Review: 1992 Lexus SC400

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
review 1992 lexus sc400

“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.”

The 4.0-liter V8 engine in the 1992 SC400 has specs suitable for today’s car market. 0-60 in 6.9 seconds. 32-valve engine. 250 horsepower. It’s pretty fast for today and amazingly quick for then.

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.

In nearly all cases, the SC’s dashboard and real walnut trim will be devoid of any cracks or wear. Even in the south. It’s incredible. Getting into one of these cars is like entering a time warp.

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.

Comments
Join the conversation
2 of 91 comments
  • Heather Lee Heather Lee on Jun 11, 2013

    Steve, I'm replying to your comment regarding the 1995 SC300 Lexus. "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." I have one that is in excellent shape with very low millage. Mine is loaded with the "winter package" i.e. heated seats, memory seats etc. CD changer in the trunk. Everything a car could want in 1995! Email me for details if you are still interested and make me an offer. I'm a retired textbook designer and need a car that drives in the snow! This rear wheel drive is NOT for me. Other than snow issues, I love love love this car. I only use this car to go to Dr's appt's, grocery store and dance classes. I never take it on long trips, since we use our family car for that. It has been well cared for.

  • Ralphy Ralphy on Jul 14, 2013

    hi all. i am needing some help here please. i have a toyota lexus 400 gt. v8 quod cam 32 velve. ok car slowed to a stop after a bell was ringing in the car for a few days every time i drove it. so it stops like no petrol . so we by pass the ECU to test and yep- she runs. so my qestion is. can we just keep it by past with no problems. and if not where do i get a new ECU and how much are they im in perth western australia. i love this car and need it up and running . ive had a stroke and need it to get to hospital each week. and moneys tite. so please let me know what to do in this case . thank you all. ralphy.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?
Next