My doesn´t time fly. And why are so many of my Sunday photos red?
“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 2105. For the November 2000 article, Mike Duff made the point that up the arrival of the SC430 Lexus simply built cars modelled on succesful ideas already developed by Mercedes. The SC430 broke that pattern by being markedly different. According to Duff the SC430 had instrinsic 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 exection, 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.
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.