United Visionary & NuForce Lexus IS350
TP: Hey Johnson, so tell us more about your IS, what's the story behind your purchase? What were some alternatives you were considering when you bought this particular car?
JJ: I was looking at a BMW 3-series as well as a Mercedes C-class but I really wanted something I could count on daily throughout the next few years, and the Lexus name just really pops up and shouts reliability. I've driven this car through snow, rain, sandstorms, up and down the state of CA and it has never given me any problems yet. I absolutely love this car.
TP: How long have you owned this IS? How many different phases of modification would you say it has seen? Tell us about them.
JJ: I bought it new from Crown Lexus in Ontario in Oct 2006. Since then, it remained stock for about a year or so before I started modifying it. I teamed up with a group of engineers and we tried to retrofit a Hydrogen fuel cell in the car after testing it on the Ford F150 with success. Unfortunately we learned that the Lexus ECU is untuneable even if we piggy-back it. We were able to hold a steady gas mileage about 39-40 MPG on the IS350 for only a week before the stock ECU kicks in and starts to retune. After a few trials, we abandoned the project and went the route of traditional gasoline power-hence the straight pipes, and other mods. I've done matte black, matte white, and now sharpie. I'm pretty sure there will be more phases in the future. I have plenty of ideas up my sleeve.
TP: What would you say your build philosophy has been? What have been some of the major milestones for you?
JJ: When I first started modding, I really wanted to accomplish a 40 MPG IS350 with power. Reaching that goal on our test run to Reno was definitely a success, however we realized that our piggy-back computer would never last longer than a week. Since then, I really didn't have a plan for the car and just tried out ideas as I went. The car "slept" for quite some time as I stopped modding it when I was busy with work. But after I quit my last job, there has been more time on my hands and with the help from my sponsors and friends I have been able to mod the car to what it is today. After my performance and suspension mods were finished I really dove into serious discussions with NuForce on creating the first audiophile grade mobile entertainment system for the car and that was really where a lot of the R&D work started. Currently we are still making the amplifier and the entertainment module, but we expect to debut it later this year.
TP: Who would you say does most of the work on your car? Is there a specific person or performance shop(s) that you take it to?
JJ: I do most of the simple modifications that haven't required too much labor, such as the lighting and other miscellaneous things. But the Tire Outlet on Alum Rock in San Jose does most of my work, ranging from oil changes to suspension installation and tuning. Some of the major engine maintenance work is done at Exact Motorsports in Milpitas, and the rest is done in my garage or at my friend's house.
TP: What modification(s) would you say is(are) the most rare or unique to your car? What do you think makes your IS stand out compared to all the others out there?
JJ: Well, definitely the exterior job on the car is the most unique. Rob from RJTDesign.com did a great job with such short notice on the car given the time frame I gave him. My exhaust is also unique because I'm the one that designed it and had it custom welded using Magnaflow mufflers. The tips were then ordered additionally and chopped for a staggered look. World Mufflers in Sunnyvale did all of the labor. And last but not least, the audio setup is one of a kind and is something the world has never seen before - besides the monstrous 21" Subwoofer in the trunk, we are also debuting a mobile entertainment control system in the car that can allow you to play and watch any sort of media files easily, without the load time of a car PC.
TP: We'd like to know more about the audio setup that is going into your car and about your title sponsor, NuForce. What can we expect to see and hear?
JJ: Like I mentioned earlier, the audio is one of a kind and is designed and built by Neo Drive from Pleasanton. Neo Drive designs and makes OEM speakers for a wide line of companies including Aurasound. I started working with NuForce when they contracted me to do some of their design work and we got into talks about launching a new product line for automobiles and it just took off from there. NuForce designs and makes high-end audio products targeted to the audiophile world. Some of their flagship products include the Icon Mobile - which is a Mobile amplifier for those that want a bit more power out of their MP3 or laptop. The products have great reviews and are award winning. We are simply taking that technology and implementing it into the automobile industry, and by working in conjunction with Neo Drive, we plan to build one of the most amazing sound systems ever put into a daily car. We expect to see eyes popping and mouths dropping in sheer awe from how amazing this setup will be.
