40 years of Toyota Supra magic

2018 marks 40 years of Supra magic, so we take a look through a remarkable history, just as Toyota unveils its new A90 Supra. Words: Ian Seabrook Pics: Toyota GB and Drive-My.



Toyota has chosen to mark the 40 years of Supra in the best way possible – launching a new one. At a closed-doors event in Sussex, members of several Supra clubs got to see the A90 for the first time, ahead of its official UK reveal. A fine display of cars including every generation of Supra since the first was launched in 1978. The event was attended by Supra A90 chief engineer Tetsuya Tada, who drove the A90 up the Goodwood Festival of Speed hillclimb on the same weekend.

Anniversary Toyota Supra

Anniversary Toyota Supra

Toyota GB managed to get an impressive 50 Supras together for the event, with invited guests being amongst the first in the UK to explore the new Supra in detail, as well as compare and contrast the changes over the years.

Toyota is clearly very excited about the Supra, old and new. This makes it an ideal time to explore the model’s history, going back to the original Celica-inspired models, up to the MkIV, one of the punchiest Japanese GTs you can buy, even today.

1978 – Celica XX/Supra A40

There’s a little manipulation of history here, because the first six-cylinder spin-off from the Celica family was simply called the Celica XX on launch in 1978. This JDM-only model was joined the following year by the Celica Supra, which rapidly established itself in the USA. The formula was simple enough – the Celica Supra was a Celica A40 with an extended front end, in order to make room for the six-cylinder engine. JDM-spec focussed on the 2-litre 1G-EU, with the engine reworked by Yamaha to boost power to 115bhp at 6400rpm in 2000GT form, though lower-spec models had to do with just 90bhp. Larger engines were available, but weren’t popular for tax reasons.

Export models exclusively used the larger engines – first 2.6-litres, then 2.8 from August 1980. Power levels were actually slightly lower than the 2000GT, but torque was improved.

In the USA, the Celica Supra went straight into battle against the Nissan 280ZX. Sadly, the Celica Supra never made it to the UK officially, and there are thought to be only two here today, both American imports.

The two-tone example here is owned by Daryl King, and was one of the stars of the A90 Supra launch. The two-tone paint of Daryl’s A40 looks absolutely perfect for the US market, as does the red interior. Definitely of its time! Imported from America in 1994, the Supra was brought over by an officer stationed at RAF Mildenhall. Daryl purchased the Supra in April 2015 after spotting it at a car show. “My goal was to own all four versions of the original Supra. I’ve now got Mk1 to Mk3 and am on the hunt for a good Mk4. It must be a UK car.”

Celica XX was launched in 1978, becoming the Celica Supra for export markets.

Interior seemed very inspired by American tastes, which might explain the popularity there. This is a US example.

1981 – Celica XX/Supra A60

Toyota revamped the Celica XX/Supra considerably for 1981, with sharper styling, now with pop-up headlamps to clearly differentiate it from the similar-looking Celica A60. With this generation, the Supra really became a true success story, and the new model was now available in the UK at last. It had the same six-cylinder, rear-wheel drive desirability of the legendary, if ancient, Ford Capri, while also feeling sharper and a little less bloated than the Nissan 280ZX. That would force Nissan to up its game with the Z31 300ZX, and the arms race between the two firms truly began.

JDM models retained 2-litre power, while the 2759cc 5M-GE unit was used for the USA and Europe, producing up to 178bhp. From 1984, UK Supras were available with a digital dashboard. How very 1980s. Until now, certainly in the UK, Toyota had mostly been known for making staid, unexciting family cars, but the Celica Supra certainly helped change that image. Here was a car that was hugely entertaining to drive, yet just as reliable as the family motors. People began to take notice, and the Supra name was starting to garner a following. The good news is that there was even better yet to come.

Celica Supra A60 had much sharper styling, and was sold in the UK at last. Celica origins very apparent from the rear. Interior boasted digital displays while engine packed 178bhp.

1986 Supra A70

Toyota was never one to rest on its laurels, and the next move forward came only five years after the launch of the A60. Now, the Supra split away from the Celica, with the smaller car now based on the front-wheel drive underpinnings of the Corona.

Again, there was a JDM-only version, slightly narrower and with a 2-litre engine, but export models engined the new 7M-GE in 2954cc form. This was good for 200bhp at 6000rpm. It helped this generation achieve bestyet sales figures of 11,551 units in the UK – a considerable improvement over the 4132 of the A60.

Toyota even took this generation of Supra rallying, albeit without major success. However, it proved how robust the Supra was, holding firm to Toyota’s values of reliability first and foremost. In truth, the Supra was a bit big for rallying, when cars such as the Lancia Delta Integrale, Ford Sierra 4×4 and Celica were more common winners. It was a bold choice to tackle such events in a large GT car.

In 1987, a turbocharged version was introduced, pumping out a meaty 232bhp and 240lb.ft of torque. Now things were starting to get really interesting, as the battle with the 300ZX began to hot up. Nowhere was that more apparent than on the Japanese market, where the legendary 1JZ turbocharged engine became available. Launched in 1990, the 1-JZ-powered JZA70 now had 276bhp from just 2491cc and extremely potent performance. How were Toyota going to top this?

A70 Supra was independent of the Celica for the first time. It sold in huge numbers.

A 232bhp Turbo enhanced this model’s performance as the power battle with Nissan began to hot up.

Supra proves its mettle on the 1989 WRC Safari Rally, finishing fourth with Bjorn Waldegaard at the wheel.

A80 Supra was a huge leap forward, in terms of power and styling. 2-JZ -produced 276bhp and ensured staggering performance. Cosy interior aims controls at the driver.

1993 Supra A80

In response to Toyota’s ever-increasing power and tech count, Nissan responded with the Z32 300ZX. With a twin-turbo V6 and clever tech borrowed from the Skyline R32, this was a formidable machine. Toyota was forced to up its game. The response was the A80 Supra, or MkIV. Driveline assemblies were shared with the Z30 Soarer, a JDM-only coupe, but the Supra’s new body was sleek and rounded, designed to tackle the 300ZX head on. There was real power too, with the 2JZGE producing 220bhp in non-turbo form, and 276bhp to comply with the gentlemens agreement on power in Japan. It’s telling that Supras sold in the USA had 320bhp, while European cars were claimed to have 326bhp. This allowed for astonishing performance, with 0-60mph taking under five seconds. The turbochargers acted in sequence, with the smaller one spinning up quickly to reduce turbo lag, and reduce the ‘thump’ as the larger turbocharger came on boost.

Such performance and technology did not come cheaply, however, and a mere 623 MkIV Supras were sold in the UK before Toyota ended sales in 1996. The A80 soldiered on until 2002, but with Japanese and American sales sliding too, Toyota decided not to develop a replacement. With Nissan also halting production of both the 300ZX and Skyline by 2002, the time of the great GTs was over.

2018 Supra A90

18 years after production ended, a new Supra came to town. Naturally, it isn’t very retro, so we won’t go into vast details. The underpinnings are actually shared with the BMW Z4, but naturally there’s a turbocharged six-cylinder powerplant, thought to produce around 330bhp. Will this be a car we’re talking about in revered terms in 20 years time? We’ll have to wait and see…

“Such performance and technology did not come cheaply, however, and a mere 623 MkIV Supras were sold in the UK before Toyota ended sales in 1996.”

Toyota sold a mere 623 Supra A80s in the UK. Many more, like this one, imported since.

Part of the huge gathering of Supras organised by Toyota GB.

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