With increasingly harsh penalties for speeding and hooning it’s inevitable
that the mindset of the average car enthusiast is changing. Let’s face it,
you’re gonna get ‘done’ for something in your turbocharged Datto 1600 -
so why not switch to a car that has comfort, status and a good measure of
A ‘VIP’ machine with sting.
In this two-part series we’ll take a look at the high-end saloons than you
can buy for under 20 grand. Let’s start off with some big Japanese machines and
a stunning German...
In 1989, Toyota spearheaded its new Lexus range with the LS400 – a large,
rear-wheel-drive V8 saloon to combat the best from Europe.
Under the bonnet, the LS400 employed a then all-new 1UZ-FE DOHC, 32 valve V8 generating
190kW at 5600 rpm and 360Nm at 4400 rpm. This all-alloy bent-eight gives supreme
smoothness but - despite having 90 percent of peak torque from 2000 to 5600 rpm
- it does lack the low-end punch of, say, a Holden 5.0. Its long-travel throttle
probably has something to do with it.
The Lexus is certainly a large car, but by today’s standards it’s not the
‘limousine’ that it was once regarded – a current series Commodore wagon is
bigger in every dimension...
Weighing around 1700kg, the auto-only Lexus V8 can whisk from standstill to
100 km/h in under 9 seconds. The quarter mile is a mid 15 second exercise and
top speed is near 250 km/h.
Inside, the Lexus is beautifully decked-out with digital climate control, all
electrics, tilt-away steering column, leather/woodgrain trim, plush-pile carpet,
driver’s airbag and a high quality radio/cassette/CD audio system. A sunroof and
phone were offered as options.
Note that the LS400 was available as the Toyota Celsior in Japan. As far as
we’re aware, the Toyota version typically comes with traction control and airbag
suspension – oh, and a less desirable nameplate...
The 4 door LS400 body is relatively bland but it has aged gracefully. The
wheel arches are home to plain-looking 16 inch alloys – some 18s and wide tyres
are perfect to add some attitude. Many examples also have a lower front lip
while others seem to miss out.
The price of a LS400/Toyota Celsior varies hugely.
A locally-delivered LS400 with low kilometres and service history fetches up
to about AUD$18,000. On the other hand, we’ve seen Japanese-spec Toyota Celsiors
imported and offered for sale at just AUD$9000 (plus ADR-ing). Add a couple of
grand for ADR related upgrades and associated fees and you should get one on the
road for about AUD$12,000.
See The Lexus LS400 for more on the LS400.
Eunos 800 Miller-cycle
In 1994, Mazda kicked off its luxury car division - Eunos. The first vehicle
released under the Eunos banner was the 800 Miller-cycle (aka 800M)...
The 800M isn’t as brawny as some of the other cars listed here, but it gets
the job done with some interesting technology. Instead of relying on brute V8
grunt, the 800M employs an engine of just 2.3 litres - but with the ingenious
combination of Miller-cycle operation and a positive displacement twin-screw
supercharger! With two small air-to-air intercoolers, this innovative engine
produces a creditable 149kW and 282Nm. ‘Big cube’ driveability comes from having
275Nm of torque from 2000 to 5500 rpm.
With a standard auto transmission and drive channelled to the front wheels,
the Miller-cycle Eunos 800 can accelerate to 100 km/h in around 9.0 seconds – no
speed machine, but certainly not embarrassing. Unfortunately, the requirement
for premium unleaded fuel partially offsets the financial savings that come from
its small capacity engine.
Contributing to the Eunos 800M’s 1550kg kerb weight is an electro-hydraulic
four-wheel-steer system (as first appeared on the 1988 Mazda 626/MX6). At low
speed, the system steers the front and rear wheels in opposite directions to
enhance manoeuvrability. At high speed (above 47 km/h), the rear wheels are
steered in the same direction as the fronts to enhance lane-change stability.
Sixteen inch alloys and 215/55 tyres are installed.
Inside the medium-to-large cabin you’ll find soft leather trim and a gentle,
flowing dashboard. Climate control, electric seats, an electric sunroof, Bose CD
sound system and dual front airbags are standard fruit.
