By on April 13, 2021

You know what? The Rare Rides series has never before featured a Lexus vehicle. The other day, a helpful commenter provided a link to an extra clean SC 400 for sale, so here we are with our first Lexus installment of Rare Rides.

Shortly after Lexus debuted in late 1989 for the 1990 model year with the midsize ES 250 (not impressive) and full-size LS 400 (that shooketh Mercedes-Benz and other established luxury marques), there followed news of a third prong in the fork of Lexus’ brand offerings: A big coupe, targeted specifically at Americans. There were many luxury coupes on the market at the time, namely Japanese competition from Acura’s Legend. The Eunos Cosmo from Mazda would’ve been a competitor as well, but that one never made it to North America. Sad!

Development on the SC began in 1987, and Toyota gave the project to its Calty Design Research facility in California. With a smooth, aerodynamic design much different to Japanese coupes of the Eighties, production started in 1991 in Japan. The SC was produced alongside the Toyota Soarer, a virtually identical version sold in markets where Lexus was not offered.

The first model to debut was the SC 400, for the model year 1992. The 400 used the same 4.0-liter 1UZ V8 as found in the LS 400 sedan and debuted first as the brand’s flagship coupe offering. Following later in the year was the less expensive SC 300. That one was much more Supra-like in its character, with the 3.0-liter 2JZ inline-six shared with the upcoming A80 Supra in 1993. SC and Supra shared a platform, though the SC had a five-inch wheelbase advantage for reasons like coming with length and luxury. When the production Supra appeared, it was 13 inches shorter than the SC. For customers of the SC 300, a manual five-speed transmission shared with naturally aspirated Supras was available, along with the four-speed automatic that was mandated on the SC 400.

Changes were few on the SC, as it seemed Lexus didn’t quite know how to revise their coupe once it was in production. 1996 saw an upgrade in the SC 400’s power, 260 horses from a prior 250. The next year, VVT-i arrived, and V8 thrust increased to 290 horses. Inline-six buyers made do with 225 horses throughout the SC 300’s life. 1997 was the last time buyers could select a manual transmission in their SC 300, and in 1998 the four-speed automatic gained another forward gear. The transmission update also brought with it a front and rear lighting revision, which carried the SC through its final model year in 2000. By the end of its long nine-year run, sales slumped against other coupes which had moved on from their early Nineties designs or been canceled altogether.

In 2001 the new (not coupe) SC 430 debuted, which was a step backward in most ways apart from appeal to elderly Floridians. I’ve harped on that topic before though, so I won’t rehash today. At least the LC 500 presently exists as Lexus’ flagship coupe and is utterly spectacular. Likely my next car purchase, too.

Today’s Rare Ride is one of the dwindling number of SCs still in excellent condition. The 400 is certainly easier to find in a preserved state than the 300, as its Supra-adjacent nature and parts meant most were destroyed in the 2000s by The Youths. Our example today isn’t the commenter-provided one, as that one sold already. However, it’s the same late-run style, in Corey-approved pearl over tan. With 126,000 miles, it asks an optimistic $19,900.

[Images: Lexus]

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85 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1999 Lexus SC 400, Predecessor to The Lame One...”


  • avatar
    texasjack

    Corey, look before you leap. I have a 2004SC430, red as your face that will make a dog bite through his chain just to pee on a tire, 94k miles and drives like new. Don’t sell 430 V8’s short.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Corey drinks at least a gallon of hateorade before talking about SC430. I wanted one and still want one, ended up with a Volvo C70 which is still in the process of being thawed from carbonite.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know about dog pee like you do, but the SC 430 looks terrible, and has all the correct ingredients combined within the wrong styling and a very confused mission.

      I’m not talking about reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      285exp

      Those things are ugly as a mud fence.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The biggest problem with the SC430 is that it replaced the SC300/400 which were in my humble opinion the best looking cars to come out of the 1990s (a decade with plenty of great looking cars).

      The Brougham lovers here will argue with me, but this is the peak of the “personal luxury coupe”

      I’d give honorable mention to the Z32 300z for best looking car of the decade (even though I believe it came out in 1989). That car is the 1990s on wheels which is a great thing.

      But the original SC is just about perfect. The 430 never had a chance.

