By on April 21, 2021

Rare Rides featured its first Lexus recently, the SC 400 which stood as the brand’s first coupe offering. Today we’ll check out the more important flagship of the Lexus brand upon its introduction in the early Nineties: the LS 400.

Toyota knew it was go big or go home when it came to a luxury offering in the North American market. Its only premium type cars on offer previously were the Corona, and its replacement the Cressida. The Cressida was dated, too slow, not large enough, and not luxurious enough for North American consumer tastes. At home, Toyota offered the Crown and the Century, but those large sedans were also conservative and focused on the demands of the upper-crust Japanese customer (a consumer who was loyal to a domestic car).

In entering the North American market, Toyota would have to pitch its luxury brand to a consumer base not accustomed to thinking of Japanese cars as luxurious; a consumer base that typically bought its luxury cars from established domestic players or the Europeans. Cognizant of the ask ahead Toyota started the development of the LS in 1983, as a super-secret project called F1. The F1 was intended for export, a product not directly for a Japanese audience.

The F1 took five years in development, and cost over $1 billion when all was said and done. The car that resulted was an all-new vehicle with a new V8. Toyota paid special attention to things European luxury sedans had, like a quiet cabin, the ability to tour at high speed, and effective aerodynamics.

The new brand to market the F1 was created in 1986 and called Lexus, and the large sedan the company would sell called the LS. By May 1987 all designs were frozen in place. The production version LS did not share parts with other Toyota vehicles, nor a platform. Its new 32-valve 1UZ-FE V8 was 4.0 liters in displacement, and good for 250 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque: Impressive figures at a time when German V8 engines produced around 200 horses. Its suspension was modern, an independent double-wishbone design. There was an air suspension as an optional extra. The design was quieter inside than either flagship offering from BMW or Mercedes-Benz, with a higher top speed, lower coefficient of drag, and lower curb weight.

Crucially in contrast to European and American competition, most features on the LS were standard. Said expansive standard features combined with a low base price of $35,000 to draw in customers. The base price was thousands cheaper than European competition but came with a disclaimer. $35,000 was the ask for an LS with cloth seats, a version with very limited availability that most dealers didn’t stock. Lexus’ main concern at the outset was keeping quality high and pricing low to make up a lack of brand heritage, and thus no snob appeal to the BMW-Jag golfing type customer. Chris Goffey did a nice comparison review on Ye Olde Top Gear back in the day. The LS stood out starkly for its standard equipment against Euro competition in the UK, which often didn’t offer air conditioning, a catalytic converter, or eight cylinders for a comparable price in 1990.

1995 Lexus LS400 - Image: LexusThe plan worked, and the LS was an instant sales success which cemented the brand as an outlet of quality and reliable luxury in the eyes of consumers. The initial LS remained on sale through 1992, as a refresh debuted in 1993 in response to customer and dealer commentary. Said revised LS remained on sale through 1994, at which point a second generation arrived for 1995. Gen two was larger, more powerful, and more Avalon-ish looking (I really like the refreshed ’98 to ’00 look below). You probably know the rest.

Today’s Rare Ride is for sale in the hamlet of Orange County, near downtown California. With 22,000 miles since new, it’s in spectacular condition with California-appropriate gold badging and grille surround. The seller asks all the money for this rare condition LS: $23,000.

[Images: Lexus]

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51 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1992 Lexus LS 400 in As-new Condition...”


  • avatar
    texasjack

    Corey, Stop fantasizing about the Lexus with 430v8 Don’t diss the sc430. Get on board and ditch the VW and whatever else you commute in. Get a real car with a V8.

    • 0 avatar
      dantes_inferno

      >Get a real car with a V8.

      And be sure to order the extended range fueling option: An Exxon tanker truck escort to keep the beast fed.

      • 0 avatar
        55_wrench

        LS 430 owner here.

        I can easily get 25 highway mpg on long trips. And that’s not by the computer which is about .5 mpg optimistic.

        So 25 x 22 gallons = 550 mile range.

        The 400 shouldn’t be too far off, no need to worry about range. Can you drive 550 miles without stopping?

