A couple of months ago, I enlisted the help of JNC readers to pick a chariot for my soon-to-be wife. She got one, and though it isn’t a Japanese nostalgic car yet, we think one day it might be. This was one of our most popular Questions of the Week and some have asked for an update, so here’s what’s sitting in our garage now.
Creating 99 Problems
The rules were simple: It had to be an automatic, have Bluetooth, and look respectable. These conditions were dictated by my fiancée’s job as a VP of marketing for a cable network. A typical day could mean a meeting in Glendale in the morning, lunch with a studio exec in Hollywood, and a commercial shoot in Malibu in the evening. The car needed to be her mobile office. She’s also a huge Jay Z fan, so a good bass-y stereo was a nice-to-have. Having lived in her beloved New York City for 17 years, she never owned or bought a car before, so it was my job to make it happen.
Naturally, I complicated things by stipulating that it had to be a model never even offered in a manual. That’s because I have a ridiculous notion that if there’s the exact same car traipsing around out there with a stick shift, the car sitting here with an automatic is somehow worse.
Some of you suggested proper JNCs like a Toyota Cressida or Mazda 929, or JDM tyte whips like a Toyota Century or Nissan Figaro. However, RHD was out of the question and, sadly, most Hollywood types aren’t enlightened enough to appreciate vintage Nihon steel.
Others excellent suggestions included the TSX Wagon, Mazda 6, and G37, but by a country mile the most frequently recommended marque was Lexus. Whether it was the LS, SC, IS, or the “Prius in a tux” CT, you guys just couldn’t stop hurling deluxe Aichi sleds our way.
So, that’s what we got. A 2008 Lexus GS 460.
I already have a Supra, AE86, Cressida and Van, and as much as I wanted to diversify the family fleet Toyota kept pulling us back in. The GS is new enough to have niceties like proximity sensing keys and a plethora of airbags, but not so new as to be festooned with a Predator grille and DRLs sponsored by Nike. It looks sharp enough to be impressive to clients, but in an understated way that doesn’t scream douchebag. Best of all, it was well below our $20,000 limit, even though the car cost $60,000 when new.
Why the 460? Well, another pedantic rule of thumb I have is that you always buy the top-spec model when possible, because aside from the obvious benefits of performance and driving fun, cars outfitted with these specs have the most potential for collectability.
A 1970 Boss 429 Mustang is worth over $200,000 today while a base 1970 Mustang is worth a piddling $10,000. We’re not trying to make a quick buck; if anything, a 2008 GS 460 still has a long ride down the depreciation curve before an upswing. But, if we still have the car 30 years from now, it will be a rare example of the best of the breed.
GS 460s were already hard to find. There never seemed to be more than a dozen for sale in the entire country at any given time. That’s because the third-gen GS was offered in three trims: the most popular base V6, a hybrid, and V8. Bizarrely, even though the V8 was supposed to be the performance flagship of the bunch, the pre-facelift GS 430 actually made less power than the hybrid GS 450h.
There was absolutely no reason to buy the V8 until Lexus increased the displacement to 4.6 liters and horsepower to 342 (up from the GS 430’s 290 hp) during the 2008 facelift. Even then, it was still extremely rare. A post on ClubLexus revealed that Toyota sold only 1,616 GS 460s in the US in 2008. After that, the V8 models essentially became special-order only, with just 56 sold in 2009 and 43 sold in 2010.
If that didn’t make things hard enough, we would add one final complication — the color. Lexus offered two white-ish colors on the GS. Starfire Pearl is the standard luxury white, nearly indistinguishable from the lineup at the Hertz executive row.
Opaline Pearl, on the other hand, is probably the rarest in the GS palette and a dazzling three-stage paint that changes color. It starts with a light dove gray base, so pale it’s almost white. On top of that is a faint layer of bluish-purple pearl, then the clearcoat. Photos don’t do it justice because you have to move around to see the hints of color emerge and vanish as sunlight hits, like the inside of an oyster shell.
Can I Get a GS?
Now that we’d established exactly the type of needle we’d be looking for, it was time to dive into the haystack of nationwide online searches. Miraculously, a low-mileage Opaline GS 460 soon appeared at a Lexus dealer two hours south of LA and we made an appointment to see it. But when we arrived, another buyer was signing the paperwork.
We continued searching for a couple more months. Just when we thought we’d have to give up one of our criteria, an ad popped up for a “white” GS 460 in Arlington, Texas. It was likely Starfire, but I called anyway. Turns out, not only was it Opaline, but the guy on the phone was what used car buyers call a Dream Seller.
