Cozy Coupe Project Part 4: On The Road!

It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since my last update on the Cozy Coupe my daughter Kinsey and I have been working on. We were making steady progress as of last October when we last checked in, but a combination of factors including the worst winter since modern record keeping began and the birth of my second daughter Hattie kept us from getting the car on the road.

For me, the Spring BBQ is the unofficial start of summer each year. I’ve been apart of this online community for several years now and have made a ton of friends as a result. It’s always fun to get whatever project car I may be building at the time put back together and bring it out to the event. But after selling the Evo a couple months back and picking up my Lexus GS400 long-term project, I didn’t have a car to bring this year.

Admittedly, I had kind of lost interest in the Cozy Coupe over the last few months. I wasn’t even sure that Kinsey would fit in the car anymore with the chop top considering how much she had grown over the last six or seven months. The Xceed Spring BBQ was just the motivation I needed to spend some time in the garage and get the car put together.

The first order of business was to cut the axles down to the proper length. I was able to find the original red axle nuts at Lowe’s thanks to a tip from a friend, so those were a nice touch. I gave the wheels a quick coat of silver paint just to spice things up a bit before installing them on the car. The fender flares were painted matte black and glued in place.

I had originally made a trunk out of a flat piece of plexiglass for the rear wing to be mounted to, but I wasn’t happy with how flimsy it turned out to be. Concerned about downforce on the end of the back straight, we ultimately decided to sacrifice some height in order to chassis mount the wing directly to the car via metal rivets.

I lost some of the hardware I purchased to mount the wing over the winter, but since I was working late into the night on Saturday before the event, I was kind of in a bind. I just happened to have some metal rivets left from the Evo’s JDM rear bumper install that were the perfect size.

My wife Alicia came out to snap a photo of me hard at work on the car around 11PM or so Saturday night. I know others were doing the same thing in their garages, but probably not on a car this size…

The other main issue that needed to be sorted out was the floor. With the car this low to the ground, Kinsey would no longer be able to move it with her feet. The solid front axle runs through the front of the car, and I was worried about her legs getting hurt by coming in contact with it. I ended up cutting and mounting a plexiglass floor to separate her feet from the drivetrain and the pavement speeding by beneath her. I ended up painting it black as well. I could have probably sealed it up a lot better, but the car is only driven during the summer in dry conditions (it does run slicks after all…) so we should be OK.

The exhaust was installed fairly hastily since it was really starting to get late. Any parent of one or more kids knows that if you stay up too late, your kids are bound to decide to wake up extra early the next morning, so it was crunch time to say the least. I hope to make a metal slip-mount hanger system for this at some point, but the glue held it in place enough to get us through the day.

If I have learned anything as a parent of a toddler, it’s that hunching over and pushing your kid around the neighborhood can get old really fast. I managed to break both of our snow shovels during the horrendous winter we had this year, so I decided to drill a hole into the back of the Coupe and mount the handle from the snow shovel to the chassis. This comes in handy for mom and dad when pushing (or drifting) the car around the neighborhood.

I was a bit nervous when we arrived at the BBQ. Kinsey was obviously asleep when I finished the car during the wee hours of Sunday morning, so I didn’t even have a chance to test it to see if it would even roll. I was kind of worried the handle would snap, a wheel would fall off, or the cockpit would be too small for Kinsey (now nearly two years old) and she wouldn’t even want to be in the car at all. Fortunately, the car held up great and Kinsey loved driving around the meet in it.

Here are some photos that people snapped of the car during the course of the day. Many thanks to the people that took these photos for us! I have to say, Kinsey’s car got far more attention than any of my cars ever have!

It has become somewhat of a tradition to have a “car limbo” at the XceedSpeed BBQ. This involves a limbo bar being set up and people driving their cars under it to see whose is the lowest. It inevitably becomes a Miata contest, and is a bit strange overall, but entertaining nonetheless. People even go so far as to have other people sit on the car and let the air out of the tires to get just a bit lower…

I’m proud to say that we gave those Miatas a run for their money…

We needed to go just a bit lower, so I had to step in and add some additional weight:

In the end, it was a great event as always and I had a blast cruising around with the girls showing off our build. It’s a great feeling to have a long-term project come together and to be able to take it out and enjoy it when the weather finally clears up. Much like the real thing though, a project car is never done. We’ll probably enjoy it as-is for a while before we tear into it again, but there will always be things to upgrade and enhance.

