A break from the South Africa content. The TL in downtown Richmond tonight.
South Africa

South African sights, October-November 2022, part 2

Continuing from part 1, we spent most of the day in Pretoria before heading to Limpopo later in the afternoon. Breakfast, to the best of my recollection, consisted of KFC coffee. (KFC is a bit more upscale in South Africa compared to in the US.)

I don’t even remember where this was, or why I took it.
In the morning we visited the Voortrekker Monument, which is a museum complex that showcases the history of the Dutch settlers in South Africa. It sits upon a mountain, which gives you some opportunities for stunning views.
The Koeksister Bench. It got its name from the dessert pastry known as a koeksister. I had some koeksisters later on in the trip, and they remind me of donuts but a bit different. Also, if you notice, the plaques are in both Afrikaans (background) and English. You can get by in South Africa speaking only English, as it’s the common language between the different groups of people, but Afrikaans is more commonly spoken by white South Africans among themselves.
Much like their counterparts in North America, the European settlers in Africa battled natives over the years.
Heading up the stairs to the museum.
The Pretoria skyline in the distance.
The museum itself is at the top of the stairs. It’s huge, and goes under what you can see as well.
Being foreign I was not eligible to win the FJ45.
Mahindra is mostly known in the US for its farm equipment, but they make bakkies too. This one is from the North West province, which is northwest of Gauteng but is not the northwesternmost province in South Africa.
There are several official languages of South Africa, but English and Afrikaans are the most commonly seen.
Not the largest aloe plants I saw. Not even close.

After the Voortrekker Monument, we headed to visit family, and snacked on rusks and coffee for lunch. I miss rusks.

Advertisements for abortion, definitely not something you see in the US.
Gated community in Pretoria. Off in the distance is a Ford Everest, an SUV based on the Ranger.
Somewhere on the N1 north of Pretoria. I think we were in Limpopo at this point. I’m not sure what that little reference sign means. The lake and mountains behind it was the target of the photo.

Coming in part 3: more Limpopo!

South Africa

South African sights, October-November 2022, Part 1

After a long hiatus, I finally have some more content to post! I went on my first trip outside the US late last year, to South Africa, where my now-fiancee is from. I flew from Richmond, through Atlanta, to Johannesburg. It was a wonderful experience.

This VA 281 shield on eastbound VA 895 was brand new. On the next advance sign, a road crew was actually installing the shield as we drove by.
Richmond is a pretty small airport. I’m not even sure if it has international flights anymore. Probably just Toronto.
This Airbus A350-900 was my home for 16 hours between Atlanta and Joburg.
Parking garage at O.R. Tambo International Airport. There were many cars that I did recognize, but also many that don’t exist in the US. Additionally, South Africa is a LHT/RHD country.
I think this was a Kia/Hyundai dealer in Pretoria. I was pretty out of it by this point and it was hard to see some things at night anyway.

The first night we stayed in a nice AirBnB apartment in Pretoria, the executive capital of South Africa, not far from Johannesburg. It’s a beautiful city, and we were nearby several embassies.

A typical road sign in Pretoria. South Africa uses Transport, but used to use Highway Gothic, and if you look hard enough you can still find some signs with that font out there.
Morning. October is springtime in South Africa, and the jacaranda trees were in full bloom. Also check out the assortment of cars in the parking area. The silver car in front is a Corolla. The GP at the end of the plate is Gauteng, the province that Pretoria is in. We were headed for Limpopo, which has plates that end in L.
Grosvenor Street. It was so pretty.
This was a Chevrolet Corsa bakkie. “Bakkie” is a South African term similar to the Australian “ute”, usually used for a car-based truck but often used for small trucks in general. Confusingly, the Corsa was available as both a Chevrolet and an Opel.
I’ll end this post with a Volkswagen Scirocco. There was a small outcry that the Scirocco wasn’t brought to North America when it was reintroduced, but seeing one up close it isn’t much different than a Golf.

Part 2 coming soon. I plan to use this blog more this year.


