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Thursday 5th May 2011


PH FLEET: 1997 LEXUS 4.0 V8

A bargain barge isn't always what it seems (But didn't we know that already..?)

Pushbike helps keep the fuel bill down
Pushbike helps keep the fuel bill down
The trouble with the PH classifieds is the amount of money it costs to browse them. You spend an evening at home clicking on random categories thinking 'what if', and before you know it the calculator is out and you realise that a purchase is imminent.

It was on such an evening that I spotted the Lexus you see here. I was happy with the W124 estate and wasn't thinking of another car, but this looked cheap enough at under £2,000, especially with a full and comprehensive service history. I told the Mrs we should take a look, and she knew that meant I was going to buy it. You, dear PHer, probably knew that too...

It was being sold by a nice chap not too far from my home and we struck a favourable deal. The MOT had just expired so he put a fresh ticket on it and I collected it a week later. So how is life with a 1997 Lexus powered by a 4.0 V8? Costly is one way to describe it, enlightening is another. Overall I'd describe it as 'pleasingly expensive'.

Not a Lexus main dealer...
Not a Lexus main dealer...
After a run of Mercs, the Japanese equivalent takes some getting used to. You feel you are in something special, yet it smells like a Japanese car, not dissimilar to a Carina E. Driving it feels wafty and very luxurious, yet pedestrians don't glance at your limo as they would a W126 SEL. But the Lexus is as well built as any German counterpart, it doesn't rattle and the engine remains silent at tickover.

The audio is better than the set up at home and the performance is there - although it feels uncouth to exploit it. Fuel consumption is quite alarming, but what did I expect? It's a large, automatic limo with over 110,000 miles, pushed along by a 4.0 V8 designed before efficiency was the buzz word. In town (where it mostly lives) I'm seeing late teens to early twenties, but on a run this can go up to late twenties or even early thirties. This makes me so excited you'd think I'd managed 60mpg, but when you own two V8s 30mpg is welcome indeed.

So, that's the end of the story - a successful purchase made, and all going well? Of course not, I'm never that lucky...

Work stopped - bigger hammer needed
Work stopped - bigger hammer needed
My first venture out of town was a few weeks after purchase and my smug grin was replaced by a sinking stomach. The steering wheel wobbled like crazy at 70mph, and the Lexus floated over bumps like I was riding a waterbed. In fact the whole car felt loose and unstable. Gutted.

The car was despatched to friends in the trade with Lexus connections for an honest appraisal. A few days later and the verdict was in, the rear suspension was pretty well shot but they agreed that at town speed it wasn't that noticeable. I requested a list of parts needed to fix it, and needed a sit down when it arrived:

2 x rear dampers
2 x hub carriers
2 x anti-roll bar links
2 x rear wheel bearings
4 x oil seals
2 x deflectors
1 x OSR upper wishbone
2 x front control arm bushes

Tyres too, please. Never mind the cost!
Tyres too, please. Never mind the cost!
That's over £1600 at Lexus prices and no pattern parts are available, but I managed to secure a deal on the lot through the aforementioned trade contacts (thank God). Fitting was down to me though, and fourteen years of road dirt and suspension that hadn't been touched since the day it left the factory meant lots of seized bolts and head scratching for the mechanics at the local garage. It took a long time to get everything on, and by the time I had added a four-wheel laser alignment and wheel balance to the bill, I needed to pay another £1100.

The lack of alignment had caused some uneven wear to the front tyres, and as my car has Dynamic Handling Pack wheels it meant tyre choice was limited due to their unusual size. Two Pirelli P-Zero tyres were ordered and fitted, lightening the wallet by another £500.

I could have done more, but finances and common sense (Cough... splutter! Ed) stopped me from ploughing any more into it. The LS now rides as it should do, but to get that true magic carpet ride I am considering a swap to the smaller, standard alloys. Only after I have got some wear from the costly rubber just fitted, though.

V8 power - the only way to travel?
V8 power - the only way to travel?
Everyone covets a bargain barge, but cars like this were very expensive when new, they are fast, weighty and built without compromise (be in a Lexus, Merc, BMW etc) and this means the purchase price is just the start. It's a great way to travel, just don't expect it to be frugal. As a considered purchase though, there's no better way to travel - even if I do miss that three-pointed star on the bonnet.

In other news, the TVR is away at car hospital but will return for Le Mans with a newly de-catted exhaust. But that's another story.

PS. Thanks to S&J Motors in Teddington for their assistance with my LS, it certainly made them work for my money

Author: Garlick