In the final months of 2019, Toyota is scheduled to launch the all-new Supra in Australia. With rear-wheel-drive and a BMW-sourced straight-six power under the bonnet, it will revive a storied nameplate that has been dormant for over 15 years. But where did it all start? How did the Supra become the legend that it is today?
Wind the clock back to 1977. Toyota had just unveiled the second generation of its Celica two-door coupe and liftback. For the first year of production, it was offered with a range of four-cylinder engines, many of which were carried over from the first generation.
Then, in 1978, a flagship Celica ‘Supra’ variant was introduced, with an additional 130mm in overall length. The extra length came at the front end, where the enlarged engine bay made way for an inline-six engine. Japanese market models were sold with a 2.0-litre unit producing 92kW of power and 184Nm of torque, while the rest of the world received a 2.6-litre mill with 82kW.
The Celica Supra remained mostly unchanged until 1981, when it was redesigned as part of the third-generation Celica line up. Improvements over the original model include a more potent range of engines, pop-up headlights and a digitised instrument cluster. Over the following five years, Toyota would treat the Celica Supra to a mild facelift, along with uprated engines and additional cabin technology.
The third-generation Supra went on sale in 1986, which forwent the Celica portion of its name and was spun off into its own unique model line. Although the naturally aspirated 3.0-litre model available at launch produced more power than its predecessor, at 149kW, it wasn’t until the following year that the venerable sports car began to pack some serious speed. Toyota fitted the 7M-GE engine with a 5-psi turbocharger and a revised camshaft to create the Supra Turbo, a 173kW and 344Nm rocket that could sprint to 100km/h in less than seven seconds.
In the final years of the A70’s production, Toyota graced the Supra with an all-new engine: the 1JZ. An all new design, the 2.5-litre engine produced 206kW of power (the maximum permitted by the Japanese automotive industry's ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ of the time, which stated no car would be advertised as having more than 276hp) and 363Nm of torque. Unfortunately, it was a Japan-only affair, as Australia, the US and the rest of the world never got their hands on the Supras with this legendary engine.
Here’s the part you’ve all been waiting for. In 1993, Toyota debuted the fourth-generation Supra, dubbed the A80. Visually, it abandoned the boxy, squarish look of its predecessors in favour of a smooth and curvaceous appearance that not only looked great, but was more aerodynamic than the A70.
Under the bonnet was the 2JZ, a new 3.0-litre inline-six based on the outgoing 1JZ. In turbocharged GTE guise, it churned out up to 243kW and 441Nm depending on market and could rocket from 0-100km/h in around five seconds.
However, it wasn’t the 2JZ’s power that enthusiasts loved most: it was its strength. Thanks to features such as a cast iron block, closed-deck cylinder design and a forged crankshaft, one could extract upwards of 600kW (800 horsepower) by merely fitting larger turbochargers and turning up the boost pressure. Some tuners overseas have even been able to achieve power levels of up to 1500kW (2000hp) by upgrading internal components and swapping the twin turbo setup in favour of a mammoth single unit. The 2JZ is basically indestructible.
The Supra’s status within the car community really took off in 2001, when it was thrust into the limelight in the first The Fast and the Furious film. Main character Brian O’Conner drove a heavily modified, orange 1995 Supra, which he pilots numerous times before handing the keys over to Dominic Toretto, while uttering the line “I owe you a ten-second car”.
As a result of its performance qualities and box office fame, Supra prices have skyrocketed in comparison to other cars of the same era. A 1994 Supra Turbo in mint condition with 11,265km on the clock recently sold in the US for US$121,000. That’s nearly AUD$170,000 - more than the price of a brand-new, limited edition Lexus RC F Track Edition.
Like all good things, the A80’s story had to come to an end. It was dropped from US showrooms in 1998, before Toyota pulled the plug on it for Australia and the rest of the world in 2002. There was no replacement in sight, and the hearts of fans sunk.
Then, in 2012, the rumour mill began turning. Toyota announced a partnership with BMW to jointly develop a new sports car, which many speculated would receive the Supra nameplate. The FT-1 concept was shown off at the 2014 Detroit motor show, with a similar looking version appearing in heavy camouflage with German licence plates on the road in 2016.
Three years and dozens of teasers later, Toyota finally unveiled the fifth-generation 2020 GR Supra at the 2019 Detroit motor show. Powered by a 250kW/500Nm BMW-sourced 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six, it drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed auto. It may not be the Supra fans really wanted, but they’re grateful to see the nameplate back in Toyota dealerships once again.
by Alex Misoyannis
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