Lexus LS400 | Shed Buying Guide

Lexus LS400 | Shed Buying Guide

Monday 13th January

Lexus LS400 | Shed Buying Guide

Remember when Toyota decided to throw the kitchen sink at breaking the North American luxury market?



In 1986, before it became a social pariah, ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi was given the job of coming up with a name for Toyota's new luxury spinoff brand.

They came up with 219 names. You can only wonder how bad most of them must have been when you see the shortlist of five. Four of them -Β Chaparel, Calibre, Verone, and Vectre -Β sounded like aftershaves from Anchorman. The fifth, Alexis, was deemed to be the best. Unfortunately, Alexis was also the name of an unpleasant, cement-haired, Zeppelin-shouldered character from the soap opera Dynasty, so a separate image-consulting firm was engaged to tweak the winning word into another made-up one that would more accurately reflect the exact combination of elegance, luxury and flawlessness Toyota was aiming for.

That word turned out to be Lexus, and the LS400 that silently glided onto the US auto scene in 1989, six years after the Circle F (for Flagship) project was begun, was an entirely worthy representative of the new brand's lofty ambitions. Pioneering laser welding techniques and near-surgical tolerances scared non-Lexus industry bigwigs. GM boss Bob Lutz used to tell a story about some of his line workers trying out a Lexus quality control technique. The GM guys had heard that Lexus tested air-tightness by pulling a car off the line on a Friday afternoon and shoving a live cat into it. If on the Monday morning the cat was found to be dead, or nearly dead, that was good. The GM lads tried it with a Chevrolet. Come Monday morning the cat was nowhere to be seen.

That may be an urban myth, along with the notion that Lexus stood for 'Luxury EXports to the US' and the rumour that Lexus engineers were helicoptered out to service cars in more remote areas of the States. but what was very real was Toyota's absolute determination to succeed with Lexus. Not just for the sake of the new brand, but also to establish an alternative buying opportunity for American baby boomers who were growing out of their everyday Toyotas and then having to 'go German'. To capture these new buyers, the LS would set new standards in customer service. Extreme quality would be backed by extreme care. Brake light recall? Sure: please allow our technicians to carry that out at your home, throwing in a valet and a full tank of fuel at the same time.


One year after the LS400's US launch at the 1989 Detroit show, and armed with a formidable package of luxury, refinement, and 155mph performance from its 240hp 4.0 litre V8, it was released in Europe to do battle against the S-Class, the 7 Series and the Jaguar XJ. At a loss-leading price of Β£35,000 it was a big hit among those members of the executive class who weren't badge-conscious. One of Britain's most credible monthly magazines declared the LS to be superior to both the S-Class and the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, which was still a luxury benchmark then, while an American mag's biggest complaint was to do with the difficulty they had experienced in finding any faults.

The efforts Lexus went to in search of monastic hush bordered on the obsessive. The propshaft was engineered for zero vibration. The wipers would change their angle of attack at higher speeds. For those times on your journeys when, for whatever reason, you didn't want the LS's standard-fit eerie silence, there was an ace sound system with the option of a even more superb Mark Levinson setup.

In terms of model progression, a revised version of the 400 came out in 1992 featuring new steering and suspension to counter press complaints about US-style over-assistance and floatiness. Two years later, in 1994, a full gen-two car was released with a lengthened and strengthened body, even better sound deadening, dual-zone climate control, more revisions to the suspension and brakes, and a new 260hp power rating. Another facelift came in 1997, bringing 280hp and a 5-speed automatic gearbox. In 2000, the 400 was replaced by the 430.

Today, you can easily pick up an LS400 for under Β£1,000. Given the car's fine reputation for reliability and quality, such bargain basement prices seem puzzling. Are there hidden nasties lying in wait for the unsuspecting buyer? Let's whip off our rose-tinted Lexus-branded sunglasses and dig in.


Bodywork & Interior

Knocks, rattles and creaks are to be expected in any 30-year old car, but most LS400 demo drives today will have you wondering what sort of pixie dust Lexus was using back in the early 1990s because the suppression of noise, vibration and harshness on a decently-maintained car is likely to shock you even now. In general the rust protection on these 400s was excellent, and especially so for a Japanese car of that era. Some say that the metal used on the first cars was of a thinner gauge. We can't confirm that, but we do know that corrosion on the chassis or via a stone chip needs to be sorted before it gets a hold. Front wing inners have been known to go brown or perforate. Any water in the (very large) boot will have entered via a blown boot seal.

