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. We are so pleased to hear that, Garry.
      We wish you many more happy miles and adventures.

  1. I have the is 250 C 2010 model
    Everything works like clockwork.
    Silky smooth to drive even with 252 K on it.
    Goes like a brand new car.
    Lexus is an amazing automobile manufacturer.

    1. I have a 2003 Lexus Sc430, 74,000 miles. Aftermarket rims, someone kept my wheel locks😡what a pain to find the tool to unlock the wheels. Anyone know where I can order another set?

  2. Am lexus specialist and bought and sold 62 sc430s
    I’ve own 3 myself and had my 06 facelift for almost 6yrs
    Best car I’ve owned

    1. Hello Lexusman,
      Thank you both for your comment and your loyalty over the years.
      Which has been your favourite?

  3. I echo all comments I have a 2015 jaguar xe s 3 litre supercharged engine and I prefer driving my partners 2006 sc430 78000 miles
    It’s a bit of a mystery as it’s not an import but it is light blue or azure blue
    I have not seen another in this colour and don’t think this colour was made in uk.
    But for a 16 Yr old car it is immaculate and when she arrived 1 year ago it was if she had just come straight from a lexus showroom I love her

    1. Hello Julie,
      Thank you for your kind words.
      We wish you many more luxurious miles in your SC 430.

  4. I first saw the SC convertible in 2001 and fell in love with it. I have wished someday I will own one. Well, my dream came true when I purchased an 07 SC, black on black, with 50K miles on the odo. I have added 20K miles since. Absolute love her. Best car I ever owned.

  5. I owned three of them for 2002 2004 and 2008
    Love them all still has my 2004. Best car ever along with my Fs300and rx350

  6. Hello, I just bought a 2002 with 55,000. This vehicle is my first Lexus sc430, it’s been an amazing convertible. Love it’s engineer and the classic look.
    Thank you very much, Kerry for selling it to me.

      1. Got myself a SC430
        2004 Best thing I ever did .its my retirement present present. I am a tooling engineer, been around the world selling tools.
        Without doubt the best tools are Japan.
        Love my Lexus
        Dave higgs

  7. Love my 93 SC300. Amazing engine, wonderful to drive, looks great, and very reliable even for being almost 30 years old.

    1. Hello Leon, thank you for your comment.

      We’re pleased to hear that your SC is doing well and that you are still enjoying it.

      Wishing you many more happy miles.

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