  • avatar
    wjtinfwb

    My dad, who drove European sedans through the 70s and 80’s, finally tired of the exorbitant maintenance costs and frequent repairs, moved to the Japanese luxury brands, first with two Acura Legends then to Lexus with an LS400. The Acura’s were great cars, but a notch below the big Mercedes and BMW in space and finish. The LS400 however, put it all together. Smooth as silk, quiet as a library and as dependable as the sun coming up. Dad never looked back and went through an LS400, LS430, SC430 and LS460 over the next 20 years. He got my mom an RX350 as well. His praise for Lexus was effusive, summarizing them as “hassle-free”. Great cars and dealer service, more than anything Lexus forced not only the Germans but also the domestics to up their game and better understand their customer.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I first drove an LS 400 in 1993, when my rich high school friend’s family bought one and he let me drive it. It seemed at the time like something straight out of the future. The electroluminescent gauges, the extraordinary build quality, and the butter-smooth but reasonably controlled ride all redefined what was possible. When I got back into my 1987 Taurus, it felt like a Cozy Coupe by comparison. My dad had an Audi V8 Quattro at the time, which was more engaging to drive than the LS, but was just not in the same league in terms of refinement.

  • avatar
    jmo

    I’m always curious about the back story for these super low mileage cars. Did someone have multiple homes and bought the LS to keep in CA and they just never ended up going to the CA very much? Multiple cars is certainly another option.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      My neighbor has an early Toyota Supra that he keeps at his place in Florida. Couple thousand miles a year. If he croaks before I do (he’s 10 yrs older – early 80s) I’m first in line to buy. Or maybe the Corvette that he keeps up here which doesn’t get that many more miles per year either.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    There’s no doubt Toyota went all out to make these rigs as good as they could. I remember the first one we benchmarked at GM and how the paint finish on the door jambs was better than on a Cadillac hood. It was a real eye-opener for a lot of high level execs.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynasty

      > It was a real eye-opener for a lot of high level execs.

      Apparently it wasn’t. Because GM kept producing garbage, then went bankrupt.

      The new GM is continuing that legacy.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    “Its new 32-valve 1UZ-FE V8 was 4.0 liters in displacement, and good for 250 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque: Impressive figures at a time when German V12 engines produced around 200 horses.”

    I think you mean the German V8s. The E32 750i and the XJ12 made about 295 hp, and the W140 S600 was closer to 400 hp. Of course those vehicles were something like three times the price of the LS400.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I had a ‘92, bought new. It was light years ahead of MBZ and BMW. Fully equipped it was about $8K less than comparable Europeans. I do remember, however, that the ride was so floaty (like Buick in the worst sense) that I complained to the dealer. They changed the shocks (reportedly for the European suspension spec shocks). It was better, but not perfect. Also the transmission failed at 2,000 miles!!!!! It was promptly changed by the dealer who said that the failed unit was flown back to Japan to be torn down and inspected. The car was very quiet, and had the personality of a refrigerator. My next car was a Mercedes 560SEC. In summary, the ‘92 LS Lexus was good, but NOT $23K good for an almost 30 year old example.

  • avatar
    Cicero

    Toyota went all in with the LS, looking to equal or exceed the metrics of the big Mercedes sedan at the time. It cost a bundle to do it such that (or so I read) Lexus actually lost money on every LS sale it made for years.

    What Toyota got for its investment was brand capital. Lexus quickly got wide acceptance as a true premium mark.

    Although Lexus has produced some great cars in its top-tier offerings since then, it made its money back many times over by dressing up its plebian Camry as the ES350 and convincing lots of buyers that it is worth the $7,000 premium over its Toyota stablemate. The front-drive ES350 was for a long time Lexus’ sales king (although I don’t know whether that is still the case in this Age of the Crossover).

    Had Toyota launched Lexus with only re-skinned models of existing Toyotas at the start the entire Lexus enterprise would not have gotten off the ground. It almost certainly would not have gained the cachet that now lets it sell tarted-up Camrys for big money.

    Toyota did everything right here. Acura could have taken a few lessons from its strategy.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Every so often someone will say that Toyota was selling the LS400 “below cost”, with the implication that they were deliberately buying market share. I sat down one time and figured out that the Toyota Celsior (the home market version of the LS) sold for the same price as the LS400, once you figured in the exchange rate at the time and adjusted for equipment specifications.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The very first ES 250 was a thinly reskinned Camry, but Lexus wised up after that. The first ES 300 put a completely different body and interior on the Camry platform, and added bespoke suspension tuning and a lot more sound insulation. Several generations later, the ES shifted to the Avalon platform for more legroom. If you look at the history of other Lexuses that shared platforms with Toyotas, that history has proven pretty consistent. There have never been common body or interior parts (except for the occasional bit of switchgear) and the feel is always very different. The biggest exception, the LX/Land Cruiser, was a luxury product long before Lexus existed.

      • 0 avatar
        focal

        I bought a 92 Camry new and it was leaps better than any comparable at the time. I think the Camry benefitted the most from Lexus ES300. The chassis benefitted the most. Even got the rare 5MT version.

