Words & Photos by Henry Phull
Although I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to seeing Chris Phillips’ Lexus IS200, there’s still a part of me that remains in some sort of disbelief, or shock, every time I see it, for it’s one of the best sitting cars I know of. I’m sure you’ll be thinking that there’s no way he drives it this low in the UK… It must be aired out, right? Think again, it’s static. Not only that, but it’s been executed flawlessly on a jaw-dropping set of BBS split rims, a surprising choice for a Jap car, although they work incredibly well on this car. To top off the madness, Chris dailies this Japanese frame slayer day in, day out. That’s dedication. A valeter/detailer for Meridien Modena by trade, he keeps the Lexus immaculately clean, too. For a car that was originally purchased to keep stock and use as a workhorse, things seem to have got a little out of hand – once you fall in love with lowered cars, there’s no looking back. Some would say it becomes a part of you and you’ll forever carry the bug, even if you start off with a completely different sort of car.
Chris’ car history involves a couple of Corsa’s which went through the full works… limo tints, massive exhausts, neons, and lowered appropriately of course. But the Lexus came as a replacement for his Volkswagen Polo 6N, a highly modified and well known car which ended up on full air ride, CCW Classic wheels and a G40 engine-swap after several previous transformations. Being one of these people that has experienced life with both bagged and static cars, I’m sure Chris will agree that the love/hate argument over the two suspension platforms really does come down to personal preference.
Deep into Polo ownership, it was becoming evident that the project was draining Chris of money. Even though he still loved the car, it was a constant revolving battle, especially with the engine swap which led to numerous late nights and early mornings – frustration would probably best describe the situation. “It’s a car I will never forget I owned, but there comes a time where you have to cut your losses” explains Chris. With the idea of leaving car modifying behind him, he set out in search of a new motor. After hours browsing the classifieds, he was having trouble finding a car he would be happy living with.
As is often the case, it was a waiting game for something cool to pop up. Soon enough, the Onyx Black IS200 SE came up online advertised in Farnborough. “I was working in Basingstoke at the time so on my way home one night I took a detour to take a look at the car”. It seemed the ideal car for a daily motorway cruiser and general runaround, stylish yet comfortable at the same time. The deal was done and a week later Chris collected the car. It was in need of a little TLC… Having had some work at the bodyshop previously, the paint wasn’t looking great, mainly due to not being lacquered. With the bug for modifying cars still non-apparent, Chris planned to basically tidy up the car and make it presentable.
Still an avid car show attendee (mainly VW ones due to the Polo) Chris noticed that, slowly but surely, more non-VAG cars were making an appearance on the VW-dominated scene, yet he’d still not seen an IS200 in the UK circuit. “I spent many nights looking through forums and Facebook pages to see what had been done with them. Most of my results were coming back to modified IS300’s in America, proving they’re more common over there.” With this thought at the back of his mind, he still managed to go a good three or four months without being seriously urged to modify the Lexus. Of course, the bug did finally reappear… and rightly so.
It all started one evening when Chris discovered that somebody he knew had put a set of IS200 coilovers up for sale. “A couple of weeks later I had the money together and it was game on – it’s pretty much snowballed from there.” Presently, he has collected four different types of bumpers, two sets of side skirts, a couple of sets of wheels and different grills. “You could say that the itch had returned and it just had to be scratched.” he laughs. The coilovers in question are HSD Monopro’s with custom stiffer springs to allow for a better ride at the height Chris has chosen. Along with 30mm RCA spacers up front, the car was given to Coltech Classics in Poole for a few hours work which involved notching the suspension turrets to allow the upper control arms to pass through, allowing the car to go even lower. To help sort out the rear fitment, Chris installed Megan Racing adjustable rear camber and toe arms.
After running the car on several different sets of wheels, including Rays G07WT’s, WORK Meister S1’s and Enkei NT03+M’s, the car in its current state (and undeniably the best look yet) now sits on a gorgeous set of BBS RS 320/321 which have been stepped up from 17″ to 18″ with a kit supplied by VR Wheels in the US with genuine BBS assembly bolts, half height caps up front and full height ones on the rears for a staggered look. Tyre wise, Chris settled for 215/35/18 fronts and 225/40/18 rears. “As it’s my daily i didn’t want to run such a small tyre to run the risk of it becoming unseated” he explains.
The Lexus originally had a half leather/half alcantara cream interior, which Chris swapped with a complete black interior, followed by a change of carpets, seat belts, trim panels, etc. They all had to be changed for black items which really do help to make the car look more modern and sporty. He also fitted a black leather arm rest which was sourced from a higher spec IS200. Chris’ friend Brad Comer retrimmed the handbrake and gear gaitors in black perforated alcantara to match the seat centres. Finishing off the cabin, and to make it look just that little bit special, he installed a black leather Nardi steering wheel (although after shooting the car, it’s now been changed for a Renown 130R Dark wheel).
Chris has fitted some extra goodies to make the exterior stand out over a regular IS200, including custom smoked headlights and fog lights, a Vertex front bumper along with matching Vertex side skirts, plus a TRD lip on the standard rear bumper. The boot lid has also been debadged in favour of the clean look that Chris has going on. Driving this low does have its set backs, going fast being one of them, but he isn’t fussed about speed. Performance wise, Chris opted for a Japspeed cat back exhaust system, which Coltech Classics modified whilst it was in, to get it sitting higher and more central to the cut out in the rear lip. It’s all about these small details which help set the car off.
I had to ask Chris why he puts himself through driving this low, as it would scare most people. “I have my good days and my bad days just like everyone, some days I get in the car and go for a drive and I’ve just got a smile on my face. But then other days you’ve got to plan your route making sure there aren’t any speed bumps, road works etc”. With static life, it is also impossible to keep a car in mint condition, and being a detailer this can sometimes get on Chris’ nerves. Things like messy arches due to rubbing, and wear that has taken to the bumper and side skirts, but these are the compromises that come with running a car so low. It just adds to the character, anyway. “Even with that in mind I still wouldn’t have the car any other way. It’s cool to see joe public look at the car and give you a thumbs up or a nod.” he says.
Chris lives every car guy’s dream. Monday to Friday he is surrounded by cars at work, and not just any cars… Ferrari’s and Maserati’s. He’s fortunate enough to drive some models that other people would only dream of seeing, including the Ferrari Enzo, 599 GTO, 288 GTO and even LaFerrari, “150yards but I still count it”, he chuckles. On the weekends, Chris spends his time at car shows, working on the Lexus or detailing privately. He’s become quite well known for his handiwork around these parts, taking care of several cars that we’ve already featured on Slam Sanctuary.
“I’ve been able to meet some great people along the way who I now feel privileged to call friends and if I was ever to attend a show on my own I can always count on someone being there that I could catch up with.”
It’s awesome to see that there are still people out there that thrive to drive as low as they possibly can. Seeing something like that pull up behind you is mind boggling and you just can’t achieve that level of satisfaction with a bagged car. We enjoy both air ride and coilovers here at Slam Sanctuary, but deep down there has to be some sort of extra credit due to those like Chris who take things a step further, not to mention, completely different choice of car. Every now and then he has thoughts of selling up and buying something more sensible, yet again, looking at the car and how it sits now, it’s no surprise that he can’t bring himself to do say goodbye. Besides, those questions and remarks about speed bumps and curbing wheels from joe public will never get old, right?