Dog food run

I wonder what the original owner of the Aristo would think about its fate. Used by some baka gaijin to make trips to the store because he’s too busy to fling it around back roads. Also, Target was surprisingly quiet for being so close to Christmas.
Dog is happy, so I’m happy. (No, he doesn’t ride in the Aristo.)
Car Stuff

Riding a Roller Coaster

It’s been awhile, WordPress. I haven’t forgotten about this blog, but I’ve been so busy over the past year that I never really had a chance to sit down and do anything for it. I had a couple posts planned for late 2020, but never got around to them. Over the past year I changed jobs three times, sold two of my cars (and working on a third), and entered a wonderful relationship. One of the cars to go was my 2004 Lexus GS300, which was planned to be one of the stars of this blog. I sold it earlier in 2021 to make room for something I’d been thinking about for a long time.

The GS in a photo planned for one of the aborted posts I had started but never finished. Riverside Drive, Richmond, VA, autumn 2020.
I still have the TL. I refinanced it early this year, so I think I’m pretty much married to it now.

So what did I replace the GS300 with? A GS300.

Sort of.

It’s actually an imported 1992 Toyota Aristo, the Japan-only equivalent of the 1st gen GS300. It’s in better shape and lower mileage than the GS was, and it came with a nice bonus.

That engine. The 2JZ-GTE twin turbo inline 6.

I was planning on swapping the engine in the old GS, but with the prices of the GTE engines going to the moon, and a lack of information (and skill on my part) on swapping the UZ-series V8s into the car from the GE (usually the swap happens the other way around, UZ to turbo JZ), I found that buying an imported Aristo and selling the GS would make more financial sense. The Aristo is still the bargain of the JDM car market, as despite coming with the same iconic engine as the 4th generation Supra (in fact, the engine appeared in the Aristo first, two years before the Supra), it sells for a quarter of the price. I bought the car from a local importer (I won’t name names, due to the importer having a mixed bag of a reputation and I don’t want any comments about them either way, but I can say that my car’s auction sheet was clean. Suck on that, Team Free Spirit) and paid in the very low five-figure range. It also had a few options not seen on every Aristo, including a sunroof, leather interior, and the optional OEM limited-slip differential.

So, what’s it like to drive? Well, it’s fast. Despite the twin turbo setup, the power delivery is smooth and linear thanks to the sequential system. The first turbo comes on around 1500 RPM, with the second turbo on standby until 4000 RPM. It’s also quite comfortable, with the plush interior and relatively soft typical Toyota suspension making it a good road trip car. I’ve driven it out of state and back.

Oh yeah, that.

The biggest driving difference between the Aristo and my other cars has been the RHD thing. It’s definitely the most attention-grabbing thing about the car, and it’s the biggest adjustment you have to make with it. However, it’s not the nigh-insurmountable thing some people make it out to be, given the number of JDM imports running around Virginia these days. You have to aim for the opposite vantage point of your lane from where you would in a LHD car, and the turn signal and wiper stalks on the steering wheel are reversed (and on top of that, the turn signals are reversed from a LHD car: up for left and down for right). But after that it’s not too bad, and I always end up driving more defensively than I do in my LHD cars.

147 on 147. East Cary Street, downtown Richmond.

I’ve already made a few changes to the car from when I bought it. I kept the 17 inch wheels from my GS and put them on for the summer, bought a Fujitsubo catback exhaust from an owner in North Carolina, and am at least thinking about switching to parallel mode for the turbos so I don’t constantly go into boost when driving around town. (There’s a bit more lag with that, but it’s a pretty simple mod that just involves rerouting some vacuum hoses.)

It’s not all perfect, mind you. The car is 29 years old. Things break, even with less than 150,000 kilometers (90,000 miles or thereabouts) on the odometer. I’ve had to change the ECU, MAP sensor, and fuel injectors in less than a year of ownership, and I have an oil leak from the front side turbo, so rebuilding both of them is on the books. But, I can tell you, it’s been worth the cost of admission, although that cost is ever climbing.

“That’s great, but what does your license plate mean?”

See you next go round. I promise it won’t take a whole year.

Car Stuff

Broken Silence

2021 Audi RS6 Avant, Cars & Coffee Richmond, April 3 2021. Nogaro Blue is a great color.

Photo dump: IMSA at Virginia International Raceway, August 2019

So, with me trying to use this thing more often, and Kinja going away, I thought I’d try out a photo dump on my blog here. In August 2019, I made my first trip to Virginia International Raceway, to see the IMSA GT race there. I’ve only posted a handful of these to Oppo before, as I was on hiatus when I attended. I had to upload this shit one at a time, so please enjoy viewing this post more than I did making it. (Although the event itself was awesome and I definitely plan to go back when there’s not a plague around anymore.)

