Future Classic: Lexus SC

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The fourth-generation Toyota Supra and its 2JZ inline-six engine get the headlines, but the automaker released a few other models with Supra underpinnings and the same iconic powerplant. Among them was the original Lexus SC, also known in Japan as the Toyota Soarer, a two-door touring car that sold with either the inline-six or a V8 engine for a few magical years in the 1990s.

The '90s were a great decade for car enthusiasts, as the period yielded several luxury touring coupes like the Acura Legend and Mercedes-Benz CL. Toyota’s young Lexus brand needed a competitor, so the automaker tasked its California design team with the project, creating the original SC in the process. Though the car would evolve into a quirky convertible later in life, the first-generation models are already deep into modern classic territory.

Why is the Lexus SC a Future Classic?

We now look back at the SC 300 as a solid tuning platform, thanks to its 2JZ inline-six, but its initial appeal relied heavily on its styling. The car had almost no straight lines, and it was impressively aerodynamic. Lexus also offered the SC 300 with a five-speed manual transmission, which today is the most desirable and hard-to-find configuration. The V8-powered SC 400 isn’t quite as popular today, but its Lexus LS engine and sleek touring body style are hard to ignore.

Lexus sold the first-generation SC for more than nine years, giving it an extremely long lifecycle by 1990s standards. It remained largely the same over that period, getting only minor updates to its exterior styling. Though it shared its naturally-aspirated engine with the Supra, the SC 300 version had a few more horsepower and a more luxurious interior. Lexus leaned into that positioning later in the car’s lifecycle, removing the manual transmission option after the 1997 model year.

While it enjoyed a long production run, unmodified examples of the SC 300, especially models with the manual transmission, are hard to find. Once people discovered that they could have 90 percent of the Supra experience without the Supra price tag, they began snapping up the cars for drifting, racing and other projects, leaving many examples in pieces or otherwise trashed. These cars were also seemingly popular on the corporate rental circuit, as many have exceedingly high miles with decent-condition bodies.

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Average prices for the cars vary wildly depending on the configuration. Manual versions are considerably more expensive than automatics, and the SC 300 is generally more popular than the 400 because of its inline-six-cylinder engine. A good-condition SC 300 can be had for as little as $2,000 with higher miles, and clean low-mile examples with automatic transmissions go for between $5,000 and $10,000, depending on mileage. If you’re hoping for a manual-equipped SC, prepare for a long search and be ready to settle for a car that might not be in your preferred specification or condition. Things are less stressful on the SC 400 side, but the same caveats for conditions apply.

What is the ideal example of a Lexus SC 300 or SC 400?

There are no bad years from the car’s lengthy run on the market, but the manual transmission was only offered for the SC 300 and only through 1997. The later cars got more power and slightly reworked features, but the model line remained remarkably consistent throughout its time on sale.

Both the inline-six and V8 engines are generally considered reliable, though that can change if the car has been modified or abused. It’s important to find one with the best interior possible, as the replacement parts are difficult to find and expensive. If you plan to modify or compete with the car, the SC 300 with a manual is your best bet. It’s also possible to retrofit a manual in cars equipped with the automatic, but the job is labor-intensive and best left to the pros.

Be sure to check out our used vehicle listings; they can be helpful for finding a good deal. You can narrow the options down by a radius around your ZIP code, and be sure to pay attention to the deal rating on each listing to see how a vehicle compares with others in a similar area.

Are there any good alternatives to the Lexus SC?

There are several excellent alternatives to the SC, though they all suffer from the same age- and enthusiast-related problems. The Nissan 300ZX is a solid choice, but twin-turbo variants are rare and expensive, and many examples have been heavily modified.

The Mazda RX-7 from the 1990s is another classic with similar challenges. Finally, there’s the Toyota Supra, which easily outpaces the SC on price and desirability, thanks to its starring role in a certain car-based movie franchise.

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