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The Lexus LS400 not only kick started the Lexus Brand, it also changed the luxury segment as we know it.
Lexus celebrates 30 years in New Zealand this year. This is astounding considering the luxury arm of Toyota has been in existence since 1989, meaning that Kiwis have been a part of the Lexus story pretty much from the beginning.
Now when most of us think Lexus, we think of extremely well made, silent running and luxurious saloons and SUV’s, oh and that insane LFA Supercar. However, the original LS400 which started it all, in this writer’s opinion, will go down in history as a proper luxury classic.
Back in the early eighties, Toyota was not thought of as being on the same planet in terms of luxury when compared to BMW, Mercedes, and Jaguar. Toyota sales in the US market were slumping, so the big wigs at Toyota, led by Eiji Toyoda, wanted a piece of the luxury pie, and gave Toyota’s engineers the green light to give the Toyota family a flagship full size luxury car.
Code-named “Flagship 1” Toyota’s team had free reign over budget and time to create the perfect luxury car to whip the Germans. Early drawings showed a low-slung sports coupe, similar to the later BMW 8-Series, but the designers settled on a conventional four door saloon, thinking it would be more suitable for the market.
The name Lexus was chosen for the new brand, which in Latin means to impose great authority. The prototype, testing and final design of the new Lexus was all signed off by May 1987.
The model was designated, LS400 and the car, which cost Lexus over a billion dollars to develop, made its official debut at the 1989 Detroit Motor Show. After a year of it being on sale in the US, dealerships in Europe, Australia and, you guessed it, New Zealand opened their doors in 1990.
The LS400 was unlike any other luxury car at that time. Rather than some manufacturers which raided the parts bin, everything on the LS400 was bespoke. The body was constructed using sandwich steel which kept down vibration, and flush door handles and windows greatly reduced buffeting from the wind at speed.
Grunt came in the form of the 1UZ-FE 4.0L V8 engine with 254hp. This meant zero to 100km/h in 8.5 seconds and a top whack of 260km/h, and all in chapel like quiet. On board tech was also a huge step forward not just for Toyota, but for the industry. Electric seats with memory function, electro- luminescent gauges, air suspension and an electrochromic rear-view mirror.
Each button and switch were also fluid damped to ensure each gave the same unobtrusive clicking noise. Lexus was so pathological about this feature, they even employed one of their engineers to inspect every single LS400 on the production line and see if they made this same clicking sound.
The LS400 was a huge hit. Buyers and the press loved it for its refinement and gizmos, it set the template for every Lexus since. Sure, some still preferred the character of the euro competition, those after a refined, modern, well balanced and silent way of getting around were spellbound.
The LS400 saw a few updates throughout its life before it was retired in the early 2000s. These days, the LS400 is not only a great car, but also an absolute steal on the second hand market. A quick trip through the classifieds reveal LS400’s can be had for as little as $3,000NZ.
That is astonishing when you consider just how much car you get for your money. Sure, the mileage will be interstellar, but as we all know, a Toyota product with 232,000km on the clock is barely run in. The 1UZ-FE V8 is also a mountain of reliability.
All these things considered, the Lexus LS400, I believe, will slowly creep up in value in years to come. Especially when people realize just what a landmark car this was, and still is.
By Ben Selby