  • avatar
    Syke

    If you ever want the bottom line why Lexus succeeded and Infiniti failed in those first 2-5 years, reread the description in the above article. Nissan took their biggest JDM sedan and did some changes for the American market. Toyota started from scratch, and came up with a product that was completely different from anything else they were producing.

    It showed. Even though I like the first generation Q45 better for my own tastes.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      As they say, you gotta spend money to make money.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      Add in that Infiniti shot themselves in the foot by not showing the car in advertising as well as the unusual front end of the original Q45. Perhaps now, like with the Tesla Model S, luxury owners like a grille-less look, but back then they want it loud and in your face. Infiniti corrected that with the refresh, but by then the sales trajectories were set.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynasty

        That was a unique ad campaign. Trees, rocks, water… At the end of the day, I think the product is what did Infinity in.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        Fun Fact: The history of the ad campaign is almost universally misunderstood. The “decision” not to show the car? It was no decision at all. Nissan was rushing to market to answer Lexus so hastily, they were running ads before they had a car—the agency literally had no car to photograph.

        Bonus Fun Fact: When Nissan brought out the successful Xterra SUV a few years later with the slogan “Everything you need. Nothing you don’t,” they did have the car. It just didn’t run. So they briskly edited together a bunch of shots of the car standing still on a blank white soundstage. It was a harbinger of Rogues and Sentras with the grenading CVT, one could say.

    • 0 avatar
      swester

      And now Infiniti is back to failing again, for arguably the same reasons.

      They peaked with the brilliant first-gen G35, and now they’re back to selling rebadged, uninspired cars that impress no one.

  • avatar
    jmo

    If anyone is looking for a good TTAC beach read the book “Lexus: The Relentless Pursuit” by Chester Dawson is very good. Available from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    The sad thing is that this is a better deal than any brand-new $23,000 car.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    If I am not mistaken, GM spent $1B to develop a car in the 80s, that was the W-Body (Gr. Prix, Regal, Lumina, Cutlass) amazing how that turned out in comparison. I am looking to replace my 2000 GS400 with a 2000 LS. Basically any LS with under 300,000KM is just broken-in (if reasonably cared for). I think where Lexus got snookered in the marketplace of late is the Germans, especially Mercedes, aggressive leasing focus. It’s been a long time since anyone bought outright a Mercedes, so they are able to load up their cars with tech and horsepower at the expense of reliability because no-one will drive one off-warranty. Lexus one the other hand assumed buyers were buyers not leasers, this meant a focus on durability at the expense of flash and quick model turnovers.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      GM was still building W-bodies until a few years back, so I’d say the program actually turned out pretty well for them.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      @Lightspeed, GM’s number goes a lot higher if you include plant investment – they were planning to Take Over The World with the W platform. Ford put together a figure of “$6 Billion” [including a lot of stuff not directly linked to the platform] to impress everyone with how Serious they were about World Cars – and then it took about 14 minutes for the stock analysts to jump all over them for ‘spending’ so much. An example of the criticism (and a good example of automotive journalism circa 1993):

      https://archive.fortune.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1993/06/28/78013/index.htm

      • 0 avatar
        Lightspeed

        I drove a lot of W-bodies and when they got the 3800 and a couple other fixes they were solid, average cars. But, when you look at what each company rolled out for their $billion it’s a vast difference in quality – yes and price-point.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Amazing example. I think they’d fetch more without the silly gold-plated trim, though.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      From the listing:

      “I have a standard chrome grill and chrome wheels caps if the next owner prefers this to the gold.”

      (This might be the hottest thing I have ever read in print.)

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Bill from Curious Cars also reviewed one of these that was in mint condition. Beautiful car and built to last forever. The fit in finish on these rivals most luxury cars and the leather interior is among the nicest.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    This doesn’t seem like a Rare Ride until you realize where it is:
    https://www.tc-v.com/used_car/oldsmobile/oldsmobile+others/27027508/

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The Car talk guys Click and Clack used to recommend these to folks who would ask “What kind of used car should I buy for my kid?” The other was the old standby Volvo 240.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    This is a big contrast, not only to Nissan’s entry into the US luxury market but also to Honda’s. Recall that the first Acura Legend was a transverse-V6 engine FWD car only modestly larger than the then-current Honda Accord. Even with the second generation, the Legend was a longitudinally mounted straight 6 with FWD. Not really a “luxury” configuration although, if memory serves, Acura in those days topped the JD Power charts.

