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Atsushi Ito is one of those Japanese tuners that flips the bird at conformity and the status quo. His brand, Weld Techniques Factory, has been around for a long time now and Ito has carved out a nice little slice of tuning stardom not only through his exploits in D1 with pro driver Koichi Yamashita and their fire breathing MkII Toyota but also through custom tuning circles with cars like the FR-S you are seeing in this special feature, exclusively to 7Tune…
I had met Ito previously on a number of occasions, most notably at the Tokyo Auto Salon earlier this year, but I had not yet been to visit the shop in Yokohama. It was at the Auto Salon though where I first got to lay eyes on the extreme FR-S he had presented under the Work wheels banner.
There’s a couple of very good reasons why Ito chose an FR-S instead of the more traditional and easier to build route of an 86 or BR-Z. Firstly, there are only a handful of Scion FR-S chassis in Japan so the exclusivity factor is high but secondly, and more importantly, Ito is a big fan of USDM Japanese machines rolling Japanese streets.
Over in one corner of the factory, he showed me around a scruffy looking left-hand-drive Honda Prelude that he’d imported from the States.
I didn’t think much of it until he lifted the bonnet to reveal a glistening, chrome encrusted, jewel of a stroked 2.2 litre VTEC unit that redlines at 9000rpm. Impressive stuff.
It was a valuable insight into the way Ito thinks. Not “judging a book by its cover” is definitely important to remember here because Ito displays an intense obsession toward the looks, power and presentation of not only a car’s engine but its entire appearance and mechanical construct. Any of his builds will undoubtedly prove that much to anyone who sees them.
And the Weld FR-S was no different when that delicious and vibrant candy apple covered bonnet was lifted for some shots. I’d seen it before of course but the ceremony was no less amazing. This FA20 packs more chrome than Google!
The engine was stripped down to its most basic components with Ito deciding to take the unusual approach of adding individual throttle bodies with shortened trumpets to increase engine response. It’s a beautiful and striking way to present the engine and a total change of direction from the turbo and supercharger crowd. And while Ito could easily have attached a blower or a snail, his philosophy was simple. “I wanted to keep it naturally aspirated because the FR-S was naturally aspirated from the factory.”
Ahh, there’s the purist in him speaking. It’s not a powerful engine by any means and carries a little over 220hp with the changes but its bottom end response has been improved thanks to the ITB’s, remapped ECU and custom complete titanium exhaust system exiting in a set of titanium Amuse mufflers. One small touch that incidentally also reflects a big part of the Weld brand is the little 1/10th scale Work XSA04C RC car wheel attached to the intake assembly.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the body is modelled on a Rocket Bunny kit.
Ito is at great pains to point out that, “…it’s not Rocket Bunny! This is me!”
And so it is – the front and rear over-fenders are full sheet metal steel, painstakingly handcrafted over a 6 month period using a wire subframe as the template. Ito showed me some Japanese magazines that had featured the car while it was being built and I couldn’t help but be amazed at the level of detail that had gone into it. To my eyes, the body-mods were perfectly symmetrical – I couldn’t find a single blemish or measurement out of shape.
It’s a masterpiece of craftsmanship.
This was just another indicator of Ito’s obsession with perfection. With the bodywork prepped, the FR-S was sent to Nishino Body Repairs, where it was then finished in that gorgeous metallic Candy Apple paint. There are more bites to this apple than a McIntosh. The paint has been applied to show subtle shifts in hue as you walk around the car; noticeable in the way the colour shifts on those wide rear hips.
It’s a beautiful looking thing. Aesthetic changes extend to a carbon fiber Voltex “swan-neck” styled GT wing; a design element that has found its way onto the leading contenders of the Super GT500 class GT-R’s and Lexus RC-F’s because of the downforce it provides.
One neat little touch that keeps the huge wing in place and reduces flex, is a sheet of carbonfiber that has been moulded to the inside of the boot lid.
More Voltex parts include the rear under diffuser and front under spoiler with custom curled valances. If you look very closely you will see where Ito has added a crease in the corners of the front bumper that stretch from the fender and around underneath the corner lamp assemblies. It’s all in the details with this machine.
No doubt you’ve also marvelled at the wheels and are wondering what they are. Together with Work Japan, Ito consulted on the design of these very special forged alloys. The XSA04C’s suit the car perfectly and naturally, to suit the theme of the build, they come polished.
The wheel and tire package measures 225/35/R19 on the front and a beefy 275/30/R19 at the rear. All four corners wear the latest super sticky Yokohama Advan AD08-R boots.
One of the most interesting details to the build for me are the brakes. I think it’s a bit of overkill to have a 6 pot front and 4 pot rear set up for a car with only 220hp but the fact that Ito got everything fully customised according to his tastes before application, was impressive. The two piece ventilated rotors have been engraved with Weld’s signature tribal styled designs front and rear. Notably, the callipers at the front are also specially engraved with the new design and are top of the line mono-block Project Mu items. Just the front calliper, pad and rotor assembly will set you back an eye-watering $8000. .. and that’s before you get to the detailing Ito did to each caliper and disc.
The whole package rides on super stiff JIC Magic suspension units that are wound to 12kg’s on the front and 18kg’s at the rear in order to compensate for the low height the car runs – a setting that greatly minimises fender contact to the occasional bump or scrape. Ito insisted that the car be daily driven; a car that can be used whenever the mood takes him and has been set up accordingly. It’s definitely no trailer queen.
Inside, there are only a handful of modifications worth noting which include the Sparco semi buckets and chunky Sparco tiller.
Everything else is pretty much as Scion intended it off the production line.
As deeply impressive as all this amazing customisation is, Ito isn’t finished. In keeping with his purist minded philosophies, the engine will be pulled again in order to be bored and stroked to 2.2 liters of naturally aspirated fury.
Among many other things on the build list are high compression pistons, custom billet crankshaft, extensive porting and polishing of the intake and exhaust ports and a prototype Amuse titanium exhaust design that will premier on this FR-S.
One thing is for certain; Weld do not do things by halves and the overriding impression from my time with this car and with Ito san, was that if you dig deep enough, you can discover that the tuning culture in Japan is still as deep as it is wide and is populated by passionate tuners like Atsushi Ito who will stop at nothing until they have expressed their utopian ideals through the creations they develop.
The Weld FR-S is a masterclass in the combination of old school craftsmanship combined with cutting edge design, all wrapped up in an almost edible looking skin. Beauty, at least with this car, is definitely not merely skin deep.
Words and Photos – Adam Zillin
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