History of the Lexus SC coupe and convertible

Soon after reinventing the luxury saloon car market with the debut of the LS 400 in 1989, Lexus indicated to the automotive press that it was about to launch a complementary model. Lexus had set its sights on the mid-size luxury coupe market. And just as the flagship LS 400 was clearly aimed at buyers of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the Lexus SC was aimed squarely at the SL, not to mention similar models such as the Honda Legend coupe and Infiniti M30 coupe.

Lexus SC history: first generation

As coupe models were particularly popular in the North American market, development of the exterior was handed to Toyota’s Calty Design Research centre in California, USA. Work began back in 1987 and was approached in a unique way, using organically-shaped plaster moulds that were then scanned and stretched into coupe-like shapes on a three-dimensional computer imaging programme. The final design was signed off at the end of 1989.

Lexus SC

Aside from one sweeping swage line running down the side, almost every surface on the first-generation SC was curved. It was instantly seen as an influential design, pre-dating many other vehicles that subsequently adopted such organic shapes. With a drag coefficiency of just Cd 0.31, it carved a neat slice through the air too.

As is typical of the breed, the new Lexus SC featured a front engine, and rear-wheel drive platform, but also had seating for up to four people.

Lexus SC interior

The suspension was a newly developed double wishbone system on all four corners, while high-grade versions were equipped with electronically controlled air suspension as standard. Also available was an active chassis package that could reduce changes in vehicle attitude when cornering. Included in this system was active four-wheel steering that controlled the orientation of the rear wheels and stabilised the vehicle’s attitude.

Lexus SC red

The new Lexus SC made its debut in the US in June 1991 as a 1992 model and appeared simultaneously in Japan as the third-generation Toyota Soarer. Engine options differed slightly depending on the market but the launch unit on either side of the Pacific was the highly acclaimed 4.0-litre V8 powerplant already found in the LS.

The V8 was only ever paired with a four- or five-speed automatic gearbox. In Japan, a smaller but more powerful twin-turbo 2.5-litre straight six was also available from the outset, joined by a naturally aspirated 3.0-litre straight six from 1994 onwards. The 3.0-litre straight six joined the US range a little earlier, in 1992.

Lexus SC red

During its impressive nine-year production run, the first-generation SC received only minor visual alterations – a testament to the enduring original design. Indeed, the most important change was the adoption of variable valve timing across the range in 1997 (1998 model year car pictured above), which improved the power and torque figures of all engines. The model was never supplied officially to the UK market but it is no stranger to British roads as many have been imported personally.

Lexus SC history: second generation

The appearance of the second-generation Lexus SC (fourth-generation Toyota Soarer) was first proposed at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show as the Sport Coupe concept. Its retractable hardtop construction indicated that the new car was being designed as a coupe-convertible; a first in the model’s history. The production version debuted at the Paris Motor Show in 2000 but the model was not officially released until April 2001 so its launch could coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Toyota Soarer.

The new interpretation was a collaborative effort between studios in Europe and Japan. However, chief designer Sotiris Kovos apparently drew most of his inspiration from the timeless Italian Riva powerboats found on the Cote d’Azur. The elegant styling was therefore characterised by a compact cabin, flowing surfaces and a tight lower body.

In contrast to previous Soarer generations, the model’s characteristically long, sleek look was abbreviated so that the new car was now 345mm shorter. Considering the additional boot space needed to accommodate the folding aluminium roof, this also meant that the model’s traditional four-seat layout had to be constricted to a 2+2 format.

What the cabin may have lacked in size it made up for in opulence and specification. Leather, brushed aluminium, and highly polished bird’s eye maple and walnut burl woods were used liberally throughout to enhance interior tactility and appearance. Meanwhile, both the air conditioning and nine-speaker, 240-watt Mark Levinson audio system had automatic controls for maintaining optimum settings whether the roof was open or closed.

Unlike its predecessor, power for the new car was consolidated to just one engine, the 282bhp 4.3-litre V8 shared with the LS 430, and one five-speed automatic transmission (six-speed from 2006 model year onwards). With 419Nm of torque on tap the engine could seamlessly thrust the car to 62mph in 6.4 seconds and on to a maximum speed of 155mph, while offering up to 31.4mpg on the extra-urban cycle.

The chassis once again made use of double wishbones all round, a derivation of that found on the GS 430, while the SC was the first Lexus to use an 18-inch wheel. Run-flat tyres were specified to eliminate the need to carry a spare wheel and thereby improve luggage capacity. It was a well-balanced machine, too, displaying a near-perfect 48:52 split front to rear.

