Article and Photography by Stuart Lieby
The term "bolt-on" has become a ubiquitous term among car enthusiasts, and is something Matt Owen has literally no understanding of. At the young age of 28, and the lead fabricator at T1 Race Development out of Rockwall, TX, Matt has had the privilege of building some of the fastest R35 Nissan GT-Rs in the world. That being said, he’s had his dream car in mind for a few years now, and it could not be any less impressive than the cars he works on every day.
The Lexus IS300 as a whole is no stranger to the Modified Lifestyle, and there are numerous high-powered examples prowling the streets worldwide. With Toyota's 2JZ-GE being the factory motor in the IS300, it’s easy to understand why most people prefer to stick with some derivative of Toyota's legendary line of 2JZ powerplants when shooting for huge power figures. That's all well and good if your only intention is having a badass grocery getter or track monster. It’s not so good if you want to guarantee double takes and bewildered looks every time you turn the key. What’s the solution? According to Matt, the answer is to engineer, fabricate and build a complete Chevrolet LS1 small block swap completely from scratch. One thousand-plus horsepower numbers are equally as easy to attain in the 2JZ family as they are in the LS family, but there is something to be said for a little originality.
The T1 engine room was the perfect spot for Matt to assemble the heart of this IS300.
TX2K14 was always motivation to keep Matt pushing long into the night for months on end to complete this monster.
A very nice set of Trick Flow heads sit ready for duty on the 5.3.
Early in 2010, Matt got the wild idea for the LS swap, and it just so happened to be 16 days before TX2K ’10 (TX2K10). You read that correct. Sixteen days before what is touted as the largest single street and drag racing event in the U.S., Matt decided it would be a great idea to do a rather tricky engine swap that had never been attempted before. Not only did he complete the swap in time for the race, he also drove it there, beat the daylights out of it all week, and then drove it home. It was no easy task to fabricate the engine mounts, oil pan, headers and various other little tidbits in order to make the LS swap work, so Matt decided there may be others who would take on this swap if he sold the parts to make it a touch easier. Through his company, Dedicated Motorsports, Matt has been selling all the parts for this LS/IS swap going on four years now, and there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 LS swapped IS300's worldwide using his components!
A set of eight Injector Dynamics ID1300's ensure tuning is a breeze, while guaranteeing this thirsty motor is taken care of at all times.
With the motor ready for drop in, it doesn't take a car expert to realize there is something serious going on here.
Matt has attended TX2K for nine years straight. He pulled the trigger on his third IS300 in order to finally build the dream car for his tenth trip to the madness that is TX2K. Many enthusiasts would ask what else you could want in a four door sedan besides 400 whp, a six-speed and rear-wheel drive? Matt's answer: A fully built aluminum, 5.3-liter, short block assembled by world-renowned Watts Shop, Trick Flow heads, twin PT6266 turbochargers, TR6060 transmission out of a CTS-V, custom Ford 9-inch independent rear suspension setup built by Driveshaft Shop, and the latest electronic goodies from Race Spec and MoTeC USA.
Seeing the stunning wire harness offerings from Race Spec on a regular basis, Matt had them build a custom Mil-Spec engine and body harness.
With a plan in mind, Matt got to work fabricating the turbo manifolds, swirl pot, catch can, intercooler and other crucial pieces. Essentially, every single component in the engine bay and driveline has been created from scratch or modified extensively for Matt’s IS. It’s one of the most beautiful and well-thought-out engine bays you will ever lay eyes on. Moving back through the powertrain, you see more of Matt's parts showcased. Take for example the lower control arms fabricated to work with the one-off Driveshaft Shop differential setup, complimented by a gorgeous carbon driveshaft. You could look the car over for an hour and continue to come across new components guaranteed to steal your breath.
The on/off lower control arms and other suspension components Matt engineered pair quite nicely with the beefy Driveshaft Shop 9-inch differential setup.
The only option for a driveshaft in this build was a high quality custom carbon fiber one, and the boys over at Driveshaft Shop had just what Matt was looking for.