Thank you to everyone who has followed along with this project. Kinsey and I really appreciate all of the support and positive comments. We will probably pass the Cozy Coupe on to Kinsey’s sister Hattie as she continues to grow and look into building something with a bit more power (hint: think Power Wheels. Please Mom, can we?!)

I’ll leave you with a couple shots of Kinsey enjoying cruising in the completed Coupe around the neighborhood last night.

Thanks for reading!

Damon & Kinsey


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Measure Twice…

I didn’t spend much time in the garage this week, but I made a little bit of progress. With the engine and transmission test fitted in the car, I measured for the one piece driveshaft and shifter extension.

After test fitting the center console, I found that positioning the manual shifter through the existing hole for the factory automatic transmission linkage left the shifter too far back, so I had to cut a new hole in the transmission tunnel for the shifter to reside within. A hole saw bit made quick work of this:

While the engine was in there, I also noticed that the heater core fittings are contacting the back of one of the turbo assemblies. I’ll have to find a way to modify this to clear (or just bolt on a big single- hmmmm…)

I mocked up the Drift Motion/ Energy Suspension transmission mount and after a bit of grinding I was able to get it to fit perfectly. The back side of the factory transmission crossmember had to be ground down to allow for the mounting plate to sit correctly and some new holes needed to be marked and drilled, but otherwise it went together pretty easily.

After the necessary measurements were taken and I was finished mocking things up, I pulled the drivetrain back out of the car and began disassembly. My next step will be to go through the engine and transmission to install all of the maintenance items I’ve collected.

I pulled the case of the R154 apart to remove the shifter housing and linkage. I shipped these pieces out to be extended 2.5″ at Freed Engineering out East and should hopefully have them back sometime next week.

The tool to remove the crank pulley arrived so that I can replace the timing belt:

I also scored a cheap pair of LED tail lights from a friend. One of them needs a resistor replaced, but I couldn’t pass them up for the price. I’ll have to see if I can get them to work at some point later on, but they look cool on the car in the mean time.

I’m hoping to spend my time on engine maintenance and cleanup this week. I should be able to move ahead with the timing belt service, water pump, thermostat, and miscellaneous gaskets and seals. As soon as that’s complete I can begin the final assembly of the engine and transmission.

Thanks for reading!


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Picking Up Steam…

I’m pretty excited about my progress in the past week. Even though I didn’t spend a ton of time in the garage, I do feel like things are really starting to fall into place and pick up steam.

Things were kicked off last week by the arrival of a couple of goodies from Hong Kong. I’ve been searching for a pair of Ganador mirrors for this chassis since I decided I wanted to build one, but I really was not running into much info about them. I could barely even find any photos of cars that were running them. Junction Produce sells them as their own brand of mirrors, but if you know anything about me you know that I just wasn’t going to be content with that. Fortunately, a used pair popped up on eBay and I was able to snag them.

I will of course need to have them painted, but I am super pumped to have these. Though I really shouldn’t be focused on the exterior of the car at all right now, it’s nice to take a break and shift focus occasionally for a day or two to keep your interest in the project going strong. Had to toss one on for a quick test fit:

Little-known fact: I never take the time to try to make the power function on my Ganador mirrors work on any of my cars… haha.

The same seller also had a Toyota Japan/TRD carbon fiber license plate garnish for sale so I was able to score a deal on both pieces. This is basically a fake CF trim panel that goes around the license plate and fills out the trunk opening a bit. I just thought it was a cool detail to have:

This will actually come in handy since I found out last week that my car had an aftermarket backup camera installed in the trunk resulting in a hole being hacked into the sheet metal near the license plate. This piece will cover that hole, even though I’ll probably end up having the trunk redone or replaced at some point anyway.

