Driving Matt Farah’s #MillionMileLexus

There used to be a time when a 100,000 mile vehicle was past its useful life. 100,000 miles meant that the oil rings wore away and the transmission was one gear short of a picnic basket. 100,000 miles meant that the floor boards were as solid as paper. 100,000 miles meant that your malaise mobile was maybe worth its weight in scrap.
Over the decades Toyota automobiles grew in popularity. They gained a reputation for reliability and longevity despite seriously lacking resistance to rust. When Toyota launched the Lexus brand in 1989 they claimed to be relentlessly pursuing perfection – whatever that was.
Today I drove Matt Farah’s Million Mile Lexus. Like the town bicycle, the 1996 Lexus LS 400 is getting pass around between people with the single goal of accumulating miles. Due to time constraints I was only able to add two humble miles to the odometer that as of this writing reads 981,199.
Can a vehicle that is capable of traveling ten times further than many others be considered at least a technical perfection?

Matt’s Lexus, hashtag Million Mile Lexus, is currently being driven around the United States by a very nice Bulgarian couple, Ana and Anton. You can follow their adventures on their YouTube channel and Instagram. About halfway through their journey the Lexus needed what every vehicle would need – an oil change. Because the world of automotive passion is extremely small, Anton and I happened to have a common friend, Baer Connard, who is the owner of ACE Performance Tuning in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.
You may recall reading about ACE Performance Tuning here before. It’s the place that sells Ariel Atoms and Nomads, a shop that’s stuffing a Hellcat motor into a ’68 Charger, assembles and modifies Zenos, is building an MkII Escort rally car with EcoBoost power. When they get bored with that, they race snowmobiles in an Ariel Atom on a frozen lake. Point here is that Ace should be able to perform an oil change on a twenty-two year old Toyota.

At first sight there is nothing remarkable about this Lexus. It’s just another vehicle on the road albeit with some stickers on it and luggage inside. Sit in it and… still nothing remarkable. The driver’s seat is soft and comfortable, unlike old Benz seats that try to shoot springs into your butt or Bimmer seats that often rock or twist. I have to admit that I was slightly grossed out when I thought about how many people have sat in this seat, farted in it, and dropped their boogers all around it.
Twist the key and the engine starts up as if the odometer was off by a fraction of ten. Until you notice the dash lights, you wouldn’t think anything of this car. But the dash lights – airbag, check engine, oil. It’s been determined that these lights are illuminated due to a bad oxygen sensor and a bad oil pressure switch. No one really knows why the airbag light is on.
The air-conditioning on this hot day worked as well as in any new car. All the dash displays seemed to have been working properly, which any Audi owner will admit to being remarkable. While the original speakers have been replaced by someone who did an extremely bad job of installation, the radio sounded great. All the cigarette light receptacles were working fine, too. It should be pointed out that they were all located next to proper ashtrays.

Squeaks, and there are plenty, are more audible outside than inside the car. They mostly come from suspension components and various drivetrain mounts. But once going the squeaks somehow go away. The Lexus gently floats down the road, wiggling its butt a little. Later, during the oil change, Ace Performance ace technician Dave will find a ton of loose linkages in the rear-end.
The Lexus exhibits slightly too much body roll and dive for my tastes. Weird, as the shocks have been changed only 100,000 miles ago or so. The brakes were slightly oddly behaving, too. Press the pedal and not much stopping is happening until the pedal reaches about half-way mark. My guess would be to inspect the master cylinder or at least check the fluid which looked to be older than my kindergartner son.
On an open road, the old boat is super smooth despite the worn suspension and mismatched tires. The steering wheel didn’t pull to a side or vibrated in any way. It’s remarkable how quiet it was and how well the big V8 engine pulled. The transmission wasn’t slipping but would make an occasional clunk which I assume might be due to worn mounts.

But there is a reason for this car’s overall great condition. This is a car that spent most of its life in Florida and Southern California, where the weather and road conditions are extremely friendly to cars. This Lexus LS was a pricey vehicle so it’s likely that it was garage kept and well maintained by whoever owned it before Matt. With around 900,000 miles on the clock when he bough it, an average of 45,000 per year, it was probably hardly driven in cities or in place with otherwise dense traffic.
So, can a vehicle that is capable of traveling many times further than many others be considered perfection? Hell no, far from it. But it’s not bad. It’s far from being bad, actually. In fact it’s so good that I wouldn’t hesitate to jump into it and drive across the continent once I’m done decontaminating it.


