Rare Rides: The 1999 Lexus SC 400, Predecessor to The Lame One

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
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rare rides the 1999 lexus sc 400 predecessor to the lame one

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Writing things for TTAC since late 2016 from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find me on Twitter @CoreyLewis86, and I also contribute at Forbes Wheels.

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  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on Apr 15, 2021

    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.

  • Marnied Marnied on May 25, 2021

    I have a clean 1998 sc 300 (automatic) with about 210k miles on it that I’m getting ready to sell. My dad owned it before me and gifted it to me several years ago. I am trying to do research on what I should list for- I know the Supra motor makes it desirable but that’s about all. Help?

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  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.
  • FreedMike Many F150s I encounter are autonomously driven...and by that I mean they're driving themselves because the dips**ts at the wheel are paying attention to everything else but the road.
  • Tassos A "small car", TIM????????????This is the GLE. Have you even ever SEEN the huge thing at a dealer's??? NOT even the GLC,and Merc has TWO classes even SMALLER than the C (The A and the B, you guessed it? You must be a GENIUS!).THe E is a "MIDSIZED" crossover, NOT A SMALL ONE BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION, oh CLUELESS one.I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THE NONSENSE you post here every god damned day.And I BET you will never even CORRECT your NONSENSE, much less APOLOGIZE for your cluelessness and unprofessionalism.
  • Stuki Moi "How do you take a small crossover and make it better?Slap the AMG badge on it and give it the AMG treatment."No, you don't.In fact, that is specifically what you do NOT do.Huge, frail wheels, and postage stamp sidewalls, do nothing but make overly tall cuvs tramline and judder. And render them even less useful across the few surfaces where they could conceivably have an advantage over more properly dimensioned cars. And: Small cuvs have pitiful enough fuel range as it is, even with more sensible engines.Instead, to make a small CUV better, you 1)make it a lower slung wagon. And only then give it the AMG treatment. AMG'ing, makes sense for the E class. And these days with larger cars, even the C class. For the S class, it never made sense, aside from the sheer aural visceralness of the last NA V8. The E-class is the center of AMG. Even the C-class, rarely touches the M3.Or 2) You give it the Raptor/Baja treatment. Massive, hypersophisticated suspension travel allowing landing meaningful jumps. As well as driving up and down wide enough stairs if desired. That's a kind of driving for which a taller stance, and IFS/IRS, makes sense.Attempting to turn a CUV into some sort of a laptime wonder, makes about as much sense as putting an America's Cup rig atop a ten deck cruiseship.