Back in 2007, I wasn't all that ambitious. My ultimate goal during the long extended summer break was to build myself a nice little treehouse. The seven-year-old engineer in me wanted to build the most perfect treehouse in the neighbourhood. It was unnecessary and futile, but something I felt would be a statement of what I could make all by myself. I climbed the strong old branches of the peepal tree in my backyard and started plotting a plan. There was no reference for me to make one from scratch as the closest I'd come to architecture and designing was watching Bob The Builder at 7 pm daily on Disney. I still pursued this Burj Khalifa of a project and brought along the longest and the strongest rope I could lay my hands on. I started by tying the branches I felt were strong and making multiple loops of rope around the branches to create something like a hammock on the branches of the tree. I was proud of the valiant effort I had put into reaching there but all it took was a strong breeze to shatter my pride as my hammock moved around turbulently. I was back to my drawing board. In my next attempt, I went heavy-duty by building the treehouse out of some plywood I found lying around. It was hard work but as I placed it firmly on the stronger branches I could see victory on the horizon. Once again, the pride was shortlived as the summer season paved its way to welcome an oncoming doom of the monsoon. There I sat, in my makeshift treehouse, cold and drenched in rainwater. This revealed some obvious flaws in my design and I had to find some shelter to the rains and heat. By the time I could figure that out, my school reopened and the entire purpose of it was killed. I eventually found a solution to the flaws and tied a large piece of tarpaulin on top of the plywood. I added a ladder and few creature-comforts like a bedding to sit on and a small box to store my Tinkle collection. It was the winter break when I eventually finished constructing my treehouse but it was way too cold and dull to spend any time in it. I started thinking, what was the point of it all? But if you think that was a failure, then you are losing the point of it. It is not about building a makeshift platform to sit on but having a fully functional treehouse. It was a hunt for perfection when most people could have compromised. It was the statement of what I as a 7-year-old could build. And I was happy I did.
Now use the premise mentioned above, scale it up a notch. Ten times the scale, hundred times the scale, thousand times the scale of perfection, and you finally come close to the scale of work that went into one of the greatest cars ever to emerge from the land of the rising sun, The Lexus LFA.
The year 2000 marked the wake of a New Millenium. People were gleaming with hope and wanted to embark on new challenges, much like one Akio Toyoda, who is currently the president and CEO of the parent company of Lexus, Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC). Lexus at that time was conceived by the general audience as a brand known for making reliable and comfortable cars often bought by an older audience. The Lexus IS was as good as the equivalent product from BMW but never got the credit it deserved. The brand required a halo project, one that would redefine the notions people had about the brand. This gave birth to the skunkworks project named the LF-A. This was the genesis, the birth of an icon. This project was headed by Haruhiko Tanahashi, developer of the ST165 Toyota Celica GT-Four and had played an important role in developing another Japanese icon, the Toyota Supra. With such firepower in hand, they set out to make the halo project a reality.
I want to emphasize the gravity of the project they just embarked upon. This car had to be made from scratch because they had no reference to start with and no existing context to base it on. How do you pull off something out of the blue? How do you brush out something from a blank canvas? By using an age-old method of ‘Trial and Error’. In this case, every error leads to damages worth millions of dollars. This was being done by engineers for whom perfection wasn't quite good enough. This car was a hunt to design and produce the finest driving machine. That would explain why after three years of development, when the first working prototype was unveiled, it was scrapped for being too heavy. Mind you, the initial prototype was made completely of aluminium which is already a light material and still relatively modern for that era, but that wouldn't cut it. So they settled for a heavenly piece of material from the gods above, carbon fibre. As carbon fibre is hard to shape and fit in a design that was based on aluminium, they went back to the drawing board and started all over again. And this added a very casual five years to the build. This project took 9 years from the initial sketch to having a fully functioning road-going production car. Here are a few things one can do in 9 years - You can finish both your terms as a US president, you can go from grade 1 to grade 9 which is high school and if you take into consideration of the production starting in 2011, that's 11 years. In this time, The Fast and the Furious franchise went from being a movie about street racing and cars to being international outlaws in the fifth movie, Fast Five. Getting a ticket for over speeding and street racing to being hunted by the CIA for robbing a country. The levels at play here are off the charts.
As I wrote this article, I did some homework about the LFA, and more I learnt about all the backstory behind its design and development, the more I was astounded, unable to comprehend each feat this car managed to pull off. The only questions now remain are-
Where do I start? How do I start? Oh, sweet Jesus.
Okay, Let's start with the obvious, the 4.8 Litre V10 that is tucked underneath the carbon fibre weaved bed. When the engineers had to design an engine for this car, they needed a high revving engine with linear power delivery. The only arrangement that met the requisites was a V10. But the problem that comes with it is the heavyweight of the V10 arrangement which kind of derailed the whole point of going, lightweight.
So the end product, as a result, was a V10, that had a size of a V8, that weighed as much as a V6 and sounded better than a V12. This is about the point where I suggest consulting a neurologist for all the blown minds. If you're still hanging in there, brace for impact.
