“There is nothing quite like it!” Every enthusiast I know has that attitude towards their car. But rarely is it actually true. Platforms are shared. Engines and transmissions are modified and tossed into whatever else can accommodate them from a cost perspective. Compromises are made. Only sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes you can buy something so unique, so timeless, that you can appreciate the qualities even twenty or thirty years later. The Lexus SC400 is one of those rare, outstanding machines. Let’s start with the door hinge.
That’s right. That usual flimsy piece of metal that’s supposed to keep the door open and closed through the ages. On most cars, as the car ages, the bolts holding the hinge to the frame will eventually get a little loose, and the welds can actually wear out over time. At some point, you will eventually hear a popping sound when you open the door. Some owners fix it. Most ignore it. But first generation Lexus SC owners will never face that choice.
The SC400′s door hinges were an absolute engineering monstrosity, as over-engineered and built as those of any similar era—or earlier—Mercedes-Benz. Lexus built in quality trying to make this car eternally seamless and genre-compatible silent. The bushes and flanges that make up the SC400′s über-hinges are as thick as a brick. They’re triple-welded into a geometric design that can hold the SC’s door at any angle. No other car from that time period can do it. None.
Of course, many folks will think I’m nuts to mention the quality built into a simple component. One that most manufacturers simply glaze over. But this website has long argued that quality will out; time makes you appreciate the care and attention lavished on a methodically engineered and assembled vehicle. For reliability freaks, the SC400 has “it.”
But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Combined with the four-speed electronic automatic transmission, the engine is just plain unkillable. It can literally out-diesel a diesel when it comes to longevity, and it’s infinitely more quiet. When you can find one at the auctions, they will almost always have odometers far north of 200k. I’ve seen many with over 300k that still sell wholesale in the $1500 to $2000 range.
Speaking of which, when most people enter the SC400, the first things they will notice is the amazing material quality. The soft leather on well bolstered bucket seats and generous use of wood contrasts well with soft surfaces on the door panels and armrests that were rock hard and plastic in other competing models. Lexus today has a long history of coddling their occupants; this model certainly helped give rise to that rep.
Unlike today’s luxury cars, Lexus kept everything simple and straightforward inside the SC400. There’s no need or desire for multiple displays of the same information. No need for buttons ad nauseam (knobs work very well, thank you). The SC simply gives you all the information you need when you need it. Today’s designers could learn an awful lot by reconsidering the SC400′s more driver-focused, less gadget-laden cabin.
The Lexus SC400 is a strikingly comfortable and simple vehicle to drive. A short dash overhang and plain Jane interior ergonomics makes this large coupe surprisingly agile and dare I say it, safe. Nothing exciting stock. But aside from the IS-F, anesthetized is how Lexus rolls.
The Lexus coupe does have a few expensive wear “issues,” but they’re not what I’d call cataclysmic. The red needles on the dash wear out and turn black; the entire display may follow. A couple hundred bucks will fix it, without visiting the clock-is-ticking dealer. The SC400′s electronic luminescent displays for the radio and temp will also wear out, although the simple knobs will control both.
And like any other power antenna of 1990s vintage, the one on the Lexus will be sheared off given enough encounters with a garage door. Otherwise the fluids to maintain the car are dirt cheap. Maintenance under the hood is surprisingly owner-friendly, and the opportunity to customize and modify the car make it one of the few that can keep an enthusiast’s interest for a long time.
If you find a well preserved one with less than 150k. Buy it. If you can find an SC300 with an all too rare manual tranny in it. Call me first. I’ll buy it and be your new best friend.