    Toyota/Lexus simply said, “we’re going to build an S-class that is reliable and sells for less,” and they did. What’s notable to me is that the parts and assembly quality that marked that generation of Lexus flowed down into the most humble Toyota, some of which I owned.

    • 0 avatar

      I wonder what luxury car they’d have come up with were they not tied at the hip with Rover at the time. It was necessarily not going to be truly full-size or rear-drive or all that powerful, because Rover customers would not have wanted any of those things.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    And the LS400 myth gets larger with each passing year, sums up my reaction. It had a pretty slow V8, 0 to 60 in 8 secs, a plastic interior assembled with precision and the best NVH in the business, no doubt about that. It was a bit wobbly, but oldsters weren’t going to drive them hard. It was the blue-plate special luxury car to replace Caddies for the older, richer crowd. A canny thrust to the industry guts by Toyota. They soon figured that they had a sales star and made real money by jacking the price. I remember xenophobic America complaining the car was being “dumped” — it was for certain made the Toyota JIT way, and neither Detroit nor Europe had an answer to that at the time. Both were so inefficiently managed yet big-headed as to their capabilities, they could only figure that Toyota was giving the cars away.

    Read the 1990 Mass Inst of Tech book, The Machine that changed the World, which showed how hidebound the established carmakers were, compared to Toyota. It’s an eye-opener. Based on current Ford new model rollouts requiring rework, I’m not sure they in particular ever got the message. They just know better than everyone else in their minds to this day.

    OTOH, What German V8s had only 200 hp in 1990? BMW didn’t even have one then, and when their 4 litre arrived in ’92 it had 286 hp, while the Benz 4.2 had 268 in 1990 and easily outhauled the Lexus while dragging a decade-old long wheelbase body. Check C/D Lexus LS400 archives for comparison tests.

    The new ’91 S Class I sampled with the 5.0l V8 had 322 hp, and drove like a terrier even though it was vast. Made me giggle, it was so silly. Heck, the MB 3.2l straight six had 228 hp in 1990, and the BMW 3.5l six was the weakling with 215 or so. The late ’80s Audi aluminum 3.6l V8 was rated at 250 hp, the follow-on 4.2 supposedly had 275 — but those early Audi V8s were weaklings in practise, like the Lexus.

    So far as this particular LS400 example is concerned, every rubber bushing in the supension and engine and subframe mounts will need replacing to be in “as new” condition, unless by some miracle the car was kept in an argon gas gasbag for 25 years.

    My pal who passed on recently (the perils of old age) had a ’93 SC400, and very nice it was, too. But these Lexuses didn’t have the solid feel of the German cars on the road, they were just 10 times better assembled, if not ten times better designed. And the service department called you sir, instead of fuming that you had ruined your German car by not driving it properly. Hell, Lexus sold a ton of the LS400 and follow-on 430, then completely failed to update it in any meaningful way. Today, the LS is a corporate afterthought and has been for years.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I know someone who has a 2003 version of this car since new and it has been extremely reliable. I would rather have a Lexus than a Mercedes or BMW since I prefer reliability and lower cost ownership over high speed Autobahn performance. If you read the link to this article this car was stored in a climate controlled garage which means it is less likely to need bushing and seal replacement. With only 27,700 miles this is well worth the price of 23k especially when you cannot buy a new luxury vehicle anywhere near this price and these Lexus will go 100s of thousands of miles more than most vehicles with just regular maintenance.

  • avatar
    Featherston

    “Its only premium type cars on offer previously were the Corona, and its replacement the Cressida. The Cressida was dated, too slow, not large enough, and not luxurious enough for North American consumer tastes.” Wow, is that diss of the Cressida lazily thought out and inaccurate. You’re better than that, Corey.

    – Re “dated”: there were four gens of Cressida from ’76 through ’95. How does a product life cycle that’s industry-standard or better correlate to “dated”?

    – Re “too slow”: I can’t speak to the first-gen Cressida (third-gen JDM Mark II), but the next three gens all had good performance by the standards of their respective days – not necessarily great, but definitely good.

    – Re “not large enough”: OK, this one is true. Cressidas were Toyota’s US flagship in terms of being premium, but they weren’t a flagship in terms of size; they weren’t aimed at the 7 Series or S Class. So you’re one for three so far.

    – Re “not luxurious enough”: Meh, no. Cressidas were comfortable and very well-built cars. They were from a mainstream badge but definitely were competitive with premium offerings of their time. They don’t really have a direct successor in the current Toyota/Lexus US lineup, having partial overlap with the Avalon, the ES, the GS, and top-trim Camry. But the recent GS 200t or GS 350 is probably the closest analog. (I realize “luxurious” can have a shifting meaning depending on how you’re weighing criteria of size, comfort, and quality, so grain of salt here.)

