Japanese car manufacturers aren’t among the first brand names to appear on a list of supercar producers. This is quickly explained when one searches in mind for corresponding representatives of this vehicle genre that came from Japan. Apart from the unique Nissan R390 or the legendary Toyota 2000GT, there is really only one other name left: the Lexus LFA. In the meantime, this limited-edition V10 supercar is already more than ten years old, but its development history goes back even further. The starting signal was given back in 2000, when, under the direction of chief developer Haruhiko Tanahashi, a world-class sports car was to be created that would raise the Lexus brand to a new level.
Five years from get-go to the concept car
Unlike other projects, the engineers involved were given a completely free hand for the LF-A, as the car was initially known internally. Materials, drivetrain and process technologies weren’t predetermined. This initially resulted in a list of a total of 500 core properties that the team wanted from this sports car. By 2001, the decision had been made to use a newly developed V10 engine as the power source. By the time the first prototype was on its wheels, it was already mid-2003. In October 2004, an LF-A tackled the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife for test drives for the first time. By now, at the latest, the automotive public knew that a new supercar was approaching. At the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, a first concept car with a comparatively near-production look made its debut. Lexus subsequently showed this car at other auto shows such as the IAA (Frankfurt Motor Show) 2005.
Complete restructuring of the concept
While the 4.8-liter engine delivered the desired performance on the test rigs and in the prototypes, the team was unhappy with another issue. All the prototypes built so far had bodies made of light metal. These didn’t meet the expectations placed in them in terms of weight and torsional rigidity. Other manufacturers would have continued to work with the existing material at this point. However, as mentioned above, Lexus had given the engineers a free hand. Thus, after a development period of around five years, a comprehensive redesign was carried out. The complete body and major components of the chassis were newly created from carbon fiber. This was completely new territory for all the developers involved and also for Lexus as a car manufacturer. However, it was decided to keep the carbon production in-house instead of outsourcing it. Ultimately, the Toyota Group’s experience in the production of woven structures helped. In 2008, an LF-A Roadster Concept made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show as a preview of a possible second body variant.
500 units from 2010 to 2012, 50 as Nürburgring Edition
To test the LF-A under extreme conditions, Lexus entered camouflaged prototypes in 2008 and 2009 in the 24-hour race and in the VLN at the Nürburgring. In the second year, even top boss Toyoda-san sat behind the wheel of one of these race cars to show his respect for the project. Lexus finally unveiled the production LFA at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 2009. Production began in early 2010, with a maximum of 20 vehicles being built each month. A total of 500 cars were manufactured until 2012. Customers could choose from 30 paint colors and 12 upholstery colors. There were also six colors for the brake calipers. In Germany, the base price was 375,000 €. Towards the end of the production period, the Japanese manufacturer launched 50 LFAs in the re-tuned Nürburgring Edition with downforce-enhancing spoilers. Special design peculiarities were found in the ventilation gap in front of the hood, the edges on the fenders, the aerodynamic mirrors and the triangular exhaust tailpipes. They release and incredible soundtrack.
Digital needle for the rev counter
The list of highlights of the LFA is long and can’t be reproduced in full. In addition to the low kerb weight of 1,480 kilograms and the comfortable and luxurious interior, these unquestionably include the engine. Lexus got 412 kW/560 hp and a maximum torque of 480 Nm out of the 4.8 liters of displacement. The rev range goes up to 9,000 rpm. In the Nürburgring Edition, output rose to 419 kW/570 hp. A six-speed sequential transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel was available for power transmission to the rear wheels. The car reaches 62 mph in 3.7 seconds and a topspeed of 325 kph (202 mph). Its ten-cylinder powerplant with 72-degree bank angle is so rev-happy that the development team opted for a digital rev counter. An analog display wouldn’t have been able to cope with the speed of the rpm differences. In addition, this decision provided the opportunity to design a completely digital cockpit. For the rev counter, there is a metal ring on the display, but it moves to the side depending on the selected driving mode.
Two versions remained prototypes
Two relatively advanced versions of the Lexus LFA unfortunately never made it past prototype status. In fact, at least two near-production vehicles of the LFA Roadster exist. So real-world considerations for a low-volume production run were derived from the 2008 concept car. The reasons why this never reached dealers and customers aren’t known. However, it can be assumed that one of the reasons was that sales of the coupé weren’t without problems. The relatively high price compared to similarly powerful competitors resulted in low demand. Another project was a thoroughbred racing version of the LFA for the FIA GT1 series. Lexus hoped to raise additional money and recoup development costs by selling race cars. However, when the car was ready in mid-2012, the organizers of the GT1 class announced its discontinuation at the end of the year. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the GT1 category had already been dropped a year earlier.
Images: Lexus, Matthias Kierse