Behold, the worst car in the history of the world, all things considered ever! Or, at least that’s what Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and James May think. But is it really the worst car ever built?
Many people believe that the Lexus SC430 is the first and only generation of the car to have been produced, but in truth it’s actually a second generation version of the Lexus SC range which debuted in 1991. The original SC was sold only in Japan and the USA, and while it was a very smooth looking and quite luxurious coupe, it didn’t really take the world by storm.
By the end of the 1990’s however, larger coupes such as the SC were coming up against stiff competition from smaller sports coupes such as the Mazda MX-5 and Honda S2000,
and thus Lexus decided that to defeat its enemy, it had to become its enemy. As such, conception of this car began in 1996 under the development of chief engineer Yasushi Nakagawa.
From the very start, the car was destined to be a convertible, but unlike the MX-5 and S2000, would have a retractable aluminium hardtop for extra safety. Internally, the car was powered by a 4.3L Toyota UZ V8 from the Toyota Crown Majesta and the Toyota Supra GT500. This engine produced 288hp and would whip the car from 0-60mph in 6.2 seconds, not exactly brisk, but not too lumbering either.
The main perks of the SC430 were to be found in the cabin itself, the car attempting to wipe out the comparatively basic MX-5 and S2000 with a myriad of technological treats. The SC 430 featured an all-leather interior with brushed-aluminum accents, navigation screen with folding wood panel, 18-inch aluminium wheels, Chrome Lexus emblems mounted on the back of the front seat headrests, full hardtop retraction in 25 seconds, Burl Walnut or Bird’s Eye Maple wood trim as standard, a Mark Levinson premium sound system, DVD-based navigation system, and headlamp washers. For additional boot space, as an option the SC 430 could be equipped with run-flat tires. Officially, the car was not a 4-seater, but two seatbelts were put in the rear, though if you wanted to sit there you’d have to have been amputated below the Pelvis!
Finally, and perhaps most controversially, was the external styling. The development
team travelled to Europe with chief stylist Sotiris Kovos to garner inspiration for the design of their new machine. Arriving at the Côte d’Azur, it’s claimed the team took styling cues from the luxurious prows and hulls of yachts and luxury cruisers that sailed the Mediterranean. The vehicle’s side profile, the product of extensive wind tunnel testing, was intended to channel air around the passenger compartment at high speed during top-down driving. Design patents were filed in Japan, at the Japan Patent Office on June 14th, 1999, under patent number 1095312.
After 4 years of development and testing, the SC430 made its official debut at the 2000 New York Motor Show, and was greeted with a whirlwind of ‘meh’.
Yep, the SC430, while proving to be very popular with customers, especially here in the UK where you can find thousands of them, was not a critical success. But why was this so?
The first thing critics took exception to was surprisingly the styling, which they said was repugnant and ugly, looking nothing like a luxury French yacht, and that the whole idea of sending the design team to the Med was just an excuse to give them an all expenses paid holiday to the sun!
In terms of performance and practicality, the next point of contention was the rear seats, which they said were like Sardine cans and couldn’t help but ask what the point of them being there was. The handling was seen as too light, especially on the run-flat tyres, which also apparently spoiled the ride-comfort. This was compounded by the fact that there appeared to be a communications delay of about two seconds between the movement of the steering wheel and the front wheels actually turning. Driving the SC430, the tyre noise generated at high-speed was described as being like sitting through an earthquake. The car was also slighted as being underpowered, with it being considered lumbering and slow compared to the likes of the Mercedes SL and the BMW Z3. At the same time the roof-retraction and extension time was seen to take an ice-age, with 25 seconds being twice as long as the MX-5.
Overall, this car was absolutely reviled critically, with Top Gear naming it the Worst Car ever made in the history of the world. However, despite it being given poor reviews across the board, it still sold, and it sold very, very well, so well that by the end of its production run in 2010, the company had shifted over 50,000 of them. Indeed, this may not have been as much as the BMW Z3 or Mazda MX-5, but it’s not half bad.
How could it perform so well in spite of such vitriol? Largely because it’s not a bad car. Compared to the European home-grown sports coupes, it was comparatively cheap, but at the same time it provided the customer with oodles of technology internally, things that were optional extras on other models. The interior was comfortable and stylish with its leather seats and wood veneer, and, while many claim the styling is ugly, it really isn’t that bad, it’s not Austin Allegro or Lada standards of bad! Performance wise, it’s by no means a sports coupe; it’s sluggish, it doesn’t handle well, it’s quite bumpy on less
than stellar road surfaces, but, to be honest, I doubt it was ever built to be a sports coupe, just a small coupe, and it wasn’t designed for racetracks like the Nürburgring, it was designed for California State Route 1. It was built for cruising, not for racing, and cruising it does very well.
Simply put, the SC430, if pushed, can show its flaws, of which there are many, but if you treat it gently and fairly, it’ll work as a calm and collected little coupe that you can trundle about on the weekend with. Sunny day? Pop the roof down and just keep on driving!