      I’ll take mine with the Nakamichi audio package, the inline six and the unicorn manual transmission.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I agree, they saved the best PLC for last.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        More “love” on the SC430:
        https://topgear.fandom.com/wiki/Top_Gear:_The_Worst_Car_in_the_History_of_the_World#:~:text=Winner,Ford%20Mustang%20as%20a%20joke.

      • 0 avatar
        Mike Beranek

        As someone who learned to drive in a Cordoba, I can confirm that this car is peak PLC. This is the same size and configuration as the 80’s GM G-body (Monte, Cutlass, Regal, GP) or the AeroBird, but with bubble-era Toyota magic dust sprinkled all over it.
        If you told me I had to choose any car ever made and drive it for the rest of my life, I’d probably pick an SC 300 with a manual transmission.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        +a lot!

        The SC was (is) spectacular to look at, and also spectacular to not just drive, but also to live with. Can’t think of a single vehicle before nor after, which served all around “better” as a PLC.

        Along with the LS, the NSX, the e36, 993, LC80, Miata and perhaps a smattering of others, it’s why the 90s was Peak Car. Throw in the barrage of stunningly good bikes from Japan (along with some pearls fro Europe), and it was Peak Automotion altogether.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      Preach. A stunning design. Sure, it wasn’t the boy racer the SC 300/400 tried to be, but it could blast a hole in its own way. I always though Lexus aimed the SC430 for those who had outgrown their Supra.

      I’ll take a Pebble Beach edition.

      • 0 avatar
        swester

        Stunning, perhaps, if you happen to be over 70 and your sensory perception has deteriorated enough to no longer enjoy spirited driving.

        It’s a car for old, rich-but-not-truly-wealthy folks who drive it in between the golf course and the beach club.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          …which means there are some creampuff SC430s out there. Like this one…

          https://www.corleynewmexico.com/used/LEXUS/2005-LEXUS-SC-761a09210a0e09a9754a2d41ea7eb57d.htm

          The asking price is a bit ambitious, but for $17-18,000, this would be a KILLER summer/weekend car that won’t cost an arm and a leg to keep running.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I’ve been following them for years, they have been ambitious wholesale for quite some time prior to 2020 because its the only reliable hard top convertible out there in appreciable numbers.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          @Swester

          Perhaps when new, but at this point its a reliable hard top convertible in a world where the hard top is a niche model and they are nearly always European.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Not just a reliable hardtop convertible, but one with a bulletproof Toyota V-8 and a good dose of modern safety and entertainment gear (without all the modern Iphone-on-wheels nonsense). Plus, it has that great old-school Lexus leather and wood trim. Yummy.

            High-teens for a creampuff 2005 with 55,000 miles? Not cheap, but not a bad buy if you can swing it.

          • 0 avatar

            You can always tell the 430s that haven’t been well-kept. They get a ratty look to their roof panels. Misalignment and etc.

            If it was a good looking design I’d be all over it. I love that engine and had one in my old GS, and I like the interior with its build quality and not too complicated nature.

            I want it to be larger, and styled properly.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @Corey:

            Clearly the original SC is the better looking car, and, yes, the 430’s design could be better, but I don’t think any of that justifies the hate that people fling at it.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        The SC430 design is stunning, but not in a good way. The first time I saw one on the road, I was speechless for a minute because I was just highly puzzled by it. Some of the design elements are nice, but the overall integration, to my eyes, just looks wrong. The proportions are seriously awkward. I think the photo here (https://driventowrite.com/2015/04/05/a-photo-for-sunday-2001-2005-lexus-sc430/) shows well why it looks awkward. High beltline, small windows, long overhangs, tall sides, small wheels, high arches on trunk and hood. Prominent panel gaps at the doors and the panels of the folding top.

        Going further into a bit of analysis, I feel like the proportions and the detailing are at odds with each other. If it’s going to be smooth and organic, then it should be proportioned like a FD RX-7. If it is going to have imposing proportions, then it should be styled like a machine. I think Lexus fell into the same trap as early Cadillac “art and science”. You can’t fix bad proportions with good detailing.

