Saturday, August 13, 2022 Aug 13, 2022
95° F Dallas, TX

CARS Lexus Lust

Yes, it’s just a car. A fabulous, sexy, life-changing, $40,000 car.

LET ME SAY THIS. I AM NO CAR fanatic. I am a practical guy who saddles up every morning in a very reliable and decidedly dull 1988 Honda Accord.

But even I could not escape the spell of the 1992 Lexus Coupe. The car, 1 can now report after a week with a test model, does strange things to people. Minutes into my first drive, a guy screeched his peeling Monte Carlo to a halt in the middle of a bank parking lot and flagged me down.

“Awesome,” he said, shaking his head. “If I make a million bucks, I’m going to get me one of those.”

The Lexus Coupe is one of the most coveted cars on the road. And in my week behind the wheel, all kinds of people-women and men-were drawn to it as though the seat leather oozed some magical musk. I studied the reactions of friends, co-workers, acquaintances and strangers. Sure, I’d heard the stories of Lexus Lust, in which smitten Dallasites had abandoned their faithful Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches. But I didn’t understand what all the panting was about-until I communed with a Lexus.

Before the SC 400 Coupe was delivered to my driveway, I counted the reasons why I would never own such a car-even if I could afford the $40,000 sticker. Isn’t there something morally askew about owning a car whose payments run more than some folks’ mortgages? Besides, I don’t enjoy driving that much. Transportation is transportation, etc.

But after a few days, there I was, babbling at the breakfast table about the “soul” of the car. I called it “the beast,” and I was wringing my hands over career changes that might enable me to finance one.

First there is the look: the round, sloping, front end with the Darth Vader mask and death-ray eyes. Dressed in black, it looks like a machine that sneaks out to the garage at night to snack on Miatas.

This is a predatory automobile. Beefcake with brains.

The 250-horsepower V-8 loves to gobble up those kamikaze Central Expressway entrance ramps, accelerating from a dead stop with a sound that turns from a silky purr to an impolite growl at the punch of a pedal. The handling system glides the car through almost any curve at almost any speed.

My wife-red meat non-eater, nurse to sick birds and other creatures-doesn’t usually use warlike vocabulary. But at the wheel of the beast her French blood cells were stirred.

“It’s nice,” she said, blowing past the competition, “to be able 10 kick people’s butts.”

The Lexus Coupe, which is helping its parent. Toyota, kick some very prestigious German butts, is not a hard-core sports car. A sports coupe is by definition a compromise between a roadster and a cushy family boat. The SC 400 comes only with an automatic transmission, sacrilege to some purists. Other cars will get you from 0 to 60 faster than 6.9 seconds. But not with the same feel.

The Lexus cocoon effect, its ability to seal out the world while trotting at 100 mph, is there. But they’ve left the coupe with the slightest tease of rawness. You can still tell you’re earthbound. You can hear the engine when you want. But first you may have to turn off the beast within the beast- the stereo with speakers and tweeters everywhere.

I lost most of a Saturday with my neighbor George-the car freak-on the winding prairie roads north and west of Denton. We rocketed from town to town (George says the car finally began feeling a bit unsteady above 130 mph) until we saw signs for Wichita Falls and Oklahoma. At the helm of all that computer-controlled technology. I thought of a phrase that a Porsche engineer once applied to one of his automobiles: “The technical embodiment of freedom.”

How true, I thought. How true.

LIKE IT OR NOT, THE WORLD TREATS YOU DIFferently when you’re driving a car that others crave. I took the beast to The Mansion on Turtle Creek. There, a Mercedes is as common as a Rolex and “distinctive” usually means a car that costs six figures and has a three-syllable Italian name.

1 have parked at The Mansion more than a dozen times. And each time the treatment has been the same: A valet hops in and quickly hides the plebe-mobile in a lot around back. In the beast, however, it was different.

“New car?” an attentive valet inquired when I rolled up for a Friday cocktail hour.


“Nice,” he responded. And before I could turn to walk inside, he leaned toward me, assuring, “I’ll put it somewhere where it won’t get touched.”

He proceeded to park the beast about 15 feet from where I’d pulled it up, right there in the circular drive.

Two days later, I was at a party. The crowd was an acquisitive one. The drink of choice was the frozen Bellini. A woman whom I know only very casually approached me in a lime-green mini-ensemble and fishnet stockings.

“So 1 hear you got this great new car,” she said. There was eagerness in her smile.

But when I informed her that the car was a tester and that I had to give it back in a few days, the smile evaporated. She turned to strike up another conversation. After that. I started leaving out the fact that the car was borrowed.

A COLLEAGUE WHO WRITES ABOUT CARS SAYS the Lexus Coupe’s advanced technology may be surpassed only by its straight-for-the-ego marketing. Witness the magazine ad: “First you wanted to be a race car driver. Then a movie star. A doctor. And a CEO. Wouldn’t it be nice to have your first choice again?”

I don’t know about turning back the clock, but the SC 400 is an ideal car for someone enduring a midlife crisis. Or it may be the perfect car to provoke one. Take the case of Hank, a friend of friends who lives in Piano. He sells computer chips.

I wanted Hank to take a twirl in the beast because he drives a comparably priced Mercedes. As we whipped around the back roads of White Rock Lake, Hank complained about little things: He didn”t like the glass moonroof; he called the two-toned shades of tan leather “tacky”; and he thought the wood dash trim a little dark.

In the end, though, Hank deferred to the car’s superiority: “If I were going to get a two-door coupe, I wouldn’t consider anything else.”

But Hank had another test in mind.

“Why don’t we take it over to SMU to see how the coeds react to it?” he said.

“Hunh?” I’m not being judgmental here, but this surprised me. Hank had always seemed to me a stiff sort, bordering on priggish. He then explained the importance of “market testing.”

“Guys have been using Porsches to get laid for years,” he said, at least half serious.

On the SMU campus, we idled at a stop sign while three young women passed in front of the car. The one in the middle-the blond-looked over the snout of the beast, then signaled us and smiled.

“They did a good job with the styling,” Hank concluded. “You notice only the best-looking one waved.”

I suppose there are three categories of people : those who don’t give a damn about owning a $40,000-plus sports car, those who own them, and the rest of us who are left to suffer.

My friend Tom is an exemplary member of the suffering set. Tom is a mid-30s bachelor at the mercy of high-tech toys: the latest ski binding, the latest golf club shaft, the latest you-name-it. But he is perpetually frustrated because his reporter’s salary will never keep pace. Tom began his ride in the beast by turning a doughnut in a cul-de-sac, Within three minutes he was ready to reorder his life.

“I’ve got to get out of this business and make some money,” he howled. “This is the last straw.”

That night he phoned to tell me that after the ride, his whole life-right down to his $20,000 sporty two-door-seemed inadequate. He was calling for applications to law school. At that moment, I thought his reaction was laughable. But I suppose I heard other things that week just as absurd-some of them from my own mouth.

A co-worker, a Baptist from West Texas, informed me: “Robert, God wants you to own that car.” And I believed it. The next morning, I explained to my wife that in the Lexus Coupe I could feel my soul expanding. She was quick to remind me that the only thing growing was my ego.

I was becoming insufferable. And on the day before my carriage turned into a pumpkin, I was struck by a panic as strong as my buddy’s had been. I declared my new plan to starve for a couple of years while I went back to school for an M.B.A.

I guess we’re all a little glad they came and took the thing away.