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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.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, grille - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsToyota 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).

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, 1UZ-FE engine - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, 1UZ-FE engine - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThirty-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.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, gearshift - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsNo 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.

Murilee Martin's 1997 Lexus LS 400 in Jade Green Metallic paintI’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.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, rear view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsMy 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).

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYou’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.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, radio and HVAC controls - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYou could get an audio system made by Nakamichi in 1990, at a significant extra cost, but this car has the base Pioneer system.

1990 Lexus LS400 in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.


The memory feature for the seats, steering wheel, mirrors, everything required multiple computer modules. Lots of them.

For links to more than 2,200 additional Junkyard Finds, visit the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

[Images by the author]

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