The Toyota Supra is arguably one of Japan’s most iconic vehicles. It is almost certainly the most iconic sports car that Toyota has ever produced and is loved by motoring enthusiasts all around the world. The Supra name stretches back 40 years and with the announcement of a fifth generation model, the name will continue into the future.
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Where The Inspiration Came From
Toyota took inspiration for the Supra from its own 2000GT inline-6 layout sports car from the late 1960’s. The first three generations of the Supra were supplied with an engine that was a direct descendent of the M engine from the 2000GT.
The 2000GT is widely considered to be a classic among 1960’s gran turismos. It was inspired by the E-Type Jaguar and showed the world that Japanese car manufacturers could produce a world beater. If you would like to learn more about the Toyota 2000GT check out our complete article here.
The First Generation Toyota Supra (1978-1981)
Toyota originally unveiled the Supra name in April 1978. It represented a new designation for a wider, longer and more powerful version of the second generation Toyota Celica. The car was developed to take on Datsun’s wildly popular Z-cars and was known as the Celica XX in its domestic market.
What really set the new Supra apart from the standard Celica was the engine. The Supra’s 110 hp 2.6-litre inline-6 was the company’s first production engine to be fitted with electronic fuel injection. For the Japanese domestic market, the Supra was fitted with a smaller 2.0-litre unit that produced slightly more power at 123 hp. The smaller size engine was fitted so that Japanese buyers would not incur an additional tax under the country’s vehicle size and displacement regulations.
Toyota offered the Supra with either a 5-speed manual (W50) or a 4-speed automatic transmission (A40D). The car also featured four-wheel disc brakes and was equipped with four-link rear suspension with coil springs. At the front of the car there was MacPherson struts and a stabiliser bar.
On January 1 1979, the Supra was officially introduced into the US market in the form of the 2.6-litre model. It featured a base price of $10,118 and was initially seen as a premium model in the Celica lineup. The Supra was the first Toyota vehicle to offer cruise control in the US and it come with other features such as air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, a sunroof, optional leather and an AM/FM stereo.
In August 1980, the Celica Supra received its first major upgrade in the form of an increase in displacement. The engine was now at 2.8-litres and power was increased to 116 hp and 145 lb ft. It could go from 0-60mph in just over 10 seconds and could do the quarter mile in 17.5 seconds.
Additionally, Toyota offered a new Sports Performance Package to go along with the upgrades. This package included new sports suspension, raised white letter tyres, and front and rear spoilers.
The Japanese market Celica XX 2800GT featured the most powerful engine in the range, with a 2.8-litre 172 hp six-cylinder engine. The 1981 Celica XX introduced the world’s first navigation computer.
Second Generation Toyota Supra (1981-1986)
The next Toyota Supra came in the form of the Mk2 Celica XX, which was launched in July 1981. It was based on the new, sports third generation Celica platform. This new model car was focused on sporty prowess and was sold as the Celica Supra in all export markets, but as the Celica XX in Japan.
Once again, the Supra retained the appearance of the standard Celica, but with a few differences. The Supra retained the inline-6 engine, whereas the standard Celica made do with an inline-4. The vehicle was also longer in its wheelbase and the front end was altered. Retractable headlights were fitted and there was an aggressive flare to the wheel arches.
European markets saw the Supra for the first time in August 1982 and the car enjoyed an additional air of exclusivity in the United Kingdom as its supply was limited to 100 cars per month.
In the North American market, the Celica Supra was offered in a couple of varieties. Buyers could choose from the “Luxury Type” (L-Type) or the “Performance-Type” (P-Type). Both the L-Type and P-Type were mechanically identical, with differences limited to wider wheels and tyres, fibreglass flares over the wheels on the P-Type and a sportier interior.
The new Toyota Supra featured a 2.8-litre inline-six (5M-GE) with 145 hp and 155 lb ft in the North American market. When the car launched it could hit 0-60mph in around 9.8 seconds and could do the quarter mile in 17.2 seconds.
Once again the Japanese market received a smaller engined version of the car. Buyers could opt for a 2-litre version that was not available in other markets. The M-TEU 2.0-litre turbo engine produced the same amount of power as the 2.8-litre in 1982, but was limited to automatic transmissions. If you wanted a manual version, the 2.0-litre 1G-GEU was on offer with as much as 160 hp.
