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This Lifted, Caged Lexus SC430 4×4 Is the Only Good One

Even one of history’s most hated cars can be fixed with a serious lift and some mud tires.

byJames Gilboy|
James Gilboy
James Gilboy.


Once deemed the worst car in history by BBC's Top Gear, the Lexus SC430 is completely deserving of that title. Its poor ride makes it an awful tourer, while its loose seats, sloppy steering, and excessive curb weight ruin it as a performance car. On top of all that, it was damn expensive. However, even mediocre cars can be improved by a lift and a cage, the more dramatic the better, and there are few transformations more dramatic than that exemplified by the rock-crawling Lexus SC430 I found in Moab, Utah.

I was passing through America's off-road Mecca yesterday morning on the final leg of a more than 2,000-mile Lemons Rally when my co-driver demanded I stop for something on the side of the road. When he pointed to what had caught his attention, I thought I was looking at a modified Local Motors Rally Fighter, but then I saw the Lexus badges and the sad excuse for a roofline that identified it as nothing other than an SC430.

While lifting a car in this fashion is generally done by matching it to a truck frame with a similar wheelbase, the owner told me his lift wasn't based on a pickup; it's a custom chassis with some Toyota Tacoma parts. That'd make sense, as another SC430 owner later that day told me the car shares some drivetrain components with the Tacoma, though I haven't been able to work out which by cross-referencing part numbers or searching owners' forums. (One post indicates they share at least their instrument panels.)

In any case, there doesn't seem to be a lot of stock drivetrain left aft of its 4.3-liter V8. I didn't have time to ask which transmission or transfer case was used, but it's evident this Lexus now has solid axles front and rear, and they'd get lockers if I were to have my say. King bump-stop shocks, an exoskeletal cage, and plenty of other mods will be apparent to off-roaders more experienced than me—I know just enough to tell this is as serious a rig one can make of an SC430 while leaving room for its factory roof to still fold. It's like someone took the concept of the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet to its logical conclusion.

Either way, it's got Colorado plates, so it calls home the same state that I do. If the owner's out there reading this, hit me up, brother—I'd love to ride along and see this upstage a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

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