I decided to remove the emblems while I was messing around. I’m not sure if I will end up running the Toyota badges back here to match the front grille or if I’ll just leave the car badgeless. Fortunately I have plenty of time to decide. A friend of mine is hooking me up with a cheap set of LED tail lights, so I went ahead and removed the factory tails to make room for those when they arrive.

Another friend of mine on the West side of the state bought my Aristo automatic transmission to use as a core, as well as my front and rear tan seats. I went out and delivered those on Thursday. While I was out that way, I met up with a good friend from Indiana to pick up what is probably one of the cleanest Bride Zeta IIs left out there, let alone stateside:

Pretty excited that it has the head pillow with it as well. The back of the seat is virtually scratch-free. Pretty crazy…

I have a passenger seat on the way from Japan as well, but we’ll just have to wait for a future update to see that. I was able to do some detective work on Bride Japan’s site and found the seat rails I need for each side, so I’m sure there will be a wait on those when the time comes. I had to toss it in without the rail for a preview though:

I did a quick comparison picture of the interior when I got the car two months ago and how it sits today (even though I clearly still have some work to do.) I can’t wait to see this completed- I think it should be pretty cool.

With the interior in decent enough shape for now, I moved on to actually trying to get this thing running over the weekend. I’m waiting on a tool and a new thermostat before I dive into all of the engine maintenance and assembly, so I decided to mock up the engine and transmission in the car. I was curious to see how things fit since I had heard about various issues with the firewall and the heater core fittings with the swap.

Unfortunately I learned the hard way that if you pick up and tilt a 2JZGTE with oil in it and without a clutch or flywheel installed, the oil will politely excuse itself from the engine and leak out the bellhousing. Annoying, but lesson learned.

I was actually pretty surprised how smooth dropping the engine went by myself. It’s really nice that the core support is removable on this car so that I don’t have to worry about the top of the cherry picker hitting the garage door. I’ll have to modify the top port for the heater core somehow to clear the twin turbos, but otherwise things look pretty solid overall.

I also spent some time assembling the clutch release hub and bearing so that the clutch assembly is all ready to go in when the engine and transmission come back out:

I’m having a hard time getting the final snap ring in place by myself, so I’ll have to keep trying with some assistance to see if I can take care of that. Shouldn’t be too bad though, I just really need another set of hands.

I picked up a set of used Tein Comfort Sport coilovers that a kid was selling as-is. I guess they came in the trunk of a GS he just bought and he wasn’t sure of the condition they were in, so he let them go super cheap. I wasn’t planning to get into these just yet, but it was definitely worth the gamble. I think at least one of them may be leaking, so I’ll probably end up having Tein rebuild them if possible.

The plan of attack for this week? The first order of business is to take the necessary measurements for the driveshaft and shifter extension so that I can get the order in for those. I am also going to install the Drift Motion transmission mount to make sure that’s lined up and set to go when things are bolted in for good. As soon as those things are done, I’ll pull the drivetrain back out to go through the engine and transmission maintenance items to be sure everything is fresh and ready to go. I’m hoping to have that work completed and everything in the car again within two weeks if possible.

Hopefully the progress continues through the week. Until next time…


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Interior Decorator

I managed to make some progress on the car late last week and into the weekend despite having a fairly busy schedule. It’s definitely tough to get work done on the car during the daytime on Saturday and Sunday, but if nap times sync up for the girls I’m usually to sneak an hour or two in. I’m beyond fortunate to have an incredibly understanding wife that allows me to have time for this crazy hobby, even after having two kids!

I was finally able to finish the clutch pedal assembly. It took a lot of work to make brackets and support bracing for the clutch housing, but I finally got it to a point where I was happy with it. I cut the brake pedal down to a more fitting size for a manual transmission setup and I’m happy to say that even though clearances are tight and it isn’t perfect, I think it should work really well. Fitment was tight around the brake booster connectors near the clutch master cylinder, but that worked out nicely as well.