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15 responses to “Driving Matt Farah’s #MillionMileLexus”

  1. mdharrell Avatar

    “…needed what every vehicle would need – an oil change.”
    For a couple of my cars I just keep pouring oil into the gas tank and let it sort itself out.

    1.  Avatar
      1. mdharrell Avatar

        In my case the cars have two-stroke engines, so it’s good for far more than just the cylinder walls.

    2. Lokki Avatar

      MD – you keep saying this word ‘car’. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Hey, I’m not counting the two-stroke, three-wheeled moped or the two-stroke pogo stick, so I think I’m being perfectly reasonable here.

  2. Hatchtopia Avatar

    So what happens at 1,000,000? Viking funeral? Complete tear-down and re-build?

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      If the tradition scales linearly, ten ice cream cones for everyone.

      1. Tank Avatar

        fuck yes

  3. nanoop Avatar

    I tried reading that book about the development of the car (“Relentless pursuit”?) but couldn’t stand the continuous glorifications: there are much simpler and cheaper cars that would survive the distance, although the level of comfort would be notably lower.
    Body roll is something I don’t understand yet: I currently think that less body roll is simply steeping the edge between grip and no grip, and hence just trades fast load balancing for comfort. Given that many people can’t reality benefit from fast load transfer (I can’t, so only professional race drives can…) I think that roll is not a bad thing unless you’re after the last 0.6 seconds you might shave off a 2 minutes lap… Educate me.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      I haven’t read the book but have thought that an early LS400 would be a great buy, as Toyota took every step they could think of to make sure the car’s debut and reputation would be impeccable. Yes many cars could do a million miles, but look at how well the interior still presents.
      Body roll – there is a happy medium to be had. I had a car that would roll enough to scrape the mud flaps, but was a very smooth ride. I imagine there are many suspension wear items that might sharpen up this car a little, starting with the shocks.

  4. Nick H Avatar
    Nick H

    Did the number of prophylactics in the back exceed the number Jake Blues had when he got pinched?

  5. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    I must get one of these as a nice counterpoint to my W124s. I remember reading, when they were introduced, that they were designed and detailed so that after 100,000 miles they would still appear new.
    It looks like they achieved that. At 1 million miles it looks like it wouldn’t take much to make it pristine again.

    1. Kamil K Avatar

      Not at all. It needs some mechanical things, but nothing major and nothing pricey, and a really good bath.

  6. Lokki Avatar

    I had the privilege of driving a Lexus LS400 of these quite a bit in 1990 when they were new on the market. My wife was interpreter/translator for a Japanese company that had just opened its doors in the U.S. Because of her position, I was often informally called upon to be Jeeves, part driver, part fix-it man, part fixer. It made my wife’s job easier, and it was usually interesting for me. The CEO of the company, her boss, had originally purchased a fully loaded 1988 Chevy Caprice because of his concern that a Mercedes or Cadillac would make him appear too wealthy while the local government was giving him tax incentives and a (essentially) free building for his business. That damn Chevy was a source of embarrassment and annoyance to me. It had some sort of carburetor system that would not start that car when the temperature fell below 40 degrees. I was always roped in to trying to start the car and get it fixed, by my wife. I never could essentially because the Chevy Dealer did not give a shit. Nothing could be done.
    So, by the time the Lexus LS400 appeared on the U.S.market in 1990, the CEO had had enough of that Chevy. A Japanese Lexus salesman appeared in his office, the Chevy went away on a flatbed, and a ‘zero-miles’ Lexus 400 was delivered to the office, along with a dozen roses carried by the salesman who walked the CEO through the features of the car. That car was a revelation to me; my first experience with a true luxury car, and luxury car experience. The Mercedes of the day were exceptional quality cars but not luxurious. The Lexus was solid, silent, soft, and speedy fast. I often found myself hitting 100 mph because the car gave no sensory clues as to speed, and the Nakamichi sound system was transporting.
    I was astounded. I knew then that General Motors could not compete with Toyota. GM was simply incapable of building a car of this level -even if the engineers were given an unlimited budget to do so.
    So, ultimately I am not surprised that this LS400 is reaching 1M miles, and frankly I suspect that a search would find others doing the same thing.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      Matt Farah has said that Lexus’ response to the car was something like “they are designed to do that”.