To get to the track from the east, you have to turn off US 58 onto Virginia State Route 119, then turn off 119 onto this narrow-ass road. From here you take a right onto a slightly less narrow road, which leads you to the track’s entrance. The vast majority of traffic came from other directions.
Lamborghini Urus pace truck for the Super Trofeo race that was coming up not long after we arrived.
So many Porsches
Ben Keating’s controversial Le Mans Ford GT
AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 display car, with a lurking yellow LC500
One of these things is not like the others
There was a Porsche Cup race going on when we got there.
This 911 had an off in front of us
The Porsches return to the paddock.
Post-race ceremonies. While this was going on the Super Trofeo cars were prepping for their race.
Race car
Randomly passing by one of the Chip Ganassi Ford GTs (RIP)
More Porsche Cup cars
Press F to pay respects to the GS. This was one of a few driving experience cars that took to the track between the Super Trofeo race and the main event.
So was this. It was much louder.
Somehow I don’t think a hot lap in a Mazda 6 would be quite as hot as the GS F or the Huracan.
Wandering around the paddock, I saw another Porsche Cup car.
More wandering. The paddock was pretty open compared to what I was used to.
Garage stalls. The main building looks like a giant barn.
Corvette Racing working on one of their C7.R’s
The #14 AIM Vasser Sullivan RC F, with its sister car’s stall next to it.
Meanwhile, there was another race going on. The Super Trofeo race was like the Porsche Cup race before it, with competitors all in identical Huracans. The race was won by Japanese-American driver Shinya Michimi, who partnered with Meyer Shank Racing in 2020, and Virginia native Brandon Gdovic. Former IndyCar driver Bruno Junqueira was in the race for some reason.
The cars sounded like, well, Lambos.
While wandering around some more I spotted the #57 Heinricher-Meyer Shank all-female-driver NSX, that day piloted by Englishwomen Katherine Legge and, making her US debut, Alice Powell.
A Prototype Challenge car with its nose missing. The main prototype classes skip VIR, but the lower tier Challenge cars apparently went there earlier in the weekend.
Here’s another.
Random Diablo at the back of the paddock. I take it by the lights it’s an SV.
100 octane is WHAT per gallon? (European readers are thinking “pfft, that’s regular petrol price for us”)
Honestly, the price for 93 was probably the higher inflated of the two. That was, if memory serves, a full dollar per gallon higher than outside the track. (Again, I know I’m not going to get much of a reaction from foreign readers.)
Some Ferrari
Some other Ferrari
We eventually settled into a spot near turn 4, aka NASCAR Bend, which is on the left of this photo. We eventually headed back to the paddock for the grid walk after the Super Trofeo race ended and the GT cars were put out into the pits.
To our right was turn 5.
Some people are fans of Datsun. Others are fans of cold beer. This cart serves both, apparently.
Back in the paddock
The #57 again, giving a pit stop demonstration.
I think that’s Katherine Legge in the pink helmet. If I remember correctly, they were demonstrating a driver change at this point.
Beginning the grid walk, here was the pole-sitting #912 Core Autosport Porsche 911 RSR.
#3 Corvette Racing C7.R
#67 Ganassi Ford GT
And its sister car, the #66
The other Corvette, the #4. Until 2020, both Corvettes were yellow. Now one is silver.
The other 911 RSR, aptly numbered.
The two BMW M8 GTEs run by Rahal Letterman Lanigan were at the back of the GTLM grid.
Canadian team Pfaff Motorsports runs this Al Borland-approved 911 in GT Daytona.
The two AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F’s.
The #86 Meyer Shank NSX GT3 Evo, driven by Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman. This car won the GTD title in 2019, and Farnbacher was joined in it for 2020 by Honda engineer Matt McMurry and, for endurance rounds, the aforementioned Shinya Michimi. Farnbacher successfully defended his title in 2020, but is not moving with MSR to the Acura prototype program for 2021.
The Turner Motorsports BMW M6, still competitive after all these years.
The #57 NSX, again. Note the other names on the roof. Christina Nielsen was Katherine Legge’s normal driver, but had a scheduling conflict, and Jackie Heinricher was the team co-owner.
Unfortunately the day didn’t go so well for the 57. Katherine crashed hard after a suspension failure, but had only minor injuries.
90stastic AMG
Scuderia Corse Lambo, with one grid girl
Meanwhile, the Ferrari had three grid girls and some guy with a dog.
Cooper MacNeil’s parents own WeatherTech. The more you know.
I can’t keep the McLaren models straight anymore.
Another AMG
Lastly, the Park Place 911 driven by Porsche stalwart Pat Long. I think this was replaced by the Wright Motorsports entry in 2020, with which Long almost won the title.
While Team Penske wasn’t at VIR, one of its Australian Supercars Mustangs was. This portended Scott McLaughlin’s arrival in American motorsports.
Back in our seats. The Nissan GT-R safety car led the field around the track for pace laps.
RC F leads AMG into turn 5
The 911 RSRs dominated, and sounded amazing while doing it.
#57 before its accident
GTD cars going into turn 5
Last photo is of the 86, which finished 2nd.
Car Stuff

