Staff Projects: A Practical Choice with Potential
If you’ve been following Street63 since its inception two years ago, you may or may not remember my Millennium Jade wide-body Mitsubishi Galant Sigma built by our friends at Sushi Factory. While that car is still around, it is no longer with me. Since selling it to someone more dedicated to keeping it in good shape, it is now roaming the streets somewhere in the south. In its place though, i’m now behind the wheel of a 2001 Lexus IS200.
Some of you may be wondering why I sold the Galant since it was quite distinct. To keep things short, I decided to sell the Galant for one main reason – practicality. Sure, it was fun to drive a stripped out, race-prepped car with a widebody kit nearly daily. But its age and the fact that it had barely any creature comfort made it hard to be the vehicle of choice for long drives…or any drive for that matter. To make matters worse, it wasn’t exactly reliable; In fact, a new problem arose nearly every time I drove it. At one point, it even nearly caught fire (joke’s on you, Aurick).
In the end, I kept shelling out money just to keep it in barely running condition. Worse yet, I hardly drove it anymore because it kept breaking down before even reaching the corner of our street. As the cycle of breaking and fixing continued, my friends and family suggested I sell it rather than keep funding the car. In its place, I should get something newer (possibly younger than me) and more practical. It took some time convincing, but I eventually gave way.
It was hard to find a project car that checked all the right boxes. I wanted something that had four doors, good aftermarket support, and was made in the early 2000s. The no-brainer answer would have been a Honda Civic SiR – four doors, lots of parts, and very practical to daily. However, the prices of fresh units had been skyrocketing for the longest time. Finding a good unit to build upon was just way out of budget, not to mention the prices of parts have also been crazy.
Aurick then suggested I look for a first-gen IS, since it was essentially a rear-wheel-drive SiR or a four-door Supra (if I swapped to a JZ). Around the same time, I got to try driving a friend’s IS200 with a full Altezza swap on track. It wasn’t the best setup but, needless to say, I got hooked immediately. Since then, my hunt for a fresh IS200 began. I had to be careful in looking for a unit though. According to friends, a bunch of them had been in very bad accidents in the past (thanks mostly to its full double wishbone suspension matched with noob drivers). After nearly a year of searching, it led me to this particular 2001 Lexus IS200.
When I picked up the IS it wasn’t in the best condition, far from it in fact. It had an ugly set of Sonar taillights, a tired interior, dead suspension, and a not-so-smooth shifting automatic transmission. But, what was important was that it worked well — or so I thought. There were no check engine lights or anything out of the ordinary. After taking it for a test drive, everything seemed to be working properly.
It wasn’t until I put the car under the lifter did I see all the issues it had. Interestingly, I found out that it was missing a front stabilizer link on the driver side. After a few days of constant use, the transmission also had a hard time getting into reverse gear. It would just rev and not move at all. Thankfully, this issue was resolved by simply flushing the old ATF, which was already gray. Meanwhile, the check engine light wasn’t lighting up…because there was no bulb in it. It was the same case for the other dashboard lights. At one point, it may have also gotten into an accident.
It has been nearly two years since I picked up the IS. Admittedly, not a lot has changed on the outside. In fact, the only exterior changes would be the OEM taillights (a day one ‘mod’ because those Sonar tails were THAT ugly) and the kouki fog lights. Rather than going straight to mods or buying an Altezza halfcut and swapping the engine, I focused on the car’s reliability first. Think of it as “stage zero” in tuning, giving the car proper maintenance and ensuring everything works became the priority. These included making sure the air-conditioning was cold and no fluids were leaking, among other basic requirements for a daily driver.
Overall, ownership life with IS has been a lot easier as compared to the Galant. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing however, at one point the alternator broke and I didn’t know where I could buy a replacement unit. Instead, I brought it to one of the shops in Banawe and hoped they could fix it. Fortunately, the repaired alternator has been holding up until now. Then there’s the radiator, which had been leaking for the longest time. While I do have an aluminum radiator in storage, it is not compatible with the current 1G-FE engine since it is meant for the Altezza’s 3SGE BEAMS.
There are still a lot of issues with the IS that I have to contend with daily. The check engine light still comes on even after clearing the code numerous times. More recently, the low oil level light also comes on at random. Thankfully, it does go away after a while. The list of issues goes on and on – suspension is still dead, the tires are still too thick and rub on the fenders, the radiator still leaks, and many more. But despite all the issues, I have been driving it often; more often than I did the Galant.
I can argue that it is easier to drive, or that it is more comfortable than the Galant. But at the end of the day, the IS is just plain practical. I can use it to get around town without having to worry about it breaking down. At the same time, I can bring my family and friends with me as well. They won’t have to contend with a dusty interior that is also falling apart or the aircon breaking mid-way through the journey. Quite simply, it is a project car that also works as a daily.
There are still a lot of things planned for the IS in the coming months. In fact, I already have a new set of wheels, Tein Flex Z coilovers, and other suspension bits ready to be installed once Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) ends. I’m also hoping to swap the engine out for an Altezza 3SGE Beams towards the end of the year, but it all depends on the budget. One thing for sure is, the IS will continue to be a practical vehicle. No stripped out interior or roll cage anytime the future. At the very most, a harness bar will be installed so I can use my HPI harness and Bride bucket seat. In the future, I’ll be fitting a body kit just to set it apart from the rest of the XE10’s in the country.
There are numerous ways to go about building an IS – from an all-out time attack car to a drift/show ready Final Bout-spec. But for me, this is all my IS will be. As much as I could drop in a 1JZ or even a 2JZ, I’d be throwing practicality out the window. My end goal for this car is to be the ultimate daily. Keeping it N/A with the 3SGE appears to be the best way to do so.
Right now, the IS is still pretty far from how I want it to be. But hopefully, the next time I write an update, it will be looking a lot different from this.
Words and Photos by Jose Altoveros