Toyota paired the updated engine with the W58 5-speed manual transmission or with the A43DL 4-speed automatic transmission as an option for L-Types. The Celica Supra featured four-wheel independent suspension that was specially tuned by Lotus. The car was equipped with variable assisted rack-and-pinion steering and had semi-trailing arm suspension with coil springs at the rear. Additionally, the Celica Supra featured four-wheel disc brakes.
Engine output increased steadily throughout the generation with power topping out at 178 hp and 212 lb ft for models sold in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. The North American market’s Celica Supra topped out at 161 hp, about the same as the Japanese version of the car.
Early Racing Success
Compared to the first generation Supra, the second enjoyed a fuller racing career on the track. In the British Saloon Car Championship (forerunner to the BTCC), racing driver Win Percy successfully raced a Celica and Corolla. His next step was to move to the Celica Supra in 1983.
In the Celica Supra, Percy managed to win the ninth round of the 1984 series after fending off Andy Rouse’s 3.5-litre Rover. Barry Sheene took control of Percy’s Celica Supra for the 1985 season. Per Eklund won the Group A championship in the Ulster Rally that same year in his Celica Supra.
Third Generation Toyota Supra (1986-1993)
Following production delays, the third generation Toyota Supra launched in 1986. The bonds between the Celica and the Supra were cut, as they were two completely different models now. Toyota forged a new path with the Celica, making it front wheel drive, while the Supra retained its rear-wheel layout. The Supra launched in America at a price of $18,610, up from $14,098 for the previous generation car.
Toyota updated the engine to a more powerful 3.0-litre inline-six engine rated at around 200hp. Initially, the car was only available with a naturally aspirated engine, but a turbocharged version was added to the lineup in 1987. This turbocharged model produced roughly 230 hp and 240 lb ft.
Like previous models of the Supra, the Japanese market also featured 2.0-litre versions of the car. The 2.0-litre version of the Supra was slightly narrower on the outside so as to be in compliance with Japanese Government dimension regulations. This meant that Japanese buyers weren’t liable for taxes for driving a larger vehicle.
The Toyota 7M-GE and the turbocharged 7M-GTE were the flagships of Toyota’s engine range. They featured four valves per cylinder along with dual overhead cams, and the turbocharged version was Toyota’s first distributor-less engine offered in the United States.
Unfortunately, due to an error in the factory head bolt torque specifications, almost all of these engines suffered from severe problems with blown head gaskets. The incorrect torque specifications were thought to be because Toyota switched from asbestos head gaskets to copper ones. While the problem was serious it could be easily fixed by replacing the head gasket and torqueing the head bolts to 75 lb ft of torque. Apart from this problem, the engines were incredibly reliable.
Toyota carried over the W58 5-speed transmission from the previous generation, however, the turbo version was offered with the more robust R154 manual transmission. Buyers also had the option of the 4-speed A340E automatic transmission for both the turbocharged and naturally aspirated models.
The new third generation Supra was also packed with more technology than ever. When it launched in 1986 there were options for 3-channel ABS and TEMS (Toyota Electronic Modulated Suspension). The 7M-GE engine also had a new Acoustic Control Induction System (ACIS) that controlled air compression pulses in the intake piping to increase power.
Later in the generation’s lifecycle, Toyota introduced the 1JZ-GTE 2.5-litre twin-turbocharged engine that featured 276 hp and 268 lb ft of torque. This was offered with the same transmission options as previous versions of the car and the car was labelled as the JZA70.
In addition to the JZA70 that launched in 1990, Toyota also released the JZA70-R. This 1JZ-GTE equipped car was also known as the 2.5 Twin Turbo R and featured additional upgrades such as lighter sway bars, a larger intercooler, Bilstein sports suspension, Torsen differential, Recaro seats, MOMO steering wheel and gear knob, and shadow/dark grey interior trim.
The Supra Turbo A and Motorsport
Toyota manufactured 500 special homologation Supras for the Japanese Touring Car Championship (JTCC). The Turbo A was only available in Japan and was manufactured from September 1988 to October 1988.