It's also high time we addressed the elephant in the house, that V10 soundtrack. Have you heard angels from heaven singing? If not, head over to youtube and search for "Lexus LFA exhaust soundtrack" and hear the opera of ten cylinders singing in harmony at a pitch of 9500 rpm. Some say it could bring brain dead patients back to life. It is the single greatest exhaust note ever to christen our roads. It is a sound therapy so visceral, it would wake all your senses alive and that will bring out the sixth sense that people make conspiracy theories about. This is thanks to the magic dust that was sprayed by Yamaha.
Yamaha, as you and I know, is both a bike manufacturer and a manufacturer of musical instruments. The bike engineers worked on the engine performance of the V10 while the instrument artists worked on the greatest musical instrument they made - the LFA exhaust system. And a lot of thought went into the material too. Most cars use mufflers made out of steel. These mufflers are rarely stainless and as such, need replacement in the future. The material used in the LFA doesn’t corrode and weighs half as much as an equivalent steel unit. And thanks to that, it costs 20 times as much, and to put some perspective, this dual-stage titanium muffler, costs as much an entire Corolla.
The abbreviation for LF-A stood for Lexus Flagship- A. To remain true to the flagship title, engineers brought out the big game players in them to develop this. As a result, the attention to detail in this car is truly breathtaking. The paddle shifters were made of aluminium, but the quirk here being the left paddle to downshift feels heavier to use than the paddle to upshift to differentiate the feeling of upshifts to downshifts. If that did not surprise you enough, the windshield washer fluid holder was located right next to the fuel door in the rear. This was done to balance the weight of the car all around. Yes, they moved a plastic liquid holder all the to the rear to balance the centre of gravity by a millimetres maybe. But, that was the scale of the thought process that went into the design of an LFA.
Because this is a supercar, we should talk numbers. But I don't want to spurt out the usual 0-100 times. I'll tell you a number only an LFA can boast about. I did mention it has a redline of an eye-whopping 9500 rpm but the way it gets there, you better believe it. It takes 0.6 seconds for the LFA to go from idling rpm to its redline. And because it revs that instantly, none of the traditional analogue dials could keep up with that pace. Hence, they had to implement a digital tacho which turned out to be a win-win as it served a vital function but also looked like something from ten years into the future. But then the car did take ten years to get there, so we're back to square one on that.
Now that they've made the perfect supercar, they needed to prove it and put their money where their mouth is. And there is no other place in heaven or earth better than the green hell, The Nurburgring. To prove this, they took part in the infamous 24 hours of the Nurburgring in a camouflaged LFA prototype in a Gazoo Racing livery. Two cars took part and they did not win it. But while others raced to win it, Lexus/ Toyota took part in it to develop and understand the LFA. But what truly impressed me by a mile were the drivers behind the cars. One was a very experienced racecar driver and chief testing driver for Toyota, Hiromu Naruse but the identity of the second driver wasn't revealed for a long time. Lexus much later revealed the second driver was the Toyota boss himself, Akio Toyoda.
Akio Toyoda said the following after the race:
“I would have been harshly criticized if I’d used my name, not by other competitors but by the board.”
“It was about seasoning the car. I needed to develop my senses to build a better car.”
Lexus later released the Lexus LFA Nurburgring edition as a tribute to the development in Nurburgring and as a homage to Hiromu Naruse, who tragically passed away at the ring testing a car. These were limited to 50 cars.
This car's development made absolutely no sense when you talk financials. When the car was eventually launched to the market, it had a price tag of a figure close to half a million dollars. Imagine telling that to your golf buddies at the yacht club, sipping red wine about the half a million dollars you spent on a Lexus. And as absurd as the figure suggest, Lexus still made a loss on every LFA that rolled off the production line. Toyota spent an earth-shattering amount of funding to develop this car, figures that would cause most auditors and accountants to rethink their career path and give up their occupation crunching those numbers. The official figures still remain hush-hush within the company itself.
But Akio had a different take on it in one of the shareholders meeting. You see sometimes you need to think what the heart wants and the heart seldom makes sense. He wanted this to be an engineer's dream to work on. Every time an engineer sets foot in the factory, he should feel "Yes, now this is what I dreamt of working on, not the same old cup holder design on a corolla." Everyone who worked on this project should feel proud of what they managed to achieve and looking at the result, they should pour themselves a nice glass of Chandon and celebrate it every day. Sometimes, it is not about the timing but it's about arriving late in style. It is not about how it happens but the sense of achievement you get after you've finished it that makes it seem all worth it. Be it a humble little treehouse or half a million-dollar LFA, perfection takes its own sweet time.
Do you know what else takes its sweet own time? Articles like these. So please support us and encourage us in the work we are putting into creating content. Follow The Drivers Hub for many such articles and we'll not disappoint.
Aditya Srinath - for The Drivers Hub