Junkyard Find: 1990 Lexus LS 400

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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.

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2 of 21 comments
  • 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.

  • ToolGuy VW (marque not group) and Tesla very nearly switched positions on a YTD basis.
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