In 1989, the biggest news in the automotive industry was the debut of a new luxury brand named Lexus. Started in 1983, under the name “Project F1”, this gigantic undertaking involved 60 designers, 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians, and over $1 billion in overall cost. The first production model was now legendary, Lexus LS400, luxury sedan, a direct competitor to Mercedes and BMW and Cadillac and Lincoln. However, Toyota knew that only one model isn’t enough to create attention from all luxury car buyers. In Nagoya, Japan, the management team was already working on a premium, two-door coupe, which would complement the LS400 sedan and claim its position on the market dominated by Europe’s best. So, in 1991, car enthusiasts were introduced to sleek, elegant, and prestigious Lexus SC, a Japanese Gran Turismo coupe, designed and engineered to highest standards. Today, we will tell you more about this ’90s legend and why you need one.
Lexus SC400 Specs
The Lexus SC (chassis code: Z30) was introduced in June 1991, and it was a product of the same meticulous engineering and design process as its bigger brother, the LS400 sedan. Interestingly, the Lexus SC was never offered in Japan, but domestic buyers could get an almost identical Toyota Soarer. The SC had a low silhouette and long hood along with elegant styling, which resulted in excellent aerodynamics. The first available model was called SC400, and it was powered by a 4.0-liter 1UZ-FE V8 engine. This was the same engine from the LS400 sedan, and it delivered 265 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. Although those numbers don’t sound lofty by today’s standards, they were remarkable for 1991 and provided the SC400 with respectable performance. The 0 to 60 mph was possible in 6.9 seconds, and top speed was limited to 150 mph. The only available transmission was a 4-speed automatic.
Lexus SC300 Specs
In 1992, one year after the release of the SC400, Lexus introduced the SC300 with a smaller, 3.0-liter, 2JZ – GE straight-six engine. With 215 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque, the SC300 was less powerful thus slower than the V8 version but still provided decent performance and effortless ride. The sprint from 0 to 60 mph took 7.4 seconds, and it had a slightly lower top speed of 146 mph. Interestingly, the SC300 could be ordered with a 5-speed manual transmission, which made this model more engaging to drive and an enthusiast’s choice.
During its nine-year production period, the Z30 model changed very little in terms of design as well as in terms of mechanics. In 1996, both models received a refreshed front grille and a redesigned rear spoiler. The same year, the power was up five hp on both models meaning that the SC400 now had 250, and the SC300 had 220 hp, respectably. In 1997, the 4-speed automatic was replaced with a more modern 5-speed automatic transmission.
From late 1997 onwards, Toyota started installing the VVT-i systems both to the SC400 and SC300 models. This resulted in a significant power raise, at least for the SC400 version. The V8-powered cars now delivered 290 hp, while six-cylinder versions had 225 hp on tap. Of course, more power meant better performance, and the SC400 was capable of reaching 60 mph in 6.3 while the SC300 could do the same in 6.9 seconds.
Since the SC was designed to be a personal luxury coupe, Lexus paid much attention to a long list of standard and optional features. The SC buyers got leather interior, wood inserts on the dashboard, heated seats, automatic climate control, and automatic headlights all part of standard equipment. However, for those who wanted more, there was a premium sound system, exclusive interior and exterior colors, and a long list of optional details and components that you could get. Frankly, there is no low-optioned Lexus SC since all cars come with high standard equipment and all the features you would expect from a luxury coupe. Desirable options are premium sound system, stability control, moon roof, and 5-speed manual if you are in the market for the SC300 model.
Production and Prices
Lexus produced exactly 82,538 cars from 1991 to 2000, all in two-door coupe form and with left-hand-drive. Of that number, 33,000 were SC300, and 49,538 vehicles were SC400 models with a V8 engine. The manual-equipped SC300 was available from 1992 to 1997, and only 3,883 cars came from the factory with 5-speed stick shift transmission, which makes them quite sought after by collectors. The rarest SC400 model was last year’s production, with only 324 cars being built. The Lexus SC (Z30) was sold in North America and selected markets worldwide. It can be considered a success with respectable production numbers, especially regarding the fact that it was the first such model for this brand.
When this car was new, the prices ranged from $32,000 in 1992 for base model SC300 to over $55,000 for SC400 in 2000. Although this not sounds like a high price, if we adjust those prices for inflation and put them in the 2020 context, the base SC300 would cost $58,000, and SC400 would be $85,000. Interestingly, this is close to the base price of the 2020 Lexus LC500, newest Lexus luxury coupe, which starts around $92,000.
Today, prices for Lexus SC are much more affordable through the magic of depreciation, and you can find decent examples of early model SC300 for a few thousand dollars. The well-kept cars with around 100,000 miles will set you back around $5,000, and the best SC400 you could find will cost just over $11,000. Of course, if you are in the market for such a vehicle, we suggest you buy the best you can find for the budget and don’t waste your time with restoration projects, high mileage, or salvage title cars. Although cheap cars are tempting, you will spend more in repairs, parts, and labor.
The ’90s Lexus models all have a reputation for being over-engineered, and the SC is no exception. However, this doesn’t mean that the Z30 was flawless. The engine and drivetrain proved durable and easy to fix, although the six-cylinder proved better and cheaper to maintain than the V8. Owners reported several issues with automatic transmissions, which are quite costly to repair. Also, early ’90s electronic systems are fragile, and since the SC is filled with such components, be sure that everything works and that the previous owner didn’t tamper with it. Also, stay away from accident-damaged examples or cars with bad paint. Since the body was galvanized straight from the factory, no Lexus SC should have any rust issues, but if they do, it suggests poor accident repair.
The Lexus SC (Z30) is one of those well-designed and thoroughly enjoyable modern classics which still provides their owners with respectable performance, exciting driving dynamics, and upscale feel. With an understated elegance, well-made interior, and effortless ride, SC is still a respectable car that remarkably stood the test of time. As fast or good looking, Lexus SC is a perfect competitor to Mercedes or Jaguar but more comfortable to live with and cheaper to maintain. That being said, there is no cheaper and better Gran Turismo coupe if you are looking to cruise in style and comfort.