Proving the old theory that ‘There ain’t no replacement for displacement’ THOR Racing’s V8 engined Altezza development ‘mule’ offers a sublime eight cylinder soundtrack and four litres of tarmac thumping goodness. Oversteer anyone?
There are definitely two tuning camps in this vast and varied industry of ours. Those that like to take what the factory gave them – and improve. An air filter here, and exhaust there. A turbo or two bolted on and a remap later and you’ve a car that still conforms to the designer’s vision, yet offers significantly more in the way of entertainment..
And then there is the ‘other’ camp. These chaps show a healthy disdain for the factory’s wishes and like to start with their own clean sheet of paper to create, in some cases, the very car the factory could have, or perhaps should have created in the first place.
Take THOR Racing for instance. No stranger to these pages, the Coventry based tuning specialists appear to take great delight in upsetting the establishment by ripping out perfectly decent factory lumps and replacing them with something from higher up the manufacturer’s own food-chain. Their BEAMS engined Celica ST has been a regular in the Banzai Magazine project pages for over a year now and typifies their engineering-led approach to making non-standard powerplants look – and work – like they had always supposed to be nestling between the recipient’s inner wings.
We make no apologies for the fact that the car you see here isn’t a polished show queen. As with many demo and development cars, this one has lead a very hard life and has seen countless hours and miles of development work, both on track and road, seeing duty as a butty and parts chaser, track-day terror and school run troop transport. ‘All of our conversions have to be real-life usable,’ explains THOR MD Peter Betts. ‘They need to fulfil the same remit as the original, and that should include functionality as well as performance.’ But more on that later.
The car you see here came about from a series of tuning-related catastrophes. Originally arriving at THOR on the back of a trailer, dripping oil and with bits of dismembered engine lying around its bay. This grizzly scene of metallurgic murder was the result of the owner’s home-brewed attempt at turbocharging the original Altezza motor with a Greddy kit. Too much boost and one heavy right foot later and the result was a hole in the side of the block and pistons on the outside that should have most definitely been on the inside. After realising that it was beyond economic repair, Pete manfully offered to buy the remains of the car to help the guy out. ‘My original plan was to fit one of our ‘off the shelf’ Blacktop BEAMS engines, tidy it all up and sell it on.’ explained Pete. ‘The turbo kit itself was in good condition, so I figured I could sell that too and we’d be all square.’ However, after examining the costs in detail, Peter realised that it wasn’t good business, and so the engineless shell was pushed into a dark corner of the workshop.. where it remained for over a year!
In the mean time, the firm had been busy creating its much publicised range of V8 conversions. After both Mk 3 and 4 Supras had been successfully engineered, followed by a series of client’s Caterham-esque kit cars, it didn’t take Peter very long to realise which engine he needed to put in the sorry looking bay of the Altezza. A 4.0 lump was quickly sourced through THOR’s many contacts, but now full of V8-fettling knowledge, Peter specified a different spec to his other builds. ‘After measuring the bay, I discovered that that the LS400 unit, as opposed the SC400 (Soarer) units we had used before offered a much better sump configuration for this swap. It saved a lot of work.’ With a useful 210 BHP dynoing through the donor car’s wheels – despite running through a slushbox and factory exhaust – Pete knew he had found a great second hand motor for the conversion.
Fitting it of course, was another matter. THOR fabricated custom engine mounts as well as fitting one of their own bespoke R154 adapter kits, allowing a Mk 3 Supra Turbo manual ‘box to literally bolt up to the lux-o-barge lump, transforming it into a true driver’s powertrain. Transmission mounts also had to be fabricated, but the good news is, both these and the engine mounts have now been fully productionised, so if you fancy repeating this exercise, all the hard work has been done for you. You can buy yours off the shelf, now!
With the engine sitting where it should, and the gear lever exiting neatly through the tunnel, Pete created a bespoke induction set-up using various bits of silicone and alloy pipework, topped off with an ITG filter. The cooling system shows off the firm’s brand of lateral thinking well. The original JDM rad had the inputs and outputs in completely the wrong places, whereas the UK spec IS200 rad had pipework in almost the exact right place to plumb into the V8’s hose positions, making for a relatively straightforward and factory-looking job.