While I was at it, I installed the JZA80 throttle cable and the braided stainless steel clutch line. The engine bay had a decent amount of grimey build up in certain areas, especially on the front subframe, so I was able to clean that up a pretty good amount. I’ll probably hit that with a fresh coat of paint before dropping the engine in. I’m debating painting some areas of the firewall as well, but I know it’s going to be far from perfect under the hood for a while. For now the goal is to get the car running and clean things up when possible, but it won’t be nearly as clean as the 240’s engine bay was. Perhaps details like that will be addressed down the road, but when you start with a car requiring this much work you have to pick your battles.

With the clutch pedal assembly finally complete, I was able to install the black dashboard and carpeting. Man, what a difference it makes to see the remaining interior pieces installed! It’s really starting to come together now and seeing the tan interior replaced by the much nicer black components really gave me a boost in motivation. I’m waiting on my steering wheel to arrive from Japan and still need to order a Works Bell hub for that, so it’ll stay like this for a little while. I was missing the mounting brackets for the radio and climate control, so I’m on hold there as well right now.

The gauges are just sitting on the dash for now, but those will need to be mounted and wired up down the road. I have oil pressure, oil temp, and boost for the time being. I’m considering adding a water temp gauge and possibly a wideband O2 as well, which will be mounted somewhere hidden if I do go that route. I could probably use Broadfield’s help for some of this stuff, but we’ll see what happens.

I also picked up a Lexus IS300 emergency brake assembly to retrofit. As you probably remember, the car came stock with a foot pedal emergency brake assembly, so it needs to be converted to a hand style setup. I’ve been doing some research on Yahoo! Japan and in Hyper Rev to get an idea of how to tackle this, so hopefully I will be able to figure something out.

I got the car up on stands this weekend and cleaned things up a bit under it as well. I hadn’t seen it yet without the wheels on, so it was nice to take a peek at the brakes and other suspension stuff. I’ll need to do some work on the brakes before it’s all said and done, as well as repair a broken wheel stud. All in due time I’m sure…

Lastly, I also purchased the supplies needed to run my fuel return line from the pump assembly to the engine. The factory Lexus GS400 uses a returnless fuel system and the Aristo 2JZGTE requires a return style setup, so hopefully I can figure out how to add the line in there.

During the next week I am going to try to focus on finishing up a couple odd details in the interior, namely bolts for the rear seats and the center console, and perhaps take a crack at installing the emergency brake. From there it’s time to move on to maintenance work on the engine and transmission. I’m still really hoping to have that in the car by first or second week in May, but I’m quickly running out of time. We’ll see how it goes!

Thanks a lot for reading and checking out the project- always appreciated!


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A Slow Week

I feel like I haven’t accomplished much since last time, but that’s because I’ve spent most of my free time working on the clutch pedal assembly and dealing with buying and selling cars.

I’ve been adding some lateral bracing to the assembly based on some advice from a friend to make sure everything is strong and in the right place. I also took the time to cut down the brake pedal assembly for the manual transmission setup. I’m hoping to wrap that up this week and grab some pictures.

Another order of parts from Drift Motion arrived last week including the following:

R154 input and output seals
Release bearing
Clutch release hub kit
Walbro 255lph fuel pump
VVTi 2JZ valve cover gaskets
Rear main seal
Thermostat (might replace with TRD)
PCV valve
Oil filter
Clutch alignment tool

Here’s all of the engine and timing service items that I need to install including the OEM water pump- don’t think I ever posted when that arrived:

Annnd the even larger pile with everything engine and drivetrain related. I keep thinking I’ve got everything and am ready to assembly the engine and trans, but I keep deciding to replace/modify other items along the way. Aside from a couple more transmission related upgrades I might buy, I think I’ve got it pretty under control. Famous last words, haha.

I cleaned and installed the rear seats. Still need a couple missing bolts to fully secure them and the seat belts, but I have to get in there to install the fuel pump and return line at some point anyway.

