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The first-generation Lexus SC is an unfairly forgotten luxury coupe

Lexus parachuted onto the automotive scene when it introduced the original LS and the first-generation ES at the 1989 Detroit auto show. While the ES was essentially a rebadged, V20-generation Toyota Camry, the LS was the hotly anticipated result of a lengthy, no-expense-spared development process aimed at building a Japanese equal to the German sedans then ruling the luxury market. It was a little surprising, then, that the task of designing the company’s first coupe was quietly gifted to Toyota’s Calty Research and Design center in California.

 

Read the full article on Hagerty.com:

https://www.hagerty.com/media/car-profiles/the-first-generation-lexus-sc-is-an-unfairly-forgotten-lu...

 

Replies (11)

Replies (11)

I was a 10 year owner of a '95 SC 400. It was extremely well built, and only failed me once when an idler pulley bearing went south coming down off of Pike's Peak. An easy fix once I located the correct bearing at the local NAPA store. The other failure points to look out for are the fore mentioned LCA bushings, and the window regulators. If looking to buy, be sure the timing belt service has been performed. These cars are great daily drivers, weekend cruisers, or grand tourers. I honestly wish I had kept mine (as it had the sought after black on black color combo). If time, money, and fate allows, I may have another someday.

 

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New Driver

I know absolutely no one who has ever described the SC "as a Japanese take on the softly-suspended Chevrolet Monte Carlo, or even a more expensive Camry coupe." Only an ignorant fool would characterize it in that way. To the contrary, I find the perception of the SC is that it was a much better built and reliable rival to the Eldorado and Mark VII/VIII or a less expensive and pretentious S Coupe alternative.

 

Maybe by today's standards "the instrument cluster is so unpretentious, it would be at home in a Corolla." But back then, the floating Lexus gauges of that era were considered pretty special and high tech, especially since they disappeared when the car was off. They were widely copied.

 

I still see a surprising number of SCs on the road, while Eldos and Marks of that era are much, much rarer.

 

Personally, I think the SC is one of the prettiest Japanese cars of all time.

 

 

Navigator

Ronan, well done. My experience with up market cars has always been that of initial deferred maintenance no matter what the Seller says. Apparently people drive these cars, slowly, not many miles, keep them clean, put gas in them, change the oil when they think of it and that's about it. I've had some Rolls, Lexi, and so on, and they are all the same. And wonderful once repaired.

Intermediate Driver

My '95 SC400 was a daily driver for the first 10 or so years of it's life and a weekend toy thereafter.  I bought my Diamond White Pearl SC400 in 2013 after wanting one for years.  Mine is unusual in that it is completely stock and in excellent condition.  So many of these have unfortunately been modified by someone thinking they're the "next Chip Foose" and/or heavily neglected by people who can afford the purchase price of a used luxury car but not the maintenance of one.  Fortunately, Lexus products don't suffer the same bankruptcy-inducing repairs as many other luxury competitors do but everything requires care - especially as they start to hit the 25-30 year old range.  The major things I've replaced are the power steering pump and the A/C compressor.  The LCA's are getting to the point they could also be replaced.  But at 25 years old and 207,000 km (129,000 miles), it's never leaked a drop of engine oil and starts and runs after sitting for five months of winter storage like it ran the day before (isn't fuel injection wonderful?).

I would also say that, with double-wishbone suspension at all four corners, it is a capable handling car but this is a GT, not a sports car and was never meant to be one. It handles much better than the contemporary Eldorado's, MARK's and SL's of the era even if it isn't a BMW.

The 4.0L V8 is approved by the FAA for aircraft use due to its smoothness and durability - not many car engines can say that.

I think it's one of the prettiest cars of the '90's.  

Oh, and the exhaust note from the factory exhaust is both wonderfully throaty and muted from that silky V8 as it was tuned differently than the LS sedan. 

New Driver

A great car, and virtually maintenance free.  I had an SC300 with the somewhat rare manual 5 speed tranny, dubbed by many aficionados as superior to the automatic-only SC400.  The fit and finish of the interior is superb, the real woodwork vastly more beautiful and durable than the cheesy, cracking plastic "wood" in my wife's much newer BMW.

 

The best feature of the SC300 though, was the interchangeability of the vaunted, twin turbo'd Supra engine, which shared roughly the same block and was a bolt-in swap.  Sorting out the electrical wiring for the completely different ECU's of the two engines was no walk in the park, but I accomplished that in my pearl white SC300 to create a 400+ RWHP monster.  This was accomplished by bumping up the turbo boost to around 18 PSI using an aftermarket boost controller.

