We take a look at 10 of the best VIP style project cars which you can use as a base to build the ultimate show-stopping limo.
Of all the niche and not-so-niche trends on the global tuning scene, there’s none more gangster than the VIP look. We’re talking massive luxury saloons, panscraping stance, blingin’ rims, eyewatering camber… although there is actually a bit more to it than that. In this article, we’ll point you in the direction of some of the best project cars to use as a canvas, but before that, let’s take a deeper dive into what the VIP scene actually is…
What is a VIP style car?
Known domestically as ‘bippu’ (Japanese for ‘very important person’), VIP-style originated with the Yakuza. The bosses of organized crime syndicates wanted big flashy cars, but knew that rival gangs and the police would be immediately suspicious to see them in European luxury cruisers. So, instead of rolling in top-flight Beemers, Mercs or Rollers, they set about upgrading JDM cars like the Toyota Crown and the Nissan Gloria. As time moved on and the scene evolved, today’s bippu cars are characterized by high-end wheels with loads of dish, very low ride height, huge negative camber, aggressive skirts and lips, and very glossy paint – usually in a subtle black, white or silver.
VIP, then, is a style. This means that, while it’s logically and usually applied to big-ass luxury cars, it’s a set of values that can be affixed to any car you like. There are oodles of Kei VIP builds on the scene, and VIP minivans – you name it, it’s out there. So if you fancy rocking the scary, moody VIP style but you’ve got a supermini parked on the drive (or you feel like giving your grandad’s Previa a bit of a makeover), there’s nothing stopping you. However, if you want to go traditional bippu – and let’s face it, why the hell wouldn’t you want to? – we’ve pulled together our 10 best VIP style project cars that you can you use as a base.
The Best VIP style project cars
Toyota Crown Athlete (S170)
Kicking off our list of the 10 best VIP style project cars is the Toyota Crown Athlete. The Crown’s been on the VIP scene since its inception. Hardly surprising really, as the first-generation Crown came out in 1955, so the model’s as deeply interwoven into Japanese culture as rice wine and clichés about karaoke.
This iconic model is now running in its fifteenth generation and is showing no signs of slowing down, and the one we reckon would best suit your needs for a VIP project is the eleventh-gen Crown S170, built from 1999-2003. Why this one in particular? Well, this is the one that Toyota decided to fit with the 1JZ-GTE engine – the turbocharged 2.5-litre straight-six with BEAMS tech. The one you want is the ‘Athlete V’ spec; you’ll have to put up with an automatic gearbox, but you’ll also have close to 300hp. Brilliantly, they came with optional factory air-ride, which can presumably be fiddled with to dump the thing on the ground. (Or just rip it out and slam it on coils!) Rear sunshades and rear-mounted climate and audio controls were optional, so you’re already halfway to being a Yakuza boss.
- $10,000-$20,000 (if you can find one)
BMW 760Li (E66)
If there’s one thing mob bosses really love, it’s having absolutely buttloads of legroom. Being able to put your feet up at full stretch, possibly using a bound and gagged business rival as a bloodied footstool, is an essential part of the lifestyle as your henchmen whisk you under the city streetlights. So what you really need is something impressively long – say, a long-wheelbase 7 Series.
OK, European cars aren’t in-keeping with traditional bippu culture, but the world’s moved on. And when you clock the depreciation figures of these brutes, they’ll really start to make sense to you as a used purchase. Just take a look at the E66 (2001-08) 760Li. This mile-long goliath packs a creamy-smooth 6.0-litre V12, giving you 439bhp to outrun the law – and imagine what that’d sound like on open pipes! The optional soft-close doors offer proper Rolls-Royce levels of VIP swank too.
Prefer your BMW to have a more retro look? Take some inspiration from this E38 750iL.
Lexus GS300 / Toyota Aristo (S160)
Remember what Alan Partridge said about Lexus? “It’s the Japanese Mercedes.” Well, it can’t possibly get any more bippu-style than that, can it? Lexus is the very definition of what VIP cars are about. It may seem more logical for us to talk about the flagship LS models, but we reckon the GS is a better shout for a VIP project. The LS is pretty polarized between knackered older ones and very pricey newer ones, but in the middle ground you’ll find oodles of GS300s, and they’re by no means a poor relation.