On the inside, the steering wheel that comes to meet you when you insert the key and the 'floating' needles in the Optitron instrument display are novelty factors that never grow old. The wheel rim and that monster gear selector will naturally show signs of wear, and those clocks needles can disappear, but there are specialists around who will sort that out for you.

In terms of acreage, there's at least as much leather in an LS400 as there is in any of the competition. The style and feel of the cabin is undoubtedly more American than European, though, with that slightly shiny leather that you might find on a kitchen stool in an Arizona ranch. The moo used on earlier cars seems to wear out a bit more readily than later stuff too.

Some of the interior colourways looked dated and too 'Japanesey' even when they were new, but if you can overcome any sniffiness about the visuals you're unlikely to feel short-changed on the really important thing, which is comfort. The memory seats are huge and pillowy, the headrests and seatbelts are electrically adjustable, and both front seats are heated. All the seats were revised for extra comfort in the 1992 gen-two car.


No electrical system in any car will last for ever, and although there's plenty of evidence to suggest that the ones in an LS400 last longer than most, there's no getting away from the car's complexity. Check that the electrical comfort features (steering wheel, seat memory etc) and the door locks (including the boot and glove box) all work. Keys are expensive to replace. On post-1998 cars especially you really need the master key with three buttons to be present. Try to avoid the temptation to steam-clean the engine bay.

LS400 aircon has a good reputation for keeping going. Heater control panels can go blank or dim though. DIY fixing kits are available but are hardly worth the hassle or expense. The radio aerial might be a little reluctant to hoist itself to its full height but with luck that will just be a lubrication issue.

Engine & Transmission

The 400's 4.0-litre V8 1UZ-FE engine was designed to be the world's smoothest and most efficient V8. Machining tolerances were tightened by up to 50 per cent on industry norms. Cam followers were made of aluminium. It's a fabulous unit even by today's standards, but 30mpg on a cruise and as little as half that in town are very much 20th century fuel consumption figures. LPG conversions have been done, but now you'd have to get your head around the idea of the conversion probably costing more than the car.

If the engine of a car you're looking at is making even the slightest untoward noises give it a miss because the majority of 400s on the market will be running as near to perfectly as could reasonably be hoped so there is no need to shortside yourself with a wonky one. If the car isn't starting easily or seems to be less than millpond-smooth when it is running, that might be down to bust ECU capacitors. It could also be a MAF sensor issue, which can sometimes come about if you've been driving in flood conditions.


The cold idle is 1,500rpm, settling to 500rpm when warm. Timing is by belt. That and the water pump should be changed on a 100k basis. It's an interference type so don't take chances there. You might want to swap the associated gubbins such as the belt tensioner and idler pulleys at the same time, as these can get noisy. Chuffing noises suggest that the water pump is on the way out. Blue smoke means that the valve stem seals and rings are worn. Fixing that will be considerably more than the value of a cheap LS.

Oil has been known to escape from behind the timing cover, which will almost certainly be down to the cam and crank seals. Leaking in the valve cover gasket area typically happens at the 80,000-mile mark.

The LS transmission is a good match for the engine in terms of both sophistication and endurance. It was one of the first trannies to get its own ECU, and the shifting should be silky-smooth. Don't be tempted to leave the oil and filter in place for more than a year.

The age of these cars means that you may experience issues that will be unfamiliar to owners of more modern cars, like exhaust manifold leaks. Parts are not especially cheap.


Suspension & Steering

Journalists searching for things to criticise in the first LS400 soon alighted on the soft ride and light steering, which of course were the very characteristics that LS customers were looking for. In the eyes of many, the revisions to both steering and suspension in the Mk2 400 of 1992 marked the beginning of a process of 'tightening' that took away some of the early car's essential comfort.

