The Lexus GS platform has historically been the preferred "luxury" car for import enthusiasts to build. As much as people dreamed about modding the bigger, more extravagant Lexus LS or Infiniti Q45, they just weren't remotely affordable to the 18-25 demographic in the early 2000s. Back then, if you wanted to build a luxury Japanese vehicle, it was the Lexus GS. The GS was still expensive, but the first-generation chassis was readily available, and if you saved up a couple extra bucks you might have just found yourself in the second-generation JZS160. These were the cars that helped many transition over from traditional Hondas and Nissans into the Japanese "VIP" world. In Japan, the JZS160 chassis was quite popular, and, as such, aftermarket-tuning companies offered a variety of products. The allure was that the Japanese counterpart carried with it Toyota's famed 2JZ-GTE turbo powerplant, essentially making it a sedan version of the Supra. A luxury car with power to boot really appealed to enthusiasts who wanted a little bit of everything.
In North America, we weren't as lucky. The GS was offered in 300 and 400 trim levels, none having the twin-turbo GTE motor. Instead, we were given a 4.0L V-8 motor. While it was cool to tell everyone you had a V-8, it still didn't compare to the cool factor of saying you had a twin-turbo sedan. Still, the GS was a popular car because it had potential due to the availability of parts from Japan. You could even do the 2JZ-GTE swap if you wanted to, but it wasn't a cheap swap. To the enthusiasts looking to buy a luxury-based vehicle, the GS was like the Hondas and Nissans they modded before. They were more expensive, of course, but you could get parts from Japan and potentially perform an engine swap down the road. It was sporty and relatable to your friends too—not just a car that was driven by old people.
Now, VIP style has become a household name, and it seems more and more people are getting into building luxury Japanese vehicles. Even the platforms that were once thought to be unattainable have become more affordable with age, so you see a lot of the younger crowd cruising around in cars that many of us 30-and-overs would have only fantasized about in our youth. The JZS160 is considered an old car now but has maintained its popularity through the years. If anything, it is considered the "Civic of the VIP scene" because of its popularity and how often you see them modified.
Justin Wallace is one of those 30-somethings who always had a fascination with the second-generation GS chassis. He spent much of his younger years tinkering with a Honda and a number of different Nissans before arriving at the decision to purchase his Lexus four years ago. As most stories go, Justin never had any intentions to do anything to the car—he just couldn't stop himself. "I've never kept any of my cars stock," he says. "I don't think I ever will either. I just have this obsession with altering every car that I own. It's an addiction. I originally bought this (GS300) as a daily driver, not really as a project. To me, it was the perfect mix of luxury and sportiness."
"Everything just snowballed the instant I decided to do anything to the GS," Justin says. "I just wanted wheels at first, but you can't do wheels without suspension. And once you get wheels and suspension you might as well add a body kit. After the exterior is finished, you might as well change up the interior, right?"
A traditional VIP-themed build is similar to a more traditional tuner build. The only difference is you concentrate more on aesthetics and suspension before you even think about doing anything to the engine bay. In fact, Justin's engine compartment in his Lexus has yet to be altered in any way. There is an engine swap in the plans eventually, but he kicked off his build with a set of staggered 20-inch Trafficstar STR wheels. VIP builds often feature huge, "big boy" wheels and getting the car as low to the ground as possible, eliminating any semblance of wheel gap. To tuck the 20s under the wheelwells, Justin opted for an Air Force Suspension air suspension setup. The dual air compressors and four 'bags at each end allow the car to go up and down at his discretion. Being that this GS300 is his daily driver, the suspension kit gives him the ability to get into steep driveways while still being able to pancake the chassis at a standstill. Tucking 11-inch-wide wheels in the rear proved to be a problem, as the rear quarters buckled when the car was planted.
"I couldn't just leave the rear fenders damaged so I took it to a local body shop to have them reshape them," Justin says. "Once the car was there, I couldn't help myself. I ended up buying a new aero kit for it and had them repaint the entire car in Piano Black."
The sides and rear that Justin chose to go with are from a popular Japanese VIP tuning parts manufacturer known simply as Admiration. If you don't recognize the front bumper, you aren't alone. Even a GS aficionado would have a difficult time identifying the front bumper, because it is a custom piece created by his paint shop, Fusion Auto. Added soon after were more subtle touches from Junction Produce that improve the overall appearance of his JZS160.
Inside the lavish confines of his Lexus is where he takes the most pride in his build. VIP builds don't see extensive work in the engine compartment, instead builds like Justin's have interiors that are very in-depth. He even went as far as to remove all of the interior trim pieces that were originally woodgrain from the factory and had them sent overseas to Asia where they were re-created in a custom silver carbon-fiber finish. The rest of the black interior is adorned in Japanese indulgence, featuring goods from Garson D.A.D. Hidden neatly in the factory ashtray position is the Dakota Digital controller that provides him with full ride height adjustability. The trunk of this daily driver features a false floor enclosure that exposes his twin 12-inch Alpine subwoofers, amplifier, and dual Viair compressors.
The JZS160 platform may be everywhere these days, but they still retain the luxury and opulence that was imagined when they were first introduced. Sure they may be cheaper now but the lower price tag provides enthusiasts with the opportunity to reinvent this luxury-sports sedan in their own image. Enthusiasts like Justin are doing it just right. He's taken a car that we never thought we could own when we were 15 and made us forget that many of these cars are now a decade-and-a-half old themselves.