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LEXUS LS400 EXTREME DETAIL: DIRTY PRETTY THING

Posted by Matt Bell on 29th September 2021

V8 luxo-barges get abandoned in barns, that’s just a fact of life. But fear not – the Meguiar’s team are here to save them, one Lexus at a time. It’s the Lexus LS400 extreme detail!

V8s aren’t really a Japanese thing. If you wanted to talk about the archetypal JDM performance format, your go-to would probably be the straight-six – after all, Toyota’s 2JZ and Nissan’s RB26 are pretty much the aftermarket’s favourites, both have become legends in their own right. And if you open out the angle a bit, the V6 has much to offer – just ask the owner of any R35 GT-R. The traditional four-pot is also in with a shout, with everything from the Honda K20 and the Mitsubishi 4G63 to the Nissan SR20 running the numbers for legions of fans. And, of course, Subaru enthusiasts will be most displeased if you don’t take the flat-four into consideration. What most people wouldn’t automatically leap to, however, is the conclusion that Japan is known for its V8s. It just isn’t.

That’s not to say there haven’t been a few gems over the years. The colossal Land Cruiser Amazon owes much of its character to the 4.7-litre 2UZ-FE in the nose; the Nissan President’s 4.5-litre VK45DE was as smooth as silk; the Toyota Century’s first and third generations packed V8 power; the Infiniti M45 kicked out 325bhp from its bent-eight. Perhaps the best-known and biggest-selling, however, was the venerable Lexus LS400 – a 1990s luxo-barge that’s an absolute weapon when it wants to be thanks to its brawny 1UZ-FE 4.0-litre V8. The first-generation LS400 (and its sister car, the Toyota Celsior) debuted this boxfresh engine back in 1989; it’s a 32-valve quad-cam with proper race car DNA as it was designed on a platform based on CART racing engines. But despite its gruff power and racy origins, this engine is as smooth as silk and eminently appropriate for a luxury Lexus execu-wafter.

You got a whole lot of gear thrown in with the LS400 too – Skyhook adaptive air suspension was an option, and there was an in-dash CD changer, dual-zone climate control, reclining rear seats… an undoubtedly impressive machine, but of course there’s a sizeable elephant in the room: luxury cars depreciate like a stone through a wet paper bag. They sell for top-dollar when new, but those continuing big-bucks maintenance bills erode the car’s value pretty rapidly, which is why we find things like 7-Series BMWs, S-Class Mercs and, yes, LS Lexi selling for a teeny fraction of their showroom prices – and why owners sometimes give up on them entirely. That’s how the LS400 you see here found itself dumped, unloved and forgotten, in a barn. It had become a burden to somebody, and the easiest thing was simply to park it up and forget it.

But out of sight for one person doesn’t have to mean out of mind for all. When we consider the massive excitement in recent years for barn finds (genuine or otherwise), the idea of picking up a tidy but filthy modern-classic and bringing it back to life is a supremely attractive one. And that’s where the detailing artisans at Meguiar’s come in. They couldn’t bear to see this complete and solid Lexus left in such a grotty state and, when it arrived at their HQ in a trailer, the spark of an idea immediately ignited.

“We wanted to carry out an extreme 50/50, detailing one side of the car and leaving the other side as-found for comparison, to demonstrate what’s possible with off-the-shelf consumer products,” says Meguiar’s shine supremo Dale Masterman. “A car may appear beyond saving, but we’ve developed a whole range that can make surprising transformations happen. It could be a barn find, it could be an eBay purchase that wasn’t quite as good as the pictures showed you; we just wanted to show that using simple products, cars in terrible condition can be brought back.”

Part 1 – Pre wash

With one side of the Lexus masked off, Dale and colleague Tom Clarke started off by treating the lower sections and grimy plastics with Heavy-Duty Multi-Purpose Cleaner, which is good for de-greasing and cleaning both painted and non-painted areas, as well as spraying the wheels with Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner. With these concoctions working away, the fellas fired up the pressure washer and treated the bodywork to a bubbly slathering of Ultimate Snow Foam – the extreme cling softens any contaminants on the surface, which can then be rinsed off to reveal the true colour beneath. There’s a thoroughness necessary with all of this, as there’s all sorts of caked-on nastiness embedded within the nooks and crannies which Tom and Dale set about with brushes and elbow grease, but it’s worth remembering that these are all readily-available consumer products. Spray it on, wash it off, there’s no mystery to it.

