Toyota’s plan to conquer the automobile world required a luxury brand, especially in the vital American market. Toyota wasn’t the first Japanese car-maker to travel this road, as Honda had been offering luxury cars with an Acura badge since the mid-1980s. But Toyota wasn’t that far behind, and the Lexus LS 400 saloon appeared in 1989 as the flagship of the new prestige marque. But Toyota also wanted to produce a personal luxury coupe to compete with the likes of Mercedes Benz, so the Lexus SC 400 made its debut in the summer of 1991.
Japanese styling for this superior segment of the market wasn’t up to speed, and Toyota shrewdly handed the design job to Californian outfit Calty Design Research. It was an inspired decision. Starting from the LS 400 platform Calty produced a rounded two-door coupe with no straight edges that proved to be a trendsetter, pointing in a direction that other manufacturers would follow. The design may have been American, but the cars were built at Toyota’s Motomachi plant in Japan and shipped to the States.
The SC 400 featured the super-smooth new 4 litre 1UZ-FE V8 engine. This was teamed with a four-speed automatic gearbox to deliver sports-car performance. The luxurious interior was finished in leather and this sporty coupe was an instant hit with American buyers, not least because it was half the price of a comparable Mere. It is a testament to the SC 400’s advanced character that virtually no modifications were required during the nine-year production run, though the engine was upgraded in 1996.
Few British drivers have experienced the refined pleasure of schmoozing along in a Lexus SC 400. These luxury cars were never officially sold in the United Kingdom, though a few personal imports filtered in over time.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1991 (until 2000)
3,969 cc V8
Top speed of 150 mph (241 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.9 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
A junior version of the Lexus SC 400 was launched in North America in 1992, featuring a 3 litre straight six engine and an optional manual gearbox — visually the SC 300 was virtually identical to its big brother, and the two would run in parallel until second generation cars appeared in 2002.