The Sports Car Legacy Begins
As the early sixties rolled around, Toyota discovered it needed more than a good quality lineup to drive customers toward its brand. The Europeans had high-performance models, like the Porsche 356, Jaguar E-Type, and Aston Martin’s DB4 (the Americans were touting their Corvette and Thunderbirds.
When Toyota debuted the new sportscar at the Toyota Motor Show in 1965, it created tremendous buzz. The body lines were very distinctive of other sports cars of the day, with beautifully curved lines and a sloping aerodynamic front end. Even though the car had never seen a racetrack or street, the car impressed so much that many reviewers felt that Toyota was on the cusp of something great.
The Toyota 2000GT Its Production
Toyota contracted with Yamaha to produce the car, equipping it with a 2.0L inline six-cylinder engine that made 148 hp and had a top speed of 135 mph. The first 2000GTs rolled out in 1967, built and finished by hand at Yamaha’s plant rather than the Toyota main factory line. The automaker had hoped to manufacture more than 1,000 a month but soon discovered that the market for the new car was not nearly as strong as they had estimated. The reasons for this are varied, but the $6800 asking price ($1000 more than the Jaguar E-Type or Porsche 911) contributed to consumers’ apathy.
Within a couple of years, rival producer Datsun (Nissan) was producing the Fairlady Z (240z for international markets - also with a Yamaha engine), further undercutting Toyota’s work. Due to how expensive the car was to build, Toyota discontinued the model in the fall of 1970 despite producing only a little more than one and a half cars per week.
The First “Supra” Is Born
It would take eight years before Toyota dipped its toes into the sports car market by introducing the Supra. Taking its design cues from the Celica liftback, the Supra was initially sold as the Celica XX in the domestic market. Toyota hoped the new sports car would provide some competition to the Datsun Z market. Toyota equipped the car with a 2.0L inline-six-cylinder engine, producing 123 hp for the domestic market, and several months later, the automaker began to export the Celica Supra with a 2.6L six-cylinder that has a lower power output (110 hp).
The carmaker equipped their new sports car with a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission, giving it a four-link rear suspension, enhanced stabilizer bar, and McPherson struts. Power windows, locks, and a sunroof were generous optional interior features. Still, the car had many standard features like a tachometer, AM/FM MPX stereo, and zippered map pockets on the back of the front seats, which Toyota hoped would appeal to American buyers.
Even before the first generation had run its course, Toyota recognized the need for a more powerful engine, offering a 2.8L engine in 1980 (1981 MY). The new powerplant increased the horsepower to 116 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque. The Celica Supra continued to be sold as the Celica XX (double-x) in Japan but was known as the Supra in international markets, selling over 63k models in the US alone.
The Supra Grows Up
The Toyota Supra would be redesigned for the 1982 model but still bear the Celica nameplate. It utilized the new 2.8 inline-six engine, a modified Lotus-inspired suspension, and an integrated radio antenna in the front windshield. Amenities like tilt steering, power windows, power locks, and mirrors became standard equipment. In Japan, the Celica XX offered the world’s first navigation computer.
Over the years of the second generation, Toyota continued to tweak the engines and power outputs. The most significant development during this time was the ECT (electronic controlled transmission), which used an electronic controller to vary shift pattern, balancing power and economy as needed. It was the first car in the industry to offer such a system.
By the end of the second generation Supra, Toyota had increased its power output to 160 hp, dropped the 0 - 60 time to 8.4 seconds, and began installing a new 130 mph speedometer in the North American market. Other changes included a new rear spoiler, and a standard cassette player with an equalizer, and an automatic off-lighting system.
The Supra Becomes Its Own Model
The third generation saw the Supra divorce itself from the Celica shadow. While the Celica was switched to a front-wheel drive vehicle, the Supra retained its rear-wheel drive capabilities. The engine size increased to a more potent 3.0L inline six producing 200 hp (it was turbocharged in 87). The new Mark III Supra engine was an advanced high-performance engine that was the first Toyota engine to offer a distributor-less coil pack system using three wasted spark coils.
In 1989, the car received significant cosmetic updates, including taillights, front bumper and grille, side mirrors, new fog lights, and, for Turbo models, a rear spoiler with an integrated brake light. Under the hood, Toyota modified the engine bracing to accommodate the new 1JZ engine for domestic models. Toyota committed to its owner’s safety by installing new three-point safety belts and replacing the older two-point lap belts with new three-point safety belts. Other changes included new inner door panels, steering wheel, and power window controls.
Toyota would continue to make the third generation of the Supra, continually tweaking the product to accommodate the growing international market. While the A70 Supra didn’t sell quite as much as the previous A60, its sales still accounted for over 108k models in the US market.
The A80 Supra Is Produced
In 1993, Toyota offered its newest version of the Toyota Supra, which was patterned off the Lexus SC 300/400 (Soarer in Japan). While the Supra was smaller than its luxurious cousin, it shared the same subframe, suspension, and drivetrain. Toyota was enjoying great success in its racing applications and sought to translate these performance lessons to its regular sportscar fleet.
The A80 sported two redesigned engines, the 2JZ-GE, which produced 220 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque, which was standard. The twin-turbo charged 2JZ-GTE version with larger injectors and stronger steel wheeled turbos for the American market bumped the power output to 321 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque. The changes also translated into faster numbers on the street, with a 5.4 second 0 - 60 mph time and a 13.5 second quarter mile. MotorTrend remarked that the new car was “the fastest Supra they had ever tested.”
Unfortunately, ever-tightening federal emission regulations (both in the US and Japan) doomed the Supra’s production. By 1998, the handwriting was clear, and even though the car would hang on until 2002, it was just too expensive to modify for the US market. Only 12,059 were sold from ‘93 - ‘99.
A New Generation Emerges
Toyota would bring the Supra back into production until almost twenty years later. In 2019,
The Japanese automaker partnered with BMW to offer the new sportscars with turbo-charged 4 and 6-cylinder engines as a part of the Toyota GR (Gazoo Racing) family. When it was introduced, the sportscar featured a completely redesigned look with the BMW 58 turbocharged six, producing an impressive 335 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque.
The car was lightning quick, posting a 3.8 second 0 - 60 time, and shaving the quarter-mile time down to 12.3 seconds. The engine was paired with the eight-speed-automatic transmission and a sport-tuned electric power steering. The car handles about as well as any high-performance racer in the sports car segment. (Toyota didn’t offer a manual transmission when the sports car was first introduced (until the end of 2022), which caused all kinds of turmoil and angst for sports car enthusiasts everywhere).
For 2023, the Toyota GR Supra continues to offer the 2.0L turbo four-cylinder and the 3.0-liter inline-six engine, producing 382 hp and 361 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. The current model Supra is the best driver-focused car Toyota makes, offering all kinds of driver-assist features that current consumers will appreciate, including an 8.8 infotainment screen (a version of BMW’s iDrive), effective instrumentation display, and complete connectivity.
In addition, the automaker has added a complete suite of safety features like rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, and an optional driver assist package with more features. While the double-bubble roof might be slightly cramped for taller drivers, the Supra is the perfect weekend car for a getaway.
Surprisingly the turbo engines get very decent fuel economy, (the four-cylinder is best with an EPA fuel economy of 25 city and 32 highway. The larger 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder isn’t far behind, posting 31 mpg down the Interstate. The Supra is moderately priced at $45K plus for the 2.0L and in the mid-fifties for the more powerful 3.0 liter.