As the assorted cleaning potions are swished away, it’s immediately obvious that the work is already making a massive difference. The lustre of the paint is beginning to gleam once more, and the handles, badges, lights and windows sit cleanly in their recesses instead of looking like they might give you Ebola. And with the surface nasties eradicated, it’s time for the contact wash.

Part 2 – Contact wash

The guys use Wash Plus for this stage; this is different to Meguiar’s other shampoos, in that it is has clay suspended within it and it’s squirted directly onto the wash mitt for application, and it’s essentially like an exfoliator for the paintwork. Any embedded contaminants within the paint are dragged out, and this is the perfect preparation for when the car can then be moved into the detailing bay for paint correction.

Part 3 – Correction

With the washing process complete, correction is the next stage. While the car has been thoroughly washed, there are still bonded contaminants on the paint’s surface, and the next tool in the arsenal is the Meguiar’s Clay Kit. This is a technique which some people find daunting, but it really isn’t: with a squidge of Quik Detailer on the surface, all it takes is fingertip-pressure on the clay bar to lift that crud right off. Why do it? Quite simply that polishing over these contaminants will grind them back into the paint, causing further damage such as swirls and scratches. And what about the swirls and scratches that the Lexus already has from years of inattentive detailing by former keepers? Ah, fear not, for the guys have a solution for this too. Ultimate Compound is the answer – it has built-in paint cleaners as well as abrasives, so the former lifts out the ingrained dirt while the latter eases out the swirls to a uniform smoothness. The Ultimate Compound is applied with a hand-held machine polisher, gently massaging the body back to its former glory. The Lexus took a few passes with the compound to get it tip-top, but the polishing discs are machine washable and they can just go in the laundry, it’s all far more stress-free than you
might imagine.

Part 4 – Polishing

So, on to stage four: polishing. With the paint revitalised, now it’s time to refine it, which means cracking out the Ultimate Polish. This will really enhance the gloss and give it a proper shine; again, it’s a case of squirting it onto a disc on the machine polisher and massaging it across the surfaces. The polish is quick to do its job, and before you know it the LS400 is looking like a totally different car.

Part 5 – Protection

Stage five? That’s where we arrive at waxing and protecting. You see, while polish is a vital part of the system and does a very important job, it’s vital to bear in mind that it offers no protection in itself – which is why you need Ultimate Wax. This comes in paste and liquid form, and the choice is really down to personal preference; Tom prefers the liquid while Dale favours the paste, so at this point they each take their chosen viscosity and get busy with the paintwork once more. In either case, it’s applied with a foam pad before being buffed away with a soft cloth. Impressively, Tom and Dale have spent a full day on the Lexus so far (fear not though, the process of narrating, photographing and filming the detailing necessarily slows it down a bit; if you were to try this at home, you mightn’t have to book an extra day off work!), so it’s time for them to put their feet up and crack open a cold one.

Part 6 – Finishing

Day two, and we find the boys raring to go with the Ultimate Detailer, to safely lift away any dust that may have gathered on the surface overnight. This stuff boosts gloss and protects, as well as removing contaminants between washes, so it’s a handy thing to have in your kit bag. With that taken care of, it’s time to address some other key areas. There’s more to a car than paintwork, so now that this has been perfected there are other surfaces to tackle.

Having used the Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner to begin with, the finishing touch is the Ultimate Waterless Wheel & Tyre to detail the wheels and dress the tyres at the same time. The Heavy-Duty Multi-Purpose Cleaner comes back for the door shuts, carpets, and interior plastics; this is also used to deep-clean the exterior rubbers and plastics before finishing them with Ultimate Black. And for the glass? Perfect Clarity Glass Compound is the starting point, followed by Glass Sealant – the compound removing any imperfections and the sealant providing the protection. And with all the nitty-gritty comprehensively addressed, the tape down the centre-line can be peeled away to see just what a juxtaposition we’re presented with. It truly is remarkable. The level of transformation achieved by the off-the-shelf products of the Meguiar’s catalogue is like night and day.

The LS400, then, has always been characterised by its smooth V8 along with its sumptuous appointments. But this one? This barn-find is something else. Its defining feature today is its improbable level of mirror-shine perfection. So now all Tom and Dale have to do is clean the other half…