Junkyard Find: 1990 Lexus LS 400

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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junkyard find 1990 lexus ls 400

While 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.

Toyota 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).

The 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.

Thirty-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.

No 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.

I’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.

My 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).

You’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.

You could get an audio system made by Nakamichi in 1990, at a significant extra cost, but this car has the base Pioneer system.

The 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.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Writer d'Elegance Brougham Landau.

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  • Funky D Funky D on Apr 12, 2022

    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.

  • LSman LSman on Jun 26, 2022

    This is a 1989-1994 UCF10 LS400, so it has no digital odometer it doesnt need a batter pack to see the odometer at all come on its analog right there next to the steering wheel on the black plastic trim.

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  • George Hughes What ever happened to the American can-do attitude. I know what, it was coopted by the fossil fuel industry in their effort to protect their racket.
  • 28-Cars-Later "But Assemblyman Phil Ting, the San Franciscan Democrat who wrote the electric school bus legislation, says this is all about the health and wellbeing of Golden State residents. In addition to the normal air pollution stemming from exhaust gasses, he believes children are being exposed to additional carcinogens by just being on a diesel bus."Phil is into real estate, he doesn't know jack sh!t about science or medicine and if media were real it would politely remind him his opinions are not qualified... if it were real. Another question if media were real is why is a very experienced real estate advisor and former tax assessor writing legislation on school busses? If you read the rest of his bio after 2014, his expertise seems to be applied but he gets into more and more things he's not qualified to speak to or legislate on - this isn't to say he isn't capable of doing more but just two years ago Communism™ kept reminding me Dr. Fauxi knew more about medicine than I did and I should die or something. So Uncle Phil just gets a pass with his unqualified opinions?Ting began his career as a real estate  financial adviser at  Arthur Andersen and  CBRE. He also previously served as the executive director of the  Asian Law Caucus, as the president of the Bay Area Assessors Association, and on the board of  Equality California. [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Ting#cite_note-auto-1][1][/url][h3][/h3]In 2005, Ting was appointed San Francisco Assessor-Recorder in 2005 by Mayor  Gavin Newsom, becoming San Francisco’s highest-ranking  Chinese-American official at the time. He was then elected to the post in November 2005, garnering 58 percent of the vote.Ting was re-elected Assessor-Recorder in 2006 and 2010During his first term in the Assembly, Ting authored a law that helped set into motion the transformation of Piers 30-32 into what would become  Chase Center the home of the  Golden State Warriorshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Ting
  • RHD This looks like a lead balloon. You could buy a fantastic classic car for a hundred grand, or a Mercedes depreciationmobile. There isn't much reason to consider this over many other excellent vehicles that cost less. It's probably fast, but nothing else about it is in the least bit outstanding, except for the balance owed on the financing.
  • Jeff A bread van worthy of praise by Tassos.