New Classic: 60k-Mile 1991 Lexus LS400

The LS400 was the first Lexus ever made. I like to call it a "New Age" car. Whereas cars from the early 1980s coincided with new wave music, the LS400 appeared at the beginning of the 90s and the start of the ethereal new age music and lifestyle movement, the tranquility and smoothness of which is echoed in every facet of the LS400.

It's one of those cars that was so good when new, it's never really needed to be discovered and appreciated again until now, as clean and low mileage early examples are becoming harder and harder to find. When they do appear, it's very notable.

Japanese auto manufacturers were rising stars in the 1980s. They had already demonstrated a mastery of compact economy cars. By the middle of the decade, they decided to conquer the luxury car segment too.

Toyota created Lexus with that exact intention. Although Honda had them beat by launching similar-minded Acura in 1986, early Acura cars too closely resembled their Honda siblings and shared their front-wheel drive platforms and small engines. Lexus, on the other hand, was a clear departure from anything Toyota was offering at the time. Supposedly, Toyota sent an undercover research team to live in Laguna Beach, California and observe the lifestyles of wealthy Americans (one can imagine this also becoming rather hilarious). The results indicated a whole new brand was needed to launch a high-end sedan that could compete with the world's best. It would feature an unparalleled blend of luxury and technology.

Lexus debuted the LS400 at the January 1989 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and it went on sale later that September as a 1990 model. It was an immediate success.

The "400" stood for an all-new 4.0 liter 32-valve V8 engine, capable of 250 horsepower and 260 ft·lbf of torque powering the rear wheels. This thing was a fast and silky smooth performer. In a December 1989 Car and Driver luxury sedan road test, the Lexus LS400 won, and was the second fastest coming off the line to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds, behind just the Infiniti Q45. Compared with the BMW E32 and Mercedes W126, the LS 400 had a higher top speed of 160 mph, a lower drag coefficient, lower curb weight, a quieter cabin with 58 decibels at 62 mph, and all the while remarkably avoiding the U.S. Gas Guzzler Tax.

The LS400 also featured a host of new technologies, like automatic tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with SRS airbag, power adjustable shoulder seat belts, electrochromic rear-view mirror, fluid-damped cabin fixtures, vibration-insulating rubber mounts, airflow fairings, and sandwich steel body panels.

Styling is extremely derivative, but nonetheless successful. The key is simplicity, utilizing straight lines and gently sloping forms. No shape is odd or offensive. Everything pleases. Lexus took cues from all the existing luxury cars of the time and blended them together very well. Although their cars still have no core theme today (as many Asian automakers suffer from), the original LS is something of a design classic now because it smoothed out the harsh chiseled creases of the German and Italian sedans at the time. It was a "kinder, gentler" luxury sedan for the "kinder, gentler" 1990s.

Lexus did all of these amazing things while not forgetting two of the most important aspects of cars, particularly high-end vehicles: cost and quality. With an initial base price of around $35,000, the LS400 was also the least expensive offering in its segment at the time, costing an astonishing $23k less than the comparable Mercedes W126-chassis 420SEL at $61,210. Lexus were also built extremely well. In 2007 the LS400 made a Consumer Reports list of recommended vehicles that regularly last 200,000 miles or more with proper maintenance.

By 1990, the LS400 was outselling Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar. Over 165,000 first-generation units were made. Lexus had won, and, more importantly, the consumer won too. Free market competition drove quality up and prices down.

This particular example is colored in burgundy over rare all-burgundy interior, making the car immediately warm and cozy. It's not everybody's taste but it works on this large luxury sedan.

Since so many were made and they were so reliable, a lot of them are still on the road today, but in varying condition. The seller of this example is a dealer who list the mileage as an astonishingly low 60,483 and say it is a one-owner vehicle. This puppy is just getting warmed up.

Mechanically, they say the engine runs strong and smooth and the transmission and suspension are in good shape. They say all electrical options work the a/c blows cold. They also mention the alloys are free of nicks and paint chips. Cosmetically, they say the photos speak for themselves - the car is utterly immaculate looking, inside and out.

This could be an increasingly infrequent chance to acquire an LS400 with relatively low miles and in great shape.

Available here on ebay in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for $9,950.

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