July 15, 2019 By Paolo de Borja

History of the Toyota Supra

Looking back on a legend

The Toyota Supra is one of the most iconic sports cars in history. First introduced 40 years ago, the nameplate cemented its legendary status late in the 20th century.

First Generation (A40/A50; 1978-1981)

Meant to rival the popular Datsun (now Nissan) Z cars at the time, Toyota introduced the first-generation A40 Supra in April 1978. The styling on the original Supra was based on the then Celica liftback. It was made more aggressive with a wider and longer exterior, along with a more powerful engine. Toyota also received engineering support from Lotus Cars in the development of the car. In exchange, the Japanese manufacturer supplied some parts used in the Lotus Excel.

The model was originally dubbed as the Celica XX (pronounced “double X”) in Japan, but this didn’t stick well outside the Japanese market. Thus, it was baptized as the Celica Supra.

Second Generation (A60; 1981-1985)

In July 1981, Toyota came out with the second-generation Supra, the A60 or Mk II Celica XX. Still based on the Celica model, and now on its third-generation, the Celica Supra packed a new 2.8-liter 5M-GE twin-cam engine. It may have been generally identical to the Celica, but it distinguished itself with a longer wheelbase, retractable headlights, more commanding wheel arches, and an independent rear suspension.

Production of the Mk II Celica Supra ceased in December 1985. And in February 1986, Toyota dropped the XX moniker and the Supra finally became independent from the Celica line. They were now on different platforms. One of the significant changes during this time was the Celica’s transition to front-wheel drive, while the third-generation A70 Supra maintained its rear-wheel drive platform.

Third Generation (A70; 1986-1993)

The Mk III was topped with a 2,954 cc 7M-GTE turbocharged and intercooled twin-cam engine, an inline-six powerhouse that delivered 230 bhp.  Due to its success, the 7M-GTE engine was later upgraded to 270 bhp for the new Supra Turbo.

Many claim that the introduction of the Supra Turbo marked the time when the line garnered more significant attention.

In 1993, Toyota rolled out the sleek, rounded, and legendary fourth-generation A80 Supra. Its arrival came at a time when the Japanese car industry saw great success, as exemplified by the Nissan 300ZX, Mitsubishi 3000GT, Mazda RX-7, and Honda NSX. Japanese sports cars that still turn heads until today. The Supra, however, is arguably the most sought after and remembered from this era.

Fourth Generation (A80; 1993-2002)

The fourth-generation Supra was in development for four years under chief engineer Isao Tsuzuki, the man also responsible for the first Celica and some MR2s. At the heart of this legend is a wide range of powertrains; three 2.5-liter inline-6 variants called 1JZ, and three 3.0-liter engines dubbed as the 2JZ. Most infamous of them all is the 2JZ-GTE; a twin turbo inline-6 powerhouse with an iron block and an aluminum head. This top-of-the-line version of the Supra also saw the debut of Toyota’s first six-speed gearbox.

It certainly didn’t take long for the Supra to take on the Porsches and Aston Martins of the time.

Toyota’s 2JZ-GTE was and remains an icon for its versatility and tunability, making it a delight for tuners to upgrade and create twice or thrice as much horsepower from stock.

Toyota ended production on the A80 in August 2002. For more than a decade, a return by this Japanese sports car legend remained a dream for many. In 2014, however, Toyota unveiled the FT-1 concept car. This concept’s styling showed significant resemblance to the fourth-generation Supra, leading many to believe the car was set to make a comeback. Speculations were indeed confirmed. The Toyota Supra narrative moves further as the fifth-generation model was officially debuted at the 2019 North American International Motor Show as a 2020 model. And last February, we had the opportunity to test and review the 2020 Toyota Supra around the track.

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