Showpiece of the Week: Lexus LFA

No introductions necessary here. The LFA - which definitely never stood for Lexus Fuji Apex, but ought to have done - was, of course, Toyota's dizzying, Akio Toyoda-sponsored assault on the two-seat supercar segment. Broadly speaking (and by that I mean speaking in the language used by the bean counters in Aichi) the model was probably considered a failure; the limited-edition production run almost certainly being sold at a loss even accounting for the massive per unit cost. 

But grading the LFA on the basis of profit though is like grading the Apollo 11 spaceflight on its speed from A to B; it rather misses the point. Toyota didn't build a supercar because it thought the world desperately needed another one; it did it to show that it could - and applied itself to the task in a characteristic fashion. At a corporate level, it was eventually justified as a brand-building exercise for Lexus, but really it was Toyoda - newly appointed in 2009, and race-mad - who ensured that the right bureaucratic levers were pulled. 

Reaching production had taken almost the entire decade. As a concept the LFA - or LF-A then - was born in 2000. Instigated as a study but hugely expensive from the outset, the project suffered from repeat near-death experiences as it veered drastically away from the manufacturer's volume-based instincts. The engineers didn't make things easy for themselves either: for five years, the car was made of aluminium alloy, a material they understood very well - then, suddenly, it wasn't. Carbon fibre reinforced polymer, they surmised, would be better (i.e. lighter), so they returned to the drawing board. 

If that about face weren't insane enough, the team were instructed to bring production of the CFRP - which was to make up 65 per cent of the car - in-house. Not only did this process require yet more investment to perfect (the manufacturer being, by its own admission, no expert in making the stuff at the time) it ultimately ensured that the body-in-white alone would take Toyota four days to build - and for a company accustomed to producing a hatchback every 66 seconds, that's effectively like following good money with a lit creosote rag. 

Then there was the engine. This, at least, was co-developed with Yamaha, who would be responsible for assembling it. Nevertheless, the 4.8-litre V10 was about as far from a stock item as it's possible to imagine. The selection of ten cylinders only made sense if it could be made to be as light as a V8, with as much power (and better response) than could be had from a V12. Toyota pursued both objectives fanatically: the result was a 72-degree symphony of spare-no-expense aluminium, titanium and magnesium that could rev to 9,500rpm. At 8,700rpm, it produced 560hp, and 90 per cent of its peak torque from 3,700rpm. 

Still more famously it could be coaxed - via resonance frequency - to shatter a champagne glass, and could not be measured by an analogue rev counter because the 0.6 seconds it took to get from idle to redline was deemed too savage for 20th century technology. Naturally such silliness was custom-made grist for the publicity mill at the time, but it also helped cement the LFA's legend after the model went out of production after only two years. The scarcity afforded by a 500-example run has done its reputation (and ascending values) no harm - even in the treasure trove that is the classifieds, the car is an ultra-rare prospect - although, like the Ford GT40, it's the supercar's sheer improbability that helps underscores its appeal. 

This, after all, was the same Toyota responsible for the Corolla, Camry and Avensis. The awe-inspiring scale of its production capacity had made it comfortably the biggest manufacturer in the world - but mass production had given it the kind of unsentimental reputation that not even a long-running Formula 1 campaign could budge. The LFA though showed that it was still capable of extraordinary things; things that made no sense on a budget sheet or bottom line or to anyone that didn't believe the end justified the means. It showed - and the GT86 doubled down on the notion a life cycle later - that with the right handful of dreamers in the right positions (not least the very top), Toyota could do anything, and do it brilliantly well. 

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Comments (32) Join the discussion on the forum

  • paulyv 23 Apr 2018

    An epic thread likely familiar with most who inhabit the forums.

  • Krikkit 23 Apr 2018

    Absolutely love the LFA.

    Not sure about this bit of the article though...
    PH said:
    But grading the LFA on the basis of profit though is like grading the Apollo 11 spaceflight on its speed from A to B
    Apollo 11 travelled 953,054 miles in its 8 days, averaging 5000mph for more than a week is fairly respectable I think...

  • cptsideways 23 Apr 2018

    One of the most most epic sounding cars I have ever driven. Drove Toyota GB's blue one up the hill at Carfest & was involved on it's original launch, a very raw thing to drive indeed & on my lottery win list.

  • sr.guiri 23 Apr 2018

    Lovely.......... reminds me of the Nissan 300ZX, albeit with a few more horses.....

  • jonosterman 23 Apr 2018

    "and could not be measured by an analogue rev counter because the 0.6 seconds it took to get from idle to redline was deemed too savage for 20th century technology"

    Was this ever actually true? It just sounds ridiculous and like a press release got mangled in translation on its way to a Top Gear episode.

    Surely making a needle sweep round a dial faster than an engine can gain revs is, and has been for some time, a trivial piece of engineering?

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