1941 Plymouth Road Racer Project: Buying, cruelly gutting the Lexus SC suspension donor.

1992 Lexus SC400 being stripped of usable parts for 1941 Plymouth project

The original suspension and brakes were a bit too primitive, so a low-cost modern parts-donor car is the solution

Turning a 1941 Plymouth Special Deluxe sedan into a fully caged road-race car that will double as a credible street rod is a long and arduous process that I’ve made even more challenging with a low budget and limited space — I’m building the thing in a garage. Last week, we saw the removal and sale of the original flathead-six/three-on-the-tree powertrain, and today we’ll source the donor for said Plymouth’s upgraded suspension, brakes and differential.

Lexus SC300 at U-Pull wrecking yard

The 1941 Plymouth came from the factory with a body-on-frame design, an independent front suspension, leaf-sprung rear live-axle, and drum brakes all around. Like most Detroit sedans of its era, it had yet to integrate fenders into the rest of the car’s design. This means that there isn’t an easy way to get a McPherson strut front suspension to fit — thus ruling out most of the vehicles you’ll find at U-Wrench-It wrecking yards these day as low-hassle suspension donors. Commonly, street-rod builders will use an aftermarket front suspension based on the Ford Mustang II and Pinto design, but I wanted something better-suited for going around corners, and with big brakes available right from the junkyard. So, I hit my local wrecking yards with a tape measure, in search of a late-20th-century vehicle with an A-arm front suspension, narrow track width, beefy brakes, and good parts availability. After a lot of time spent in the oily junkyard mud beneath dozens of cars, I found that the first-generation Lexus SC was nearly ideal.

1992 Lexus SC front suspension

The 1992-2000 Lexus SC was the big, powerful, luxurious coupe based on Toyota‘s Soarer and a close relative of the 1992-2002 Supra. It weighed close to 2 tons but was powered by the naturally aspirated I6 from the Supra (in the SC300) or the same smooth-running DOHC V8 used in the Lexus LS sedan (in the SC400). Build quality was staggeringly good. You’ll find plenty of these cars in self-service junkyards and even more for sale cheap on Craigslist these days. It uses easily detached suspension subframes at the front and rear, healthy brakes, and the differential is a rugged unit that has a reputation for surviving monstrous torque in Supra drift cars in Japan. However, I wasn’t going to pay junkyard prices for two complete subrames from one of these cars, since pick-a-part yards will charge you separately for every single component, and I wasn’t up to carrying complete subframes at the All You Can Carry For $59.95 sale.

1992 Lexus SC400, purchased for $1000 in Denver

The good news is that once-exclusive luxury cars experience falling-off-a-cliff-style depreciation once they start showing some cosmetic flaws; your 15- to 20-year-old Audi A8s and BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Classes are worth pennies on the dollar when they suffer torn-up interiors and battered sheet metal, but their Japanese counterparts aren’t far behind. Perusing the Denver Craigslist led me to this high-mileage 1992 Lexus SC400 runner with expired tags and a full spectrum of cosmetic issues.

1992 Lexus SC400 instrument cluster

The interior was beat to hell and reeked of every air-freshener product sold by Manny, Moe, and Jack, the tires were worn down to the steel belts, the Check Engine light was on, and the mileage was at end-of-the-world level. However, the engine started right up, the transmission shifted, and the brakes stopped the car. All I wanted was a good suspension and some pieces I could sell to recoup some of the purchase cost. The seller wanted $1,400, but after brandishing a thick wad of 50 $20 bills, the car was mine.

1992 Lexus SC400 prior to stripping

The Lexus drove reasonably well for a completely worn-out, used-up hooptie. Amazingly, for a car that hadn’t received anything but abuse during its last 10 years, there was a complete absence of rattles or squeaks. It was clear that the engine was tired and a bit of an oil-burner, but that wasn’t a problem — I had no use for the 1UZ-FE V8 (I had other engine plans for the ’41 Plymouth), and there’s such a glut of those engines in junked LS400s that I wouldn’t be able to sell this one for much if it ran perfectly.

1992 Lexus SC400 engine wiring harness removal

All we really needed from the SC400 for the ’41 Plymouth project was the front and rear suspension subframes, enough chassis structure to use as jigs later, the steering column and all brake hardware. Beyond that, I wanted to harvest anything that could be sold on eBay or Craigslist, then scrap the remains. The goal here was to get at least $1,000 worth of salable parts from the car, which meant stripping it down to nothing.

Several days of working in an unheated Denver garage in December got job done. Dismantling takes longer when you’re trying to not break parts.

Removing Lexus SC400 subwoofer from package shelf

This Lexus had the optional Nakamichi Premium Audio system, the components of which can fetch substantial money, so I removed the amplifier, head unit, and all speakers. As it turned out, nobody wanted to buy this subwoofer, so I integrated it into my garage entertainment center.

Rich von Sneidern Sawzalling Lexus SC400

Meanwhile, Denver racer and car builder Rich von Sneidern, who would be doing the chassis design and fabrication for this Plymouth project, was working his way down to the portions of the unibody structure that he’d be removing along with the associated suspension subframes. The Sawzall is a magical enabler for these activities.

1992 Lexus SC400 front suspension subframe

With diagonal braces welded in, Rich sliced out enough of the front strut towers to give him their correct locations relative to the suspension subframe, then added horizontal cross-braces once the whole mess was out of the car. This will make grafting the subframe onto the ’41 Plymouth frame a lot easier, and this jig assembly will prove useful for future fat-fendered cars with Lexus SC suspensions.

1992 Lexus SC400 rear suspension subfram

The SC400’s rear subframe has a beefier structure, and came out without any chassis chunks attached. About the only drawback with the SC400’s differential is the lack of limited-slip gearing (the SC400 used traction control to prevent wheelspin), but it’s not too difficult to buy a Japanese-market Soarer or Supra LSD unit.

1992 Lexus SC400 parts ready for sale

After each SC-stripping session, I’d haul a load of parts home in my 1992 Civic. I’ll attempt to sell these off later in a future segment in this series.

Completely stripped 1992 Lexus SC400

When it was all over, the SC400 didn’t look much like a car. After having disassembled an early Lexus down to its most basic components, I learned that Toyota didn’t cut a single corner in the design and construction of this car — attention to detail approached intimidating levels. For example, every single wiring harness inside the passenger cabin was wrapped in tape, then wrapped in soft plastic, then encased in hard plastic armor, then held down to the body with high-quality clips every few inches, then covered with various flavors of insulation. Anything that might rattle or squeak, even after 250,000 miles, was fastened with obsessive levels of just-in-case overkill. When two fasteners would be good enough, Toyota used a dozen, and all of those fasteners were of top-shelf quality. Wiring connectors were beautifully corrosion-proof. Electronic modules were armored with fantastic care and each had multiple grounds. I daily-drive a Lexus LS400, and dismantling this SC made me feel that my purchase of a 1990s Lexus was a wise one.

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