A Supra Without the Hype: The Lexus SC Remains an Underrated '90s Classic
The fourth generation Toyota Supra has long been considered one of the most iconic Japanese performance cars of all time. It was a big deal when arrived on the market in the early 1990s and has remained in high demand long after its production stopped. More recently, prices for mint examples on auction sites have climbed into the stratosphere as the car evolves into a highly desirable classic.
While many people have dreamed of owning a Mk4 Supra, skyrocketing values are going to keep that in the realm of fantasy for most of them. There is, however, a close cousin of the legendary Supra that has long been one of the most under appreciated Japanese coupes of all time: the 1991-2000 Lexus SC.
While the Lexus SC and its Japanese market counterpart, the Toyota Soarer, have always had their fans, their popularity still lags far behind many other Japanese cars of the era.
If you look back to the early 1990s, the Lexus brand had just arrived in the US market as an ambitious venture to enter the luxury market from its parent company Toyota. And they wanted a stylish luxury coupe to be sold along the sedans they already offered.
Here in America the Lexus SC400 went on sale for the 1992 model year. Along with its sleek coupe body with a classic long hood, short deck profile the SC400 came powered by the same velvety smooth 4.0 liter 1UZFE V8 from the LS400. It made 250 horsepower, which was quite competitive for the era.
In 1993, the less expensive SC300 joined the lineup, and despite being cheaper than the SC400, it may have ended up being the more desirable version. That's because the SC300 was powered by the naturally aspirated version of the 3.0 liter 2JZGE inline six engine that made 220 horsepower. And unlike the SC400 which was only available with an automatic transmission, a small number of SC300s had a factory five-speed manual transmission.
Things were even better across the Pacific in Japan where the Toyota Soarer was available with a twin turbocharged 2.5 liter 1JZGTE engine that would prove to be just as popular as its larger 2JZGTE cousin.
It may have been a comfortable GT coupe that wasn't designed to be hard-edged sports car, but the SC was built from great bones. In fact, it shared most of its underpinnings with the aforementioned Mk4 Supra, which hit the market a short time later.
While the SC earned rave reviews for its attractive styling, great build quality and what would prove to be excellent reliability, the car truly came into its own later on when secondhand models found themselves into the hands of enthusiasts later on.
With the Supra's popularity already established, many rightfully saw the SC as less hyped and much less expensive version of the same car. No, the Lexus SC was never sold with the twin turbo 2JZGTE engine from the factory, but many of the same parts designed for the Supra could be used to modify the Lexus.
And if you wanted turbo power, you could either drop a 2JZGTE or 1JZGTE right into the SC's engine bay, Other SC300 owners added turbochargers to their naturally aspirated engines in what became known as an "NA-T" conversion.
Not to be left out was the SC400, which may not have had the raw potential of the six cylinder cars, but could still be built into a formidable street machine—and the automatic transmission could even be swapped out for a manual if so desired.
With its higher weight and luxury appointments, the SC and Soarer were never going to be the best choice for a track weapon, but thanks to its long wheelbase, affordable price and abundant aftermarket support they became popular among drifters both in the US and in Japan.
The side effect of this is that it's become a little harder to find an SC that hasn't been modified in some way, but unlike something like a Nissan 240SX there are still plenty of stock, or mostly stock, project car candidates out there.
Even a much less desirable naturally aspirated Mk4 Supra can still be priced well into the $30,000 range these days, while a clean version of a Lexus SC300 with the same exact drivetrain can still be had for under $10,000 quite easily. Or if you are looking for a JDM import, a twin turbo Soarer is still a relatively affordable choice.
The Lexus SC and Toyota Soarer will never have the same hype as the Supra that they share so much with, but as many have found over the years, these coupes are not to be overlooked from an enthusiast standpoint.
Looking for something even more obscure? Check out these five unusual JDM Hondas from the 1990s.