The car featured some slight mechanical and cosmetic differences when compared to the standard car. It featured the stock CT-26 turbocharger with a slightly larger inducer. Additionally, the Turbo A was equipped with thicker roll bars, ventilated disk brakes and additional cooling ducts at the front of the car.
The Turbo A had varying degrees of success in a range of different motorsport fields from rallying to endurance racing. However, the car did not win as many races as was hoped in the JTCC despite being designed for it. This was due to the fact that it was underdeveloped and was placed in higher tier divisions due to its 3.0-litre engine. Essentially, the car was too heavy for lower tier classes and underpowered compared to the competition in higher tier classes.
Fourth Generation Toyota Supra (1993-2002)
The Japanese motor industry experienced a period of incredible success through the eighties into the nineties. Japanese manufactures developed world beating cars in this period that have gone on to be some of the most loved cars of all time. These included the likes of the Mazda RX-7 FD, the Honda NSX, the Nissan GT-R R34 and R33 and of course the Toyota Supra Mk4.
Toyota continued to produce the Mk3 Supra until 1992 when it was sure it could unveil a car that could match and beat the current crop of sports cars out there. The iconic heart of the Mk4 Supra started with the introduction of the 2.5-litre JZ-series twin-turbo engine in the Mk3 car. This engine would go on to be one of the most famous and loved power units produced by a Japanese manufacturer.
The Launch of the Toyota Supra Mk4
The highly-anticipated Mk4 Supra was unveiled at the Chicago Motor Show in 1993 and it was a bold new direction for the company. It was in development for four years under the guidance of chief engineer Isao Tsuzuki, who also worked on the MR2 and the first Celica.
Toyota’s new Supra had a more flowy design that shared more in common with the 2000GT of the sixties than its predecessor. The car oozed performance with its low, long bonnet and optional high-rise spoiler.
Starting at $34,225, the Mk4 Supra commanded a higher price with its supercar looks and performance. Compared to the previous model, the Mk4 Supra was lower, wider and shorter, while being 100kg lighter.
Toyota’s engineers managed to achieve this weight saving by trimming as much weight where possible. Aluminium was used for the bonnet, targa-top (optional), oil pan, transmission pan, various suspension components and front cross member. Additionally, magnesium was used on the steering wheel and the petrol tank was made of plastic. Toyota was so focused on weight saving that they even used hollow carpet fibres to save a few grams.
The lighter design was allied to a more simplified engine line-up of either a naturally aspirated or twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre JZ-series straight six. In naturally aspirated form the car produced 220hp, but it was the turbo model that was the real star of the show with around 320hp on tap.
Performance wise, the Mk4 Supra was a major step up from its predecessor. It could now achieve 0-60mph in as little as 4.6 seconds and could reach over 177mph (277km/h). However, the car was limited to just 180km/h in Japan and 250km/h (155mph) elsewhere.
The twin-turbochargers in the Supra operated in sequential mode rather than parallel. Toyota routed all the exhaust gases through the first turbo to reduce lag, which boosted and enhanced torque as early as 1,800rpm. Exhaust gases are then routed through the second turbo at 3,500rpm for a “pre-boost” mode, however, none of the output is used to power the engine. At 4,000rpm the second turbo kicks in properly to augment the first turbo.
For the fourth generation Supra, Toyota opted to develop a new six-speed gearbox. The Getrag/ Toyota V160 six speed transmission was used solely on the turbocharged models, while the naturally aspirated car had to make do with a five-speed W58 manual transmission. Both the turbo and the naturally aspirated models were offered with a four-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting modes.
The Mk4 Supra and Motorsport
While the rear-wheel drive, front mounted engine layout never changed, the Mk4 Supra was by far the most successful in motorsport.
The Mk4 Supra competed at the iconic Le Mans 24hr race two years running, the Swiss Mountain Races, Pikes Peak, American SCCA racing, and was incredibly successful in the All-Japan GT Championship (JGTC) from 1995 to 2003.
The End of the Supra
By the late nineties, sales of sports cars like the Supra in the North American market were in quick decline. Toyota withdrew the Supra from the Canadian market in 1996 and in 1998 in the United States. The Supra soldiered on in Japan until 2002 when it was discontinued due to new restrictive emissions controls.