Ode to the Forgotten Lexus

Among 2020’s many casualties, one of the lesser discussed was the Lexus GS. It’s a bit bittersweet for me, as the GS has always been my favorite of the four Lexus sedans, but the writing has been on the wall for a few years now. The fourth generation was in production for eight years, with only one update in 2015. While there were supposed test mules of a fifth generation that would have turned the car into an Audi A7-like 5-door, no production model ever came to fruition. The GS went out with a whimper; there was a special “Eternal Touring” edition in Japan that added GS F bits to the regular models, but none in other countries. It had already been discontinued in Europe a year or two prior, replaced by the better-selling ES. As the owner of one, a 2004 GS300, I’m sad to see it go.

Each of the Japanese luxury manufacturers is somewhat analogous to one of the German luxury brands. Acura is obviously Audi, with its cars generally being front-wheel-drive based chassis, though with a world-class all-wheel-drive system, and often criticized, maybe overly so, for being too closely based on their respective Honda/Volkswagen bones. (I mean, let’s be real. It’s 2020 and the ILX is based on a last gen Civic, when the current Civic is five years old and due to be replaced in the next year or so.) Infiniti is BMW: rear-drive chassis with excellent driving dynamics, but a stereotype of douchebag owners. (Sorry, VQ guys, but that stereotype usually holds up. Also, your engines sound like shit.) Lexus, then, is Mercedes: great chassis dynamics typically overpowered by a bias towards comfort, with high-performance exceptions (AMG for Mercedes, and the F moniker for Lexus). Continuing this analogy, the GS is the Japanese E-Class. Yes, the four-headlight design of the 2nd generation GS does bear a resemblance to the Mercedes W210 E-Class that debuted a couple years prior, but I meant in general terms. Reviews often compared the GS to the BMW 5-series, but I always felt the E was a bit more apt.

The groundwork for the GS had been laid years prior to its 1993 debut. In fact, the car itself had been around for two years in Japan, sold under the name Toyota Aristo, a twin to the venerable Asia-only Toyota Crown. The Crown was sold internationally in the 1960s and early 1970s, but for the most part Toyota passenger cars in western markets were smaller. Before Lexus debuted in 1989, Toyota’s flagship car in the US was the Cressida sedan. The Cressida was the export market name for a car that was sold in Japan under 3 separate names: Mark II, Chaser, and Cresta. All shared a chassis, engines, and basic bodywork, but the front and rear fasciae, and interior, were all slightly different. Essentially, the Mark II was the “normal” version, the Chaser a sportier variant, and the Cresta more refined. The Cressida was most similar to the Mark II, but its upmarket image in the US added a dash of Cresta flavor. The Cressida and Lexus coexisted from 1989 to 1992. A new generation of Mark II (and variants) was released in Japan in mid-1992, and sales of the car were relegated to the home market only. There was no immediate replacement in Toyota’s international lineup, as the front-drive Avalon did not debut until 1994. The Cressida and its siblings were a slightly smaller version of the Crown’s rear-wheel-drive platform, and shared drivetrains.

A Cresta and a Mark II.