    Sorry for the rant, but I have friends who, respectively, owned from new an X60 Cressida (second-gen Cressida/fourth-gen Mark II) and an X80 (4th/6th). As I’ve mentioned in past threads, the X60 was a better car than my family’s contemporary 5-series, and it was *much* better when you factored in price. That these cars were Toyotas rather than Lexuses basically came down to timing and marketing strategy, not any qualitative reason.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      “not luxurious enough”
      Well in some peoples books automatic seatbelts aren’t exactly luxurious.

    • 0 avatar

      Dated referred to the final version Cressida on sale here, which Lexus replaced when it debuted.

      1989 Cressida took 8.8 seconds to get to sixty. half second slower than even a 525i.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpyJRpbl8-Q

      “They were from a mainstream badge but definitely were competitive with premium offerings of their time.”

      Premium, not luxury. As in, it wasn’t luxurious enough, hence the need for Lexus.

      You may love the Cressida (and that’s fine) but my criticism was not just throwing words up there. It was not a desirable car to the luxury consumer.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        First and foremost: I did actually mean it as a compliment, not snark, when I said, “You’re better than that.” We may be just be talking past each other.

        To your points:

        – “Dated referred to the final version Cressida on sale here, which Lexus replaced when it debuted.” “Dated” is usually a criticism or a thinly veiled criticism around these parts, but maybe that wasn’t your intent. If you’re speaking about the way Toyota and Lexus model generations dovetailed, I totally agree. It made sense to replace the Cressida with the models I mentioned. If your original post was implying that the Cressida was a bad platform, then I disagree pretty vehemently. And I’ll go cranky older guy and point out that I was there and you were not. ;-)

        – “1989 Cressida took 8.8 seconds to get to sixty. half second slower than even a 525i.” Which, thank you, supports my point about the Cressida’s performance being good for its era. 8.3 and 8.8 were both good numbers for that time, and the Cressida was significantly less expensive than the small-engine 5 Series. And if an M5 or a 535 is your point of reference, well fine, but those aren’t market baselines no matter how much the B&B might claim they are.

        – “Premium, not luxury. As in, it wasn’t luxurious enough, hence the need for Lexus.” Which is why I had agreed with you vis-a-vis the 7 Series and S Class and why I added the parenthetical about the sometimes murky meaning of “luxurious.” If your point is that the Cressida wasn’t intended or perceived as a 7 Series or S Class competitor, nor were its successor cars, I completely agree. But you also seemed to be dissing the Cressida in and of itself, and I disagree with that.

        – “It was not a desirable car to the luxury consumer.” By which you mean 7 Series and S Class buyers? If so, sure, I agree with that. But if you mean BMW and Mercedes buyers? No, sorry. Again, I was there. I *know* people who cross-shopped Cressidas against E28’s and W201’s. Savvy buyers who actually recognized quality liked Cressidas.

        – “[M]y criticism was not just throwing words up there.” It sort of was, actually. You were making a point that Toyota/Lexus hadn’t offered a car on the US market in the 7 Series/S Class segment (and that’s fine) but you also seemed to segue into knocking the Cressida, which was off point and untrue. But maybe I’m inferring criticism of the Cressida’s that’s not there.

    • 0 avatar
      Lightspeed

      I had a 90 Cressida that would still own but for the notorious head-gasket issue. I actually preferred it to my Lexus GS400 for highway cruising at or just above the speed-limit. But for serious travel the Lexus was far superior. The only place the Cressi fell down was handling, honestly it was a little dicey if you made any sudden moves at 100Kph. Otherwise it was built and felt pretty much like my Lexus.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        @ Lightspeed – “Otherwise it was built and felt pretty much like my Lexus.” Stated better and more succinctly than I have.

        My point is this: If the Lexus brand and the LS model had debuted, say, in 1980, the ’80s Cressida absolutely would’ve been sold alongside it as a Lexus. Maybe there also would’ve been a sibling Toyota model, but the X60, X70, and X80 were good enough (and by a wide margin, IMO) to be sold under a premium brand.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My best friend had a Cressida in the late 80s and after 100s of thousands of miles you could not kill it. For its time it was a great luxury car and relatively dependable if you did the required maintenance. Sure this Lexus is nicer but the Cressida was a very nice car.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    When I first clicked the headline I half looked at the title and thought it was Murliee article. But then I was like, LS400 in junkyard? Unpossible.

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