Junkyard Gem: 2001 Lexus RX 300

Junkyard Gem: 2001 Lexus RX 300

The 1991 Ford Explorer and 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee won the American motoring revolution started by the Jeep XJ Cherokee in 1984; henceforth, trucks and truck-inspired vehicles would rule the showrooms. By the second half of the 1990s, manufacturers were in a frenzied race to develop unibody SUVs that looked like trucks while driving like cars. Toyota won a crucial early victory in that race by creating the Lexus RX, which first appeared as a 1998 model and thus stands as the first true luxury crossover SUV. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those first-generation RX 300s, found in astonishingly good condition in a Denver-area self-service boneyard recently.

Based on the Lexus ES chassis and known as the Toyota Harrier in its homeland, the RX 300 quickly became the best-selling Lexus in the United States. By 2002, the Lexus RX 300 was the best-selling luxury SUV here, period, while its ES 300 cousin was America’s best-selling luxury car. The bigger second-generation RX first appeared here as the 2004 RX 330.

Meanwhile, rivals were scrambling to catch up. BMW debuted the X5 as a 2000 model, while Honda couldn’t get the MDX into Acura showrooms until the 2001 model year (after a humiliating period of selling Isuzu Troopers with Acura SLX badges). It was a good time to be a Lexus salesman.

Speaking of Lexus salesmen, this RX was so clean when it got here that the original Monroney sticker was still in the glovebox (and will show up in the @monroneyproject online museum, where many of my junkyard-found Monroneys live, in the near future). We can see that it’s a heavily-optioned all-wheel-drive model, complete with HID headlights, wood-trimmed steering wheel and the swanky Premium Plus Value Package, and that it cost $40,321 ($70,393 in 2023 dollars) at Flow Lexus in Kernersville, North Carolina.

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Naturally, the official Lexus Inspection Certificate was there as well.

The interior is nearly perfect. You’d be hard-pressed to find a 5-year-old RX 350 with a driver’s seat this nice. The body shows a few scrapes and dings, but they look like the sort of thing that happens to vehicles when they’re moved around a car graveyard’s facilities via forklift.

Did anyone ever sit here?

The ignition key is in the switch. My guess is that this RX’s engine or transmission grenaded after 22 years, and the final owner judged the repair estimate to be greater than the resale value. Maybe it went straight from the repair shop to U-Pull-&-Pay.

The final owner will be living bearded in another vehicle.

Under the hood, the scene is very ES-like (and therefore also very Camry-like): a 3.0-liter DOHC 1MZ-FE V6 engine with variable valve timing, rated at 220 horsepower and 222 pound-feet. The Camry and ES got less powerful versions of this engine, of course (194 and 210 horses, respectively).

It should go without saying that no manual transmission has ever been available from the factory in a Lexus RX (or Toyota Harrier). This one has a four-speed automatic.

I came across this truck soon after it had been placed in the yard, and I’m sure it has been stripped clean of these perfect factory alloy wheels and many of its mint interior goodies by the time you’re reading this.

Perhaps the original buyer of today’s Junkyard Gem ran right to the dealership to get that sweet deal on the Lexus Value Package after watching this commercial.

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Could it beat a late-1980s Ford LTD Crown Victoria in a police chase? Since it’s essentially a tall Camry with at least 50 more horsepower than the Box Crown Vic (and roughly similar curb weight), that’s the way to bet.

In Japan, the original Harrier was wild but formal. 

This JDM Harrier commercial features some tough-looking gaijin operatives.