A year prior to the Cressida’s demise in the west, a new generation of Crown debuted, alongside the aforementioned Aristo twin. While the Crown was styled to Japanese conventions, the Aristo had more of an international look, being designed by legendary Italian automotive stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro. While the base Crown shares a chassis with the Aristo, the latter car actually is more closely related to the Crown Majesta, a slightly larger and more luxurious variant. The top-of-the-line engine of the Crown, the 3.0 liter 2JZ-GE inline 6, was the base motor for the Majesta and Aristo. Both had an optional V8 sourced from the flagship Lexus LS/Toyota Celsior, though the Aristo did not have that available its first year and it sold very slowly when it did become available. Exclusive to the Aristo was a twin-turbocharged version of the 2JZ, the 2JZ-GTE, in the 3.0V trim (Toyota used the V designation for all of its turbo inline-6 sedans in the 90s for some reason). This engine was later used in the 4th generation Toyota Supra, which propelled it to legendary status. However, when the Aristo was adapted for western markets as the Lexus GS300 in 1993, only the naturally aspirated variant was brought with it. What I haven’t been able to figure out is whether the Aristo was supposed to be adapted into the GS when it debuted in 1991 but was delayed, or whether the decision was made sometime in the interim. I tend to lean towards the latter option because of the cautious approach Toyota took when launching Lexus, which paid off. (Scion, not so much.) The flagship LS debuted with the launch of Lexus in 1989, and was very well received, but the only other car the brand had available at launch was the ES, a literal Camry. (The ES continued to be a fancy Camry for nearly a quarter century, when it became a fancy Avalon.) A third model, the SC grand tourer, launched in 1991. Prices of the LS and SC climbed rapidly, to the point that when the GS was brought in for 1993, its MSRP was practically that of what the LS’s had been in 1989. Despite the additional offering, sales of the first-generation GS were slow, as Lexus buyers still preferred to pay that bit more for the larger LS. The 2JZ-GTE was not offered on the car outside Japan, despite the engine being used in the Supra of the same era in the same countries. I think this is because, looking at prices of the GS and LS and comparing them with those of the naturally aspirated and turbo Supras, a hypothetical GS300 Turbo would cost more than an LS, and they probably would have sold approximately 8. (Why the V8 wasn’t offered outside Japan in the first generation is a bit more questionable, but I assume they didn’t want it to cannibalize LS sales.) The GS’s only notable change in its first generation was an update to a 5-speed automatic transmission midway through its life. It carried on quietly until 1997, with sales slow as its price rose over its life. Nowadays it’s practically easier to find an imported Aristo for sale than it is a USDM 1st gen GS.

Like this one. Except it wasn’t for sale. Also peep that Silver Moon TL off to the side!

The second generation of the GS/Aristo launched in 1997, for model year 1998 in North America. While the interior was similar to, though somehow also much better than, the first generation, the exterior styling was radically different, though the shape was generally the same. In a stark contrast to the Giugiaro-penned first generation, the second was designed in-house at Toyota by a group of 150 people. (150!) As stated above, the headlights resembled those of the contemporary Mercedes E-Class, though in-house sources say the design was chosen to resemble the SC, which also had four headlights. The taillights were changed to a similar design. Both variants of the 2JZ were carried over, with the GTE remaining in Japan (with the trim now called the V300 instead of the 3.0V), but, in an interesting switch, the V8 was discontinued in Japan but became available elsewhere. It was the same 1UZ-FE that powered the LS and SC400, and GS’s equipped with it were predictably given the moniker GS400. The 5-speed automatic transmission was the same on both engines, though the JDM turbo Aristo V300 continued with the same heavy-duty 4-speed automatic from before. I have to think the transmission was never upgraded to a 5-speed because the Supra was relegated to Japan-only sales after 1998, so there was little to no demand for such an update. Sales of the second generation were much higher than that of the first, thanks to the car’s lower price point. In 2000, a Platinum Series trim became available, featuring exclusive touches including special wheels and nicer interior leather and wood. A year after that, the car received a facelift. The taillights and wheels were changed slightly, and the throttle was converted to electronically controlled. The biggest update, however, was a new engine in the V8 model, now called the GS430 thanks to its 4.3L 3UZ-FE motor. A year after that, a trim called SportDesign appeared on both the 300 and 430. Like the Platinum Series before it, it offered a higher grade of interior materials and other exclusive touches, and had enhanced suspension and ECU tuning. It lasted only two years, being dropped for 2004. In 2005, after nearly eight years of production, the car was finally due to be replaced. It still sold fairly well at the time; even in its last years its sales figures were still better than most of the first generation’s. With the introduction of Lexus to Japan in 2005, the Aristo name, along with those of the Celsior (LS), Altezza (IS), Windom (ES), and Soarer (SC), would be retired, though the Harrier (RX) would carry on. (The RX and Harrier would eventually split chassis in 2013, and the Harrier is now sold in North America as the Venza.)

