You've seen more than your fair share of LS-powered builds, many of which have been tossed in front of you via our social media and website offerings. Some love the idea of a well-packaged, ultra-versatile powerhouse that doesn't break a sweat pumping out 500+ naturally aspirated horsepower or upping that number dramatically with the help of boost, while others cry foul anytime Chevrolet's familiar workhorse peeks out from under the hood of any Japanese build. We're confident there are plenty of LS swaps peppered throughout the Las Vegas Convention Center as it hosts the largest event its halls will see all year, but this one, well, this one is a little different.
Admittedly, the idea isn't the first of its kind. Jesse and Jordan Henke are the two halves that make up JH Restorations, a custom "everything" shop out of Windsor, Ontario, who set out to build a restomod for a customer that flexes modern performance and handling—but that isn't the car's main selling point. The fact that they've done so with a number of clever details that all seem to culminate and never steer far from the very character that tends to draw enthusiasts to Toyota's sporty, '70s-era chassis in the first place, certainly is.
Jesse Henke tell us this '73 Celica was literally a barn find and though it carried some livery, it sat lifeless due to the lack of a powertrain. The vision, as Jesse puts it, was "kind of a modern spin on a Pro Touring/drift car." A far cry from the car's original, lackluster automatic, a 5.3L LS was plucked from a 2007 Saab 97X of all things and torn down only to be built back up to 5.7L status using DSS Racing FX forged pistons and Eagle rods.
Holding court in the Edelbrock booth at SEMA should clue you in to the fact that this Celica has a long list of upgrades on board, which includes Edelbrock's E-CNC small port heads, Rollin' Thunder cam, Cross-Ram intake manifold and Pro-Flo XT throttle body.
Directing spent gasses in rather uniform fashion are custom headers formed by Glease Manufacturing—a shop that prides itself on intentionally low volume fabrication (always a good sign). The result of cutting no corners in the engine build department resulted in over 550hp tasked with carrying just 2,600lbs of Celica.
Don't assume this is a classic case of just throwing a big engine into a little car and calling it a day. In this instance, double wishbone front suspension is at play, as is a power rack and pinion set up, Ford 8.8 rear end and QA1 shocks with high travel coilovers. Just in front of the Wilwood calipers are GM 5-lug spec, 15x10 American Racing wheels that sit in the rear with 15x9 in the front, all wrapped in Toyo R888R.
Rather than keeping the doors' black vinyl material and just throwing in a set of seats and a roll bar, JH reached out to Nesic Upholstery who added a '70s Volkswagen plaid makeover using leather from Relicate and the '70s feel of the new material suits this Celica far better than bolting in a standard set of seats that countless other cars have. Jesse also mentioned that in their neck of the woods, having a roll bar in a street car is a big no-no, so they designed one that is completely removable.
And that brings us to what initially caught my eye as I stomped through the Convention Center's frantic construction and plastic-lined floors during set up day—the Celica's paint. The artificial feel of a vinyl wrap wasn't in the cards for this build, nor was a showstopping paint job with layers of clearcoat. JH instead kept the original yellow paint intact, scuffed it up to get the satin clear to stick, and had Matt of Brightworks Auto Art handle the unique livery that has a weathered appearance so spot on that I had to be "that guy," and run my fingers across the side of the car.
In addition, Matt added Edelbrock's '70s-era logo to the quarter panels and up front you'll find some slick, throwback JH Racing logos. Sponsors are listed on the car's flanks, but they've been muted, and tie right into the "aged to perfection" look of the Celica's exterior.
The details are what separate good builds from great builds and with so much care taken to maintain a specific feel on this project, I had to assume that JH Restorations was a Celica factory, churning out restomods on the regular, but that isn't the case. "We're just good at being different. We work on pick-up trucks, hot rods, muscle cars...we even did a '72 skyline last year. We do it all."