The second-gen GS (1997-2005) was available with the 2JZ-GTE motor, so you get hilarious amounts of power to go with your plush, opulent seats and shiny walnut burr trim. Oh, and if you can track down the obscure-but-interesting GS400, you get a 4.0-litre V8 – or a 4.3-litre in the later GS430. These slab-sided brutes look outstanding sitting super-low over posh rims.
Nissan President (PGF50)
A very important part of Japanese tuning culture is to do things which outrageously and unashamedly take the mick. The bōsōzoku are a keen example of this, waving two fingers at every global scene and just doing whatever the hell they want. And look at all the street-racers strapping turbos to their Civics as if to say ‘Yeah, the VTEC’s great, but you haven’t tried hard enough, Honda’. And so it is with the Nissan President. Turning one of these into a VIP project is the same as running up to a government official and planting your boot in his plums.
The Nissan President was a car aimed at ministers, royals and other posh types, and the third-generation (PGF50) car is the one you want. Sold from 2001-2010, it had a 4.5-litre V8 and, if you opt for the four-seat rather than the five-seat version, you’ll find acres of fanciness: advanced Bose audio, a central armrest that controls all sorts of devices, and a ‘relaxing seat’ – which means that the front passenger seat can be slid all the way up to the dash, so the plutocrat behind can relaaaax. Aaaaaaaaaaaah.
There are no cars in the world more advanced than the Mercedes-Benz S Class, that’s just a solid-gold fact, which is why it features in our list of the 10 best VIP style project cars. Sure, there are more expensive cars, and faster cars, and cleverer cars, but the S Class has always been the model that pioneers new technology before any other manufacturer in the world has a chance to catch up. Since 1972, the S Class has been revealing world-firsts from padded steering wheels to airbags, LED lights to Magic Body Control.
Much like the BMW 760Li, the S Class depreciates like a stone through a wet paper bag. Our hot tip is the W220 – the one sold from 1998-2005. It came with a baffling range of engines – fourteen different ones! – so you might as well just say ‘sod it’ and go for the S600, because that’s got a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V12, and life’s too short to be sensible. Get the rims, get the camber, get the pipes, and throw dollar bills at the peasants as you rumble by. Or, better yet, if you really do have the money to support the lifestyle, have a chat with the folks over at Brabus.
VIP isn’t just for high-rollers. The very essence of bling is to create the appearance of wealth. If it’s all an illusion, who cares? The impact is exactly the same. So there’s nothing wrong with mapping out your project budget and diverting almost all of it to the wheels and the suspension, and leaving next to nothing with which to buy the car. Will this work? Of course it will. Because the Volkswagen Phaeton exists, and the Phaeton is a very stupid car indeed.
Alright, no, it’s not the car that’s stupid. It’s Volkswagen. Because they thought people would be prepared to pay massive amounts of money for a luxury saloon, and the sort of people who’d be happy to pay those prices took one look at it and said “Er, no thanks, it looks like a big Passat”.
Their loss is your gain. You can get a Phaeton for under three grand now, which isn’t bad for a car based on the Bentley Continental floorpan which was designed under a brief to be driven all day at 186mph, in 50-degree heat, in total comfort. Budget gangsta? Hell yeah, we’ve got time for that.
Honda Accord / Acura TSX
Working with a tight budget, but still want to go authentic Japanese? In that case, the Honda Accord is a car that you should definitely consider. The Accord has been around for decades in all sorts of guises. You can buy them in sedan form, as station wagons (like the one pictured), or even as coupes – most of which are very affordable if you’re picking them up off the used market, and readily available thanks to being sold worldwide. Sure, in stock form, an Accord is hardly the ultimate definition of luxury, but they are spacious, and if you’ve got some extra budget kicking around, you could kit yours out with all kinds of interior mods.