        The article links back to an old TTAC review of this car. I think I agree with the author’s conclusions. https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/02/lexus-sc430/

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Likely my next car purchase, too.”

    Gee, did someone get a fat raise or what?

    • 0 avatar

      Not new, obviously.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        They ain’t cheap new or used brother.

        MY18 Lex LC500 sorted lowest to highest:

        3/18/21 $67,200 27,485 4.2 8G/A Black Regular Southeast Tampa
        4/9/21 $68,000 23,973 4.1 8G/A White Regular Northeast Pennsylvania
        4/8/21 $69,500 32,213 4.1 8G/A Gray Lease Northeast Pennsylvania
        4/7/21 $69,500 27,106 4.7 8G/A Blue Regular Southeast Nashville
        3/18/21 $70,000 12,882 4.4 8G/A Gray Regular Southeast Palm Beach
        3/31/21 $71,750 10,178 4.2 8G/A Red Regular Southwest Dallas
        4/6/21 $72,000 11,404 – – 8G/A Silver Regular Midwest Cincinnati
        3/23/21 $72,500 17,310 5.0 8G/A Black Regular Southeast Orlando
        3/31/21 $73,000 25,521 4.1 8G/A White Regular Southwest Dallas
        3/24/21 $73,700 11,559 4.5 8G/A Black Regular Southeast Nashville
        3/17/21 $74,000 12,090 4.9 8G/A White Regular Southeast Palm Beach
        3/24/21 $74,900 8,201 4.4 8G/A Black Regular Southeast Nashville
        4/7/21 $75,250 17,348 4.8 8G/A White Regular Southwest Dallas
        4/1/21 $75,300 9,319 4.6 8G/A White Lease West Coast Riverside
        4/7/21 $76,005 12,117 4.5 8G/A White Lease Southeast Fort Myers
        4/7/21 $76,500 15,809 4.4 8G/A Black Regular Southwest Dallas
        4/1/21 $77,000 9,868 4.5 8G/A Silver Regular West Coast Riverside
        3/31/21 $77,500 3,106 4.8 8G/A Red Regular Southwest Dallas
        3/24/21 $79,000 3,725 5.0 8G/A White Regular Southwest Dallas

        Oh and yesterday I found out my Toyota on average is worth more now ($15,9 20K otc) than it would have been *used* in 2018 (avg was 15,7 with 10K otc). This should be, uh kind of impossible, because mainstream used cars don’t increase in value YoY… yet here is a sample of MY17 Corolla IMs north of 100K:

        4/1/21 $7,600* 287,452 3.1 4G/A White Lease Southwest Texas Hobby
        4/6/21 $6,000 215,372 1.3 4G/A White Lease West Coast Riverside
        4/6/21 $5,750 188,051 1.6 4G/A White Lease West Coast Riverside
        4/9/21 $9,900 110,368 – – 4G/- – – – Regular West Coast Fresno

        Somebody in Texas paid $7,600 plus buyers fee for one with 287,000 miles, *wholesale*. How does that even happen? How can it be retailed… and who writes paper for it?

        I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Most used car prices are insane right now. New car prices aren’t much better. The best move is not to play.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @ajla:

            Precisely the reason I’m looking to sell my A3. My original plan was to keep it for three years (i.e., November 2021) and get out as even as possible, but with prices the way they are, I might be able to make a few bucks. Feels like a good time to get out of this car before the really expensive stuff starts to go wrong.

            I’m looking at a VW GTI/Jetta GLI, and decent deals can be had on them.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I track the KBB values of both of my newer cars monthly (yes, I know, KBB, but it’s free and it’s just part of my financial hygiene). The Bolt has stayed roughly flat since the pandemic, but the Highlander has gone up about 15%, even though I’ve put 5k miles on it. I’d sell high except there is nothing to buy.

          • 0 avatar

            Any buying for me would be in three years or so, after the market has normalized again.

            I tell everybody not to buy a used car right now.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “I’d sell high except there is nothing to buy.”

            Real estate has the same issue.

            I see conventional Toyota products going even higher. If EV trends to this point continue, I see EVs not named Tesla continue to decline though some of the newcomers (Hummer) may fair just as well in a year used.

            @Corey

            Difficult to see out that far but from the vantage point I have right now I do not see the market “normalizing” at all.

