Lexus now has a convertible. Finally. But it will require hard cash to procure the new hard top SC 430. It takes 25 seconds for the retractable aluminum-alloy top to perform a contortion act and stuff itself into the trunk. It takes $61,295 to buy the fully loaded 2002 model.

It will take patience, too. The first year's production is all but sold out. Lexus dealers already wrote nearly 10,000 paid orders. That's about 85% of the SC 430s that Lexus expects to sell this year in the U.S.

“If you ordered one today, you would have to wait a year for delivery,” says Dennis Clements, group vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Inc.'s Lexus Division.

It's a car that can get you in trouble, says Mike Wells, Lexus marketing vice president, recalling a wanna-be buyer's ga-ga reaction to seeing one.

He explains, “We took an SC 430 to visit a dealership. The sales people were the first out the door.

“Then a dealership customer in his 50s, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, saw the car. He got on his cell phone, and said, ‘Honey, I'm looking at something that's going to get me in trouble.’”

Hell, let the kids pay for their own college.

Its engine can get you in trouble, too, should you incautiously put the pedal to the metal within radar range of the local constabulary. The 4.3-liter V8 gallops up to 300 hp at 5,600 rpm with 325 ft.-lbs of torque at 3,400 rpm. Tallyho.

“If you ordered one today, you would have to wait a year for delivery.”
— Dennis Clements Lexus group v.p.

The hardtop convertible replaces the SC 400 coupe which had been around since 1991. For Lexus, it was time to build a convertible, and there wasn't room for two SC 400 types. So the coupe flew the coop.

Lexus designers tried to make a convertible from the existing SC coupe. That didn't work. They ended up building the SC 430 from the ground up.

If it looks tres chic, well, Lexus designers spent weeks in the French Riviera, ogling at the Cote d'Azur's architecture, lifestyle and yachts.

Thus inspired, they then went to work on the SC 430. It makes one wonder; where did the Pontiac Aztek designers go to get geeked? The lunar surface?

With the SC 430, Lexus is going after both people with money (obviously) and people who never owned a convertible (ironically), says Mr. Clements.

“We're also going after the Jaguar XK8,” he says. “I'm not being arrogant, but the SC 430 is just a great car.”

A demographic snapshot of a person you'd expect to see, slathered with coconut-scented sunblock, motoring around in a shiny new SC 430:

“A 48-year-old man or woman who is married, college-educated and enjoying a $170,000-a-year income; someone with an active life style and who wants a showcase vehicle,” says Mr. Wells.

A spin in the car is indeed a delight, unless you're in the back seat. That has enough room for sports gear or groceries, but hardly enough for post-pubescent people.

“I'll be honest, if I was traveling across the country, I wouldn't want to be in the rear seat,” says Mr. Wells. “But a golf bag fits nicely back there.”


The cars started arriving at dealerships in March, and won't stay long, what with all those early orders.

Incidentally, if you see the car's kick-off commercials, don't mistakenly think your TV is suddenly receiving signals beamed from the Eiffel Tower.

“Our ad campaign is a little out of the ordinary. The ads are in French,” says Mr. Wells. “We knew we were taking a risk doing that.”

The idea is to give the ads a certain, oh, je ne sais quoi. For the English-as-an-only-language crowd, that's French for “I know not what.”