The Scion FR-S Chronicles: Part 1 - Early Ownership

The Scion FR-S Chronicles: Part 1 - Early Ownership

I put off documenting this car entirely too long and for a couple of reasons. First - it’s a large undertaking - one that’s time consuming and one I really want to do justice to. Secondly, it never really felt like the right time to put it together, as the next “stage” was always just around the corner. Well, finally it really does feel like the right time and I’ve managed to wedge this task into my schedule to get it done. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Note: Many photos in this post are unedited cell phone shots or really bad pictures I took with my DSLR when I was a total novice to photography. I think they suck as much or more than you do! The cover photo is good because it was done by Ethan Stein.

I recall the moment I realized I was going to get an FR-S. I was dinking around on Autotrader and stumbled upon a 2013 Scion FR-S for $13k. For a two year old car (this was in 2015) that was pretty good! Sure, it was probably a salvage title and the highest mileage two year old vehicle in the hemisphere, but this meant that they were at least obtainable.

Fast forward half a year and I was actively shopping for an FR-S. In my searches, most actual FR-Ss on the market hovered around the $20-22k mark - but the bug already bit me, I was going to get an FR-S. After checking out a few used examples, I ultimately started checking out new 2015 models at dealerships. It’s funny how money gets away from you, isn’t it?

At first I had my eyes set on cars in Dark Grey Metallic (61K). Looking back, I can’t believe I did, as it’s probably my least favorite color. My local dealer had one I was set to see, but as it would turn out, someone at the dealership had borrowed it for the weekend.

But there was another one…

The very first picture I took of my FR-S before I bought it - my first car!
The very first picture I took of my FR-S before I bought it - my first car!

And that’s how I came home with my 2015 Scion FR-S in Ultramarine (E8H). Technically, my dad drove it home since I hardly knew how to drive a manual. Prior to this, my only experience driving manual was poking around in a parking lot with my friend Andrew’s 5 speed Mazda Protegé. I learned on the FR-S pretty quickly, as it’s a very forgiving car to learn in.

Despite not having driven manual in a couple decades, dad knocked it out of the park and looked great doing it
Despite not having driven manual in a couple decades, dad knocked it out of the park and looked great doing it

Initial ownership was awesome. Coming from a lifetime of automotive enthusiasm but only really having driven minivans at that point, I was on top of the world.

While the FR-S is really meant to be the spiritual successor of the late 80’s Toyota Corolla AE86, practically speaking it feels like the next Nissan S-chassis. Obtainable, manual, front engine, rear wheel drive, lightweight, and a high revving engine. I’d seen so many highly modified Nissan 240SX’s that it was the unmodified ones that would blow my mind. I could see the exact same thing happening to the Scion FR-S, so I decided I’d try my best to keep it as original and clean as practical.

The structure in the background was demolished sometime between June 2018 and July 2019
The structure in the background was demolished sometime between June 2018 and July 2019

My initial modifications were clear sidemarkers, a license plate relocation kit, and an air intake tube that removed the sound tubing that was piped into the cabin. I had an itch to supercharge the car, but it would cost roughly $5,000 that I didn’t have sitting around to blow on car parts. And hey, didn’t I just say I was keeping it stock?

Times were awesome. Andrew and I lived in an apartment together, and when the boys (Eddie and David) were over it was really like our high school dreams come true.

Remember when Gadsden flag didn't have such a negative connotation?
Remember when Gadsden flag didn't have such a negative connotation?

However, just a couple days after this picture, my dreams were a little crushed. After a good night celebrating my sister’s birthday at my parents place, I began my drive home in the rain. While driving straight down the road, a woman coming the opposite way took a left hand turn directly in front of me. I slammed on the brakes, but my tires were compromised on the wet tarmac.

Womp, womp.
Womp, womp.

I couldn’t say how fast I was going when I hit her rear passenger side wheel, but I’d guess around 15 mph. After the accident I hugged her and said it would all be ok - insurance would cover it. The police came and we gave our reports.

It was a bummer, but only got worse when I learned through my insurance company (that we both had, so either way they’re paying out) that she was claiming I was at fault and she had a witness at the scene (she didn’t). Great, now I get to combat insurance fraud. Eventually I received a summons in the mail to be a witness to my own accident on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia to testify against her. I feared that if her ticket was dropped, insurance might put me at “equal fault”, so I came prepared with clear printouts of satellite imagery that showed how the accident happened. This all correlated with the officer’s notes, and she thankfully plead guilty.

Not one to waste an opportunity, I made sure to have fun capturing the car in it’s temporary drift missile appearance.

While my car was out of commission, Andrew and I went to what would have been my first autocross event. While he competed in his bone stock NB2 Miata, I took photos and daydreamed of how I was going to modify my car for motorsports once I got it back. After all, it’s already been in an accident, it’s not like it’s really original anymore.

After six weeks that felt like sixty, my FR-S returned from McGeorge Collision Center. Some told me that after an accident, the car would never be the same and that I should get rid of it, especially if I was going to do motorsports.

