In the preceding chapters, we followed the Lexus LFA from raw fiber to body, paint, and assembly. Today, the LFA gets its engine. Tomorrow, we’ll test it, and then, we’ll say good-bye to the LFA Workshop in Motomachi.
On its slow road to completion, the LFA travels down a main line, where it is met by components that come from smaller sidelines. One such subassembly is the LFA’s V10 engine. Covered by a thick sheet of plastic, it comes from Yamaha where it was built and assembled. The engine was a balancing act, in more ways than one.
The engine sits behind the front wheels. The transmission, or rather transaxle, sits in the rear, balancing out to an ideal 48:52 front/rear weight distribution. Engine and transaxle are connected by a torque tube for a balance of lightness and durability.
Through generous use of aluminum, titanium, magnesium and brain matter, the LFA’s engine is light. How light? I am unsuccessful in prying the engine’s weight out of the otherwise very forthcoming engineers. It will remain a secret until someone weighs the thing.
“It makes no sense to save all that weight with composites, only to waste it on a heavy engine,” says Tanahashi. The LFA’s V10 is as small as a traditional V8, it is as light as a conventional V6, and yet delivers the power of a V12. The engine is light, but at 560 hp and 480 Nm (354 lb ft) of torque it certainly is no lightweight.
The torque band of some engines is so peaky that it can do double duty as a Jayne Mansfield look-alike. Dyno the LFA, and it will draw a diagram as flat as a Japanese beauty: 90 percent of the LFA’s peak torque is available from 3,700 rpm all the way to the rev limiter. In this case, flat definitely is the sexier choice.
Chain of custody.
Speaking of the dyno, every LFA goes on one, not just to check the engine or the brakes, but even for such prosaic exercises as checking the accuracy of the speedometer.
One instrument appears to be banned from the LFA’s philharmonic symphony. There is no staccato sound of the pneumatic torque wrench. It would be too imprecise, I hear. Instead, each bolt is torqued with a digital, however manual torque wrench. After each bolt, the worker stops and makes notation on a sheet.
To my bafflement, I learn that the torque for every bolt in the LFA is recorded on what is called an “evidence sheet.” Not just the torque of every bolt. Everything that is touched, assembled, hand-laid, bonded, adjusted, or checked in each and every LFA made receives an entry in an evidence sheet. The sheet is signed by the person that enters the data, and then it is signed again by a foreman.
Whenever one of the each of the 500 LFAs leaves Motomachi, administrator Mami Murofushi puts four heavy file boxes, filled with a collection of thousands of evidence sheets, on a shelf in an archive room a few steps away from the LFA Works. Aligned by build number, the file boxes will sit there at least for the next 50 years.
FRP is forever.
Why will the evidence be kept for more than 50 years? For one thing, because the LFA likely will last longer than that. Honestly, Tanahashi does not know how long the LFA will last.
“I feel the material could live permanently,” says Tanahashi. “To be safe, let’s say semi-permanently.” Looking at a semi-eternal service life, Tanahashi is not worried about end of life issues. Some people are. They paint a picture of rust-resistant carbon fiber bodies that will pile up on landfills half a century after they can be made in an affordable way. Tanahashi has thought of that as well and says that if and when the time comes, the carbon fiber LFA can be “crushed and the material can be used for building reinforcement.”
With that in mind, we travel to another hall at the northeastern end of the Motomachi complex. This is where cars receive a very intrusive physical before they get delivered. A full week’s worth of LFA production, all seven of them, are lined up for inspection.
One of the LFAs awaiting a physical is a Nürburgring Package version. The package is a $70,000 extra, and only 50 are being sold. I would not have noticed it, would Tanahashi not have pointed it out. It is the white one on the right.
Those $70,000 buy you 11 additional horses. “That is the main difference,” says Tanahashi. The suspension has a different adjustment. There are little winglets on the side, and “slight changes inside of the engine room,” I hear.
Asked what those changes are, Tanahashi grins, he pops the hood and shows a silver oil filter, and a red-on black plaque that says “Handbuilt by Lexus LFA Works” instead of the regulation champagne-colored oil filter and plaque. If I had to ask …
“It is expensive, but it shaved 8 seconds off our Nürburgring lap time,” says Tanahashi, referring to the 7:14.64 Nordschleife lap time achieved on August 31, 2011.
Ignoring the lap times of three cars of dubious provenance, the LFA on regulation Bridgestone tires was the fastest production, street-legal car around the ring. For two weeks, it was. On September 14, a Dodge Viper ACR on Michelin Pilot Cup slicks came in two and a half seconds faster, and this is where things stand ever since.
I ask Tanahashi whether he will try again. He does not answer, and looks the other way.
Stay tuned for the final installment of The Making Of The Lexus LFA:
Monday, July 9: From A Bar To Bar None. How the LFA was born, and why it is made from carbon fiber.
Tuesday, July 10: In The Clean Room. Where the LFA is made from the strongest and most expensive type of carbon fiber available.
Wednesday, July 11: Call Me Names. How the LFA really got its name.
Thursday, July 12: Balance Of Power. We watch the V10 engine go into the LFA.
Friday, July 13: Exam Week. We examine Chief Engineer Tanahashi about how the LFA influences future cars, and what will come after the LFA.