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Right near the inception of Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus in the ‘80s, there was a vehicle released that changed everything for the company, and may just be the last Japanese domestic market luxury performance vehicle that is still somewhat affordable. Here is everything you need to know about the Toyota Soarer and how it led to the Lexus SC300 and SC400

A Toyota Soarer on display inside a museum.
A visitor looks at a 1981 Toyota Soarer at a museum | Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Toyota wins over the American public

Back in the mid-1970s, the American muscle car dream was just about over. In the ‘60s, fuel was cheap in America, leading almost every automotive consumer to purchase a big, gas-guzzling V8 car as a daily driver. 

In the early ‘70s, new safety standards that automotive manufacturers had to adhere to led to vehicles, and subsequently their engines, getting bigger, heavier, and less fuel efficient. Finally, the 1973 oil embargo occurred, leaving many Americans stranded without gas. Almost overnight, fuel costs quadrupled, and that was only if you could find a gas station that wasn’t completely out of gas.

American automotive companies couldn’t keep up with the demand for fuel-efficient vehicles. Many Americans looked to buy small, reliable, efficient Japanese vehicles like the Toyota Corolla, which, for 1973, was getting around 37 mpg.

Toyota had finally won over the American public, and with this international success, they could finally start to develop new vehicles that could compete with other vehicles on the market, not just compacts, and offroaders.

The personal luxury vehicle hits Japan

With Toyota’s compounding success, they decided to enter a vehicle segment that was starting to gain some serious traction through the ‘70s; the personal luxury vehicle. 

A personal luxury vehicle is typically defined as a compact, luxury-forward coupe that also has sports car-like handling, power, and visual aesthetics. A great example of a personal luxury vehicle for Americans at the time would be the 1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The Monte Carlo had a good amount of luxurious features in the interior, while also having a V8 engine and a two-door coupe body style.

According to HotCars, Toyota released their version of the personal luxury car, the Toyota Soarer, in 1981 to great success, winning the 1981 Car of the Year Japan Award. The Soarer came standard with an inline 6-cylinder engine and either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. In the interior, consumers had a touchscreen air conditioning control unit, and a digital speedometer and tachometer, all in 1981.

The Toyota Soarer reaches American soil

After nearly 10 years of production, the Toyota Soarer was finally looking for a refresh. The ‘90s were here, and gone were the days of boxy vehicles. With the help of California-based design studio, Calty, the 1991 Soarer was produced and shipped overseas to America to be sold as the Lexus SC300 and SC400. 

Nowadays, these Lexus SC models often fly under the radar due to their somewhat pedestrian visual design, but don’t be fooled, these SCs are Supra-powered. 

No really, the base model Lexus SC300 came stock with a 3.0L straight-six engine known internally as the 2JZ-GE, yes, the same 2JZ that was placed in the famous Toyota Supra. The SC400 was offered exclusively with a 4.0L V8 engine; the 1UZ-FE. 

In Japan, buyers could even order this vehicle with a twin-turbo variant of the 2.5L six-cylinder engine, but this feature never made it to the states.

If the Lexus SC300 and SC400 sound a little German in their naming convention, you’d be correct. Lexus named these vehicles alphanumerically to fall in line with their German competition. 

This SC300 and SC400 lineup set the standard for Lexus vehicles today, with many Lexus offerings having wonderful, powerful engine options with great handling capabilities all found in a luxurious and peaceful cabin. 

Without the Toyota Soarer making the jump overseas, we might have never seen Lexus take the jump into the luxury-performance segment we see today. The next time you see an old-school Lexus SC300 or SC400 for sale, give it a shot! You just might find yourself behind the wheel of a Supra-powered sleeper.


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