The Return of the Toyota Supra
For many years the return of the Supra was just wishful thinking and there were rumours aplenty about a new car. However, a glimmer of hope was ignited when Toyota unveiled the FT-1 concept in January 2014.
The concept was without any specifications, but it was undoubtedly sporty and obviously drew inspiration from the Mk4 Toyota Supra. It featured the same front mounted engine, rear-wheel drive layout and flowy lines. However, news of a new car went quiet until 2016, when Toyota applied for a trademark on the Supra nameplate.
The Toyota Supra Mk5 Makes Its Appearance
Toyota released a shadowy teaser image of the fifth generation Supra ahead of the 2018 Geneva Motor Show. The accompanying text stated that “a modern racing concept will signal Toyota’s commitment to bringing its most iconic sports car back to the market.”
During the Geneva Motor Show the GR Supra Racing Concept was also revealed. Undoubtedly based on the FT-1 concept, this car was the racing version of the fifth generation Toyota Supra. It is unknown what engine powered the concept, but the car featured lowered suspension with Toyota OEM parts, BBS racing wheels, Brembo racing calipers, a stripped out interior, a roll cage, Michelin track tyres and more carbon fibre than you can shake a stick at.
In July 2018, Toyota officially announced that the Supra would return to production and a near production model of was revealed (in camouflage) at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Toyota has worked closely with BMW on the Supra project and the car will be based on the Z4 platform. It will also feature a straight six from the German manufacturer as well.
The fifth generation Toyota Supra will make its debut in January at the Detroit Motor Show as a 2020 model. We will be updating this article as more information comes to light about the new Toyota Supra.
Make sure you also check out the official Toyota website for more information on the Supra.
Six Reasons Why You Should Buy a Toyota Supra Mk4 Right Now
As the Mk4 Supra is arguable the most famous of the range, we thought we would end this article with six reasons to buy one. It is a car that took the world by storm and is one of the most loved Japanese cars of all time. Here are six reasons to buy a Toyota Supra Mk4.
It’s Unbelievably Reliable
If there is one thing we often associate with nineties Japanese cars is that they are reliable. Toyota produced some of the most bullet proof cars imaginable and it didn’t stop at boring hatchbacks and sedans. The Supra Mk4 was a formidable best and the JZ engine just keeps on going. Toyota’s JZ engine was used in all sorts of different cars and many of those have clocked up some incredible miles.
The Supra’s interior doesn’t fall apart like an RX-7 and don’t even mention the rotary engine. It also doesn’t rust like many other sports cars of the period and its clear coat doesn’t crack like a 3000GT. If you are looking for a bullet proof sports car, the Toyota Supra is about as close as you can get.
Prices Are Rising
The Supra Mk4 is fast becoming a classic and prices are rising as a result. A good Supra is now well out of the range of many pimple faced teenagers, leaving older people as the only ones to buy it. The Supra still isn’t in the realm of really expensive classics but $60,000 and above isn’t uncommon for a good condition, low mileage model.
Just Listen to It
The sound the Toyota Supra makes is nothing short of breathtaking, especially when it is modified. Any petrolhead will love the sound of the JZ engine at full tilt and the only thing better would be if the sound came from your very own Supra.
It Looks Incredible
There are very few cars that nail the exterior design, but Toyota’s designers managed to make something of beauty with the Supra. It is a timeless design that features smooth flowing lines, but still retains an air of masculinity. The Supra looks incredible from almost any car and has to be up there with some of the best looking sports cars that have come out of Japan.
It Can Be Modified Easily and Cheaply
The combination of the legendary 2JZ engine and the 6-speed Getrag transmission make for a car that can handle some insane horsepower figures. It is incredibly robust and without any major modifications the engine’s block, low compression pistons and forged rotating assembly can handle 700 horsepower with ease. The mighty engine’s upper limit is just a fraction under 900-wheel horsepower, which is hypercar territory. This is mightily impressive, especially considering the car came stock with around 320 horsepower.
The Supra is an Icon of the Motoring World
The Toyota Supra Mk4 is one of the most iconic cars of all time and it is arguably one of the greatest to ever leave the shores of Japan. They just don’t make cars like the Supra Mk4 anymore and you will be buying a piece of automotive history. It has appeared in all sorts of games and of course it was the start of the original Fast and the Furious movie.