“Would you want to buy it from me?” My brother Christian asked me that question a few hours after I’d picked up a vehicle he bought in an online auction. He had already wired the cash to the seller, but soon thereafter, a potential home purchase took precedence over a four-wheeler – especially once I arrived to retrieve the 1996 Lexus LX 450 and discovered that the seller had told more than a few fibs about its condition and maintenance needs.

Luckily for Christian, driving the big Lexus from the seller to my house was enough for me to fall in love, forsaking all others (and ignoring all flaws). My boyfriend Noah felt the same way I did after taking the 4x4 for a drive around the neighborhood. Much of the admiration came from the truck’s unique status as the only Lexus to ever get a solid front axle, as well as its glass-heavy greenhouse, high-up seating position, and completely rust-free undercarriage. Apparently, that’d be enough for us to overlook the bird poop–etched black paint and long list of deferred maintenance items.

1996 Lexus LX 450 Exterior Front Quarter
1996 Lexus LX 450 Exterior Rear Quarter

For a few minutes, it looked like cooler heads were going to prevail. Noah and I had been shopping for a vehicle that was more camp-friendly than his 1987 Jaguar XJ6 or my 2006 BMW Z4, but I was pretty averse to buying a project car, and the Lexus’ purchase price would have gotten us into turn-key examples of the first-generation Toyota Tundra or GMT800 Chevrolet Silverado. But ultimately, the LX 450’s old-school stance and surprisingly smooth ride carried the day.

Quick Stats 1996 Lexus LX 450
Engine: 4.5-Liter I6 (1FZ-FE)
Transmission: Four-Speed Automatic
Drive Type: Four-Wheel Drive
Mileage: 196,096
Purchase Price: $11,000

Gallery: 1996 Lexus LX 450 Project Introduction

And lo, a luxed-up 80-Series Land Cruiser entered our lives. We paid Christian his overall outlay thus far on the Lexus – plus a small finder’s fee – and then set about the business of figuring out what needed repaired. Odd order to do that in, I know.

With nearly 200,000 miles on the odometer (and a mileage discrepancy in the vehicle history), the LX 450 clearly needed new oil pan and valve cover gaskets, as the underside of the truck was caked in a slurry of dirt and petrochemicals. There was also an obvious seep coming from the front axle, where the seals on the ball-and-socket Birfield joints are prone to leaking. A trip to a local Toyota specialist confirmed those suspicions, as well as discovering worn control arm bushings, hazed spark plugs, tired front wheel bearings, and a dirty mass airflow sensor that threw a code 15 minutes after Noah and I finalized our third-hand purchase.

Remember how I didn’t want a project? Yeah, me neither.

1996 Lexus LX 450 Exterior Suspension
1996 Lexus LX 450 Exterior
1996 Lexus LX 450 Exterior Suspension


  • Tires
  • Valve Cover Gasket
  • Oil Pan Gaskets
  • Front Axle Seals
  • Front Wheel Bearings
  • Check-Engine and Oil Lights
  • Front And Rear Control Arms
  • Etched Paint
  • Torn Seats
  • Blown Speakers

Budget: $4,000

With a list of to-dos laid out, my build-slash-life partner and I decided what we wanted to tackle on our own. The front axle reseal is a rite of passage for 80-Series owners, but it was one we were content delaying a few years – our local Toyota specialist is handling that as of this writing. Our resident Toyota specialist is also tackling the upper and lower oil pan gaskets, as well as aligning everything to track nice and straight. The suspension control arms can wait a bit, as it turns out.

1996 Lexus LX 450 Interior Dashboard

Once the axles are straightened out, we’ll swap on some new tires right away, as I have no interest in tempting fate with a blowout-induced rollover. The rubber on it dates to 2011 and is showing some minor cracks that portend major failures, which we’ll sidestep with some slightly oversized 285/75 tires to fit the stock 16-inch aluminum wheels. Then, Noah and I will work under the hood a bit, replacing spark plugs and wires, the distributor cap and rotor, the valve cover gasket, and the air filter.

In between all those bigger projects, we’ll tackle a few little ones as well. The front and rear door speakers are completely blown, and fitting new ones is a challenge since the doors themselves are so shallow. And a short in the rear defroster switch leaves it running even if the ignition is off, killing the battery within a few minutes. But once we’ve got the Lexus sorted, it’ll be time to hit the trails for some local adventuring.

1996 Lexus LX 450 Exterior Front Quarter

Planned Modifications

  • Firestone Destination X/T Tires
  • Lifted Spare Tire Cradle
  • OEM Front Bumper
  • Recovered Front Seats
  • CarPlay Head Unit / New Speakers

Otherwise, the truck’s going to remain mostly as-is. Our LX 450 came with a steel front bumper and 2.0-inch lift kit from Ironman 4x4, and we’ll maybe replace them with stock components for that 1996-upscale flair. Noah wants to swap out the torn Ivory leather with new seat covers, while I’d rather keep it ratty so I don’t feel bad when our dog decides she wants to dig a hole in the upholstery. These are discussions for future-Brett, so for now, I’m just excited to get our new toy to Stage Zero so we can start having some off-road fun.

If nothing else, let my experience be a warning to you. Caveat emptor, and if you’re taking a risk on a probable crap-can, be sure you love something about it a lot to compensate.

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