There's a certain point in life when you're ready to join the more-money-than-brains club, if only it weren't for the annoying fact that you have no money. It's when your modus operandi seems to be comprised completely of knee-jerk bad decisions, like this one, where I bought perhaps the nastiest example of a Lexus SC in existence.
The story may sound familiar to patrons of my personal site, but I'll add some new, never-before-seen details that'll give you insight into the mind of a young Tavarish and how I dealt with the long, long process of owning and modifying this car.
Stardate: 2004. I had just turned 17 and was looking for a car that would not only fit my slighty-above-minimum-wage budget, but show the rest of the world that I'm absolutely not someone that was making slightly above minimum wage. Also it had to be fast, because being 17 makes you invincible, as you're composed almost entirely of hormones and gorilla glue.
After a long search of possible candidates consisting of the usual 4-cylinder econoboxes, I made sure that my first car had to have at the very least, a 6-cylinder engine and heated leather seats. I heard somewhere that the combination of six cylinders screaming at 3500 RPM and the comforting feel of warm, perforated leather on the skin was absolutely irresistible to girls. It's just good science. Clearly I had but one choice, the 1992 Lexus SC:
It had rear wheel drive, which at 17, made you a rebel, an inline-6 engine in the "300" model that had insane power potential, rare enough in my area that it would single me out amongst the sea of Civics and Integras - and it had a Lexus Badge which was a great way to bump me up a notch or three on the "Guys I can't wait to get with" list that girls my age clearly kept hidden in their purses, away from judgmental eyes. Again, science.
There were two things stopping me: my abilities and my income.
While I had enough money to buy the car initially (around $6000 for a good early model example), I couldn't afford to fix anything should a costly repair arise. I also had no idea how to work on cars at the time. One could argue I still don't. I remember overhearing someone talk about "straight pipes" on a car once and thinking that it meant an exhaust without bends in it. I certainly wasn't confident in trying to fix a car that had a near-$60,000 MSRP when it left the factory.
After doing some research on generic car forums, I was scared into believing that unless I wanted to be carless, penniless, and without adequate female companionship, this probably wasn't the best first car option and reluctantly settled on a 1998 Nissan Maxima GLE. Ironically, I would find out years later that the only reason these cars could've been expensive to fix is because most of the owners I took advice from had their cars serviced at Lexus dealers and very rarely - if ever - did any work themselves. Thanks, Internet.
Nevertheless, the seed was planted and I although I already had a car that kind of fulfilled my criteria, I would always think fondly of the SC as the one that got away.
Smash cut to three years later, with me being questionably three years wiser but just as broke as the day I started out. It was time for a project car. A local auto repair shop had a somewhat rough-looking '92 SC prominently displayed in their yard for a few months, and I figured it deserved at least a look. I eagerly asked the owner of the shop if I could check the car out, he gave an affirmative nod, and told me "Yeah, it's open, I think". I ran over with giddy anticipation, like an 8-year old only-child opening a christmas present from his two wealthy but increasingly distant parents. This was the car as it sat in the lot:
Rough was the understatement of the year. It seemed like a blind 5 year old with an ice pick did the body work on the rear quarter panels and the interior looked like it had had an eventful encounter with the business end of a velociraptor. It had three of the ugliest rims I had ever seen on a car - 16" Niche 3-spoke chromies, with two bald tires and a flat. This car was certainly looking like a winner. Not to mention it was badged as an SC400, which had the less desirable 1UZ-FE V8, which was great for cruising but paled in comparison with the 2JZ-GE over-engineered powerhouse that came in the "300" model. Or so I thought until I popped the hood.
I asked the owner of the shop how much he wanted for this shining example of Japanese luxury, and he replied with "I was gonna scrap it. Uh, I don't know, $500?" As my brain struggled with the sheer affordability of this diamond in the rough, my mouth, unbeknownst to me, decided to take matters into its own hands. "I'll be right back with $400" it said assertively. A few minutes later, I was four Benjamins lighter, but one Lexus heavier.
Two things kept me from driving my prized acquisition: It had one shot alternator and zero keys. As the car was bought for parts by the shop, they never really kept tabs on where the thing necessary to start the damn thing was. The shop owner handed me a flathead screwdriver and a hammer, implying I get to work if I wanted to realistically drive this thing home. Yes, I bought a car that I had to effectively steal to drive home. I relied on employing the help of friends who, in their exuberant youth, acquired a very useful set of skills that allowed them to start virtually any car without keys.
Unfortunately for my noble cause, Lexus made it very difficult to pop the ignition column. Even with the Cesar Milan of car theft at my side, it took us a full 30 minutes to stab away at the ignition cylinder enough to get the car to turn over with the flathead alone. And turn over it did. The 15-year old abused luxury car started on the first crank and ran. Not brilliantly, but it could definitely move under its own power. The 4-speed automatic transmission shifted into all relevant gears just fine, and that's all I needed at the time.
I limped the car home, having another car follow me so close enough that we could trade paint at stoplights - and of course that would happen, because about 20 fuses were burnt out, chief among those being the turn signals and brake lights. Just for fun, here's a tally of things that would've been painfully obvious if I was to get pulled over at that instant:
- No Registration
- No Insurance
- Brake Lights not working
- Windshield Cracked
- Car Exhaust Smoking
- Turn signals not working
- Ignition cylinder broken, using screwdriver as makeshift key
What was not so obvious was that the alternator was doing little more than scaring the hell out of the generations of spiders that resided there for years prior, and not actually charging the battery. As soon as I got to my street, I decided to stretch her legs, a saying more than fitting because this Lexus had the acceleration of a cruise liner - although I don't think cruise liners put out nearly as much blue smoke. After docking the crimson behemoth, I took to cleaning the sorry state of the interior.
There are a few things that never cease to surprise: Harry Potter marathons on sunday afternoons, an old girlfriend introducing you to her new son named after you, and finding rat shit on the floor of the car you just bought. If finding the petrified microscopic feces of rodents is commonplace in your line of work, consider other employment opportunities. I ripped out both seats and did a light cleaning of the carpet with a vacuum, and even after that, the car still looked remarkably filthy.
This wasn't enough, so I took to ripping the interior out, without actually having something to replace it with. I just knew that the noxious ammonia fumes weren't doing my brain any good, and I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I found a dead rat somewhere in the car, years down the line.
Also, for added protection, I got an ignition switch with key that I fastened to the partially destroyed column with JB weld and a C-clamp:
The car's disassembly, although slow, was a revealing process. I found that the windows weren't operational because the previous owner had installed pieces of wood to keep the windows in place, and then used wood screws to put the door panel back together instead of buying $5 worth of clips. Although the interior and exterior was a complete mess, I anxiously awaited the first big modification to the car, the engine. Cue the teaser:
That's all for now, join me next time where I explain how to swap over an engine that came from across the planet and how to fashion heavy-duty motor mounts for $6. Or you can Follow me on Twitter, that works as well.
For other write-ups and projects in progress, check these out:
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.