The Toyota Supra did not have a long life for a Toyota, but it gained a lot of friends and respect when it was here. Known for its driver orientation, snug cabin, conveniences, and a strong turbo engine, the Supra greatly helped Toyota’s reputation among motorheads for a while. However, a high price kept it from selling well, and it eventually faded away from American and, later, Japanese sales floors.
Introduced in 1979 as a model of the Celica, (Supra comes from Latin, and means “above,” so the Supra is above the Celica), the Supra has been related to the acclaimed 2000GT sports car, whose straight-six engine it used; at first it had a solid-axle rear suspension, and the twelve-valve engine only produced 110 hp, with fuel injection. The Supra was longer than the Celica liftback by a good five inches. Four wheel disc brakes were standard, as was a five-speed manual transmission; a four-speed automatic, unusual in those three-speed times, was optional. The MacPherson strut suspension included a sway bar, and the rear suspension had a stabilizer and sway bar.
In Japan, the Supra almost immediately gained optional turbo power from a Garrett T03 unit (which would become popular with Chrysler in later years), which boosted power to a more reasonable 145 hp when hooked up to a 2-liter straight-six. In the United States, there were minor cosmetic changes and formerly-optional steel wheels became standard. A year later, the six cylinder was boosted to 2.8 liters to make 116 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque, and gearing in the automatic changed. The sports package became available with suspension upgrades, front and rear spoilers, and other minor additions.
The second generation began in 1982, with the new 5M-GE engine producing 145 hp (it bumped to 150 in 1983, 160 in 1984, and 161 by 1986), as well as an independent rear suspension to keep all four tires on even bumpy roads. The original Supra was not a true powerhouse, but at the time, the power was pretty good, especially from 2.8 liters. Hidden headlights, flush-mounted door handles, and other changes helped bring the drag coefficient down to a respectable 0.348, good for a time when most automakers didn't have their own wind tunnels. The engine was small (2.8 liters), but it was a smooth-running straight-six with dual overhead cams (driven by fabric/rubber timing belts) and electronic fuel injection; hydraulic lash adjusters kept the valves adjusted to zero clearance to reduce maintenance (Toyota claimed this was the world’s first twin-cam engine to do that). Zero-to-sixty times were quoted in 1982 as “under 9 seconds,” again respectable for the time if commonplace today; and that was before even the first power bump. The unusual four-speed automatic transmission now had a locking torque converter to reduce slippage at speeds over 35 mph.
Associated systems were not neglected; four-wheel vented disc brakes were standard, along with variable boost power rack and pinion steering, and a five-speed overdrive manual transmission.
The 1982 Supra had a 103 inch wheelbase and was 183.5 inches long; weight was 2,970 pounds, so acceleration was good if not spectacular. In addition, two models were made: a performance and luxury model, named P and L respectively, with different wheels and tires, suspension tuning, and interior treatments and options. Both shared a standard five-speed manual transmission, rack and pinion steering with variable power assist, four-wheel ventilated power disc brakes, power locks, power windows, and cruise control.
Optional seven inch wheels included 225/60HR14 radials - consider that the Celica GT came with 185/75SR14 radials! Standard tires were 195/70SR14, bigger than any Celica option. Halogen headlamps and fog lamps were standard, as well as body side moldings, dual electric-control mirrors, and an electric rear window defogger and wiper/washer. A rear sunshade was optional. Other comfort equipment included standard cruise control, FM stereo, leather-wrapped wheel, remote hood, fuel-door, and rear hatch releases, thermostatically-controlled air conditioning, eight-way adjustable driver's seat, and optional Dolby cassette. The L type had leather seats, digital gauges, and a trip computer; the P type had fender flares to support wider tires, and a limited-slip differential. Options included a five-spaker sound system, electric sunroof, and two-tone paint. The Supra remained badged as a Celica, though, and had a practically identical interior unless the digital gauges were used.