Mmm, Imperial Jade Mica.

The third generation of the GS was evolutionary from a styling standpoint, with the quad lights and general shape resembling its predecessor. Also carried over from the 2nd gen was the 3UZ-FE V8 in the GS430; the 6-cylinder base model that made up the bulk of sales was still called the GS300, but the engine changed to a V6. All-wheel drive became an option for the first time. The V6 was upgraded to a more powerful 3.5 liter unit for 2007, being renamed the GS350, and actually matched the V8 in performance: the GS350 was actually rated with more horsepower than the GS430 and their 0-60 times were the same. This was quickly rectified: for 2008 the V8 was changed to the newer 1UR-FE 4.6L unit producing 342 hp, with the corresponding model name becoming the GS460. (GS460s are extremely rare, among the rarest of Lexus models, and are prized by enthusiasts.) A hybrid version, the GS450h, was available, with a V6 and hybrid system combining for as much power as the GS460. For 2012, the car was replaced with a new generation.

GS460 photo shamelessly stolen from Club Lexus

The fourth and final generation of GS was, like the second generation, similar mechanically to its predecessor but evolutionary in the styling department. The V8 was, for the time being, dropped, with the 3.5L V6 continuing on in both regular and hybrid versions. In some markets, a smaller displacement 2.5L V6 was sold. The car received a facelift in 2015, adding the controversial Predator grille, and two new engines: a 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder base model engine, known as the GS200T (and later GS300 in markets where it wasn’t dropped) and the powerhouse 5.0L V8 in the GS F. The 200T was withdrawn from North America after 2017, leaving just the GS350 and GS F. The cars soldiered on as sales dwindled, finally being discontinued in August 2020.

A GS350 F-Sport, either a 2018 or 2019.

I’d coveted an FR straight-6/V8 Toyota for a few years, after attempting to get a broken A70 Supra from one of my dad’s coworkers, only to find out it was already gone by the time of inquiry. Since then, prices of the Supra, and Lexus SC and IS, began climbing steadily and Cressidas got more and more scarce. That left the GS, which had grown on me, and the LS, which I didn’t find sporty enough to seriously consider, though I did window shop for them when the GS market was particularly thin. Finally, in December 2019, I pulled the trigger on a black-over-tan 2004 GS300 located a few hours north of me. Buying the car was an all-day affair thanks to Northern Virginia traffic, but in the end I came home with it. Early on I’d decided to rebadge it as an Aristo, not too difficult a task since the rear badges were already removed by the previous owner. It was just a matter of getting the parts.

An early photo, about a week after bringing the car home
When you rebadge your Lexus as a Toyota

Exterior: 8/10

When I first got my GS, it looked a bit plain. Completely stock, no wing, the base 16 inch wheels. Within the first few months of ownership I bought a few JDM bits that provided changes that, while subtle, made the car pop. The larger 17” 5-spoke chrome wheels came off an Aristo in Japan, but the GS430 used the same wheels with Lexus logos in the center caps. The JDM window visors add something a little extra. Other than that, it’s aesthetically perfect, if not physically, thanks to a dent in the rear passenger door. The previous owner said his wife backed into it at some point. I just like it. (All right, the four light setup isn’t for everyone, but I do tend to have a thing for cars that have odd styling cues.)

Interior: 8/10

The interior is pretty plush. Leather and wood abound, with some plastic and a relatively soft-touch dash. All of it together combines for a pleasant cabin that’s advanced for the time. The gauges light up and the needles sweep across them when the key is inserted into the ignition. Controls are all easily accessible for the driver, though the glovebox-mounted CD changer is much more easily reached by the front passenger. The parking brake is foot-activated, a change from my other cars. A touchscreen control system was optional, though mine doesn’t have that. The rear seats have ample legroom for two adults, and a fold-out arm rest. I added a set of DRAGint floor mats to give the interior a little more character. My car’s does show its 17 years of age and 250,000 miles, with some wearing of the materials in various spots, but it’s to be expected.

Engine: 7/10

This is another early photo. I’ve long since removed the engine cover.

What comes to your mind when you see the term 2JZ? A Supra? Perhaps a heavily modified bright orange one owned by a dead guy? Well, the first two generations of GS shared that engine, along with some other cars like the SC and IS, and are one of three Toyota sedans that can stake a claim to the title of “four-door Supra”. Yeah, without a turbo it’s not the world-beater that its reputation states, but it’s still a smooth, reliable, moderately powerful, though thirsty, power plant.