The exhaust was also custom-fabricated, using the OEM steel headers, which had to be re-routed around the Altezza’s steering knuckle, due to clearancing issues, before running through a 2-1 manifold, though a straight pipe, and then out to the atmosphere via the original aftermarket backbox that came with the dead motor. ‘Works fine, flowed well on the dyno..Why change it?’ laughs Pete.
Knowing that the car would serve daily-driving duties, and with a family to transport, Pete decided to take a little time to splice the V8’s air-con compressor pipework into the original Altezza system, meaning that despite the Frankenstein nature of the build, each and every button on the dash still has its intended factory function, allowing Pete to create the perfect cabin ambience on a long drive. Pete describes this part of the build a ‘A total ball-ache..’ But also added, ‘It really does make it a nice thing to live with in the summer, though.’
The car had also arrived with a few other choice components that Pete has seen no good reason to change. These included the rather lovely Enkei NT03 +M race rims, the Tein Coilovers and more obviously, the JDM spec PU-rim body kit, which although a little battle-scarred by now, still lends the Altezza a purposeful air.
There was still a ton of work to get the car finished however, so Pete turned his attention to fuelling the thing and getting it all to run. His first change here was to modify the in-tank pump to offer both a flow and return, before fabricating a suitable interface between the various hard and soft pipes of the two factory systems. To make the whole kit and caboodle fire was also a straightforward affair, thanks to THOR being the official UK distributor for Link ECUs. With a store-room full of units to choose from Pete bi-wired the car to accept two different Link ECUs. For our shoot, the car runs on the link G4 Storm G4 Pro unit, but this can also be switched to the smaller and less expensive ‘Atom’ unit, showcasing the fact that this conversion can be run on a ‘clubman’ spec unit for customers that so desire. An impressive facet of this conversion is also the fact the THOR has managed to maintain the original factory CAN/BUS systems from the stock ECU. This means that the entire chassis control system is still in place, meaning that small, but important, detail components like air blowers, windows and the tacho all perform as they should.
With the new induction and exhaust set-up, this big lazy engine has recorded a healthy 250 bhp/255 ft/lbs at the wheels, without even breaking a sweat – and even manages to return decent fuel economy thanks to its relatively low-revving nature. So with a seemingly perfect conversion executed yet again, are there any further plans for the car? ‘The diff for sure!’ says Peter pulling a face. ‘Basically these Altezzas have the IS300 diff fitted, which is a 4:1 ratio. That makes for wheelspin through the first three gears.. which is fun but a little too much like hard work on a daily. My plan is to fit a diff somewhere between 2.8 and 3.2:1 from another Toyota model to make it a bit less of a handful.’ That said, we couldn’t help but notice a full set of genuine BTCC IS200 wide arches and bumpers lurking in the corner of the THOR workshops.. so naturally, we had to ask.. would they be appearing on the car any time soon? ‘Time permitting, that’s my plan for the next incarnation of this car. Watch this space!’ Says Pete somewhat coyly ‘Mind you, I’m having way too much fun driving it at the moment to take it out of service.’ And with that he jumps in the car, and fires up the engine to reveal a glorious ‘woofle’ through the stainless system. As we say our goodbyes and he disappears into the sunset with a squeal of the tyres, a dab of opposite lock and the unmistakable growl of a fat V8, both me and snapper Swords agree.. we won’t hold our breath for the follow up shoot!
Specification List for Altezza V8.
Toyota 4.0lt V8 1UZ-FE (from Lexus LS400)
THOR Engine Mount Kit
R154 5spd (MkIII Supra Turbo)
THOR R154 to 1UZ-FE Gearbox Adaption
THOR Gear Lever Position Extension
THOR Bespoke Propshaft
THOR Gearbox Mount Kit
Tein Super Street
SuperPro Full Poly Eurethane Bush Kit
THOR Modified Stock Headers
Custom THOR Downpipes and Midsection.
Existing Back Box System
ITG Foam Filter
Link STORM G4 integrated with stock Altezza ECU
THOR mapped on 4WD Dynapack Chassis Dyno