Kanye West's Graduation was a jam-knockin' album that quickly became my favorite of last year. It continues to get heavy rotation inside my car's CD changer, and it's a couple more plays from being cataclysmically ruined forever. This not only prompted me to buy an iPod adapter like everyone else in the 21st century, but it also made me the preeminent expert in quoting lyrics from this musical tour de force.
One of my favorites comes from "The Glory" track: "The fur is Hermes shit that you don't floss/The Goyard so hard, think I'm Hugo's Boss/Why I gotta ask what the two-door cost/House on the hills two doors from Tracey Ross." These were the four bars that led me to conclude that if Kanye were a tuner, his affinity for fashion, luxury, and downright boasting would fit right in with this year's hottest tuning trend, the VIP style.
Taken straight from the streets of Tokyo, the VIP style is directly linked to the finger amputating techniques of the Yakuza mafia, which opposed using European sedans for fear of getting targeted by the police and rival gangs. Instead they modified Japanese luxury cars to avoid detection, using standards like large-diameter wheels with broad-faced designs, low offsets that sit flush with the fender, protruding exhaust tips, full body kits that emphasize the front lip, and the use of basic paint colors like black or white. These Japanese luxury rides include the Nissan President, Toyota Celsior, Nissan Laurel, and the Toyota Aristo-better known to Americans as the Lexus GS, and Johhny Tran's main project for the past year.
Johnny is the owner of this '99 Lexus GS400, which not only emulates the VIP style to a tee, but also raises the bar for those who are thinking of getting into the trend. "This car is the perfect example of having the right amount of speed, sound, looks, and comfort in a VIP vehicle," he explained, "because after all, too much of one thing defeats the whole purpose of being comfortable and luxurious." He also added that patience and a pretty big wallet are needed to achieve such a feat of balancing the VIP characteristics. He has both, and the financial requirement is clearly articulated through the profoundly lavish exterior of his VIP GS400.
Using a genuine Junction Produce body kit, including the bumpers, side skirts and rear wing, Johnny added a Ugo roof spoiler and JDM rain guards, chrome door handles and a trunk bar. To highlight the gleaming white paintjob, he painted the roof and part of the trunk black. Lowered to touch the ground, the chassis sits above a set of 20-inch Fabulous Profounds with an offset of +23 in the front and +29 in the back. Falken FK-452 tires stretch around these ridiculously deep dished wheels that tuck perfectly underneath the fenders. These tires avoid tragically rubbing against the car through the use of an Air Runner suspension kit with an eight-valve electric solenoid upgrade-the choice system for VIP cars in Japan.
Inside, the cabin remains stock like most VIP-style vehicles, but Johnny made sure the music came through deep and loud, with a sound system that is sure to bring anyone closer to deafness. Using a set of Digital Designs amplifiers, the speakers made by the same company thump perfectly throughout the interior like a world-class sound hall. The most telling feature that reveals the car's melodic prowess is the 12-inch subwoofer with a carbon-fiber dust cap sitting saliently in the trunk.
Naturally, the sound system's only auditory rival is the 2JZGTE engine underhood. Supported by an HKS SSQV blow-off valve and GReddy M-Spec intercooler, the 3.0L inline-six turbo motor produces upwards of 330 hp at the wheels using a stock transmission. Johnny and his friends did all the engine modifications since he's had terrible experiences with going to shops. "When I first started getting into cars, I hired this mechanic to build my motor," he said. "He was supposedly the best from California, but he ended up costing me a lot of money since the engine he built blew up three times. Now I just do everything myself."
The most intriguing detail behind this GS400 was Johnny's motivation to buy the car in the first place: "My previous car was a Mazda RX-7 and I was tired of being cooped up in it like a coffin and not being able to take my friends out. So I wanted a car that I could load up with a bunch of my friends and still be comfy and look luxurious." Despite the GS400's extravagance, high-fashion, and exaggeration, Johnny can't enjoy the glory that Kanye rapped about, that which pretty much sums up the tuning subculture, without sharing it with his friends-that is how he defines VIP style.
'99 Lexus GS400
330 whp at 6,000 rpm; 350 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm
2JZ-GTE VVTi turbo engine swap; HKS blow-off valve; GReddy M-Spec intercooler and piping, boost controller; Blitz SBC i-D; custom downpipe; Sard intake; NGK spark plugs
'01 2JZ-GTE transmission
Air Runner kit, eight-valve solenoid
Fabulous Profound wheels (20x9 +23 offset front, 20x10.5 +29 offset rear); Falken tires FK452 (235/30-20 front and 255/30-20 rear)
Tom's four-piston caliper; Project Mu's rotors
Junction Produce front bumper, side skirts, rear bumper, rear wing; Ugo roof spoiler; JDM rain guards, chrome door handles, chrome trunk bar, chrome grille; Underground Graphics vinyl
Pioneer AVIC-D3 head unit; Digital Designs S4 amplifier, M2A amplifier, DDC speakers, DD3512 subwoofers; Xstatic BatCap 2000
912 N. Classen Blvd