With as much attention given to the engine and drivetrain setup as there was, it would have been crazy to not put an equal amount into the suspension as well. Knowing that he would have to dial the suspension in perfectly to make quick passes down the track, Matt decided a set of high quality rebound and compression-adjustable shocks would be crucial, and a pair of AFCO rear coilovers and JIC front coilovers would provide a great range of adjustment.
Matt was finally able to squeeze the engine into its new home.
Fender exit wastegate dumptubes promise to put on a good show when Matt lays into the two-step!
With just four days before leaving for Houston, the interior of the IS was as bare bones as it could get.
The MoTeC C125 display adds seriously awesome race car look to the cluster, and is essential in Matt being able to monitor important data.
The Lexus IS line benefits from a fairly attractive interior from the factory, so Matt was able to knock out the interior modifications relatively quickly. The crowing jewel of the interior is the MoTeC C125 display that provides an impressive amount of data channels to monitor, F1-inspired shift lights and a crystal clear LCD screen. Working hand in hand with the C125 is MoTeC's brand new M1 ECU. Typically, the factory Camaro or Corvette ECU can be used to control the engine and electrical systems associated with the LS swap, but like most factory ECUs, it’s quite limited when compared to a well-engineered aftermarket computer. MoTeC has been the world leader in aftermarket electronic control units for years, and its newest M1 ECU is among the best ever created. A pair of Recaro seats has made the transition from Matt’s other LS-powered IS, and should provide a great deal more support and comfort than the factory units. The last thing that really stands out inside is the custom-made staging brake, which will provide Matt a great deal of control in holding the car at the line and taking stress off the drivetrain by preloading the rotating components.
With the car all buttoned up on the day before TX2K begins Matt could finally take a step back and admire his creation in all its glory. A well executed drag stance is arguably one of the most intimidating things in the racing world, and the Lexus has just that.
When you approach the IS for the first time, you are immediately drawn to the monstrous looking 275/60/15 rear drag radials and Mickey Thompson ET skinnies up front. Obviously Lexus never intended such a large tire to sit out back, so Matt had to make a template and carefully cut out a section of the factory rear quarter panels. Luckily, Matt was able to have the factory dark metallic silver paint cleaned up quite nicely, and only added a SEIBON Carbon fiber hood in order to complete the exterior. One thing that does separate this particular IS from most is the lack of a factory sunroof; nearly all of the U.S. market IS’s are equipped with one.
With the hard work done and everything installed, the car was loaded onto the Mainline Dyno at T1. The reigns were turned over to Tony Palo to tackle the tuning of this monster via MoTeC's M1 ECU. Producing well over 1,000 hp to the rear tires, the little Lexus will have plenty to put a serious hurting on most things it’ll line up against at the strip. Matt can finally sleep well at night knowing he has achieved something any car enthusiast would be proud of, and something he can look forward to showing off for years to come.
Modified Lexus IS300 LS-Swap Build at a Glance
Sleeved aluminum 5.3 short block built by Watts Shop
Trick Flow cylinder heads
Dedicated Motorsports turbo manifolds, downpipes and dump tubes
Dedicated Motorsports modified oil pan
Dedicated Motorsports engine mounts
Precision Turbo 6266 turbos
ATI Super Damper
Custom DriveShaft Shop 9-inch IRS setup
Driveshaft Shop carbon fiber driveshaft
Dedicated Motorsports differential mounts
Dedicated Motorsports transmission mounts
Dedicated Motorsports lower control arms
RPS billet carbon triple disk clutch
MoTeC M1 ECU
MoTeC C125 dash
Custom mil-spec engine and body harness by Race Spec
Injector Dynamics ID1300's
Aeromotive mechanical fuel pump
Wilson Manifolds fuel rails
Weld Racing Weldstar RT wheels front and back
Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial Pro 275 rear tires
Mickey Thompson ET Front tires
AFCO racing double adjustable rear shocks
JIC double adjustable front shocks