Air suspension was an option on US cars at least, but the standard steel set up with double wishbones all round was more than capable of providing a magic carpet ride. The 1,700kg weight of the LS, a good chunk of it ahead of the driver, means that the front suspension takes a pounding. Balljoints on upper and lower wishbones break, as do springs. Clonks from the front when traversing speed humps or negotiating potholes will probably be coming from the front strut bushes, while a groaning that increases in pitch with speed will most likely be the front wheel bearings, though it could also be your nervous mother-in-law. Anti-roll bar bushes can moan too. Steering wheel shake when slowing from 50mph or so will be poor steering alignment or wheels out of balance.

Power steering fluid on your alternator is never a good idea, so keep an eye out for that if you have an early 400.

Wheels, Tyres & Brakes

You can give your 400 a more modern look by fitting the 17-inch alloys from the later 430, but of course you will know that any reduction in the profile of the rubber you fit to any car, let alone a Lexus, will generally not bring about an improvement in ride quality.

Big luxury cars like the Lexus are often left in Drive with the footbrake on even when nobody is moving. That can cause localised heat buildup on the discs, leading to warpage. LS400 front discs do suffer from this.


Conclusion

We started this piece wondering what the catch was with super-cheap LS400s. Now we've reached the end of the tale and it's still not obvious what that catch might be.

Sure, the suspension can catch you out (anybody remember Paul Garlick's LS?), but there's every chance that early cars will have had their underparts replaced by now thanks to generous souls like PG. That means you could still luck into one of the luxury car bargains of the century, as long as you can tolerate the sink-estate image that various gangsta mods have brought down upon the poor thing's head.

The nice point about the 400 in particular, as opposed to the later 430 and 460, is that it is regarded by those in the know as the best LS, offering the best mix of waft and sheer bloody-minded durability with less of the ride nobbliness that (some might say) degraded the later models. One of the design must-haves for the LS was that it should feel the same after 50,000 miles as it did when it was new. One serial LS owner reported that, of the eight 400s and five 430s he'd owned, the 400s were the most reliable, one of them still being 'as sweet as a nut' mechanically despite racking up nearly 380,000 miles. He also noted that Lexus dealers were the nicest he'd ever dealt with.

There are signs that prices of early 400s have bottomed out and are starting to pick up in value. Dealers are now asking between Β£3,000 and Β£5,000 for even big-mile cars, and we found one dealer asking Β£10,950 for a 44,000-mile 1993 specimen, which is hopeful to say the least. Luckily, however, cheap privately-owned cars are still around. A quick scout online unearthed a 1993 93,000-miler at Β£1,500, a 1997 146,000-miler with a full/new and advisory-free MOT at Β£1,300, and a 192,000-mile '97 car with a MAF sensor fault for Β£850.

Find a good car, ideally a post-1994 one, then lob a streaming device in there to become the proud owner of not only the best value V8 on the cost versus reliability graph, but also a level of motoring luxury that still stands tall even in 2020.

You might think that the BMW 7 Series drives better than the LS, that the Merc S-Class beats it on the 'granite factor', and that the Jag XJ whips it on organic luxury, but if you lump all the 400's talents together and add in supreme reliability, it's hard to argue against it as an everyday runaround that will constantly confound any passengers who are asked to put a value it.


Search for a Lexus LS400 here


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Author
Discussion

Jex

Original Poster:

602 posts

77 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
You have to be careful when driving these - there is so little sensation of speed that you can easily arrive at roundabouts etc much faster than you would like to!

martin12345

78 posts

38 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
i suspect people had little idea how these helped to change the cars we drive in a positive way. When I worked at Jaguar and this arrived (we imported one from USA as soon as they were on sale) and it blew our minds both how quiet the car was and the quality of build. It embarassed Jaguar, BMW and Mercedes in those areas. It "re-energised" the premium class which in a drip-feed manner fed down to the volume manufacturers as well. As a result of the LS400 redefining what was possible all cars from the late 90's onwards have been positively influenced

Jimmy Recard

16,045 posts

128 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
The article says that the engines are interference - earlier ones are non-interference, aren’t they? I don’t know when they changed though

AmosMoses

3,584 posts

114 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
I flipping love these, i've driven one and they are a proper barge. No noise, effortless progress and a sumptuous seat.