I have a couple cool interior pieces on the way that won’t be here for a few weeks, so I’m feeling just about done with sourcing interior stuff for the time being. Need to focus on getting the engine and transmission maintenance done and everything assembled so that I can drop it in and measure for the shifter extension and driveshaft. Still hoping to have that done by the first weekend in May.

I also sold my Evo last weekend and picked up this 96 Camry as a daily beater while the GS is under the knife, so trying to get that thing a bit more roadworthy has taken up a fair bit of my project car time. It’s got bad rear end links and a pretty large oil leak right now, so I’m working to get that sorted before I spend more time on the Lexus. Hopefully it’ll be in good shape after a couple more hours of work. For a car that cost half as much as most sets of wheels I own, I really can’t complain…

Thanks for reading!


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When Life Throws You Babies…

So, I missed a weekly installment of the GS build. That’s because my wife and I’s second daughter arrived on Sunday, March 30th just under three weeks ahead of her due date! My first was born on her actual due date, so I really didn’t expect Hattie to be born as quickly as she was- but that’s the way it goes with kids sometimes! I’m happy to report that my whole family is healthy and doing awesome, so I’m definitely grateful about that!

Let’s see- shortly after my last update, I was able to get the engine on the stand. It’s nice to be able to move it around in the garage now and keep it out of the way:

A few maintenance items arrived for the engine including OEM Toyota timing belt tensioner, idler, water pump (not pictured), cam seals, crank seal, drive belt, and an HKS timing belt. Another order of maintenance items for the engine and transmission will be here Wednesday, which should allow me to get the drivetrain assembled and ready to drop into the car. My goal is to have it sitting nicely in the bay sometime in early May.

I spent a lot of time trying to install the clutch pedal and clutch master assemblies and I am happy to say I’m getting pretty close. I am using the JZA80 Supra components and had to cut two brackets off of the clutch pedal bracket to get it to come close to fitting. It’s a tight fit with the brake pedal, but I think after I build my steel brace running to one of the studs from the old foot-style emergency brake pedal it should all fit OK. If not, I’ll have to look into cutting and welding the clutch pedal and/or brake pedal arms.

I was hoping to utilize the JZA80 brake pedal assembly, but it doesn’t quite work like I had hoped. Here is is next to the GS brake pedal assembly that I will end up cutting down to fit better:

Space is VERY limited down here which does not make it easy. The clutch pedal will move about a half an inch to the left as soon as the new bracket is fitted, which I am hoping will be enough to clear the brake pedal and not feel too awkward. But we’ll see how it goes…

I’ve made good progress on the interior and I think I finally have all of the pieces I need to install it. I was able to put the mirror, headliner and overhead lights, A/B/C pillar covers, rear speaker deck, and seatbelts back into the car. I just need to finish up the clutch pedal install and order my steering wheel/hub and that should allow me to get the full interior reinstalled. Looking forward to having it all together since it was torn apart when I bought the car and I haven’t even been able to sit in there.

It looks pretty bad here due to the flash, but I think I am going to go back and paint some of the remaining grey items black. They look a bit out of place right now with the darker pillars and headliner. I’m hesitant to even post this at this stage, but I am confident I’ll be able to pull it all together:

The pigtail was cut on the mirror I got, so I had to do a little soldering work before it could go in:

I found a cheap set of JDM black wood trim for the doors and decided to snag it. I think I like the painted trim I had done better, but the jury is still out on which I want to use:

I picked up my front and rear seats as well as a bunch of other interior parts I still needed from the Greyhound station a couple days after my daughter was born. The seats aren’t in the best condition, but they’ll definitely work for now until I can get something cooler in there down the road.

Found a good deal on an HKS fuel cut defencer and decided to snag that. I’ve heard these are great to have for this swap, but I honestly haven’t even looked into how it works too much just yet.

So that’s about where everything sits right now. Waiting on those parts to come in from Drift Motion this week and I should have just about all that I need to freshen the engine and transmission up and bolt them together. Hoping I might have the time over the weekend to at least get time timing belt job done and go from there. As usual though, I keep losing focus and jumping between tasks. I’m anxious to get the pedals done and the interior together as well, so we’ll see which project I tackle first.

