Junkyard Gem: 1992 Lexus SC 400

After Toyota stunned the automotive world with the Lexus LS 400 in 1989, offering a majestically engineered luxury sedan with an all-new DOHC V8 at less than half the cost of its Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL rival, what could be done to follow¬†that (other than a money-printing Lexus-badged Camry, that is)? Clearly, the missing piece of the Lexus branding puzzle at the time was a sports coupe, something to extract the money of car shoppers considering, say, a new Mercedes-Benz 300 CE or Acura Legend coupe. That car turned out to be the Lexus SC, styled in California and known as the third-generation Toyota Soarer in Japan. Here’s one of the very first SCs sold in the United States, found in a Denver-area self-service yard last month.

These cars had intimidatingly good build quality (I know, because I dismantled a ’92 SC 400 down to its smallest components a while back), clearly designed to last at least a quarter-million miles with routine maintenance. This one got hit hard in the right rear, however, and it wasn’t worth repairing the damage to a non-SUV pushing three decades of age.

Americans could buy a six-cylinder version, the SC 300, which came standard with a five-speed manual transmission (almost all buyers “upgraded” to the automatic, of course). This car is the SC¬†400, which means it has the same 1UZ-FE V8 engine as the LS 400. That’s 250 super-smooth horses and six-bolt main bearing caps keeping the crankshaft from going anywhere it shouldn’t.

The SC 400 never was available with a manual transmission, nor was its SC 430 successor. This one has the mandatory Aisin-Warner four-speed automatic.

The complex door hinges offered good clearance in tight parking spaces.

These cars were very quiet and comfortable and they could cruise all day at triple-digit speeds, but a curb weight pushing 3,600 pounds meant that the SC 400 wasn’t going to beat its Porsche 928 rival on a race track. Actually, the 1992 928S4 cost more than twice as much as the 1992 Lexus SC 400 ($80,920 versus $37,500) and had both a more powerful (326hp) V8 and available manual transmission; perhaps the 1992 Cadillac Eldorado Touring Coupe ($32,470, 200hp V8, automatic) was a more realistic sales rival for today’s Junkyard Gem.

The launch of the SC coincided with the meteoric rise in sales of sporty trucks and truck-shaped cars among American vehicle shoppers, so these cars never saw the kind of showroom success that Toyota had hoped for. It’s easy to find examples of the LS and ES from the first half of the 1990s now, but the SC is a rare find.

Some Newport Beach, some Toyota City.

In Japan, earlier generations of Soarer got nerve-ripping ads emphasizing performance and raw lust. For this car, though, the schmaltz got laid on.

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