In 2005, over a decade and a half after its launch, the Lexus brand conquered a significant new market – its home country. Prior to that date, all Lexus-branded models were called Toyotas on the JDM, although it was more a case of Toyotas being rebadged as Lexuses, at least in the early days. The Toyota Soarer became the Lexus SC, the Aristo was translated as the GS, the Vista turned into the ES. But the whole point of the Lexus exercise was the flagship LS 400, and that was made into the Toyota Celsior, not the other way around.
Aside from the obvious, i.e. the badging and the RHD, there aren’t many notable differences between the Celsior and the first generation LS 400. Which makes sense, as both cars came out in 1989 and were built on the same production line. But it is worth noting that the Celsior only hit the dealerships in October, about five weeks after Lexus started US sales. The fact that the new flagship was premiered on the other side of the Pacific first demonstrated which market was seen as crucial by Toyota themselves.
There is a video on Youtube of a guy going through all the differences between the two, and aside from lighting-related issues, it’s mostly interior details. Overall, the feeling is that the JDM version is a tad more luxurious, with better carpets, automatically folding door mirrors, a more sophisticated HVAC system and a touch more faux wood trim.
There may be some trim differences as well: the Celsior came in three trim levels (creatively called A, B and C) and further included the “F package” for chauffeured owners. I couldn’t take a photo of the rear of the cabin on this one, but it sure looked F-ing plush in there. Rare feature: this car has full leather trim, just like a Lexus LS. The majority of Celsiors, as is usual in Japan, would have been ordered with cloth upholstery.
But by and large, the Celsior and the LS are identical twins, including the stellar 4-litre V8 powertrain and all-new chassis, carefully developed by Toyota throughout the ‘80s to mimic and even surpass the Mercedes S-Class. The air suspension was only available on the C trim Celsior, when it was just an option on the Lexus, I believe. Same thing, very slightly different package.
The creation of Lexus was always meant for external use, though. Within Japan, the top-dog Toyota was the Century, still a class above the Celsior, so the carmaker’s name was not just associated with economy cars, unlike in some international markets. Toyota’s image would not have been helped by the introduction of Lexus on the JDM. It’s telling that Honda and Nissan made the same calculation with their premium brands, too: Acura and Infiniti were not used for the home market.
There are still a few first-gen Celsiors about, but I waited a while until chancing upon the right one to document. Curiously, this is one model that is not too often seen in white over here, but this dark blue, which I’ve not seen too often either, really works. Once again, despite its near three decades of use, this Toyota looks as if it came off the showroom floor a couple months ago. How do they preserve these so well?
The Celsior was one of the first Toyotas to feature the carmaker’s new logo. For the first three years, the name “Toyota” was also added to the rear end, in a smaller font, just to transition folks over to the new corporate identity. Our feature car, which lacks that extra script and has fully body-coloured bumpers, is a post-midlife-facelift model (August 1992 – October 1994).
The Lexus was a true game-changer for the high end saloon market, hitherto dominated by a small clique of European and American marques. In Japan though, the discerning customer could chose a Crown Majesta, a Celsior or a Century if they wanted a big V8-powered Toyota saloon. They say three is a crowd, so that segment was getting a bit busy in the early ‘90s. The Celsior was justly feted as a wonderful new addition to Toyota’s plethoric home market range, and had a fair amount of success, but it may not have had the impact here that the LS 400 did abroad.
Curbside Classic: 1992 Lexus LS400 – With All Due Respect, by Mr Tactful