            $7600 for an MY17 with 287,000 miles. Its not going to stop.

          • 0 avatar

            We’ve got the unusual instances of a pandemic causing a job location change, and that lack of travel/commuting, as well as a shortage in parts. I think the used supply is just contracted, and once things head back toward normal with new car buying, the used market will return to normal as well.

        • 0 avatar
          SoCalMikester

          someone turned in a 3 year lease 251k over in miles.

          guarantee theyre STILL paying those miles on top of their new car

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The selling dealer scores a 2.9 out of 5. That ‘optimistic’ price may be one reason.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Yeah there are sub 50k mile examples at other dealers for that money (so you know they are still on the high end). If you want the V8, these aren’t terribly difficult to find with crazy low mileage and a stack of maintenance records from a Lexus dealer. A nice six is harder to find, but even they are out there.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      The cheaply repaired accident damage might be another.

      • 0 avatar
        C5 is Alive

        I’m betting on a mobile bumper repair outfit that slapped on some filler to smooth out chips or gouges before reshooting the bumpers without blending the paint and clear onto surrounding panels – a critical step with pearl white.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    That’s a nice SC, but if I wanted that powertrain I’d rather have it in a same-age LS. Needs more Manuél.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      There is an unmolested one on eBay right now…7 grand with 3 days left. higher mileage than this (184kish), but if you are going to get a car with that kind of miles, this would be one of the safer bets assuming any sort of maintenance has been done.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        That’s a nice car. Will need a new set of rims (nobody’s fixing those pitted chrome ones) and a bit of other work, but it would be a really fun driver.

        I suspect the price will be over $12k by the time the auction is done.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    I liked this car, and it would have made a very logical replacement for my then ten year old Supra Turbo (MK III). The problem was that I only drive manuals, the SC400 did not have one available, and I could not find any SC300s with a manual in my area. So, off to Audi I went. Granted, the TT I ended up with was rather underpowered compared with the Supra and SC.

  • avatar
    Mike-NB2

    I was in my mid-20s when these debuted and thought the design was rolling art. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but the design seems to have aged well.

    And I whole-heartedly agree that the following design seems to have been targeted at the Blue Plate Special Floridians.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Although the SC400’s engine needed another 100 horsepower, the original body styling was perfect. For whatever their reason, it’s a good thing Lexus left well enough alone. Styling departments, probably in response to pressure from marketing, have a bad habit of ruining clean, elegant designs by messing with them.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Good timing Corey, Bill From Curious Cars just reviewed this very car in white on April 9. Bill gives a detailed review on this car with some interesting facts that you might not even know about the design of this car.

  • avatar
    relton

    I was torn between this car and a Mark VIII. However, when they were 3 years old, the Mark VIII sold for about $10,000, while the 3 year old Lexus was $35,000 plus. I really liked the Lexus, but not 3 times as much as I liked the Lincoln. The Mark VIII served me well for many years.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Corey, you must. Bill is a walking encyclopedia on cars and has a great wit. Bill’s videos are a little long but very entertaining. Just google Curious Cars.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Only old people had them. Or their kids on a joyride. They were way off my radar, but it wasn’t until I raced one (V8) that I found they had some OK pep. I had no idea.

    Do they drift? Limited Slip? Can the rear sprocket be changed out?

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    It’s worth noting that this was the third-generation Soarer back in the home islands. Japan, of course, got a twin-turbo I6 version, and a super-complex suspension on the UZZ32 version.

  • avatar
    DungBeetle62

    This was one of the highlights of my college era valet parking days. Worked at an old-money Country Club with a lot of Buicks, FWD DeVilles and Fleetwoods, diesel Mercs, and Suburbans (we’re in Texas) but a few members took the chance on Lexus and Infiniti when they debuted – these folks didn’t get so comfortable in money by being stupid with it. That SC400 was absolutely stunning and drove with the grace and silence of the LS. Rest assured with Mr. Browning rode in on the SC, that one was gonna stay up top near the front door.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I wouldn’t exactly call the SC 400 a rare ride since a fair number of them were sold here in the states. Now if you were talking about a clean SC 300 with the manual, that’s a rare ride.
    I don’t hate on the SC 430 since it was Lexus’ boulevard cruiser to compete with the Mercedes Benz SL and Jaguar XK.
    They’re actually attractive when you ditch the early models wheels. The tapered rear end and more subdued grill make them more appealing than the current version.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’m not buying any 2-door that doesn’t impress the drive thru girls at Arby’s. The SC430 definitely fails there. Not sure about the SC300/SC400.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Or you could take a 993 through there and still have the girls snickering after you left about what a douche you were.

