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How the Supra became Toyota’s sports car of destiny

2018-10-02 06:01

Lance Branquinho

Toyota Supra A60

Image: Toyota Europe

Toyota’s much anticipated new Supra will go on sale locally by mid-2019 and for many South Africans, the opportunity to own – or even see – a Supra should prove treasured.

The iconic Toyota sports car has a mythical status and for much of its lifecycle, through four generations, it has been mostly absent from the local market.

Legend in its own right

Despite this, the Supra legend features strongly in the memory of South African petrolheads and much of the credit for that is due to a particularly orange Supra. The one which captured imaginations in the "Fast & Furious" movie franchise.

READ: Smokey Nagata: The man who created the legendary twin-turbo V12 Toyota Supra build

The introduction of fifth-generation Supra to South Africa will finally give Toyota a moderate output sportscar in the local market. And in anticipation of that, we’ll help you understand how Supra went from a bigger, wider Celica with a larger engine, to one of the most respected sportscars of the 1990s. 

The original (A40 series)

There is some debate as to whether Toyota’s 2000GT qualifies for the status as Supra 1.0, but in the correct series organogram, the first Supra was quite an unassuming coupé. A more powerful version of the Celica liftback.

Toyota Supra A40

                                                                          Image: Toyota Europe

It launched in 1978 and the conservative design and powertrain configuration was obviously influenced by a decade of successive fuel crisis moments during the 1970s.

Curiously, the largest engines offered were not the most powerful. First-generation Supra features three in-line six engines, ranging from 2- to 2.8-litres.

Strangely, the 2-litre was good for 92kW and Supra’s 2.8, made a bit less power, at 87kW. They might not have been massively powerful cars but these original Supras anchored the heritage, with those driver’s car principles of rear-wheel drive and an in-line six-cylinder engine as non-negotiables.

Poppin-up (A60 series)

Wedge-shaped in profile and featuring pop-up headlights the styling was perfectly representative of everything we remember from early 1980s car design. Second-generation Supra used no less than five engine options during its product cycle from 1981-1986.

Toyota Supra A60

                                                                           Image: Toyota Europe

The most powerful version was a 133kW 2.8-litre, introduced for towards the end of A50’s product lifecycle. Combining Toyota reliability with Lotus-tuned suspension, this was a great day-to-day commuter which could effortlessly transform into a driver’s car when required. 

The Supra goes alone (A70 series)

This was the Supra which carried the nameplate from the radical 1980s to consolidating early 1990s. Japan’s economy was booming and with abundant resources and a desire for motorsport recognition, engineers were given ample budgets to make the third-generation Supra a true performance car.

Toyota Supra A70

                                                                      Image: Toyota Europe

Whereas the Supra name had thus far denoted a more powerful Celica, the A70 series saw a distinct separation between the model lines. It also heralded the first application of turbocharging, which enabled Supra to start rivalling European and American coupés for pace. Power gradually increased until final versions boosted an impressive 206kW – which was the maximum allotted power output for a Japanese car. 

Toyota kept the best Supras for its domestic market customers, with the 206kW capable modes being 1992 JZA engined cars, powered by a paralleled turbocharged 2.5-litre inline six. 

The movie icon (A80 series)

The car which initially saddened Supra fans when it launched, due to the bubble shape and absence of pop-up headlights, but quickly became a legend. 
If you believe that Japanese performance car dominance peaked in the late 1990s, A80 Supra is all the evidence required to substantiate that notion.

Toyota Supra A80

                                                                            Image: Toyota Europe

This was a Supra which was built to rival the Porsche 911 and with a 206kW 3-litre engine and enormous rear wing, it certainly had the means to. 
What defined the fourth-generation Supra most of all was what was hidden beneath that power dome bonnet.

The 2JZ Toyota engine code has become fabled for its ability to run incredible tuning kits on standard factory supplied internals. Power ratings of 500kW were easily achievable due to the inherent strength of the 2JZ’s structure.

Unlike most other movie cars, the A80 street racing Supra’s dramatic role in the Fast&Furious was based more on fact than the imagination of a scriptwriter. 

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