By on April 11, 2022

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhile Honda was the first Japanese car company to have a North American showroom hit with a new luxury brand, the Legend lacked the imposing bulk to really threaten the flagship sedans of competitors based in Michigan and Europe (and, on top of that, it had Accord running gear and Rover DNA). Nissan and Toyota got into the luxury-sedan game here in the 1990 model year, when the Infiniti and Lexus brands had their debuts here with the Q45 and LS 400, respectively.

The Q45 was a shortened, Americanized version of the Japan-only Nissan President limousine, equipped with a brand-new dual-overhead-cam V8 engine just for the occasion… but Toyota pulled out all the stops and spent dump trucks of yen developing an entirely new platform from scratch. This was the original Lexus LS, and I’ve found one of those first-year cars in a self-service yard between Cheyenne and Denver.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, grille - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsToyota could have based the LS on the Century, but that would have cheapened the appeal of the mighty Century in its homeland; at the time, the Japanese royal family still rode to official events in 1967 Nissan Prince Royal limousines (the Century finally took over Japanese Imperial duties in 2006, though Emperor Akihito’s personal daily driver was a Honda product).

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, 1UZ-FE engine - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 1990 Century had an aluminum-block hemi-headed V8 that was very sophisticated when it first hit Japanese roads in the 1964 Crown Eight, but that engine wasn’t going to give Mercedes-Benz engineers a case of the shaky sweats. The 1990 LS 400 got a brand-new 4.0-liter DOHC V8 created just for that purpose. This one was rated at 256 horsepower when new.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, 1UZ-FE engine - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThirty-two years later, The reliability of this engine is firmly established. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class got less power than the 1UZ from its 5.5-liter V8 in 1990, but that would change soon enough.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, gearshift - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsNo LS 400 (or its Japanese-market twin, the Celsior) was ever sold with a manual transmission, but plenty have been equipped with manuals for durifito adventures.

Murilee Martin's 1997 Lexus LS 400 in Jade Green Metallic paintI’ve owned a 1997 LS 400 for just over 10 years now, and it’s the best long-road-trip vehicle I’ve ever owned. It’s on the underpowered side by modern standards, but it has never had a single mechanical problem in a decade of ownership and it gets an honest 25 mpg at 80 mph.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, rear view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsMy car is a Coach Edition with the seldom-seen Jade Green Metallic paint, but today’s Junkyard Find has the almost-never-seen Burgundy Pearl color. This is the closest that the first-generation LS 400 ever got to a frivolous paint hue (and it was gone after 1992).

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYou’d need to hook up a battery and fire up the ECU to get this car to reveal its total mileage on the digital odometer (I’ve managed the feat with a battery pack on a junkyard Subaru Forester, but it would be far more difficult on a Lexus LS), so there’s no telling how well-traveled this car was during its 32 years on the road. The interior is filthy and the upholstery is torn up, so I’m guessing the total was over a quarter-million miles. Who knows, maybe it topped the highest-mileage Toyota I’ve ever found in a junkyard.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, radio and HVAC controls - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYou could get an audio system made by Nakamichi in 1990, at a significant extra cost, but this car has the base Pioneer system.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe MSRP on this car was just $35,000 (about $77,945 in 2022 dollars), which came to less than half of the price of a new Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL. The price went up steadily with each successive year, reaching $51,200 (about $99,360 now) by the 1994 model year.

Just right for your South Jersey estate.

The memory feature for the seats, steering wheel, mirrors, everything required multiple computer modules. Lots of them.

For links to more than 2,200 additional Junkyard Finds, visit the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

[Images by the author]

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20 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1990 Lexus LS 400...”

  • avatar

    My understanding was that the Sterling had the Acura Legend’s DNA, not vice-versa.

  • avatar


  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The Car Talk guys Click and Clack would frequently recommend these first generation LS to callers who would ask “What’s a good reliable used car for my kids?” They are just rock solid reliable, can last for years with normal maintenance and are a nice ride.

  • avatar

    Even those vacuum lines on the front of the engine look to be elegantly fabricated.

  • avatar

    Peak Toyota of all time.

    My 2008 LS 460 had all the same virtues from behind the wheel, along with a good deal more feature content and power, but the standard of engineering wasn’t quite the same.

    • 0 avatar

      Close, the 2004-2006 LS 430 was peak LS, bigger, quicker, more luxurious interior than the 400.

    • 0 avatar

      “Peak Toyota of all time.”

      Which pretty much resolves to peak any car of all time.

      There was a bunch of “peak” cars around that time: E36, LC80, 993, NSX….

    • 0 avatar

      I’d give that honor to the XV10 Camry from 1992. The LS400 is a spectacular achievement but that Camry…sigh. If only I could go back in time and buy one new. I’d still be driving it today.

      • 0 avatar

        Curious what makes you like the gen 3 Camry over the gen 1 LS400? I ask because as many know the 1992 Camry took alot of influence in its engineering feel and looks from the original LS400 in this article. I have a 92 Camry. It’s an amazing car. It’s what got me into the Lexus LS400 to begin with. But I’d love to have the flagship V8 RWD sedan that inspired my Camry.

        • 0 avatar

          Simply because Toyota was able to take so much of what was great about the LS400 and bring it to the masses. That’s a heck of an achievement. And the fact that subsequent generations of Camry lost that edge a bit (but were still very good cars) speaks to that pinnacle.

          • 0 avatar

            I can understand that perspective! I have heard a few people say in some ways it’s more special than the LS400. It might not be objectively as advanced but the fact is they held engineering/applied physics limit pushing tolerances and industry leading standards of engineering in a mid market economy oriented midsize family car. The engineering expectations of a flagship full size and an economy non luxury fwd family car are quite different. When you trickle down the LS400’s standards to a “normal car” it stands out so much more than the competitors. I think the LS400 competed against stuff like the S class and other flagships. By relative context the 1992 Camry absolutely blew the competition out the water. As my first car the car shocked me, it was so intriguing I couldn’t kick my curiosity of how this old car was so smooth luxurious and overbuilt with such age and mileage. It really inspired me throughout my life and I became a mechanical engineer due to it. As I learn about quality control and GD&T and what it takes to hold certain tolerances in manufacturing and GD&T. I am more in awe at what Toyota did with that Camry than aerospace stuff. After all, the lean precision is what the modern aerospace industry aspires to.

  • avatar

    These were stupid bulletproof, like aircraft-grade bulletproof.

  • avatar

    a co-worker in the 90s had a used 400 just like this, and a legend 4 door. he was a smoker, and that lexus interior was so tar stained, and the steering wheel almost worn through. he kept the outside immaculate

  • avatar

    Murilee, just provide a partial picture of the VIN and I can get the last reported mileage.
    The last 7 digits will do.

  • avatar

    The Rutans’ favorite platform. The first LS400 I got the chance to ride in was so quiet I asked the owner to start it while it was idling.

  • avatar

    Curb weight 3,759 pounds.

  • avatar
    Funky D

    This is the car that pretty much nuked the luxury car market. It would take a bit, but Lexus eventually sent Mercedes and BMW into permanent quality decline.

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