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Though not currently in production, the Toyota Supra remains one of Toyota's most popular models with performance enthusiasts. Available through much of the 1980s and '90s, the Supra was the company's flagship sport coupe. Designed to be more of a grand-touring coupe than a hard-edged sports car, the Supra rewarded owners with its easy-to-drive nature and powerful engines. It also pioneered new technologies -- it was the first Toyota to get electronic fuel injection and the first Toyota in America to have both a turbocharged engine and antilock brakes.
Few people probably remember that the Toyota Supra actually started life as an enhanced-performance spin-off of the Celica. Known as the Celica Supra, this model was based on the old rear-wheel-drive Celica hatchback of the late '70s. Compared to its less-expensive sibling, the Supra featured an inline six-cylinder engine and more features. It first became its own distinct model in 1986 when the third-generation Supra debuted.
This third-gen Supra was when the nameplate really started to hit its stride, especially after the introduction of the Supra Turbo in 1987. But this was just a prelude to what would become Toyota's most convincing sports car to date: the fourth and final-generation Supra, which was one of the most exciting and affordable high-performance sports cars of the '90s.
Not only was the Supra Turbo a sensible alternative to European exotics, it also became an aspirational car for a new breed of import enthusiasts who found the turbocharged inline-6 extremely easy to tweak for massive increases in horsepower. Toyota discontinued the Supra for the U.S. market after the 1998 model year due to declining demand, but the car still remains a very popular used sports car. For many years, rumors of a fifth-generation Toyota Supra have swirled about. So far, however, Toyota has not announced any official plans for a replacement.
Most Recent Toyota Supra
The fourth-generation Toyota Supra was part of the Japanese muscle car revolution of the '90s. Sold from 1993-'98, it was a major step up from the previous-generation Supra in both appearance and performance. It was still a rear-wheel-drive two-door hatchback, and it still had a long sloping nose, but Toyota added some serious sex appeal by giving the body more curvaceous lines.
The base trim level came with a 3.0-liter 24-valve inline-6 engine that generated 220 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque. It was offered with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. More impressive was the Supra Turbo. Powered by a sequential twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter 24-valve inline-6, the Turbo produced 320 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque. Zero-to-60 times were in the low 5-second range. For the first time, the Supra looked and drove like an exotic performance car. And it came loaded with a number of standard features that were impressive for the day, including traction control, a limited-slip differential, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and a six-speed manual transmission.
The fourth-generation Toyota Supra remained relatively unchanged throughout its lifespan. In 1994, the base model got a revised final-drive ratio for better off-the-line acceleration. The Turbo lost its six-speed manual for one year in 1996 due to emissions regulations (only the four-speed automatics were available), but regained it in 1997. That year also marked the Supra's 15th anniversary, and both trim levels received standard equipment upgrades, such as a rear spoiler and premium sound system. The Turbo also got polished alloy wheels and a removable sport roof.
If you are considering a used fourth-generation Supra, you probably know that both engines are strong performers and have acquired reputations for excellent reliability. The key to finding a good used specimen is knowing the car's history. Many Supras have been extensively modified, but some modifications can be removed in order to make the car appear largely stock. Make sure you are confident that the car has not been previously abused before signing on the dotted line. Also note that due to the Supra's still-competitive performance and easily modifiable nature, resale values -- especially on turbocharged models -- are remarkably high.
Past Toyota Supra Models
In 1979, Toyota released the original Celica Supra, which was based on the Celica liftback. The Supra was longer and wider than the Celica, but the primary difference was the Supra's 2.6-liter inline-6 engine, which was the first Toyota engine with electronic fuel injection. In 1981, Toyota replaced the engine with a 2.8-liter single-overhead-cam inline-6. That year, Toyota also revised the final-drive ratio in the four-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed manual was standard) and offered an optional sport suspension.
The similar second-generation Celica Supra, released in 1982, featured a 2.8-liter dual-overhead-cam inline-6 that made 145 hp. For the first time, Toyota offered two trims: L-type and Performance. Mechanically, they were identical. The difference was in the bodywork. The Performance trim got fender flares, wider wheels and tires, and a sport interior. In 1984, Toyota made a few slight modifications to the engine, bumping power up to 160 hp, but the Celica Supra remained relatively unchanged until the next generation.
These first Supras are largely forgotten antiques at this point, but they may attract interest from nostalgic enthusiasts. Their reputation for durability means that a relatively low-mileage and rust-free model could be a decent purchase.
When Toyota changed the Celica to a front-wheel-drive car in 1986, it identified the Supra as its own model for the first time. Officially designated as a 1986.5 model, the third-generation Toyota Supra was equipped with a 200-hp 3.0-liter inline-6 engine. But at 3500 pounds, it was roughly 500 pounds heavier than the previous Celica Supra. Overall performance was not particularly thrilling. Less than a year later, however, Toyota added a 230-hp turbocharged model to the lineup, which was capable of running from zero to 60 mph in the mid-7-second range. Blown head-gaskets are a known problem on the otherwise dependable third-generation Supra.