Baldchap

1,987 posts

41 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
I'd imagine the pace to be similar to my shed XJ8 @240BHP.

By modern standards it's hilariously slow (and 14mpg at that)! laugh

JimSuperSix

3,241 posts

192 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
I almost bought one of these, twice, the only thing that stopped me was that I decided I really wanted a tall 4x4 again.

They are epic. Absolutely massive, comfy, lovely subdued V8 noise with the potential for a few exhaust tweaks to make it sound like a Nascar racer, pull like a train even when full of people...wonderful cars all round.

Plate spinner

13,908 posts

149 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
The perfect antithesis to the modern thinking that everything needs to be ‘sporty’ and look / handle like a BTCC track refugee.

If I want a large saloon to carry 4 people plus luggage over long motorway distances, I want it to be relaxing, quiet and very comfortable.
If that means I can’t get a bit of tail-out stance by trail-braking into corners or a bit of power oversteer opposite lock on motorway slip roads, or out accelerate a 911 from the lights using launch control, or still be pulling hard north of 150mph... then that’s absolutely fine thank you.

I like the original LS, proper car that’s built well and entirely fit for purpose.

big_rob_sydney

2,422 posts

143 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
Big Lexus fan, and on my second LS now. I've owned LS's in 3 decades now.

Big boot, I've done many airport trips, driven it to Italy and Spain on numerous occasions, very, very comfortable, with lots of space, and with safety at its core, is just a wonderful family car, if you can stomach the fuel bills and tax man.

About the only thing I would ask is a touring / wagon version. As a standalone sedan, mine have been utterly reliable, quiet, and comfortable family transport.

I've been in many other cars, and they all have their USP's, but I return to the LS because it feels like its been built from the same material as a bank vault. Solid.

Augustus Windsock

1,876 posts

104 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
A friend of mine has had around half a dozen 400’s
It is no exaggeration to say that each one had well over 100k recorded but drove like a car that had done 10k
Each one was faultless (as in it had no faults at all) and absolutely everything worked on them. Everything.
I drove a couple of them and boy are they impressive.
Same friend also owned several XJ saloon and they were shocking in comparison, so much so that he gave up on them.
I must admit to really liking them and despite having a brand new estate car I would consider buying one for long drives down to the south of France or Spain when we go.

LucyP

34 posts

8 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
These articles are pointless and wrong. Firstly you cannot "easily pick up an LS400 for under £1,000". The cheapest currently for sale is £1,300, except for the one that the article mentions, and I doubt that is just a maf sensor fault. I've seen the ad, and the seller changed it and it hasn't cured it. He claims the "new" part he fitted is also faulty, and the car has been relisted because the previous buyer was a timewaster!

The £1,300 one is another private seller, which failed its mot last year because of rust around the rear suspension mounts affecting the structural integrity. No mention of the risk of rust in that area in the article. The car now has an MOT until next year, but it didn't have one between 2013 and 2017 and it has only done 6,000 miles since then.

If you burn £1,300, at least it will keep you warm for a few minutes, and it only costs you £1,300 and a match. No trawling ebay for secondhand parts, fitting them yourself, hoping that they work, then waiting for the next fault to appear, and repeating.

Who buys cars like this? When was the last time you saw an "R registered" car on the road in the UK?

yonex

16,186 posts

117 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
Yesterday.

varsas

3,809 posts

151 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
yonex said:
Yesterday.
Was it my (1977) R registered Stag?

ingrowtn

222 posts

202 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
LucyP said:
These articles are pointless and wrong. Firstly you cannot "easily pick up an LS400 for under £1,000". The cheapest currently for sale is £1,300, except for the one that the article mentions, and I doubt that is just a maf sensor fault. I've seen the ad, and the seller changed it and it hasn't cured it. He claims the "new" part he fitted is also faulty, and the car has been relisted because the previous buyer was a timewaster!

The £1,300 one is another private seller, which failed its mot last year because of rust around the rear suspension mounts affecting the structural integrity. No mention of the risk of rust in that area in the article. The car now has an MOT until next year, but it didn't have one between 2013 and 2017 and it has only done 6,000 miles since then.