Stylistically, the Eunos 800M is a fairly blunt instrument. The front and rear
styling is very rounded and the overall proportions are graceful – there’s
nothing hard-edged about it.
The cheapest high-kilometre 800M we’ve seen was sticker’d at just AUD$10,000
but, realistically, you’ll pay around 15 grand for a good one. Note that the 800
Miller-cycle continued in Australia until 2002 so late-model examples are worth
See Miller-Cycle Bargain for more.
Another Japanese VIP car that’s often overlooked is the Nissan-based Infiniti
Released in Australia in 1993 (about 3 years after its debut in Japan and
America) the Infiniti Q45 looks like it should be a bigger and better
version of the Lexus LS400. But it never quite managed to achieve that
Peep under the bonnet and you’ll see a tremendous example of Nissan
engineering – the big VH45DE V8. Displacing 4.5 litres and breathing through
DOHC, 4 valve heads, the Infiniti Q45 is officially listed at 198kW at 5600 rpm
and 395Nm at 4000 rpm. With monster cylinder ports and a huge throttle body,
it’s an engine that aftermarket tuners crave to get their hands
Driving through a heavy-duty auto trans and R200 series viscous LSD, the
Infiniti is slightly quicker than the Lexus – its 0 – 100 km/h acceleration is
around 8 seconds. But the Infiniti wasn’t let down by its engine...
Unfortunately, designers went for a softer-is-better approach for the
suspension. "Wallowy" and "imprecise" are two common words applied to the big
Nissan. The HICAS rear-wheeel-steer is also said to give a nervous feel when
driving at the limit.
Inside, the trim is finished in leather and walnut and is very well equipped
– similar to the Lexus. The Infiniti’s exterior styling was improved in the
second generation that was delivered to Australia but, still, it looks very
dated and emotionless.
Introduced to the Australian market at more than AUD$130,000, the big Nissan
was an unequivocal sales flop. Today, you can pick one up from about AUD$16,000...
The last of ‘em (through until 1997) fetch closer to 30
Once the most celebrated luxury saloon in the world, the BMW 750iL can now be
snapped up for well under AUD$20,000.
The 750iL (the ‘L’ identifying its long wheelbase) was released way back in
1988 – but it was so far ahead of its time, many car manufacturers are
still catching up...
One of the most alluring aspects of the 750iL is its engine – 5.0 litres of
smooth V12 muscle. Interestingly, the BMW V12 is essentially a pair of 325i
engines joined together at 60 degrees. With an ultra conservative 8.8:1
compression ratio, this beautiful engine cranks out 220kW at 5200 rpm and 450Nm
at 4100 rpm. Note the use of twin airflow meters and twin electronic-controlled
throttles – impressive for 1988!
With a heavy-duty auto transmission and tall-ratio LSD rear, the 750iL can
accelerate to 100 km/h in under 8 seconds. Top speed is electronically governed
at 250 km/h; the car’s open-road performance is simply awesome.
Tipping the scales at a substantial 1920kg, the 750iL rides on
electronic-controlled dampers and a fully independent suspension - ride quality
is, as you’d expect, excellent. Handling is also quite sporting for this
category of vehicle but the recirculating ball steering suffers from imprecision
around centre – especially when the associated bushes are worn. ABS brakes come
The 750iL remains an eye-catching machine almost two decades after its debut.
It’s distinguished over other 7 series models by its wider grille and flatter
bonnet, dual square exhaust tips and badges. Its relatively modest 15 inch alloy
wheels are a give-away to its age – but, even so, this is a timelessly elegant
Inside, you’ll find everything that could be thrown into a car in 1988 –
including a CD payer. There’s stitched leather trim, polished woodgrain, a metal
tilt-and-slide sunroof, electric seats and mirrors (with memory settings), 10
speaker sound system and a full-function LED readout on the dash. Even the back
seat is electrically reclining and the rear headrests automatically deploy when
the back seatbelt is fastened...
This is a car that you’ll never get tired of!
Depending on kilometres and condition, you can pick up a piece of BMW
magnificence from just AUD$12,000. An early ‘90s version with fewer kilometres
comes close to our 20 grand barrier.
See Pre-Owned Performance - BMW 750iL
Stick around for Part Two (the final). We’ll check out some more Euros and
locally-grown performance saloons...
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