Aaron Spelling’s TV soap “Dynasty” first aired in January 1981 as competition for “Dallas”, but didn’t really take off until Joan Collins joined the cast in series 2 as Blake Carrington’s scheming and forthright former wife, Alexis.
“Dynasty” was the number one show on US screens by 1985, but in 1989 with falling ratings it was abruptly cancelled – just as characters, including Blake and Alexis, were facing various deadly situations (being shot and plunging from a balcony, respectively). A later TV special wrapped up all the loose ends.
Alexis could have been the name of the luxury arm of Toyota – Lexus – which was founded in late 1989. According to Jonathan Mahler‘s book “The Lexus Story”, “Alexis” tested well in US focus groups (ahead of other frontrunners like Verone and Chaparel) but there was concern it sounded too much like a person’s name than a car. So, the first letter was removed and the “i” replaced with a “u”.
It’s also said that “Lexus” was either a combination of “luxury” and “elegance”, or the cheekier acronym “Luxury Exports to the US”. Either way, Toyota was able to follow Nissan and Honda in offering upmarket brands to US buyers. Lexus wasn’t a brand in Japan until the mid-2000s.
I remember Lexus launching in Australia in 1990 with its LS400 large car (complete with white gloves in the boot, in case anyone had to change a tyre and didn’t want to get their hands dirty). The car had cost a billion dollars to develop over a number of years (including Toyota staff literally living the lives of wealthy Americans in California to understand their needs), and was aimed squarely at German luxury marques, promising a ride without cabin noise and engine vibration, at lower cost.
It went on sale Down Under, just as “the recession Australia had to have” hit in 1990. So I wondered how a fairly bland looking large sedan would find buyers, even if it had a price advantage over European limos.
How wrong I was. Even if the LS400 wasn’t in every driveway, the brand itself took off around the world. In 1996 Lexus got into SUVs with the LX450 (a thinly-disguised Toyota Land Cruiser) before launching the smaller RX series of SUVs (with the Toyota Harrier stepping up). Some Lexus websites say that the RX stands for “radiant crossover”.
In mid-2020 my wife was looking for a new daily drive, with some more features (and better leather seats) than her SAAB. I was looking for a four wheel drive to tow trailers, after selling the Range Rover. We thought we’d found both in a 2003 Lexus RX330. Even thought it was older than the SAAB, it was free of its plasticky rattles and packed with features: like touchscreen controls and navigation, a reversing camera and a power tailgate. One other thing it had (that pretty much every early RX330 has) was cracks in the dashboard. A dash mat covered them up.
Under the skin it was like the Toyota Kluger. Under the bonnet it had the V6 from the Camry. So it seemed like a safe choice for parts. And as it turned out, it was.
We paid a little under the going rate, because the RX330 had quite high kilometres for its age (266,000) although it had been reasonably cared for, apart from tiny leaf litter in the sunroof drain and the cabin filter, from the tree it was parked under. There was a slight whine from the engine bay, but it was just a replacement power steering line (it whined while in park, so wasn’t a gearbox issue).
I noticed some oil leaks, and was told they’d be looked after when the roadworthy was completed. After a day or so, a rear tappet cover seal was changed and it was ready.
A few weeks on, we noticed that the oil leaks continued. Our mechanic had a good look and said he’d first try to re-seal the tappet cover (his experience with Toyota’s V6 was that if there wasn’t sealant dabbed on particular corners of a genuine gasket, it would leak). He also found that the replacement power steering line was cracked and leaking. Those issues he could (and did) fix. But worst of all, he found that the “rear main seal” between the engine and gearbox was leaking. This would mean removing the gearbox to replace a $50 seal – a huge job he wasn’t willing to take on.
Luckily, a mechanic he recommended was able to do this – and also replace the front shock absorbers that happened to give up at the same time. The bill there was over $2,000.
At the same time, the air conditioning buttons either side of the dash refused to go up – just down. Handy in summer, but not so much in winter. My research on the net found that the soft silicon buds behind the buttons had cracked after 17 years. A company in Taiwan made plastic replacements (at quite a cost, considering how small they are) but I bought a set and then pulled the dash apart to replace them. It wasn’t as hard to do as you might think. I made a YouTube video to help other owners.
However, by now my wife had decided it wasn’t the car for her. It was wider and obviously higher than the SAAB, so not that easy to park. She hadn’t discovered how to get the mirrors to dip while reversing (I found it later, after reading the manual). A smaller car was now her focus. I now had a high-kilometre, 17-year-old, expensively-maintained Lexus to sell.
I put it on the net for top dollar (more than other examples with lower kilometres, but they had paintwork or interior damage) and explained that it had just seen $3,500 in maintenance. COVID had pushed used car prices up 20%, so it wasn’t an impossible ask. A man from the Sunshine Coast wanted to have a look, saying he’d be catching a train down. I offered to pick him up from the station, but he arrived (with 3 friends in tow!) in an Uber. So if they weren’t buying, they’d all be hitching a ride home!
They were impressed by the room inside, and the clean condition of the car. We all packed in for a test drive, and on our return they were ready to buy. After a $200 discount on the asking price, the deal was done and they drove off. I pretty much got back what we’d put into the ownership.
So, like Alexis.. the Lexus pushed on powerfully to new adventures – and we were ready to find the next member of our car dynasty.
For a YouTube walkaround of the Lexus Rx330, click here