Gearbox: 6/10

Note no option for 4, I assume because the turbo cars were 4-speeds and that would have been redundant.

The transmission is all right. There was no manual option for the chassis, though swaps have been done. Since I’m not drifting the car, I’m fine with the 5-speed auto. The gear ratios are satisfactory, and there’s a primitive manual shift mode involving buttons on the steering wheel. It isn’t as intuitive as, say, the one in my TL, and isn’t even fully manual, but again, this car has roots in the mid-90s, when such a concept was only really being pursued by a few manufacturers. The setup is a bit odd, with two downshift buttons on the front and two upshift buttons on the rear, one on each side of the steering wheel. Going from D to manual mode, the car defaults to M5, meaning it’s still using all five gears, and you have to push the downshift button until you get to the desired maximum gear you want to be in, though the lowest you can go is M2. If you want to hold it in 1st, you have to choose L on the shifter. Power mode puts gear shifts a bit higher on the tach, so it enhances the limited manual mode. Shifts aren’t instantaneous, but again, this is a 90s Toyota we’re talking about. (I mean, the Corolla still had a 3-speed automatic when this car came out!) As previously mentioned, it’s a good transmission, but it’s a shame it can’t hold much power.

Performance: 7/10

General performance of the GS300 is pretty solid. The rear-drive chassis helps, for sure. Granted, drive wheels aren’t everything, and the car isn’t as tail-happy as, say, a Toyobaru. I have suspension upgrades planned that’ll make it a bit tighter, but even in stock form the handling is pretty neutral. The 17×8 wheels wrapped in Falken Azenis FK510 summer tires (that predate my employment by Bridgestone, for the record) enhance that just a little bit further. For winter, which is slowly becoming a thing of the past in Virginia, I have the stock 16 inch wheels with some no-name all-seasons that the previous owner installed. Acceleration is smooth but merely adequate, with a 0-60 time in the low-mid 7’s. That’s a little bit slower than my Prelude, but with only slightly more horsepower carrying several hundred more pounds, in context it’s not so bad. The V8 models use the same transmission and yield a good bit more power, so acceleration on them is significantly improved. Overall it’s pretty fun to fling around twisty roads.

Safety: 8/10

The car is surprisingly ahead of its time from a safety standpoint, with side curtain airbags, a rarity in the late 1990s. ABS and traction control were standard, with a system called Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) integrating them. The throttle control system has a mode for snow, which makes for an easier time driving through wintry weather, by limiting revs and shifting.

Comfort: 9/10

Yet another old photo; note the Lexus name in door sill. I replaced them with ones that say Aristo. The L logo on the steering wheel, well, that’s still there.

The GS may not be an LS when it comes to all-out comfort, but it’s still floaty. The seats are very cushy, though the leather itself in them is a bit more supple than that of my TL. (However, after spending some time with a Platinum Series at the junkyard, I can defintively say the leather in those is a step up.) My car has the optional heated seats. Dual-zone climate control means both front seat occupants can have their own comfort level, and the front seats are fully powered.

Audio: 8/10

I just washed it and it’s already dirty again!

One reason I bought the car was because I like the sound the aforementioned 2JZ makes, especially with a modified exhaust. Even in stock form, at low RPMs, the engine has a curious hum, but as it climbs the rev range it really begins to sing. The stereo system contains a 6-disc CD changer, which is disabled in my car because it was draining the battery, a cassette player, and of course AM-FM radio. I don’t have the optional Mark Levinson sound system, but I don’t really listen to the stereo that much in this car anyway so it’s not a big deal. Even the base stereo is solid.

Reliability/cost of ownership: 9/10

My car was an absolute basket case the first 6 months I owned it, to the point that I would joke “buy a Toyota, they said. They don’t have problems like Nissans, they said.” Some of those problems I knew about going in, some were just age (the fuel pump, for example, went out in the spring, but replacing it took only about half an hour), and others were self inflicted (hooking the battery up backwards, for example), so I consider it an outlier. Overall, when it comes to reliability, well, it’s a Toyota. I hit 250,000 in it earlier this year, and it still runs perfectly fine, now that the kinks have been worked out. There are some minor issues common in the car, such as door lock actuators going bad, the infamous 2JZ VVTi gear oil leak that requires taking the timing belt off to fix, and the HVAC motors making noise, but they aren’t major. Sunroof leaks are known to happen, and difficult to fix, but thankfully I haven’t had encountered that. Once I got it all sorted, the only thing I’ve had to buy for the car is gas.