Andrew is in the background working on Suki, an NA Miata he briefly owned
Andrew is in the background working on Suki, an NA Miata he briefly owned

But I couldn’t do it. After all, it’s my first car! I knew that if I got rid of it in just under a year with only 9,000 miles on it, I would kick myself for the rest of my life.

Shortly afterwards, I went back to Richmond Raceway for the next VMSC autocross event. I competed in almost entirely stock form but still got bumped into STX class because of the intake pipe I had installed. I was not competitive at all (especially in STX), but it was stupid fun.

Numbers 7, 77, and 777 were all reserved
Numbers 7, 77, and 777 were all reserved

And that’s when the parts started rolling in…

Despite the FR-S being known for its excellent handling in stock form, I sought to improve it more by installing Fortune Auto 510 coilovers, SPL lower control arms in the rear, and TWS T66-F wheels in 18x9.5 +45 (much bigger than the OEM 17x7’s).

The coilovers I got pretty lucky on - I visited Fortune Auto just down the street inquiring about a set of 500’s, but they had a set of 510’s on hand that they used for prototyping on the platform. They rebuilt them for me and gave me a killer deal.

TWS Forged (not to be confused with TSW wheels) is a wheel manufacturer in Japan that produces racing wheels. It’s not uncommon to see their wheels being ran in WEC or Super GT. The big selling point for me was the weight - an 18x9.5 wheel that weighs only 15.6 lbs is unheard of. Normally, I would never have access to wheels like this, but my lurking of FT86Club finally rewarded me when someone in Philadelphia listed a set (wrapped in Michelin Pilot SuperSports) for effectively half off in the classifieds. After a couple months of debate, I ended up making the trek and bringing them home.

David, Michael, and I threw it all together in David’s parents’ garage. Working on a car with friends is way more fun (and safer) than working alone.

Putting these parts on the car is when the fun really started. Having gobs of grip and less body roll made even the most mundane trips an event. I also started pointing my camera at the car much more.

Around this same time, the power bug was biting me again. The FR-S/BRZ has an infamous “torque dip” - that is, a range low in the powerband where the car feels a little unresponsive. It’s not a huge deal on track where you’re not dipping below 5,000 RPM often, but for scooting around town or doing autocross, it can be a buzzkill. Adding more tire only emphasized this.

Unconvinced that forced induction was the only way out of that problem, I invested in a JDL unequal length header and a Stage 2 tune by Zach Tucker at Delicious Tuning. The added speed was great and it didn’t take long for me to also throw in a high flow front pipe and tune for flex fuel for even more NA power.

Installing my JDL header with David. Here he is, smiling as big as he can.
Installing my JDL header with David. Here he is, smiling as big as he can.

Around that same time, I also threw a Wilwood big brake kit on the car. I never advise people to hop straight to a big brake kit, but I couldn’t bear to see the little stock brakes behind the open faced 18” TWS wheels any longer.

Photo by Ethan Stein from the first real shoot anyone had done of my car
Photo by Ethan Stein from the first real shoot anyone had done of my car

This was unfortunately a little bit more of a disaster than anticipated. I got a local shop with a good reputation to install the kit since I didn’t want to do the work in our apartment complex and I wanted it done right. Everything seemed good and well until the next morning when I walked out and realized a ring of paint had been stripped around the barrel of a wheel - indicating a fluid leak. Sure enough, brake fluid had been leaking and ruined the finish of the wheel.

This was all pretty lame, but the shop did go out of their way offering to make things right. Looking back, I hope it was just a fluke experience.

And this is where the car sat in mid 2017. Two years of ownership and it’d been in a light accident and had few but semi-aggressive modifications done to it. The car had seen half a dozen or so autocross events and somewhere around 25,000 miles. I loved the car and felt like I was just getting started.

9.5 inch wide wheels means I got bumped from STX to CSP in SCCA class rulings
9.5 inch wide wheels means I got bumped from STX to CSP in SCCA class rulings

That’s all for this one. Part 2 will come soon. Thanks for reading! ❤

Bonus Photos

Andrew again in the background, working on Suki, seemingly with the whole dashboard out this time
Andrew again in the background, working on Suki, seemingly with the whole dashboard out this time
David, Matt, and I paddocked at Autocross
David, Matt, and I paddocked at Autocross
One of my fondest memories with the car was taking my grandma to the Easter Cantata. She was a good sport about it being low.
One of my fondest memories with the car was taking my grandma to the Easter Cantata. She was a good sport about it being low.
Working on my car wherever there was space - in this case, rolling my fenders. I nailed it on the passenger side but did pretty bad on the driver's side
Working on my car wherever there was space - in this case, rolling my fenders. I nailed it on the passenger side but did pretty bad on the driver's side
Owning only one vehicle and having a roommate who only has a Miata means you get yourself in tricky situations when you need to move big objects - like this cat tree I got off Craigslist
Owning only one vehicle and having a roommate who only has a Miata means you get yourself in tricky situations when you need to move big objects - like this cat tree I got off Craigslist
Zack riding shotty while I put in some laps at autocross
Zack riding shotty while I put in some laps at autocross

About Guyon Cumby

Follower of Jesus, gearhead, photographer, and software systems engineer