He’s probably owned more Toyota Soarers than anyone else in the country, and all that experience has now culminated in the form of Simon Davies’ latest masterpiece: this bespoke third-generation beauty that flies leaps and bounds above its peers…
Practice makes perfect’ – one of the least cringeworthy of all those inspirational phrases out there. It actually carries a surprisingly large amount of truth to it in a number of situations in life. It certainly rings true for London-based Simon here, that’s for sure. This is a man whose deep love of Toyota’s often overlooked two-door coupé – the humble Soarer – over the past couple of decades, has led him on a mission to bigger and better things.
Owning no less than 70 examples of this luxury sports cruiser in his time (yes, you did read that correctly), it looks like his very extensive knowledge of this rather quirky car has fully paid off if his latest project is anything to go by…
Co-owner of one of the most prestigious custom exhaust manufacturers in the country, St Albans-based EMP Performance, Simon’s used to being surrounded by some of the finest-built modified cars around. Just check out the perfect pipework the firm created for that mental Flachbau 997 Porsche – if you need confirmation. And it’s this day job combined with his comprehensive car back-catalogue that helped spur Simon on to create something really special a couple of years back.
“I was a Ford man back in the day,” he admits, telling us tales of cars like his 220bhp turbo Orion that went through more gearboxes than you could count on your fingers within the space of just 12 months. “They soon proved too problematic for me and I began searching for something a little more reliable…” It took a test drive in a mate’s V8-powered Soarer – a car which Simon admits he knew little about at the time – for him to be fully hooked on this Jap rarity.
“Weirdly, there was a 1JZ-powered manual-gearbox Soarer for sale at my mate’s garage – a spec I now know is incredibly rare – that I unsurprisingly snapped up after a test drive,” Simon continues. He was sold on the idea of the infamously tunable six-cylinder versions of the car that share more than a bit of their DNA with the iconic Supra and promised everything he’d dreamt of when owning his modified Fords, even in factory trim.
Cue a couple of decades of Simon getting fully balls-deep into the 70-odd Soarers that passed through his life at that stage, learning the ins and outs of the model like perhaps no one else. And this neatly brings us to a time around six years ago when he first clapped eyes on the car you now see before you…
“It was a completely standard, factory manual example that previously had just one owner and was in fantastic condition,” Simon reveals. Music to every Soarer aficionados’ ears, that’s for sure. “I guess I was in the right place at the right time,” because no more than 30 minutes after the car had been uploaded onto eBay, Simon was at the previous owner’s house, counting cash and signing the logbook. You’ve gotta move fast if you want the best, after all!
“I instantly knew the car was so nice, it’d be the one I went the extra mile with,” Simon continues, explaining how he knew from the start that things would be taken to the next level with this particular example. “I didn’t have a particular plan in place to start with and thought I’d just roll with it. The only thing I knew I didn’t want to do was turn it into a drifter, it was far too nice for that…”
Simon, therefore, started with mods such as a slightly more aggressive VVTi-spec bodykit, a set of coilovers and, perhaps unsurprisingly, a full EMP Performance custom exhaust system, before the whole thing ‘just went crazy’ as Simon so effectively puts it. Beginning with the aesthetics, the body kit was soon complemented by a one-off smoothed and widened arch job with the help of Ben at Silk Mead Paint and Body shop. The result is so ridiculously perfect that you’d be hardpressed to tell it wasn’t standard unless you put it up against a stock Soarer; those muscular flanks now mimicking the likes of Mk1 Escorts so effectively.
To help bolster the new looks, Simon was soon on the hunt for a way to add a load more power to the car’s sturdy drivetrain. And the answer came from the most unusual of places… “I saw a 1JZ-swapped Lexus IS200 for sale with a fully forged example of the engine that was built up by SJS,” he recalls – a firm he’d only heard good things about during his time immersed in the car world. By snapping up the entire car and selling off all the bits he didn’t need, he’d landed himself the mother of all engines without the monstrous price tag or build times that he’d been dreading, a win-win scenario!