In 1983, Toyota changed the four-speed automatic with the world’s first electronically controlled automatic transmission to offer drivers the choice between power and economy with the push of a button. The company wrote:
“Long, low, and powerfully sleek, Supra’s thorough-bred lines slip through the wind with little more than a whisper. Both models - the performance styled Supra and the luxurious Supra L-Type - are powered by a race-bred six-cylinder 2.8 liter Twin Cam electronically fuel-injected engine. It delivers a responsive 150 horsepower at 5,200 rpm, with 159 ft-lbs of torque at 4,400 rpm.... the cockpit has every performance feature an enthusiast could ask for, including Sport Seats with antropometrically designed eight-way adjustable driver’s seat.”
The Supra came into its own midyear in 1986, with a trimmer, sportier look; it gained 480 pounds but the engine was expanded to a full three liters and given 24 valves, for a surprisingly good 200 horsepower (at the time, competitors were getting less than 150 hp from 3 liters). An air-to-air intercooled turbocharged edition (the turbo worked at over 100,000 rpm) really put the power to the ground with a whopping 230 horsepower, and included three-coil ignition and, if ordered with the automatic, a tougher four-speed version. A sports package added an electronically adjustable suspension and limited-slip differential. Reviewers liked the front seats but found the rear seats to be more for show than for real use; gas mileage was good on the highway, poor in the city. This Supra had a shorter 102 inch wheelbase and 182 inch length, keeping about the same overhang. Antilock brakes were added as an option in 1987, and a driver's side airbag was added in 1990.
As Toyota described the Supra in 1987: “To its already striking performance and styling, this world-acclaimed sports car adds a power-packed turbocharged model that strengthens its world-class status....there’s independent suspension, both front and rear, similar to the double wishbone suspension design of a Formula One race car. Inside is a world of sports car sophistication. A standard driver’s Sport Seat adjusts eight ways to fit you perfectly; a steering wheel telescopes and tilts and remembers your most comfortable tilt setting. A sophisticated sound system rivals concert-hall quality.” They also noted the optiaonl super monitor/trip computer and theft deterrent system.
The fourth generation, 1993, reached new heights in both power and price. Standard features included dual airbags and four-wheel antilock disc brakes; the turbo included traction control, a limited slip differential, and sport tuned suspension. The optional sport roof struck a balance between convertible and T-top designs. The design became more rounded, as was the fashion of the day, with rounded headlights, giving up on the previous popups. Turbo models had a high spoiler and six-speed manual transmission (or four-speed automatic); the exception was 1996, when the manual was not available as Toyota worked around troublesome Federal requirements.
The “big deal” of the 1993 models was the power: the base model shot up to a full 220 horsepower, not far from the previous year’s turbocharged output, while the twin turbo reached an amazing 320 horsepower and 315 lb-feet of torque, giving the Supra the most powerful mass-produced engine of any car sold in the United States at the time, and making it a true supercar.
1998 was the last year for the Supra in the United States, and it ceased production entirely in 2002, due to slow sales. During that time, it gave Toyota a decidedly sporty tinge. For a good number of years, the Supras challenged the Corvettes quite credibly - with greater comfort and dependability.
1996 Toyota Supra car reviews
I remember seeing the first advertisements for the Toyota Supra in the UK motoring press way back in 1993. To an impressionable young man, on the cusp of starting driving, the emotions I felt as my eyes followed the curves of the gorgeous JZA80 body must have been similar to how I would have felt if it had been 1961 and I had just laid eyes on the Jaguar E-type for the first time.
If we ignore the cultural impact and timelessness of the big Cat, there are similarities. Both share that runway sized bonnet and the rounded rump, both could crack 150mph and both had the power to attract as many members of the opposite sex as the owner could handle in one night.