That engine had so much power that within a month of completion I had ruined the clutch with fairly conservative driving, and had to source a heavier-duty Toyota truck clutch to do the job.  The project was so successful I wrote a technical manual providing all the details and ECU wiring cross-reference diagrams, which is now in the hands of over 300 other SC300 owners, all presumably now driving around with the same monster power plant.  http://www.ultimatelexustt.com/

 

A move from Hawaii to Texas dictated turning my baby over to its next custodian, but I still have very fond memories of that luxury hot rod

New Driver

I drove a 92 SC400 as my daily driver for 20 years.  The daily drivers before the Lexus was a Supra, and after the Lexus was a BMW 330CI ZHP.  I disagree with the articles definition of the SC400's handling.  Truth be told that car could more than hustle.  I ran numerous car competitive car rally's in it where some times serious driving was required.  In the early 90's this car was nothing short of a rocket ship.  It rode stiffer than my Supra, and about the same as my BMW.  It was exotic (and still is with items like a hydraulic cooling fan, alloy suspension parts, speed sensitive power steering.)

 

With that said, there were two things that let the SC400 down, and is probably the reason it doesn't get its due (other than people don't realize that this car is not your 90's Toyota).  Those two items?  #1.  The automatic transmission in the SC400 all but neutered what could have been one of the most bad ass cars of the era.  It's not a modern style auto, and it was not designed for fun.  It was a sad choice.  Truthfully I hated selling mine, but after I got a stick back with the BMW, I find I rarely miss the car.  If anything I miss what that car could have been with a manual.  I can tell you that had it come with one, it would have been a hell of a lot more car than the 330CI ZHP which is nearly 15 years newer.  #2 the seats.  They should have been more supportive. 

 

In the end it almost seems like the engineers built a world beating GT car and then some one in authority said decided that lets old fart it up just a little bit, they're the ones with the money.  It will probably sell better.

 

The last thing I'd like to point out.  Despite the SC300 coming with a manual (which I have driven), don't confuse the SC300 with the SC400.  They may look alike, but the SC300 is no where near the car the SC400 was/is.  If only they had put a stick in it.

 

If buying one, #1 beware of the fiber optic dash.  Always fail when they get older and horribly expensive to fix.  #2 expect significant heat from the tunnel where the seat belts mount.  #3  Expect A/C evaporator core failures like all cars of that era.  But repair should not be anymore expensive than your average car.  #4 Go to your Toyota dealer for parts, not the Lexus dealer.  Saves $$  This applies to all Lexus cars.  

New Driver

I was coming home from work in my '05 STi one evening when I came up behind one of these; I honestly have no idea which flavor. But I saw the driver's eyes in the rearview and the next thing I know he's planted his right foot, so I'm going to go with it having been a 400. We're about 1/4 mile from a 2-turn sequence that is a favorite of mine, and sure enough the Lexus took an enthusiastic line. I followed from a respectful distance, smiling. Ever since then I have wanted one of these cars.

Pit Crew

One to thing to add is the chassis is shared with the mk4 Supra so it can be easily made to handle like a Supra.

 

New Driver

Lovely cars, much better than given credit for (or often times, not even known by folks who say they're car guys/gals).  I wish I'd bought one instead of the BMW I did get (and regretted, then sold at a loss).  I'd probably still have the Lexus...

 

Pit Crew

Bought a '92 SC400 two years ago for its engine.  Had the typical issues; leaking PS pump, alternator going south (because of PS pump leak), climate control display blank.  Trans fluid had pieces of metal in it.  Ran like a champ though.  When I replaced the seals and belt, the timing belt looked like it hadn't been changed since the car left the showroom.  Kept the engine, sold the trans and chassis.  Guy who bought the chassis wanted the front subframe. He said the frame rail width on that car is almost identical to an early Bronco.  With a minor amount of fab, he was going to give his Bronco new brakes, suspension, and steering. 

I'll second the statement on the door hinges.  They were works of art, and ingenious for making the car easy to get in and out of, even with the huge door sills.

Pit Crew

Very nice cars, but a needless swipe at Mercedes "scent diffuser that makes the whole cabin smell like organic Malaysian bamboo three hours after a storm." You actually have a choice of scents (all quite subtle), and the system beats a paper tree hung from the rear view mirror any day.

Intermediate Driver