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Lexus SC 400: The Other Production Lexus That Looked Like a Concept Car

I’m smitten by Lexus’s new LC 500: It’s a concept car that you can buy and put in your own driveway (provided you have a hundred grand or so to spend, that is). Seeing the LC reminded me of the last time a Lexus design pitched me onto my butt: The SC. No, not the SC430 — eww. I mean the original SC, the SC 300 and SC 400 coupes that made their debut in 1992.

At the time, the automotive world went absolutely ape-droppings over Lexus’s new coupe. First and foremost was the styling; we’d never seen anything quite like the SC, which had no straight lines anywhere — and no grille, either. If I’m honest, and occasionally I am, today I look at the shape and wonder what the fuss was about — but of course now we’re on the opposite side of history. After the SC, there were so many bubbly shaped rip-offs of that first curvy design that I could die happy if I never see another one again. (My mind always seems to turn to the 2006-2013 Chevrolet Impala, and then it it immediately turns away in a fit of disgust and self-preservation). Whatever we may think today, in its time the SC’s design was breathtaking stuff.

And then there was the fact that cars like this simply didn’t exist. Remember, Japanese manufacturers made their name building small (and later medium-size) family cars that were boring and reliable. This thing was big, expansive and visually exciting. Sure, Mercedes and BMW made some big coupes, but the Japanese? Sedans and sports cars. This was the “personal luxury” car (as introduced by the original Monte Carlo), Lexus-style.

To give you some idea of how unusual the SC was, consider the Japanese-market version, the Toyota Soarer. Between the size of the car and the size of the engine, this car fell afoul of nearly every every regulation the Japanese government could come up with. Soarer buyers had to pay extra taxes, extra license fees, extra everything just to drive one … and yet drive it they did.

Among the sins of the Soarer and SC: A 32-valve V8 engine from the LS 400, which, again, was exciting stuff in the early ’90s. But for us car enthusiasts, the V8 wasn’t the most tantalizing prospect: Lexus also sold the SC 300, which had a 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder, with a manual transmission. If memory serves, the mags at the time loved the 5-speed, even though it came with significantly less power. It was a curious engine to offer in America, as Lexus was selling the car to a generation of buyers who could remember the time (it was only 15 years ago, back then) when cheap cars had straight sixes and nicer ones had V8s — even small and midsize vehicles. You drove a 6-cylinder Nova in college, and then you graduated to a V8-powered Impala. Needless to say, most of the SCs I saw on the road were 400s.

Predictably, the automotive press loved the SC: It won the Motor Trend Import Car of the Year award for 1992, and it made Car and Driver‘s Ten Best list.

Lexus did manage to screw the SC up a bit in 1995 when the car got a midcycle refresh: They changed the front end, adding a bigger grille, and they fitted horizontally split taillights, which I think softened the visual impact. And, in typical Lexus fashion, they let it whither on the vine. By the time the SC was discontinued in 2000, the 8-year-old design was nothing special.

Lexus went on to replace the original SC coupe with the 2002 SC 430, a retractable hardtop that was notable only because it was a retractable hardtop. It was a nice enough car, but we soon got bored of it — something Lexus didn’t seem to notice until 2010 or so.

Then 2012 brought us the Lexus LF-LC concept, and 2017 sees this new LC 500 that we’re all so excited about — and rightfully so. This is the original SC all over again. Let’s hope it ages a little better. Find a Lexus SC 400 for sale

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  1. I have 2, 1997 Sc400’s. One red and one Burgundy. I still get asked by people if it is a new Lexus model. The design is timeless and both cars are fun to drive. Gas mileage is in the high 20’s on the highway. With cars have 150K+ miles and no problems at all. Just change the timing belt and water pump at 90K and keep driving. Love these cars.

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