It's almost impossible to overstate the impact of a generation of Japanese cars that arrived in the UK around 30 years ago. Western perceptions of the nation's output would be transformed forever - and for the better, too. The Honda NSX showed that mid-engined supercars could be relatively easy to drive; the MX-5 was proof that a two-seat roadster could be fun as well as dependable; and the Nissan Skyline GT-R put paid to the idea that only the Europeans could build great competition cars.
Then there was the Lexus LS400. As a car to launch a brand with, the LS400 has never been bettered. Because those values we associated with Lexus in 2021 - quality, luxury and dependability most notably - were undoubtedly all present and correct in the original LS. Sure, it was not the most exciting luxury car in the world, to look at or to drive, but that didn't matter. Lexus's achievement was in showing the rest of the world that Japan could make lavishly equipped, supremely well-built luxury saloons as well as anyone.
That made them reasonably popular; not simply as a new purchase, either, where perhaps the reputation wasn't the most favourable, but also secondhand. With a badge that didn't hold quite the allure of its competitors, the Lexus would depreciate. However, with the build quality as it was, the LS400 became a less risky bargain barge buy than some of the obvious rivals.
Evidence of which can be found in the numerous Shed of the Week stories written about the big Lex over the years. For not a lot of money, there was a great deal of V8 waftability on offer. And, typically, fewer of the reliability concerns associated with the genre - who's to argue with that?
It seems, however, not unlike the MX-5, the Lexus LS has moved on from Shed territory to something rather more collectible. Of course, its legion of fans will be smaller than that of the Mazda's - but dwindling numbers have had an influence on values.
Take this one, for example. As a Toyota Celsior (the name given to the LS400s sold in Japan) it's rarer even than the UK cars. And, it would seem, in better condition than any of them - even in the good old days, this wouldn't have been a Shed Lexus. Imported from its domestic market just last year, this Celsior has covered a mere 35k since its first registration a quarter of a century ago. In a two-tone that is best described as white over beige (and with a wool interior!), the Celsior is the very definition of 90s Japanese opulence. Indeed, given its condition, the big Toyota seems little short of a time machine - there really isn't a blemish on it. And while the modern infotainment system spoils the look a tad, it will noticeably increase the everyday usability. Because you'd want to cruise about in it every now and then, right?
The condition and rarity mean this Celsior is on offer at £10k; a world away from those old Shed Lexuses, but indicative of how hard it now is to source a really good one. It's by no means out of the ordinary for its rivals, either, though they of course will come with UK domestic market cachet: both this S-Class and this Jaguar XJ are similar money with higher mileages.
Some, of course, will never countenance a Lexus (or, indeed, a Toyota) when there's a Merc or a Jag in the offing. But that would be to dismiss one of the most significant debuts the luxury car market has ever seen, even though it was now more than 30 years ago. For a heady nostalgia trip that's still fit for motoring in the 2020s, the LS still has a lot to offer.
SPECIFICATION | TOYOTA CELSIOR/LEXUS LS400
Engine: 3,969cc, V8
Transmission: 4-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 264@5,300rpm
Torque (lb ft): 273@4,500rpm
Recorded mileage: 35,000
Year registered: 1996, 2020 UK
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £9,950
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