A Look Back at When Lexus Created a IS430 Project Car
The IS430 was a vision of what Lexus would eventually do with IS-F
Something much more substantial behind that grille
* Updated with comments from Bryan Bergsteinsson aka 550bryan
The original Lexus IS300 was a stellar driver's sedan, with its rear-wheel drive configuration and deftly balanced chassis. But what if you swapped the standard engine for a much larger Lexus mill? Well, that is exactly what Bryan Bergsteinsson and Rod Millen did to send a message to Toyota Corporate that a more visceral vehicle could be had if they just applied enough energy.
Menacing colors - that were not only for show
This dual-tone bruiser of a car was perhaps the best compact Japanese sports sedan ever built. Bryan himself says that the project car was an endeavor driven with the old as time motto of asking for forgiveness, not permission from Toyota. He and Rod knew that if the car could gain media attention and enthusiasts cried out loud enough, Lexus might cave and greenlight such a production car.
Rolling along with a lot of attitude
The Rod Millen developed IS430 was immediately distinguishable from other Lexus IS models due to its stance. Equipped with 18-inch Speed Star SSR alloy wheels, of a five-spoke design, the aesthetic was pure early 2000s Japanese street racer. Those two large exhaust ends also gave a clue to what was powering the IS430.
That's a lot of engine in an IS
The proven performance car theory of putting a large engine into a smallish car was applied to create the IS430. Millen borrowed the legendary 4.3-liter Lexus V8, as used in the GS and LS, to power the more compact IS430. Getting the big V8 to fit in an engine bay designed for an inline six was challenging, especially from an electronics perspective.
Plenty of ponies and not many pounds
The result of this LS430-to-IS engine transplant was a very potent Japanese compact executive sedan car. With 340hp in an IS package which weighed only 3350lb, the IS430 offered very rapid throttle response. To ensure even greater driver engagement, the car was fitted with a six-speed manual transmission from Getrag - and a lightened flywheel.
Balancing a very rowdy little Lexus
To balance the additional weight this IS430 would carry above its front axle, and also the surge in linear performance, Millen significantly upgraded the project car's suspension. Up front, TEIN coils springs and 16-way adjustable dampers were added, to fine-tune the IS430's mediation between sharp turn-in and potential brake dive. At the rear, GS430 suspension components were used to quell any potential power-on oversteer.
Spiritual forebear of the IS-F
Lexus never provided official performance figures for its 2003 IS430 SEMA project car, but with 340hp - you can be assured it was plenty quick. And it sounded phenomenal too, with those oversized dual exhausts and the ability to throttle-blip to your heart's content, by dipping the clutch on that six-speed manual transmission. Speaking of that manual transmission, Bryan used to be both the Head of Product Planning and the General manager of Lexus in the US. We have him to thank for convincing the brass at Toyota to put a manual in the first gen IS 300. The Lexus IS-F, which followed many years later, finally realized a production vision of this IS430 concept.
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