History of the Toyota Supra

The new Toyota GR Supra has just been revealed, but the famed name has appeared on sports coupés since 1978. This is the legend of the Supra

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Legend of the Toyota Supra

The Supra name is like holy scripture among fans of Japanese performance cars. Easily the most iconic nameplate for the house of Toyota, this sports car helped put Japanese engineering on the map, both through motorsport success and providing attainable performance for the masses.

With the launch of the all-new Toyota GR Supra, here’s a look back to the car’s past glory days.

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1978 Toyota Celica Supra

The Supra name means much today, but it all started back in 1978 and was actually based on the Toyota Celica. A larger rear section allowed for greater practicality, while the enlarged engine bay accommodated an inline-six derived from the 2000GT.

A more performance orientated model dubbed ‘Celica XX’ was engineered with help from Lotus and even features some components from the Lotus Excel.

There were several iterations of this first generation car until its replacement in 1981.

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1981 Toyota Celica Supra

The 1980s brought plenty of wedge-shaped designs, with the Supra no exception. Still a derivative of the Celica, this chiseled car with its pop-up headlights really struck a chord with coupé fans. There were two distinct derivatives, a luxurious L-Type and a sportier P-Type with revised bodywork.

Over the years this model evolved and steadily gained performance, with the last update in 1985 granting 161bhp and a 0-60mph time of around eight seconds.

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Motorsport potential

Toyota knew that it needed to prove the car’s worth on track to capture the attention of audiences outside of its home market. The second generation of Celica Supra proved to be competitive in motorsport. Motorcycling legend Barry Sheene even piloted one during the British Saloon Car Championship's 1985 season, albeit unable to keep pace with its arch rival that year, the Mitsubishi Starion.

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1986 Toyota Supra

It wasn’t until its third generation that the Supra name was a standalone model. The sporting coupé retained rear-wheel drive while the Celica went front-wheel drive only. A new 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine was good for 200bhp, with its launch also bringing with it more technology such a selectable drive modes and ABS.

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Ready to race

The Mk3 was also launched in Group A form and eligible for touring car championships around the world, though was not quite able to match its road-going reputation on the track. Outmatched by the Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth and later the Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R, it did manage wins with the factory TOM'S team in Japanese touring cars. But ventures in the British and Australian championships did not yield such success.

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1993 Toyota Supra

This is the car that most people think of when you say Supra. Famously capable from the factory, easily tuned, and movie star car of The Fast and The Furious. A standard version of the sports car offered 220bhp, but there was an option to get a twin-turbo version of the car's inline-six capable of 276bhp (326bhp for Europe). The latter had a limited top speed of 155mph, although was capable of exceeding 170mph. Many tuners have coaxed over 1000bhp from this high-performance engine.

Just like its predecessor, the fourth-generation Supra brought new technologies such as advanced stability control and lightweight aluminium components.

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Track star

This Supra saw plenty of success in motorsport and entered many prestigious global events, including the Le Mans 24 Hours. Most of its success, and enhanced status, came from racing in Super GT in Japan. It first raced in the series in 1995, and was a favorite of many thereon.

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Immortal colours

We couldn’t do a feature on the Supra and not include a picture of the car in its famed Castrol livery. Not only was this distinctive colour scheme made famous on track, but a generation of children cherished in on the Gran Turismo Playstation game series.

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2019 Toyota GR Supra

The fourth generation car died with the decline of sporting coupés, but now it returns after a near 17-year absence. The new car shares its platform and engine with the latest BMW Z4, though Toyota and Gazoo Racing have done their own development of the chassis as well as designed new bodywork.

Pitched as a rival to the Porsche 718 Cayman, this coupé produces 335bhp via a turbocharged straight-six engine. 0-62mph is completed in 4.3 seconds, making it faster than its BMW sibling.

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