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Love it or hate it: 1998 Lexus LS400 (UCF20)

27 March 2014


Japanese car culture can often be a confusing world to try and navigate, especially when you’re desperate to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Everyone throws out terms like ‘boso’ and ‘shakotan’ when describing their cars here in New Zealand, but though more often than not their heart is in the right place, there are not that many cars here that could perfectly fit in at a Japanese VIP, Kaido Racer, or Kyusha meet. It’s not just because we’re not very good at it; the truth is, as anyone who has delved into the world of shakotan, hippari, and oni-kyua will know, it’s just not practical — not in any sense of the word. Too low, too stretched, too wide — it’s an absolute nightmare for the average Kiwi enthusiast. Aucklander Vick Bhatti, however, is not your average Kiwi enthusiast. 

Vick is the man behind XRacing Motorsport, and has been around the scene for about as long as anyone. Over the last decade, he has always pushed boundaries when it comes to modified cars, and his list of previously owned rides, which includes a bunch of NZPC features, reads like a J-side car fan’s wet dream. Every year it seems as though Vick comes up with something new, something different, and every time there’s always a hint of controversy — this year, however, is more controversial than most, thanks to the latest build to wear the ‘CONVIK’ plate — a late-model facelift Lexus LS400 VIP masterpiece.

In classic Vick Bhatti fashion, one of the most talked-about machines at the recent V 4&Rotary Nationals was never actually meant to happen. He explains: “I only ever picked this car up to use as a daily-driver. I was going to drop it on some big Work rims I had lying around and roll the guards — that was it. The Works were nine- and 10-inch wide, so we got our trusty three-inch pipe out and started rolling the guards, which worked fine on the rear, but, when it was time to do the fronts, the wheels would not fit — it needed spacers to clear the brakes, so we started looking in the garage and the only thing we could find was 50mm spacers. We put them on [front and rear], and that’s pretty much how the build started. The spacers basically pushed the wheels out to the same widths as my other set of Works I had — 19×11- and 19×13-inch Eurolines. Things just went from there.” Soon, Vick was set on creating a bona fide, no-compromises Japanese bippu VIP machine, a faithful interpretation of a style born in the Yakuza underworld and embraced by hundreds of thousands of Japanese enthusiasts. “I needed to get huge amounts of negative camber, and obviously you’re never going to get near that level on the stock components, so I called Dinh at Spec2 Development to get all-custom suspension arms made up. After that, I went to see Grant at GT Refinishers about tidying it all up.”

Vick has been working with Grant and the team for a very long time, and together they have created a long list of cool cars. So when it came time to get stuck into the bodywork of the Lexus, Vick ordered a full Aimgain JUN VIP bodykit out of Japan, and, once it arrived, took the car to the shop, and left the fitment and — trustingly — the colour of the car and the wheels completely up to them. Over the space of a couple of weeks, the team got stuck into the car, first chopping out Vick’s slightly shady pipe-method guard rolling, then creating all-new wider guards to allow for the big rims.

The rear dog-legs were also removed to create space for the sheer size of the new wheels. “I originally wanted to paint it a simple 2K cream or beige,” Vick tells us. “But Grant actually talked me out of it, so in the end I just told him to pick a colour and left it up to him. I didn’t even know what colour it was going to be until it was already painted. When I saw a photo, I wasn’t sure what to think, as I’d really imagined the car a much lighter shade, but once I came down to the shop the next day and saw it in person in the sun, I was in love.” Since the controversial car was unveiled at the V 4&Rotary Nationals, the perfection of the Porsche Macadamia Metallic paint is one thing everyone seems to agree on: “I got so much positive feedback about the colour, but, to be honest, it’s like the way the car sits, I think it’s something you really have to see with your own eyes to properly appreciate.”

Vick is right, too. Even though we’d seen it all weekend long at the nationals, when the Lexus turned up for the photo shoot on a beautiful West Auckland afternoon, it blew us away. The golden-tinged paint absolutely danced in the sunlight and was matched perfectly by the extremely heavily metal-flaked wheel centres as it slowly crept down the alleyway towards us. The big-bodied LS400 doesn’t even really look like a car any more, with its ant-crushing ride height (by way of coilovers, not airbags, of course) and its crazy-wide wheels jutting way out from the side of the body.

Vick knows his bippu LS400 isn’t for everyone, and he’s happily accepted the inevitable hate because he expected it from the very start. “Any time you take something to the next level, it’s going to be controversial,” he says. “Anyone that knows me from my past builds knows I don’t want to follow what other people do here in New Zealand. I like to think I’ve always been the one to take it a step further, and the VIP car scene is very small in NZ, so I decided to take it to Japanese standards.”

This Lexus might not be practical nor particularly legal, and, hey, we’re not saying that shakotan, oni camber, and hippari tyre is the only or even the right way to go when modifying your car, but neither is Vick, and his entirely faithful nod to Japanese bippu culture really hits the right spot — especially for car-culture nerds like us!