Value: 10/10

The GS is the one of a dwindling number of affordable rear-drive Toyotas that promise at least some sporting characteristics. Sure, you can find LS400s in the same price range, but they require more work to become anything other than a land yacht. Blue book on the 2nd gen GS is in the $3500-4000 range for a 300, and a bit more for the less common V8 models. For that, you get a solid all-around car: reliable, fun, comfortable, practical. While I won’t speculate on what a twin turbo 2nd gen Aristo will cost since it’s two years away from being importable to the US, you can buy a good 1st gen for a quarter of the price of an equivalent Supra, if you’re fine with RHD. I will say that if you’re concerned about cost of fuel, the car does take premium and gets fairly shit gas mileage, so be wary of that.

Overall: 80/100

So yeah. I’d say overall the car meets my expectations. What’s next for it? Well, I’m planning suspension upgrades, to enhance handling a bit and make it feel a bit tighter and, dare I say, more Honda-like, then an engine swap. Factory turbo JZs have skyrocketed in price over the past year, while UZ prices have stayed fairly flat, so I’m either going to do an NA-T (naturally aspirated to turbo) build on a junkyard 2JZ-GE, or go UZ and maybe do a TRD supercharger on it, something that has been done.

So, it looks like I’ll be using this blog more since Oppositelock is going away. Of course, that depends on my having the time to write stuff out. See you soon.


The roof was closed

Sorry for the lack of content lately. I’m really busy.

Bonus unicorn road sign

A hot mess

Buy a Toyota, they said. They don’t have issues like Nissans, they said.

Yeah, they do once they start coming back from the moon. As my GS300 creeps up towards 250,000 miles, it’s had a litany of little things pop up and get fixed. Granted, I bought it to be a project, and it’s gratifying to finally have the bulk of them fixed, but sometimes it’s just like, man, when is it going to end?

I bought the car in December 2019, from the second owner, who’d owned it for over a decade. It was a good solid car for him, but he had a 100+ mile daily commute and the 2JZ’s notoriously poor fuel mileage wasn’t cutting it for him, so on the market it went once he got a Civic hybrid. When I got the car, it was bone stock but had several issues of varying intensity. The biggest was a battery drain, ostensibly caused by his wife backing her car into the passenger’s side rear door. (Also at their house was a fairly new Hyundai Elantra with a destroyed front end, apparently a recent victim of a deer collision.) I later discovered, with help from a local auto shop, that the CD changer and memory fuse were also killing the battery.

Good old temporary tags

The back of the car was completely debadged, so I’d decided I was going to rebadge the car as its Japanese alias, the Toyota Aristo. I bought most of the things needed for the change: exterior badges (which required a different grille for some reason), door sills, and, since the tire options were better for the 17 inch wheels that the GS430 had, a set of JDM twin turbo wheels with Toyota center caps. While I was at it I also bought a set of JDM door visors to make the car look a bit less boring.


I also got a set of checkered floor mats from DRAGint, because I absolutely love how they look.

Plans for the car include moderate suspension upgrades to improve handling, and an NA-T build on the 2JZ-GE. I’m probably going to get a spare engine from the junkyard for that. But first, I wanted to cure what ails the car. The battery drain was a nuisance, but not life-altering since the car isn’t my daily driver. A more pressing issue was that the car was running lean and stumbling under throttle. This was a combination of an exhaust leak and a hole in the air box. Both were fixed and the car is now so much happier.

Another issue popped up when I dropped the car off for inspection last month: some suspension parts were worn and needed to be replaced. Along with the other issues, the car ended up being in the shop for two weeks. (Right after that happened, my TL’s alternator died, because of course it did. This caused me to have to daily drive my Prelude for awhile.)

Ultimately I ended up with this Kia Soul loaner for a couple days, thanks to CarMax and Enterprise. The Soul is…well, it’s a vehicle. That’s about all I can say.

After getting both sedans back, I’ve been doing some longer distance drives in the Aristo to make sure the issues are gone, and they seem to be. It’s both comfortable and sexy, like a messy bun and yoga pants. I’m not quite at 250k yet, and it still has a couple more minor issues to fix, but soon.