      (Obviously not a reference to you personally, in case there was any doubt)

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I suspect the only two door that impresses the girls at Arby’s these days is a pickup truck. Or maybe a Wrangler.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I would think anything on four wheels which is all painted the same color should do the trick. Unless the girl lives at home with no bills, anything inspected besides “bus pass” should be a step up on a minimum wage salary.

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        Buying a car to impress a girl at Arby’s is a really dumb proposition.
        Eating at Arby’s is equally foolish.

        Buy what you want, drive what you enjoy.
        If I find the right SC430 at a good price, it’s coming home with me. They make a fantastic commuter and a convertible is sublime when the weather is nice. (It will be the 4th convertible in my vehicular collection…)

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    OK,

    A) These are chick cars.

    B) The one time I drove an SC-whatever (at a corporate ‘ride and drive’ event, otherwise would have no interest in this chick car), I kept hitting my head on the excessively short and tumblehome-y A-pillar/roof rail. Because I am a man.

    https://www.healthline.com/health/low-testosterone/warning-signs

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The third generation Toyota Soarer (Z30)/Lexus SC300 & 400 is a “chick car”? Did you mean the SC430 by mistake?

      “I kept hitting my head on the excessively short and tumblehome-y A-pillar/roof rail”

      The average male height in Japan in 5’6” and the Z30 Soarer and its Lexus cousin were designed in and for Japan. The Z40 was designed in California but likely aimed at a similar size customer. Praytell, what make/model offers an A-pillar which doesn’t make you crawl into a safe space?

      https://livejapan.com/en/in-tokyo/in-pref-tokyo/in-shinjuku/article-a0000962/

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      There is one locally with a manual and a very factory apearing 2JZ swap. Ironically it is driven by a chick. Still, I’d say more “Supra that doesnt look like a kid drew it in study hall” than chick car but to each their own.

  • avatar
    kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh

    This one has been in a wreck at some point or has has really crappy paint work on the rear and front number. The front bumper is way to off-white an the rear while not as bad color wise is clearly a different color and the bumper itself doesn’t fit right.

    I think it was in a low speed sandwich ..

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Lovely car. YMMV, of course, but I don’t get the anti-430 hate. I’d take one of those too.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I’ll take one of each but an example in each drivetrain option (so really like four).

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      @FreedMike – Agreed. I find the proportions of the SC 430 awkward, so I do find its styling a letdown, especially in the context of its gorgeous predecessor. But gosh, it’s not *that* bad. And at least it’s doesn’t have the ridiculous “anger is good” styling of today’s vehicles.

      Factoring in the looks alongside the build quality and reliability, I’d be happy to have one as well.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Hm, $19k for a car as old as a Sega Genesis with styling cribbed from one of those generic Dollar Tree toy cars, and in typical used Toyota fashion a damaged front end.

    Pass

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    A MY95 with fewer miles and much cleaner condition surfaced on CL a few weeks ago here for $7,500 and was gone in two days. I had lamented at the time to Corey had I not just bought the C70 would have been on it… now I see some dealer wants 20K for a crappier one? Oh Lordy.

  • avatar
    07NodnarB

    It’s so beautiful… And yes, spiritual predecessor to the current LC imo.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Lovely car the SC3/400, that design will always be timeless. My big bro has the SC430 and driving that car convinced me I had to have a Lexus. I bought a GS400, which after eleven years owned I still love. Funny thing about the marketplace though (around here at least) SC400 are worth nothing, SC430 command surprising prices, GS400s ask slightly more than nothing and Supra MKiv, well, no-one here would pay $75,000 for one. Either way, a Lexus before about 2003 with a 1UZFE or a 2JZ is a heck of a car. Lexus hasn’t been as good since.

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