A mild facelift was carried out from 2006 model year cars onward (pictured above), associated visually with a change in wheel design. In the Japanese market, this update coincided with the inauguration of Lexus in August 2005. Henceforth, all marketing for the Soarer was discontinued and the model was rebranded as the Lexus SC 430, bringing Japan in line with the rest of the world.

Production of the second-generation Lexus SC also lasted nine years, concluding in July 2010. But the model continued to be used by Lexus in its domestic Super GT motorsport campaign until the end of the 2011 season in place of the outgoing Toyota Supra. The racing SC prototype (see image above) was revealed in February 2006, just a month ahead of its debut in the GT500 class at Suzuka circuit. It was immediately competitive, winning its opening race and then going on to achieve podium finishes in every following year.

During its time on sale in the UK, a total of 2,303 examples of the Lexus SC 430 were sold.


        1. OWN 4, WANT MORE!
          I am fortunate to own 4 SC430s.  Since I retired a few years ago the SC has become a passion for me.  Mine are all gorgeous, always well maintained, and now pampered more than ever.  They are: A —  2002 with black–saddle colors and pie-plate hubs (which I love), 63k miles, dark walnut wood.  B — 2004 with white–ecru (ivory) colors and 5-spoke wheels, 53k miles, yellow birdseye maple wood (my favorite).  C — 2004, the coveted original Pebble Beach Edition, with azure (light blue)-ecru colors and 10-spoke Niche Essen wheels, ebony (black) wood, 97k miles.  D — 2007 with chardannay–camel colors and 5-spoke wheels, dark walnut wood, 68k miles.  All purr like a kitten and roar like a lion!  The plan is to drive them just enough to keep them in top condition.  I think they are budding classics, and future prices are likely to generate a hefty  ROI — while having a blast along the way!  (Englishmen Jeremy Clarkson and James May … go pound sand! 😁)

  1. Owned a SC430 for 6 years now. (115,000). Simply “bulletproof.”As a retired over-the-road sales rep and going through 21 cars, mostly Ford Taurus, I bought the Lexus when I retired. My car has needed minor matinece and I rate it as the most reliable car I ever owned! Looks great (get comments all the time) and still rides tight. Have custom rims because the stock ones I think are maybe the ugliest ones I have ever seen on any car. The man who signed off on those, should have been fired. My car looks and runs great!

  2. 2002 SC-430
    Midnight Green
    140,000 mi
    I had to put $$ into mechanical repairs.
    It drives magnificent and I put new customized niche rims & replaced the sound system “JVC” & all the speakers.

    Living the Retirement Life 😎

    1. Hi there,
      Thanks for your comment. We’re so glad you’re loving your SC.
      We’re sure that the Toyota distributor in your region would love to hear your feedback too.
      What’s your favourite thing about the car?

    1. Hi Joseph,
      Thanks for your comment and for choosing Lexus. We’re thrilled to hear about your new purchase.
      We wish you many more happy miles in your SC.

  3. Finally got my dream car. 2007 with 32k.black with cream leather. Immaculate.
    Waited a couple of years and now have the perfect car. Never want to drive anything else

  4. 2003 SC430, 96k miles, just put in new audio system and added aux support. Used to drive an Altima, now crossing around the hills near LA in this thing with the top down is my new favorite thing to do.

    1. Hard to beat the superb Audio system installed .Just repaired speakers as cone suspension degrades over time and now sounding superb again.
      Cheers Doug.

    2. I also owned a 2008 Altima Coupe. I loved her until we got T-Boned and it killed me leaving her at the auto wrecker. 6 mths later I bought my 2002 SC 430 in 2018 with 103,000. Miles on her then. Now Jan 2021 I have 176,000. With no major mechanical issues just reg. Replacements of worn parts and maintenance.
      I love this Car. Love it with the top down, if it’s over 60’ the tops down. I’m proud to drive her.

      1. Hello Carrie,
        Thanks for getting in touch. We’re so pleased to hear that you’re enjoying your SC 430.
        You might be interested in reading more about the SC 430 specifically, with its own section in our Throwback Thursday blog post: https://mag.lexus.co.uk/throwbackthursday/
        We wish you and your SC 430 many more happy miles and adventures together.

  5. It’s been my dream car since I was 16 (I’m a lady so I won’t tell my age 🤗) I finally got one 2003 with modifications rims paint job tint jvc radio which is touch screen and 90k miles I love this car… My friends family and co workers joke me all the time that I keep the top down but hey who the hell drives a convertible and keeps the top up that’s what it’s made for😘✌️

    1. Hi Tamekia,
      Thanks for getting in touch with us. It’s great to hear that your Lexus SC is still going strong.
      We completely agree – having the top down is what the convertible is made for (as long as the English weather plays ball…)
      We wish you many more happy journeys in it.

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