Welcome to this week’s FC Throwback, where we take a look back at some of our favourite previous feature cars. This week it’s Imamura-san’s VIP Toyota JZS181 Crown Athlete from back in 2014…
Imamura-san, the man behind Bee Dragon, is currently seen as an innovator in VIP circles. He continues to have the deepest respect for the original way of doing things, but has injected a certain flair into the cars that he builds which has won him international recognition. The whole VIP movement is a style that has been around for decades, but one that’s probably gone through the most evident evolution of any other car scene around. VIP has branched off in so many different schools of thought, so many in fact that it’s hard to differentiate any more.
What Taketomi-san at Junction Produce began all those years ago is still very much a popular style, where things are kept simple with a black exterior riding low on big silver rims. That look is still very widespread, but even Junction Produce have began to evolve and experiment, now even moving onto import cars like the Rolls Royce Phantom, the Mercedes Benz S-class and even the Porsche Panamera. As Imamura says, “No matter what you do with your sedan, the end result should always be a menacing looking ride, one that attracts attention and even shocks for its extreme looks and sound.” So you can kind of understand where the whole onikyan, or demon-camber thing has come from.
Initially it was a simple, and at times unwanted, effect of slamming a car to the ground, until someone said, ‘what if we make it even more evident?’ This particular style has split away in its own direction with people taking it to the very limit of practicality, some managing to get up to -30-degrees at the rear wheels. Then there are those that, on top of the defining factors of VIP-specific mods, go wild on interior and exterior customisation, a somewhat show-oriented movement that has really grown in popularity over the years. And it’s precisely all of this fused together that proved to be his latest challenge. We say ‘challenge’ because when confronted with a request from one of his best customers, he had to do something that he never thought he could actually do.
VIP and air suspension just don’t mix. The whole thing about running low is making a statement, showing the world that you have forsaken comfort and practicality for the benefit of looks and presence. But like every other aspect of bippu style, air has been slowly but surely making its way onto Japanese shores, bringing with it what has to be one of the biggest upsets since the style was born. For Imamura especially, running no bags – just plain low – has defined his style as much as the huge blistered fenders he creates, and the massive amount of negative camber he dials into his suspension. But then he started thinking. If taking risks has gotten him this far, why would he stop now? He decided to accept the challenge and the resulting JZS181 Crown Athlete is probably one of the most defining cars he has ever created, a perfect modern-day interpretation of VIP style.
All boxes have truly been checked, starting off with the big Crown’s stance. Here is where Imamura really worked his magic, hand sculpting the pumped and blistered fender flares that are seamlessly integrated into bodywork as if they came that way directly from Toyota. It’s all about attention to detail, the widening having been faded out into the rear doors as well as the bumpers themselves.
For the first time, he had to work around the air suspension that his customer had already fitted to the car, carefully thinking about wheel sizes, offset, and camber to get the look just right. What made this harder was deciding on the suspension’s geometry as it varies all the time depending on the height the car is set at, an issue he’d not had to deal with before. But with most of the importance being placed on how the car would look slammed on its frame; going for maximum aggression wasn’t too difficult. The 18-inch Work Equips well and truly make the car, the 11J front with 0 offset and the -15 12J rear, along with the obligatory stretched tyres allow the outer rim to literally sit on the fenders once the bags are dropped to their lowest setting.
All of the bodywork is custom made, from the imposing front bumper with the louvred air dams with recessed fog lights sunk deep inside, to the rear bumper treatment with integrated diffuser-like section from which the one-off squared off titanium exhaust tips protrude from. The glossy black paint is a touch of authenticity, a call back to the VIP cars of the nineties, which came in every colour you wanted, as long as it was black.
If the exterior suffers for a little lack of colour, the same definitely cannot be said for the interior. Swing open any of the four doors and images of the elevator scene in The Shining (Google it kids – Dav) will come flooding into your brain as pretty much every single surface you see has been either upholstered or dyed in retina-burning red. No cost was spared in guaranteeing the highest quality finish, from the ribbed patterns on the seats to the quilted headliner, A-pillars, door cards and transmission tunnel. The dash sports a suede covering and all surrounding plastics have been specially died to match. Even the seat belts are red! One detail we couldn’t help but be impressed by is the official Toyota passenger-side mounted rubbish bin, which used to be offered as a dealer option when the car was new. Of course, that too has been painstakingly covered in matching suede. A Carrozzeria based AV system keeps the tunes pumping through the Kicker speakers and the centrally mounted subwoofer in the parcel shelf, to give a nice kick to the lower frequencies.
These cars aren’t about performance, they’re about driving around slow on the road and looking damn good while doing so! That’s why the only thing spicing things up on the engine side of things is the one-off exhaust to give the Athlete’s V6 the deep growl every VIP car should be able to generate. It completes an outstanding package, a fusion of oldschool VIP style with a more open-minded approach – we love it!
Tech Spec Crown Athlete
Custom exhaust system with titanium-look tailpipes, painted engine cover
Work Equip 11Jx18in 0 (front), 12Jx18in -15 (rear), Nitto NT555 245/40R18 (front), 265/35R18 (rear), custom air suspension set-up
Custom red leather and suede upholstery, red died plastics, red seat belts, quilted leather trim on pillars, door trim and headliner, custom AV install with Carrozzeria headunit and integrated LCD touch screen, Kicker speakers, suede trimmed trash box, parcel-shelf mounted subwoofer and LED lights
BeeDragon custom front bumper, Bee Dragon custom flared front fenders (+4 cm), Bee Dragon custom flared rear fenders (+8 cm), Bee Dragon custom rear bumper, trunk lip spoiler, Bee Dragon custom black paint, Bee Dragon headlights & taillights tint, full custom headlights, custom LED taillights, HID fog lights
Words & photography Dino Dalle Carbonare