A Photo for Sunday: 2001-2005 Lexus SC430

My doesn’t time fly. And why are so many of my Sunday photos red? 

2001 Lexus SC430 in Aarhus, Denmark
2001 Lexus SC430 in Aarhus, Denmark

“Breaking the copycat mould as crazy Lexus takes a swipe at Merc”, wrote Car on the front cover of their September 2000 edition. Lexus presented the SC430 first as a concept called the “Sport Coupe Concept”. The production car got a review in August 2001. So, this was one of those not-a-concept concept cars we could have discussed when ran our concept car theme in October 2015.

For the November 2000 article, Mike Duff made the point that up the arrival of the SC430 Lexus simply built cars modelled on successful ideas already developed by Mercedes. The SC430 broke that pattern by being markedly different. According to Duff the SC430 had intrinsic appeal.

The SC430’s job was to link the disparate elements of the Lexus range, “to persuade small boys in Europe and America that Lexus is a brand they should be aspiring towards and pinning on their bedroom walls. To be desired by true enthusiasts as much as executive airport limousine companies. Providing some emotional glue.” I don’t think that happened. Also, I don’t quite see what was so crazy about the SC430. Was it the looks? Opinions are solicited.

Duff was up-front about the “Concept” being close to production: “A recognisable form of this car will emerge” he wrote. Actually, a comparison of the “concept” and production car shows no differences at all. Maybe the show car wheels were bigger and the paint was not standard. I can’t see anything at all to mark the August car out from the things that reached the showroom.

The article concluded that “unless something goes really wrong in the execution, the car that emerges from the concept should do really well over here.” It didn’t really go well. The slightly disappointing suspension was not enough to drag the car down. Top Clarkson hated it: “You might think that you’re thinking outside the box and being a bit eccentric when buying an SC430. Anyone who knows anything about cars will just think you’re a twat who knows nothing about cars,” they wrote, with characteristic subtlety. The Truth About Cars are even more critical. Read it yourself. Handling, ride, appearance. All bad, they write.

In August 2001 Mathew Franey compared the Lexus SC430 and the Jaguar XK8. He described it as “stylish” while Mike Duff thought the car lacked a clear sense of direction, being too symmetrical in side view. Turning to cost, the Lexus SC430 offered a lot more features than the compararably priced Jaguar in the test, to the extent that it cost £13,000 more to equip a Jaguar to the same standard as the 4.3 litre V-8 powered Lexus. Car magazine predictably preferrred the Jaguar even though it was slower, cost more and was not as well built. The reason: it felt better to drive with the top down.

Personally, I´d take the Lexus because I believe in this car. The examples I’ve seen all remain rust free and virtually untouched by time (and a lot of it has passed since 2001). Equivalent Jaguars with their cottage-crafted fold-away roofs, have their crazing wooden interior details and somehow much less glossily resistant paint.

2002 Lexus SC430 interior.
2002 Lexus SC430 interior.

At least a decade ago I had a “car moment” when an SC430 parked outside my apartment and I had to run down four floors to look. First one doesn’t see these cars so often. Second, even from 20 metres up, the car actually did exude palpable expense even if it lacked any brightwork. The designers had researched their brief by spending time in luxurious settings, so the story went.

I feel it was the clay modellers who gave every panel of the car a lively quality and the paint shop people who coated it so beautifully. The same could be said of the interior. (Car decided they didn’t like the climate control switches while the Jaguar’s cabin was cramped and dated). The owner had left the folding hard-top down so I had lots of time to examine the way the elements were put together.

At least a decade later I can recall the strong impression of unburstable quality that you used to see on Mercedes in the 80s. Overall, the car’s assembly concept has a sense of inevitability about it. All the lines add up; there are no cheats and everything is rational.

Not only would I choose one of these over a Jaguar XK-8, I’d happily take one over a Bentley Continental. And look: even with 312,000 km, a 2002 model is still worth €8430.  Take that, TTAC.

Hewn from solid quality.
Hewn from solid quality.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

3 thoughts on “A Photo for Sunday: 2001-2005 Lexus SC430”

  1. For me the Lexus SC always was the most feminine roadster – especially in this red dress.
    He has curves instead of muscles and was a little bit smaller and without an aggressive look.
    And it is not considered as an expensive car, it might have been also a Honda Prelude with 4 cylinders.

    Probably that is a reason why the Lexus SC was not a success. But if you are are searching for a good deal in the class of 10 year old luxury-roadsters, maybe the feminine design is a plus. It is not on the focus of young Disco-boys or the Fast-and-Furious-addicts.

  2. In the ever odd world of unlikely product placement, I seem to remember that a new red Lexus SC430 was the transport of choice for a (female) GP in the TV series Peak Practice many years ago. No wonder the Government had to crack down on spending.

    I too have a guilty liking for the Lexus as a car to waft around in, curbing my hooligan side. In hindsight cars are often dismissed as crap without great analysis and, excellent though TTAC is, I can’t help but think their put-down is unfairly glib. Was the ride really bad too?

  3. It is a bit feminine, yes. I am not sure if I really feel that is a plus or a minus. On the other hand it´s a car with a V8 and it´s very expensive so it´s feminine and serious. I would not feel self-conscious in this car on the basis of its image. Does it not manage to be a luxurious and relaxing sort of car without being one to raise hackles? I don´t suppose many people would resent one driving such a vehicle whereas its peers, nice as some of them are, do have that “look at me, I´ve made it” appearance to them. That said, the designers did emphasis how much field work they did to capture the essence of luxury: visits to Cannes and trips on yachts. Perhaps they did not want ostentation to go along with the luxury and thus the quiet and soft shapes suggest femininity. The ones I have seen up close clearly look really well made. The thing I feel is a little silly is the minuscule size of the rear seats. They are less than 2+2 in scale. A parcel bench would have been a better bet. You would not even put children in the back of this car. Yet it is not exactly a small machine.

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