Lexus SC – history of a coupe and a 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.

History of the Lexus SC: 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, 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.

On to the 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.

86 comments

  1. I have a 2002 SC430, 54,000 miles, in pearl white. Still looks like it just came off the production line. Drives better than ANY car I’ve ever driven. I thought I was going to trade it in a few years ago on a high end Jaguar… just wasn’t the same driving experience.

    I don’t know if I will ever get rid of her.

    Michael

      1. One of the most reliable and well constructed car ever . Timeless design and incredible drive experience .
        It’s a real classic car

  2. I have three Lexus and I love them.
    09 LS 460
    07 SC430
    06LX470
    I really love my SC430 she is black on black with 119k
    Great ride super comfortable.

    1. Hello Fred,
      We are so pleased to hear your are pleased with your Lexus vehicles.
      We wish you many more luxurious miles.
      Thanks.

  3. Just Bought my wife an S C 430, which she loves, This is our third Lexus I still have my 2010 R X which as only done 80,000 and I will not sell it. All Lexus cars. are so good, would never think of another brand. Such a great ride.

  4. I have a 2002 430 sc from new and I love it today as much as I did all those years ago…..sadly someone smashed into my wing mirror and the casing is broken although the mirror wasn’t damaged … I can not find a replacement anywhere and I’ve taken it to so many body shops hoping someone will have a solution and try and repair in some way …but so far no luck. ..anyone know where I can find a wig mirror casing or a body shop that can and will repair I’d be eternally grateful… I have absolutely no intention of getting rid of my car and I will drive it until the old girl literally gives up the ghost.

  5. I bought my 2006 SC430 pebble beach edition
    It’s a beauty!! I see a lot of sc 430
    But not like my color. Is there a reason why?
    It’s a tiger eye color absolutely beautiful.
    Anyone have info why its so special???

  6. Have always eyed picking up a SC430 but to date my garage consists of:
    2002 IS300, 190k miles
    2004 LX470, 132kmiles
    2008 ES350, 223k miles
    2015 GS350 F Sport, 62k miles
    They all run great feel like new.
    These Lexus’s never leave the family just get passed down to others.

  7. I own a 2002 Neiman Marcus Edition Silver Belle #53. Only 100 was commissioned in the U. S. market. I absolutely love it and plan on keeping this vehicle as long as I can drive. I have included in my will that the car will stay in the family for as long as it is drivable. Any other Silver Belle owners out there? Would love to hear from you.

  8. Hey! I have a big question 🙂 I have the 2000 model year sc400 but I have argue with my friends about the date of facelift. Which year was the facelift of the 1gen lexus sc? It was in 1998 with the adoption of variable valve timing?

    1. Hi Michael,
      Thanks for your comment.
      The adoption of variable valve timing across the range took place in 1997.
      Furthermore, as mentioned in the article, a mild facelift was carried out from 2006 model year cars onward.
      Please let us know if you have any further questions.
      Thanks.

        1. What? I asked about the lifting.The adoption of variable valve timing in the sc300/400 was the real lifting? There is no data about the date of lifting this car, as lexus magazine you should know something about that.

          1. Hello Michael,
            We apologise about the confusion.
            As the first-generation SC was never officially sold in the UK market, all the information we have about it is in this blog post.
            However, according to external sources, the SC 300 and SC 400 were upgrade with variable valve timing in 1998.
            Thanks.

  9. Have had my lexus sc430 on a 05 plate had it 3years .have had 38 different cars and nice ones as well .the lexus is a lovely car best car I have ever had amazing car.keith

  10. Only 695 SC430 model sold in Australia, l own a 2002.driving withe roof down is an absolute pleasure as long as it is not in the middle of a hot sumners day.

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