The Supra was available in two flavours, the sensible 3.0 litre version and the barking twin-turbo model. Later in the range you could also purchase a targa roof version known as an ‘aero-top’ and in 1997 your Supra would have had a few cosmetic changes and some exterior badges stating ‘15th Anniversary Limited Edition’. The year after, the normally aspirated model gained a VVTi engine. Other than that, the fourth-generation Supra barely changed throughout its nine year history.
To not change a car for this amount of time is a testament to the excellent design of both the body and the chassis; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As with the MR2 Turbo, the UK was flooded with Japanese imports, due to the cheaper price and higher specification. UK versions were easy to spot as they had an electronically adjustable front spoiler and a bonnet scoop on the turbo models.
Climbing into the Supra was an event in itself. The dashboard surrounded the driver, the seats hugged you in position and your hand fell naturally to the gear shift. Looking down the long bonnet before glancing in the rear-view mirror to be confronted by the outrageous rear wing ensured the driver was under no illusions about the Supra’s intentions. This car was made to look good and be driven very, very fast.
The 3.0 24 valve DOHC was a great car to drive, easy smooth and quick enough for most drivers. The engine was a real gem, so silky during acceleration it was easy to climb into triple figures before settling into a cruise, the engine seemingly only just coming on song. The rear wheel drive configuration allowed the drivers inner hooligan to indulge itself once on a while, but the weight of the car put pay to this unless you were very violent with the clutch.
The produced 220bhp is hardly feeble, but when compared to the 320bhp from the 3.0 twin-sequential turbo-charged monster it was a world apart. Oversteer was not hampered by the weight here! In less than 5 seconds you saw the sharp end of 60mph and the car continued on until it cracked the all-important 150mph barrier. Once both the turbos were spinning, the boost pinned you back into your seat with authority. Lag was not an issue, the car simply carried on until you ran out of road or more likely, nerve.
If I am honest, I found the twin-turbo a little intimidating around town. The Supra is a big car and it has a lot of power on tap, and I would do anything not to put a scratch on the body! Once on the open road, the car ate up long journeys like a good GT should. I never felt fatigued from driving the Supra and I would always arrive at my destination feeling fresh, no matter the distance involved. Of course, this was ultimately the Supra’s downfall for me; I simply didn’t do the mileage to justify such a car as this.
The usual downsides existed of course, massive fuel consumption of the twin-turbo, massive insurance costs and massive servicing bills. Essentially, as long as your wallet was massive, you could enjoy the massive performance of the Supra twin-turbo. Obviously, things were slightly cheaper with the non-turbo model, but I defy anyone who owns this car to say they have not wished on more than one occasion that they had plumped for the turbo instead.
Aside from the near supercar looks, the other thing that attracted the most comments about the car was the rear wing. I experienced both side to this, as the 3.0 did not have the spoiler and the twin-turbo did. It was either ‘why haven’t you got that spoiler’ or ‘that massive spoiler ruins a beautiful car’! I loved the wing personally, it finished off the look perfectly, but I did like the lines without it too.
In the UK today, a Supra can be picked up for silly money. A quick browse of the classifieds reveals non-turbo Supra’s from £4000 and twin-turbo’s from £7000 up. There is no denying that this is a lot of car, especially as it was 50K plus on release. However, this plentiful supply does mean that there is a fair share of dogs about and anyone looking for an un-modified car will have quite a job on their hands.
This is because the Supra lends itself to tuning rather well, with its engine good for massive bhp gains before anything needs to be changed inside. There is also a wealth of parts available from big, single turbo conversions, boost controllers and masses of induction and exhaust options. Tuning a Supra is simply a case of picking a bhp figure you want to achieve and getting out your wallet, as pretty much anything can be achieved.
In 2002 the Supra was discontinued due to poor sales. Although the new Celica and MR2 are attractive and capable sports cars, there is a large Supra shaped hole in Toyota’s current line up. Rumour has it there will be a new model along one day, but until then any keen driver and car fan should be thankful that a car as stunning and powerful as the Supra was made at all.