.

8s in the quarter are fast! Crazy to think how accessible this performance is now!


Haha...well most certainly you give credit to the Americans I mean tx2k is wild! some real amazing builds ...the europeans on the other hand deserve abit of respect swell with some stunningly clean builds swell thing you should look up is how us 3rd world countries with very little resources make the most of what we've given .

like my home town South Africa.


I have friends in Nigeria who built their own track and have their own series. They are incredible with regards to using very little resources to get things done. I have seen people seat parts by precisely throwing them onto a rock and they end up with the same tolerances we do after using precision measurements in our work shop. Absolutely incredible what people can do with determination. Respect to you! Get it done no matter what!


.... Good grief!! Don't have too many words. Very impressive and clean build.


Larry my friend, it is incredible to watch you continuously push your craft to new heights.
Your photography in this article is markedly better than your work from merely 6 months ago - which was already TREMENDOUS and REAL.
Looks like Texas is experiencing some strange weather. Yeah, "weather"...I've heard of it! (Southern California joke for those stuck in flyoverland)

Am I detecting a very slight Sepia effect in the indoor shots? I reckon somewhere in the roughly 0.25%-0.27% range, but I could be wrong.

This is an overall learned photoset, so I know the apparent "sloppiness", for example in the opening shot, was really an intentional choice on your part. But I can only speculate as to its deeper meaning. Photography is a very secret society, of which I am a member of, but Larry is sort of a Grandmaster/Lodge patriarch of the CRAFT.

My opinions are just humble ramblings, of course...hell, I still shoot with ye olde DSLR (For non-photographers, DSLR is something they found in the "hand painting cave" in NICE,

Come back and break bread some time soon Larry, and thanks for the content...
As for the car? 1000hp? It's a start.


"My opinions are just humble ramblings."

If you're humble then I'm the reincarnation of Christ.


You are detecting a 0.25% sepia. Just like you were detecting a 0.25% reduction in traction when you smashed into the wall in the RS211. It’s hilarious how you try to come off as this super intelligent and informed guy who calculated things down to the micron when in reality you’re a fking poser and a loser. Is all this attention to detail what caused your boat to light on fire in the middle of the night or was that insurance fraud?

The only thing you’re capable of measuring that precisely is well…nothing.


The pics are from 10 years ago grandpa


"1000hp? It's a start"

Says the guy who smashes a 600hp car into a fking wall LOL. Shut the fuuuqqq upppp