He was the second owner, an engineer, and OCD about everything. He appreciated the rarity of the car and had searched extensively himself to find the exact color. He himself had bought it from another Dream Seller, the proverbial Little Old Lady. He always garaged it and had a stack of receipts from work done exclusively at Lexus dealerships. When he did the work himself, like installing F-Sport sway bars, he kept the original ones. For some reason, the lady he bought it from had the visors wrapped in alcantara; he bought stock ones because the extra layer of fabric put an imperceptible strain on the visor clip. He clear bra’ed everything, including the mirrors, the areas behind the wheels where dirt kicks up, and even the wood surfaces on the interior. The rest remained stock. If I wasn’t engaged already, I probably would have proposed.
Ride Or Die
We made a deal and I enlisted the help of JNC staffers to secure the car. As it happens, John Roper lives in Arlington. He sized up the car in person, picked it up, and held it for us. Since my fiancée’s idea of fun is the exact opposite of driving through two days of desert, I got Touge California rallymaster Patrick Strong to Cannonball it back to LA with me.
Day One consisted of a one-way flight from LAX to Dallas. John arrived at DFW with the Lexus and we went straight to one of the best Mexican restaurants I’ve ever been to. We hung around Ft Worth, stopped by John’s garage to check out his many Datsun projects, caught up with Alex Nuñez of Enkei Wheels over some superb burgers, and checked into the hotel in Plano.
Before hitting the road on Day Two, I snapped a photo near the hotel in front of a massive construction site. It looked like there was still a lot of work to be done at the future home of Toyota USA, but the scale of the campus was nonetheless impressive. Damn you, Toyota, for leaving California. But fine, be that way. Texas may have its 1,000 horsepower Supras and lifted Tundras, but this Lexus was headed to the land of hot rod history and kyusha culture.
It was blasting through west Texas on lines of highway stretching straight into the horizon that the GS met its purpose. A supremely competent tourer, it took the miles in stride. Hitting, um, lively speeds while ensconcing its occupants in a cloud of total serenity, it barely broke a sweat thanks to its 8-speed transmission and overall Lexus-ness. Removing my foot from the throttle, the tach hardly dipped. It just wanted to glide, as if the whole car was made from ball bearings.
El Paso was the first major city in 700 miles. Stopped for the night, we reminisced about how many moons ago here, over a shared love of cars, a young future co-founder of JNC became friends with a young future rallymaster and diecast magnate. We visited some natsukashī basho, which basically consisted of a rather dilapidated learning institution and some stores where we used to buy Hot Wheels.
We left our fleabag motel at the crack of dawn on Day Three. 923 miles stood between us and home, giving the Lexus time to endear itself even more. Modern Lexus V8s found in the RC F or LC 500 emit a raucous roar to appeal to look-at-me spenders, and while the GS 460 samples from that soundtrack it’s far more civilized, its 8-cylinder burble audible only with the windows down.
There were oddball quirks people will find charming years from now too. To unclutter the dashboard, for example, buttons for extraneous functions like JDM-folding the side mirrors are moved to a tidy little drawer left of the steering wheel.
My absolute favorite part of the interior, though, is the movement of the turn signal stalk. Having only owned cars made in the last century, I did not know that the weighting, feel and mechanical action of a single switch could bring such rapturous satisfaction. If you’re ever near a GS, do yourself a favor and try it out.
It was pretty late by the time we got home. Luckily, Patrick and I were used to each others’ musical tastes, peccadillos, and bodily odors, having spent many days in cars together scouting roads for Touge California. The Lexus’s smooth comfort had kept us from any real fatigue. The car felt like it could’ve continued all the way to Japan.
’08 Bonnie & Clyde
The trip was uneventful, but then again that was the whole point. My fiancée wanted a car that would never leave her stranded and spend minimal time under repair. Oh, did I mention the car only had 51,000 miles on the clock? That’s barely broken in for a Lexus.
She couldn’t be happier with it. She loves the quietness of the ride, the V8 torque, the convenience of having power everything and, of course, the color. She’s even doing that thing where she looks back at the car while walking away from its parking spot.
It wasn’t till after she took the keys that I remembered that Jay Z started his entire career by driving around New York in an off-white Lexus GS. It all tied together, much like way Jay Z referenced it more recently. Plus, her birthstone is opal. I don’t get a lot of stuff right, relationship-wise, but in this case I somehow pulled it off, with a little help from John, Patrick, and JNC readers. Boom, GS the fuck up.