TP: Tell us more about your thought process behind having the car wrapped in matte white and then drawn on with a Sharpie marker. What was your inspiration?
JJ: Well definitely no question, the inspiration came from Brett David's Lamborghini Gallardo out of Miami. He set the bar on this crazy idea and the saying about how things are "always imitated, but never truly copied" is what I wanted to do. He inspired me to also have a matte white car with black Sharpie, but I was dead set on putting my own touches to it. It's still not "done" yet, I want to change a few things which would make the artwork truly complete.
TP: Who designed what the artwork would look like? Tell us more about the artist and the drawing process. How long did it take to complete?
JJ: Robert Tafoya of RJTDesign did most of the work and there wasn't really a singular concept. There were a few guidelines he had to follow such as: sponsor name placement, but other than that he did the rest of the car freehand. The hood currently shown is my sister's art, but that will be replaced with Rob's design in the near future. I had my sister did some art just to test out the feasibility and the looks of the idea. Obviously I was happy with the work and pulled the trigger on hiring an artist. The entire process took about 6 hours per day for 5 days. The guy works fast and is very dedicated. I definitely recommend him if anyone ever needs artwork done.
TP: What is it like to daily drive a car like this? Do you turn a lot of heads? What is the most common question that people ask you when they see the car? How do you respond?
JJ: Ok, don't even get me started. I remember the first week I drove the car out like this...2 cars literally ran off the road paying attention to me. It turns heads, I drive by and I look left and right and people are always taking photos with their cameras or cell-phones. It is definitely a head turner and I have had a few people follow me into the shopping centers to ask me questions regarding the car. The most common questions are: "How long did it take? How many Sharpies? Does it wash off?" The answers are: it took about a week for the wrap, and a week for the art. We went through enough sharpies to leave 3-4 stores out of stock for a week, and it won't wash off with water but it will definitely fade or rub off with alcohol or gasoline.
TP: Do you have any plans to put some serious performance under the hood? We've heard that the IS350 is rather tricky to modify because of how strict the Lexus ECU is. Are you planning to get around this somehow?
JJ: Because of the aforementioned ECU issues, I have given up all ECU tuning modifications. And plus, with the crazy sound system in the trunk, this is really built for cruising and not for taking it on the track. It's pretty fast now, but will definitely will get slower with all the additional weight. Too much R&D has been put into the ECU tuning when I had the hydrogen kit, and we really didn't make any headway. I would love to see a turbo kit out for this system sometime in the near future. I feel that superchargers are just too expensive for the gains.
TP: We noticed that you have some lightweight performance wheels and suspension, would you ever road-race this car?
JJ: The Tanabe SSR Type F wheels are definitely lightweight and the Sustec coilovers help with handling. But the loud exhaust that I have makes it sound like a Ferrari on the street at WOT, and is really a reminder for me not to drive fast since I really cant afford another ticket right now. The first time the car was on a drag strip was during The Pursuit show-down in Irwindale Raceway and my friend did a few passes but we never received a time slip. I can probably say that because of all the weight reduction I've done and the bolt-on modifications, that it is probably one of the faster IS350's on the streets right now, but again, that's all going to change when the audio goes in.
TP: So what do you have planned next? Is this car going to see any more major cosmetic changes? How long do you plan on keeping it? What car would you most like to get next if you were to sell this one? Why?
JJ: After the audio, there are a few other parts that I'm still working on for the car. Definitely lots of cosmetic changes, but I can't tell you what they are yet. Although the one cosmetic upgrade that I really want would be to have Genevieve Chanelle pose with my car. It'd also be nice to have her drive it or pose inside of it. We could cruise down the street and wave to people. I think that would really break people's necks. All in all, I plan to keep this car for awhile longer, or at least until it breaks (which I hope won't happen). Although I have been eyeing a few other cars right now as another daily driver. I really want a SLK55 or a Lotus Elise to cruise in, but I have other priorities right now. My long term goal is to hop into an Aston Martin Vantage or a Bentley Continental GT some day. A Maserati QP or GT would be nice too.
