No, we at Kaizen Factor were not blessed with this immense privilege. Rather, consider it a huge perk of being a Japan-based journalist such as Bertel Schmitt, Editor-in-Chief of The Truth About Cars. A response to Lexus LFA chief engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi’s (shown at left, as photographed by Schmitt) “reckless” invitation over 6 months ago, this in-depth tour of the Motomachi LFA Works in Toyota City is a must-read (and must-see) for diehard fans of Japan’s ultimate automotive achievement. Cleverly teased in early July in a Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?esque contest – complete with iPad giveaway – the tour itself is written in 5 separate chapters, accessible by clicking on the bolded chapter titles below. Following is our brief commentary on each chapter, but we strongly suggest clicking on the links and reading, seeing and experiencing the LFA manufacturing process as seen through the eyes, ears and lens of Bertel Schmitt.
Chapter One: From A Bar To Bar None
Born of a casual conversation in a Hokkaido bar between Tanahashi-san and Tetsuo Hattori, at the time his boss and the top vehicle engineer at TMC, the painstakingly-kept “LFA Diary” records 10 February 2000 as the initial approval of a study for “a real sports car”. Also told here is the story of numerous harrowing reprieves from the ruthless axe of the controller bean counters and, in 2005, the pivotal decision to go with carbon-fiber construction – produced in-house, no less – in order to save a further 100 kg (220 lbs) of curb weight.
Chapter Two: In The Clean Room
This is probably the meatiest of the chapters, covering Carbon Fiber 101 (the three different ways of making Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer, or CFRP), the making and baking of the Lexus LFA’s dashboard, A-pillar/roof support and front bumper crash box and the two-of-a-kind circular loom more properly known as the three-dimensional braider. As to the location of the second circular loom, it is seemingly in the textile engineering department of Philadelphia University.
Chapter Three: Call Me Names
A broad-based, multi-faceted chapter that is, perhaps, this author’s favorite, this covers everything from the titanium muffler that costs the same as a new Toyota Corolla to body construction that is neither monocoque nor quite space-frame to a discussion of paint colors to meeting Shigeru Yamanaka, the “conductor” of the 170-piece passionate “orchestra” that assembles the LFA, all bookended by a discussion of the unremarkable origins of the LFA name itself. And, while having gently chided us for perhaps going overboard in the search for LFA meaning and symbolism, Schmitt himself can’t resist and, similarly, notes the coincidence between the LFA’s original 680 model code and the DAU 0680 license plate on the Tiffany Blue LFA tester recently spotted at the Nürburgring.
Chapter Four: Balance Of Power
Here, the focus is on the Lexus LFA’s 1LR-GUE 4.8-liter V10. Back in November 2009, yours truly reported that “it is physically smaller and lighter than the 2GR-FSE 3.5-liter V6 that powers the Lexus IS 350” without having been able to coax an actual figure out of Lexus USA officials, and, over 2½ years later, some things don’t change, it seems. Also noted in this chapter is Lexus’ painstaking recordkeeping of “evidence sheets” of each and every LFA built (also touched upon in earlier chapters) and details on a couple of minor underhood differences between “regular” and Nürburgring Edition LFAs.
Chapter Five: Exam Week
The final chapter covers the week-long testing regime each LFA undergoes (complete with devoted testing wheels and tires to protect and save the ones the customer will receive on his car) and addresses two pivotal questions: Why? And what’s next? The answer to the first question, we suspect, is still a work in progress, and one that has led to an important aspect of the BMW/Toyota agreements. As to the second, Tanahashi-san facetiously suggests, “the LFB.”