If you burn £1,300, at least it will keep you warm for a few minutes, and it only costs you £1,300 and a match. No trawling ebay for secondhand parts, fitting them yourself, hoping that they work, then waiting for the next fault to appear, and repeating.

Who buys cars like this? When was the last time you saw an "R registered" car on the road in the UK?
Today. When I got into my Jag.

Ah, no sorry it's an 'L' plate. An XJ40 and daily driver which cost less than £1300 six months ago. Nothing's gone wrong on that despite what people say about old Jags. I'd happily spend £1500 on a bargain barge LS400 comfortable in the knowledge that nothing at all will go wrong with it.

Howard-

4,019 posts

151 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
Augustus Windsock said:
A friend of mine has had around half a dozen 400’s
It is no exaggeration to say that each one had well over 100k recorded but drove like a car that had done 10k
Each one was faultless (as in it had no faults at all) and absolutely everything worked on them. Everything.
Why has your friend had so many of them if they were "faultless"? confused


ingrowtn said:
I'd happily spend £1500 on a bargain barge LS400 comfortable in the knowledge that nothing at all will go wrong with it.
As much as I love these, and as much as they're the reliability champion of the luxury car segment, you'd be naive to expect nothing at all to go wrong with it. It's an ancient luxury saloon with many complex and expensive parts. It's going to need money spending on it, even if it won't be nearly as ruinous as a 7 series or S Class.

milesr3

242 posts

160 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
Howard- said:
It's going to need money spending on it, even if it won't be nearly as ruinous as a 7 series or S Class.
What is ruinous about the S Class? I've clocked 50,000 miles in mine and it feels no different to the day I bought it. All it's needed is servicing, tyres and brake pads. Has returned an average of 44mpg too. Depreciation is the biggest expense.

Howard-

4,019 posts

151 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
milesr3 said:
What is ruinous about the S Class? I've clocked 50,000 miles in mine and it feels no different to the day I bought it. All it's needed is servicing, tyres and brake pads. Has returned an average of 44mpg too. Depreciation is the biggest expense.
Let me know if that's still the case by the time it reaches 20+ years old tongue out

Liamjrhodes

148 posts

90 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
I owned a 1995 ls400 for 6 month in early 2016. Amazing car for wafting but truly awful on fuel! Really miss how nice of a place it was to be on any sort of journey

Northbrook

530 posts

12 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
I'm at Heathrow waiting for my flight (and drinking cider), having driven here in my 260k mile LS400. No other car I'd do it in (and I have a choice of low-value cars right now, odd though that sounds).

There is something special about them. Granted the fuel economy isn't great, but anything with a large petrol engine will be nearabout the same.

What the LS gives is a serene way of making progress that's much welcomed when you just want to get somewhere with no fuss.

I'm looking forward to falling my jetlagged backside back into it in a few days, and quietly gliding home.


alex.baker89

42 posts

11 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
milesr3 said:
What is ruinous about the S Class? I've clocked 50,000 miles in mine and it feels no different to the day I bought it. All it's needed is servicing, tyres and brake pads. Has returned an average of 44mpg too. Depreciation is the biggest expense.
Rust, depending on which year yours is.

Augustus Windsock

1,876 posts

104 months

Monday 13th January
quotequote all
Howard- said:
Augustus Windsock said:
A friend of mine has had around half a dozen 400’s
It is no exaggeration to say that each one had well over 100k recorded but drove like a car that had done 10k
Each one was faultless (as in it had no faults at all) and absolutely everything worked on them. Everything.
Why has your friend had so many of them if they were "faultless"? confused


Because he can. He likes to buy cars, run them for 6mths, and then sell them on. He usually has a 'fleet' of up to half a dozen cars, which always includes something he can use for his carpet fitting, a convertible (MX5 or MGF very often) and cars like this. He usually swaps them (to his advantage) just like Mike Brewer in 'Trading Up'.
You may say he's been lucky never encountering a problem but thats more down to doing his homework and checking cars thoroughly.
As a 'for instance' he bought a Jag XJ off ebay. The owner was a solictor who had just spent £1500k on it, yet matey 'won' it for the princely sum of £750...He kept it 6mths and sold it for £900 without spending a dime on it save for fuel and road tax.