TP: Well Johnson, we'd like to thank you for sitting down with us. Are there any shout-out's or thank-you's that you'd like to make?
JJ: I want to thank Lyle from VinylStyles for hooking me up with the vinyl and for getting me into this whole vinyl thing. I saw his matte black Mini Cooper and the idea totally grew on me. Joseph at Tire Outlet for the ongoing support on the car, Jason at NuForce for providing the amplifiers. Dick at NeoDrive for the overall audio design and installation, James from Tanabe USA for the support on the rims and suspension, Peter at Auto Infantry for shipping my body kit overnight express, Jeff at Photoshootmycar for the crazy photos, you guys at TunerPlayground for always hooking it up at shows and the lovely models of TunerPlayground for coloring in sections of my car with Sharpie markers. I'd also like to thank some other friends of mine: Glen, Johnny and Shane from Limitless, Henry from Prestige Detailing, Javy, Ryan and all you CL guys for the support. Thank you to Solo for helping out with the rattle can paint on the kits, came out great! Thanks to my parents for keeping up with my bitching and the messy garage. And last but not least, not really thanks, but to my ex-girlfriend, because after our breakup, I finally had time to modify my car instead of you...because god knows, those efforts really went to waste. Hahaha.
Car Year: 2006
Car Make: Lexus
Car Model: IS350
Car Color: Crystal White
Engine & Drivetrain:
Fujita F5 Intake
ARC Radiator Cap
JDM Oil Cap
Bellon Japan Voltage Stabilizer / Meter
Optima Yellow Top
Tsunami Power Distribution Block
2-Tone Color Matched Engine Cover
ENEOS 0W-50 Oil
Valentine 1 Hardwired Radar Detector
Vaistech SL2Vu Video Control Unit
*NuForce Prototype Amplifier Ref 18
*NuForce & Oppo Digital Entertainment Control Unit
*NeoDrive & NuForce Prototype 21" Subwoofer
Suspension & Brakes:
Tanabe Sustec Pro 5
Tanabe Underbody Front Brace
Custom Painted Calipers
Stoptech Stainless Steel Brake Lines
Custom Big Brake Kit Coming Soon!
1 of 1 Custom Dual 2.5" Piping
Custom Staggered SS Tips
Res/Sec Cat Delete
Straight Pipe Exit
Wheels & Tires:
SSR Type F in Matte Black
19x8.5 19x9.5 +22 Front and Rear
5mm Spacers (soon to be 8mm)
Toyo Proxes 4 215/35/19 Front & 235/35/19 Rear
Black McGuards Lug nuts
Exterior & Interior:
Custom Matte & Satin White Exterior
Custom Sharpie Graffiti Design by RJTDesign.com
5 Axis Front Lip
INGS+1 Rear Bumper (Modified for Quad exhaust)
INGS+1 Trunk Lip
Jun-TW Roof Spoiler
LX-Mode Front Grill - Matte black
Carbon Fiber Pillars
Carbon Fiber Rear Emblems Inserts
Matte Carbon Fiber Window Wipers Overlay
Matte Carbon Fiber Roof Overlay
Matte Clear Tailights
De-badged Rear (Excl. L logo)
Matte Black Rear Emblem
Premier Diamond IR Tint Front (72%)
Omega Werks Front Windshield Protection
Carbon Technik Black Carbon Fiber Custom Steering Wheel
Carbon Technik Black Carbon Fiber Interior Panels
Carbon Fiber F-Sport Shift Knob
Junction Produce Neckpads
Stainless Steel Sport Pedals
MTEC 8000k HID Headlights
Optima 3000k HID Foglights
vLED Turn Signals
vLED Parking Lights
vLED White interior / Trunk Lights
vLED UV Door Lights
Police LED Strobes
*Audio setup (valued at $24,000) is set to debut with TunerPlayground at the 2009 San Francisco International Auto Show & Extreme Autofest from November 26 - December 2 at the Moscone Center downtown.
Photo credits belong to Official TunerPlayground Featured Car Photographers: Jeff Cabacungan and Chad Freeman from Photoshootmycar.com