1989-1994 Lexus LS

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The Lexus story begins here. In 1983, Toyota’s board led by Eiji Toyoda decided to build a luxury saloon designed specifically for export markets. The car was initially known as the F1 project (for ‘Flagship-1), and it was conceived to beat the best from Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar. It was effectively a money-no-object exercise, with huge resources (3,900 personnel on the programme, with 450 prototype cars made), and would be unique within the Toyota model range, for having no carry-over parts from any other models.

By 1986, Kunihiro Uchida’s styling was taking shape, and the Lexus marque was created to sell the F1. Concurrently, one of the industry’s most extensive customer clinic programmes was instigated, with every aspect of the car’s design coming under the scrutiny of potential customers. Among Uchida’s proposals, it was a relatively conservative three-box saloon that won out, despite being up against some very progressive ideas. The body-shape was signed off in May 1987 and the Lexus LS400 went on to make its debut at the 1989 Detroit motor show.

It took time for journalists and buyers to appreciate the scale of the Toyota engineers’ achievement with the Lexus LS400 (or Toyota Celsior as the car was called in those markets that didn’t sell Lexus – most notably Japan). Those conservative looks concealed a brilliant technical package; and it wasn’t until the first drives in May ’89 that it became clear that Toyota had created a car capable of fighting the world’s best,  just as Eiji Toyoda had wished, six years previously.

The LS400 bristled with innovations. But the technology was deployed in a way so as not to scare more traditional buyers. A good example of this was the back-lit electroluminescent instruments, which were projected into the dashboard display. This was ultra-modern in execution, despite the meters looking like conventional analogue dials. Other novelties for 1989 included automatic tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel adjustment, powered seatbelt height adjustment, and a self-dimming rear-view mirror.

Inside, the switchgear was beautifully-engineered for quality of operation and tactile feedback. Under the bonnet the new 32-valve engine set  standards for refinement and power (sending a certain British rival back to the drawing board in the process). But the quality engineering went further: it was claimed there were 300 features in the car to reduce nose, vibration and harshness, with everything from insulating pads for the most banal of fittings, to vibration-damped  grab-handles. This detailed engineering set out Lexus’s stall for years to come, as the definitive luxury car choice for those looking for the ultimate in quality, refinement and reliability.

The LS400 remained in production for three years before it was updated with the lightest of facelifts in 1992. It remained in production until 1994 when it was replaced by a car in which that it would take an expert to spot the differences Why change a winning recipe?

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