If you’re unsure where to start with the Accord family tree, we’d suggest beginning with the seventh-generation CL range. Available with either a K20 or K24 i-VTEC engine, these things aren’t especially rapid out of the box but certainly have plenty of tuning potential. In the States, they’re badged as the Mk1 Acura TSX, and are only available with the 200hp K24. However, if you’re elsewhere on the planet, keep an eye out for the Accord Euro R – that thing’s packing a K20A under the hood!
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a base car which you can find easily, buy relatively cheaply, and still get plenty out of in the long-run, you can’t go wrong with one of these.
Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow
We’re going to have to open this one with a disclaimer: please don’t blame us if you buy a Silver Shadow and it breaks, and then you have to sell your house and your children and all your records to fix it. That… that might happen. But what a way to go, huh?
It just makes sense to include this in the 10 best VIP style project cars – after all, cars don’t get any more luxurious than a Rolls-Royce, and the Silver Shadow is the classic Roller shape. And while trad-bippu may insist that VIP builds be JDM, we don’t see anything wrong with slamming a Shad – it’s got the perfect proportions and dimensions for a VIP build, as well as a sodding great motor (which, once again, would sound like a race car if you ran it unsilenced), plushness for days inside, and obviously it’s a goddamn Rolls-Royce. And that factory hydropneumatic suspension is so fiercely complicated, frankly it’s the right thing to do to just tear it all out and fit ultra-low coilovers or a proper air-ride system.
We were going to put a Jaguar XJ6 on this list, but the Silver Shadow didn’t like that idea and we had to do what it said. You always have to obey a Rolls-Royce.
Few brands have done such an effective job of turning around their reputation as Skoda; indeed, there’s a generation of young car fans out there who won’t even remember all the horrible jokes we used to make about Skodas in the nineties. (‘Why do Skodas have heated rear windows? To keep your hands warm when you’re pushing them home,’ etc etc.) And there’s also something supremely sweet about the fact that they decided to name their flagship limo ‘Superb’. A word hitherto used only by the elderly to describe biscuits, it’s passed into the modern lexicon as a descriptor for a quality saloon on a cheap saloon budget.
Essentially being a bigger and more luxurious version of the Octavia, it really looks like an airport minicab; it’s a foot longer than the Octavia so you get oodles of room inside, and being the range-topper it’s got very high equipment levels. But fun? No, it’s not fun. Or, at least, that’s what people think. After all, if you’re going for a petrol/manual (which you should), you’re most likely to find yourself looking at a 1.8 with 160hp, and frankly that’s not enough horsepower – but a simple remap takes that up to somewhere between 200-220hp, which is much more like it.
Suddenly the Superb is starting to get interesting. And if you go for a Stage 2 map and splash out on a beefy FMIC, exhaust and induction, you’ll be nearer 250hp. Follow that up with all the bippu aesthetics, and you’ll have the world’s first VIP Superb. Which would be very cool, wouldn’t it?
- Not available in North America
Nissan Y33 Platform
If you ask a bippu connoisseur what the ideal car would be for a VIP project, there’s a pretty decent chance that they’ll suggest one of the models based on Nissan’s Y33 platform. It’s a scene icon. But which one should you choose? Well, of the Cima, Cedric, and Gloria, we’d argue that the Gloria has the most to offer. The eleventh-gen model was available with the revered RB25DET engine (coupled with AWD and ATTESA E-TS, like a stealthy Skyline!); it could also be had with the VQ30DET if you fancied getting similar power from a V6 instead of a straight-six. It’s not clear why they did this, but let’s not question it.
Whichever Y33 model you choose, you’ll be getting the archetypal VIP shape: a three-box saloon that looks like those generic unbranded cars in early versions of Grand Theft Auto, which will give you maximum scene points and knowing nods from Japanese gangsters. Oh, and it’s also probably worth noting that the Nissan Cima pictured above was also readily sold in the United States as an Infiniti Q45. So, if you’re struggling to source a true JDM model, at least you know that there’s a domestic alternative to fall back on.
Words by Dan Bevis & James Bowers.