The engine’s since been taken to the next level, with Simon’s ‘only-the-best’ approach meaning that all of the unsatisfactory bits were promptly removed and replaced for more premium components. It’s why a huge Owen Developments’ roller turbo now takes pride of place under the bonnet, safely cranked up thanks to the fully reworked internals on that straight-six block. “It’s now producing 620bhp and 500lb ft of torque, although it’s good for about 800bhp which it will achieve once I’ve got a stronger gearbox,” Simon laughs, admitting the current cog-shifter would probably melt after a few hard launches on even the current setup. “It drives like a dream now though, you’d never ever know it was a 25-year-old car.”
Next up was to pay some attention to the Soarer’s then-white paintwork. “I was pondering what colour to respray it when I saw an Audi R8 drive past our workshop in the stunning and unique Ipanema Brown,” he muses. An exclusive colour to only certain Audi models, Simon was blown away with the way it mixed old-skool retro with cutting-edge trends. And he soon snapped up a couple of tins of the hue to slap onto his perfectly widened curves.
Giving off show-stopping US-style vibes once those bling Cosmis Racing rims were on, Simon knew the next step would have to be to add a killer air-ride system to the Toyota in order to give it that reliably awesome stance when hard parked at shows. Amazingly a D2 Performance kit for this exact application was available off-the-shelf from the States, which is now tied into Air Lift Performance’s V2 management for the perfect level of adjustability. And we think you’ll agree, the overall look is something that’s rarely performed so effectively this side of the Atlantic.
Topped off with plenty of custom interior tweaks that perfectly match the unique colour now proudly displayed on the outside, Simon’s three-year-long monster project has now gradually come to an end. He was keen to stress how he was in no rush to finish the project; things would take as long as they needed to in order for no corners to be cut. And he has now been left with what could only be described as a ‘greatest hits’ version of all the countless other Soarers that he’s owned combined.
“I consider it to be something of the perfect Soarer now,” he explains. “And it’s all come together with the help of some amazing people in this industry. It leaves me with such a sense of pride now I get to enjoy the end result!”
And you know what? After all the blood, sweat and tears he’s put into motors with this fabled badge on the back of them, we think it’s the very least he deserves, don’t you?!
TECH SPEC: TOYOTA SOARER
Full respray in Audi Ipanema Brown; factory third-gen VVTi body kit; custom smoothed arch extensions all round (1in wider fronts and 2.5in wider rears); custom front lip; carbon fibre roof spoiler; Seibon carbon fibre bonnet; single side-exit exhaust outlet conversion.
2.5-litre 1JZ-GTE straight-six engine; fully forged internals (comprising Brian Crower pistons, ARP head bolts and head gaskets); reworked cylinder head (comprising Brian Crower valves and springs, HKS 285 camshafts, HKS adjustable pulleys and ARP head gasket); Owen Developments 35/82 HTA 360-degree roller bearing turbocharger; custom Walton Fabrication’s 6-branch manifold; TiAL 50mm external wastegate and screamer pipe; GReddy 100mm-core front-mount intercooler; custom 4in air intake with K&N cone air filter; 100mm throttle body; custom inlet manifold; Bosch 740cc fuel injectors; Audi R8 coil packs; alloy radiator; custom EMP Performance mandrel-bent and TIG-welded exhaust system; Link G4+ Extreme standalone ECU with custom Nispro Performance map.
Factory R154 5-speed manual gearbox with Exedy
twin-plate clutch; factory Soarer rear differential.
9.5x18in (front) and 11x18in (rear) Cosmis Racing alloy wheels finished in Shadow Chrome; 235/40/18 (front) and 265/35/18 (rear) Nankang NS-2R tyres; D2 Performance air suspension struts with Air Lift Performance V2 management; PB Brakes 8-pot (front) and 6-pot (rear) disc brake setup with 356mm discs (all-round).
Corbeau RS2 reclining bucket seats retrimmed with bronze stitching; retrimmed rear bench; MOMO steering wheel with quick-release boss; bodycoloured trim panels; retrimmed and stitched gear gaiter, handbrake cover, armrest and door handles.
Massive thanks to Walton at Nispro Performance for supplying the ECU, mapping, manifold, and all electrical installations to make it run like a dream; big thanks to Matt at Corbeau who made the interior happen for me; huge thanks to Matt Penning for the amazing spray job; and a big thank you to Ben Kmita at Silk Mead Paint and Body shop for his amazing work on building the rear arches.
Words Sam Preston Photos Dan Pullen