Dayle Gray opened the doors of Motorsport Warehouse in 1990, a little before the import scene was in full swing. Back then most of the cars that came in the shop were Mustangs, Camaros and a variety of other imports and domestics.
"After the business was up and running for about eight years, imports dominated the shop," says Gray. "I decided it was time to get a car that better reflected what our business was about." At the time he was driving a Mustang SVO turbo or an '86 5.0 convertible. While searching eBay in 1998 or 1999 for turbo parts, he came across an ad with a headline that read something like "Lexus Turbo Soarer JDM." For seven days he researched the car, and by the end of the auction he won the bidding war. The car was bone stock; factory 1JZ-GTE engine, leather interior, A/C, etc. The previous owner had imported three of them a year earlier and legalized them beforehand in about the same process that's required to bring in a Skyline these days (not quite as costly, but still not cheap).
For the first year the Soarer was a daily driver, but Gray made some upgrades straightaway. The exhaust was upgraded with a Carrsound 3-inch high-flow cat splitting into dual 3-inch core Hayama mufflers from SPW. Gray then built his own air intake kit from some 3-inch polished tubing and a Monsterflow air filter.
Unwilling to settle for the stock 9 psi of boost, he installed a manual boost controller, but found the ECU had a 15-psi fuel cut. To solve this and many other future issues, he contacted friend Mike U. at Toysport, who helped him get an HKS F-CON V from Japan and a correct harness for a Soarer. This is an excellent mod; the programmable ECU plugged inline with the stock ECU enabled him to boost well over 15 psi. Also, it has dipswitch settings for more fuel and timing that are easily accessible. It also keeps the injector pulsewidth open longer for more fuel, which is nice with the stock injectors.
After about a year on the stock turbos, Gray dusted both of them, then one day toasted the motor. Through a friend, he located another 1JZ, and installed the new/used engine at his shop. At this same time, he decided to go with some 440cc injectors, install some HKS cams and add an Unorthodox four-piece pulley kit.
The Soarer ran great. It was a great daily driver that would shred most cars it came up against. It was still a black RHD-looking Lexus with the exhaust tip being the only hint of what was under the hood. "Yep, it was quite a sleeper, but by the time most people realized I was driving on the right-hand side, I was car lengths ahead of them. It still draws looks and stares every time I drive it," says Gray.
A year or two later, the Soarer was running Tein coil-overs with EDFC, GReddy memory boost gauge, Sparco Torino seats with custom floor brackets, an HKS Monster pump, and a bad-ass Blitz FMIC kit with hard pipes specially imported from Japan. With all these mods, Gray reports the car ran consistent mid 13s in the quarter mile.
About this time, though, Gray's heavy foot turned him on and he toasted the stock transmission. "I had Brian at Trans Werks in Huntington Beach rebuild my nice Toy trans. Trans Werks added a 3500-rpm stall converter and a Setrab trans cooler for longer life. The car shifts incredibly, and I really haven't missed it not being a five-speed, honest," he says.
In 2002, Gray tossed the twin turbos for a large single turbo. He acquired an HKS stainless-steel manifold, HKS racing wastegate, some oil lines and plugs through Mike at Toysport, and did the swap in his shop in one weekend. Then he had a 3.5-inch intake pipe made and polished by a local shop and a custom 3-inch downpipe built by another local shop, Champine Performance, and connected to the existing cat-back system.
Gray bought a TO4X turbo from the great guys at Excessive Engineering. The turbo was sized so he didn't have too much turbo lag, and there was still plenty of boost at the top end. Since there was still a little more lag than he wanted, Gray added a Nitrous Express wet kit adjustable from 55 to 100 hp. Even a 50-shot to spool-up the turbo was enough to break traction on the Nitto drag radials through second gear. This strategy worked well.
With the car on top of its game, Gray opted to treat the Toyota to J-spec body armor and new color. Mark at Kiyoshi's Motorsports filled an impressive order-a Do-Luck rear skirt and wing, T&E front bumper and side skirts and a B&N vented hood.
Gray learned a lot about patience with this car. Nothing is sitting on a shelf anywhere in the United States. Just about anything he ordered took four to six months to arrive from Japan. With the body kit in hand, Gray went back to his roots with his choice for the Soarer's new hue-2002 Mustang GT mineral grey. After Mike Rage Paint worked its magic in the paint booth, Gray swapped out rims again for some lightweight Racing Sparco five- spokes that came in a factory bronze color. The wheels are wrapped by Nitto NT450 255/40-17s on the front and 275/40-17s Nitto drag radials on the back.
Since you can't legally bring over Soarers anymore, Gray says he plans on keeping this car for a long time. "It's the best feeling to roll up to a car show or cruise night and see the looks on peoples faces. Old and young alike will pay compliments, which is nice when I'm at a car show surrounded by street rods and early musclecars."
Gray mostly drives what he calls a well-modded 1992 Subaru SVX AWD these days, but the Soarer sees the road on a weekly basis and the strip every so often. "Running mid-12s at the strip is a rush, but keeps you wanting more. Luckily, I have the patience for that and the car to do it in," he says. Wonder what happed to those other two Soarers that were imported in 1998?