Warm weather is making me excited for more progress! (Despite the fact that snow is on the way tonight…) Thanks for reading and bearing with me. Updates should resume their regular weekly schedule from now on.



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Build Update

Sorry, I couldn’t think of a title today. Let’s take a look at where things stand this week so far…

I’ll start with a couple pieces I found on eBay that aren’t remotely essential to getting the car running, but they’re pretty cool. It’s good to step back sometimes from the grand scheme of things and the stress of putting a build together like this to do something that is easy to accomplish and looks neat when you’re done. The first is a Toyota Aristo JZS161 front grille:

These seem to be a little tricky to find, so I snagged this clean example. Most people seem to prefer aftermarket grilles with no badges, but I love the OEM JDM version- this car just looks at home with Toyota badges on it. Here it is installed on my chipped up hood:

I also bought a set of Aristo scuff plates for the interior. These replace the USDM units that say “LEXUS” on them. Just another cool little detail to have:

The driver’s side seat belt was missing from the interior I purchased, so that showed up this week too:

I got a hold of a pair of A and C pillars for the interior swap, but I did not have the B pillars. The headliner was proving to be a major pain for the seller to ship, so I decided just to paint all of these items black with DupliColor interior and fabric paint. I have used this stuff in the past when converting to a black interior on some of my other cars and it works well enough to get the job done. The best option would have been to wrap all of this stuff in black fabric, but I don’t have the budget or patience for it at the moment. My car won’t have much of a “VIP” feel to it anyway, so this is sufficient in my eyes.

Here’s a shot of one of the dirty tan B pillar covers prior to being painted:

And here are the pillar covers after being painted:

After starting on spraying the headliner, I can honestly say I kind of wish I had wrapped it! It’s proving to be very time consuming and using a lot of paint. I think another coat tonight will take care of it though. Then I just need to spray the sunroof cover and I’ll be ready to start getting a lot of this back into the car’s interior.

For the actual plastic items that need to be painted, including the steering column cover and kick panels near the carpet, I turned to my good friend and interior expert Toby for something a bit nicer than the DupliColor stuff. He hooked me up with some SEM paint that should work nicely for those pieces:

Like I mentioned before, I wasn’t really feeling the wood grain trim on the door panels and center console. I took it to the body shop and had them spray it gloss black for me. I’m really happy with how it turned out- looks much better! Again, not really going for a VIP feel so this is perfect.

I got three of the door panels back in, but I’m waiting for the black window switches to arrive for the driver’s door before I can put that one back in.

I’m expecting the rest of the interior pieces I need to arrive next week, including a set of black leather seats. They aren’t in amazing condition, but I wanted to at least have something in the car so I have one less thing to worry about. I’d of course love to be bolting in a pair of buckets instead, but that will have to wait for another day.

As for the mechanical side, I brought the cherry picker up out of the basement and was able to get the engine off of the pallet. My engine stand is currently out at my cousin’s house, so I picked up another one to use in the mean time. The bell housing bolts aren’t long enough to put the engine on the stand, so I’ll grab some today after work and get the engine on there. That will free up garage space and make it easier to do some maintenance work before the engine goes in.

I also removed the torque converter and flex plate from the engine. Won’t be needing those anymore!

Finally, my order arrived from Drift Motion including a lot of the things I need to convert the car to a manual transmission. JZA80 Supra clutch and brake pedal assemblies, ARP flywheel bolts, bell housing to transmission and bell housing to engine bolt sets, JZA80 clutch master cylinder, braided clutch line, R154 slave cylinder, JZA80 throttle cable, Marlin Crawler bushings for the shifter, and a polyurethane transmission mount.

I’m going to try to install the clutch pedal and master cylinder this weekend. That will allow me to really start getting the interior back into the car. My next step will be to decide how much work I am going to put into the engine and order the necessary parts to get that all sorted out, as well as the fuel pump and other stuff needed to convert the car to a return style fuel system.

Should be a long but rewarding process. Thanks for reading!


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