It’s 20 years today since the introduction of the last generation of the Toyota Supra. It was a car that offered genuine supercar performance with pace to rival the Porsche 911 Turbo – at half the price.
It has since become a cult icon, despite just 600 sold in the three years it was officially available in the UK. But demand for the handsome, and eminently tuneable, Supra ensured a continual flow of imports from Japan. Today almost 2000 are thought to be on British roads.
The Supra nameplate was originally affixed to an upscale Celica. In 1978, Toyota wanted a grand tourer to compete with the Datsun Z cars which dominated the market. The Celica Supra saw a range of six-cylinder engines replace the standard Celica’s four-bangers.
It wasn’t until a year later that the car was exported outside of Japan, and it wasn’t until a year after the 1981 introduction of the second-generation model that it was available to British buyers.
Although sharing much with the standard Celica, the Mk2 Celica Supra was all-new from the B-pillars forward, with a longer wheelbase and a longer nose that afforded space for a revised range of six-cylinder engines. Only the 2.8-litre 5M-GE twin cam engine was offered in the UK. The straight six produced 178bhp and 212lb ft, making an 8.8sec 0-60mph possible.
Power was transferred through a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed auto ‘boxes to the rear wheels. Independent rear suspension was fitted as standard.
The Mk2 was the first Supra to achieve motorsport success. Win Percy and Barry Sheene turned it into a race winner in the British Saloon Car Championship (the forerunner to the BTCC), and Per Eklund took it to the top of the podium in Group A rallying.
For a short time, the Mk2 and Mk3 were sold alongside each other, but it was the third-generation model to become a standalone model: the Celica became front-drive, and the Supra continued rear-drive duties.
The Mk3 Supra featured double wishbones with the upper arms constructed from forged aluminium. A number of engines were available, but only naturally aspirated and latterly turbocharged versions of the 7M-GTE were available in the UK. A Japan-only 270bhp 3.0-litre engine was developed to ensure eligibility for tin-top and rally championships around the world.
Despite its race car pretensions, the Supra was a superb GT, offering impressive refinement and a decent amount of standard kit, indeed options were limited to metallic paint, leather trim and an automatic gearbox.
A turbocharged version was introduced to the UK market in 1989, just after the car was facelifted. Power increased by 15 per cent and torque by 35 per cent, which cut the 0-60 by 1.9sec to 6.1sec. That engine was eventually replaced by a 2.5-litre twin-turbocharged engine from the new JZ engine series.
The Japanese sports car market was enjoying a purple patch by the time the Mk4 Supra was introduced in 1993. The Nissan 300ZX, Mazda RX-7 and Honda NSX were receiving plenty of plaudits and the Mazda MX-5 was selling in huge numbers.
The flowing lines of the Mk4 was a world away from the wedgy Mk3. The new car was lower, shorter and wider and weighed 100kg less. It was available with the 3.0-litre 2JZ engine, in naturally aspirated and twin-turbocharged guises. Power was rated from 220bhp in naturally aspirated imports, up to 326bhp for twin-turbo UK models.
European buyers could only enjoy the hotter of the two engines, which offered performance comparable with the 993-generation of the Porsche 911 Turbo, a car which cost almost twice as much. The Supra’s power delivery impressed road testers of the day: 90 per cent of torque was available between 1900 and 4500rpm and top speed was pegged at 156mph.