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History of the Toyota Supra, a Japanese sports car legend

As we take our first go in the production Supra, we can't help but look back at this fabled nameplate.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

When the 2020 Toyota Supra goes on sale this summer, it will mark the first time the legendary sports car has been in US showrooms since the 1998 model year. Its return continues the resurgence of Japanese performance cars like the Acura NSX, Honda Civic Type RNissan 370Z, Nissan GT-R and Subaru BRZ. And after officially debuting earlier this year at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, we've finally gotten to drive the new Supra on road and track.

A new Supra was a long time coming with no shortage of rumors regarding a new car coming throughout the years. The FT-1 concept that Toyota uncovered a few years back served as a fantastic foundation to what the next-generation car would ultimately become. At the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, the Japanese car maker rolled out the Supra racing concept that confirmed the legendary nameplate's return.

With an inline six-cylinder engine and plenty of styling inspiration from the fourth-generation model, the new Supra has some familiar traits. And then there are some traits that may make fans of the previous models pause such as its BMW bones and two seat layout. Either way, we're just happy its coming back. As we wait just a little bit longer for a new Supra to get here, let's take a look at the history of Toyota's most noteworthy performance vehicle.

1979-1981 Celica Supra: The beginning

How the Supra started.


On Jan. 1, 1979, Toyota officially introduced the Supra in the US as an offshoot of the Celica lineup with a base price of $10,118. A 2.6-liter inline six-cylinder engine with 110 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque powered the Celica Supra. A five-speed manual transmission was standard, while a four-speed automatic was available as an option. To accommodate the larger six-pot engine, the front of the car was stretched by approximately 5-inches over the standard Celica.

Toyota originally saw the Supra as a premium model in the Celica lineup with more power and standard features like air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM stereo and optional leather interior and sunroof. The Celica Supra was also the first Toyota vehicle in the US to offer cruise control. Throughout the first model's lifecycle, automatic climate control, power windows and power locks would join the options list.

For the final year of production in 1981, the first-gen car got a bigger 2.8-liter engine with 116 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. An optional sports premium package also debuted with a firmer suspension and front and rear spoilers.

1982-1986 Celica Supra: Two faces

1984 Celica Supra


A new Celica Supra launched for the 1982 model year powered by a new 2.8-liter inline six-cylinder churning out 145 horsepower and 155 pound-feet of torque and started at $14,098. Engine output would steadily climb throughout this generation's run to top out at 161 horsepower and 169 pound-feet of torque in 1986. A standard five-speed manual and available four-speed automatic remained as the transmission options.

Two versions of the Celica Supra were offered including a luxury L-Type and performance version. L-Type models featured a digital instrument cluster and interiors that could be trimmed with either plush velour or leather. Standard features on all Celica Supras included power windows, power locks, power mirrors, automatic climate control and cruise control. A five-speaker audio system with cassette deck, sunroof and two-tone exterior paint scheme were options.

1986.5-1992 Supra: Solo act

The turbo lands in 1987.


Following production delays, the third-generation Toyota Supra launched as a 1986.5 model and stood alone from the Celica. While the Celica morphed into a front-wheel-drive sport compact, the Supra retained a rear-wheel-drive setup with six-cylinder motivation and began at $18,610. At launch, a 3.0-liter inline six with 200 horsepower and 196 pound-feet of torque provided power, but the 1987 model year saw the addition of a turbo model that pushed output to 230 ponies and 240 pound-feet.

A sports package was available on regular Supras, but standard on turbo cars to add a limited-slip differential, adjustable suspension system and headlamp washers. Standard features included eight-way adjustable sport seats, one-touch power windows, power mirrors and automatic climate controls. Antilock brakes, a targa roof and leather interior were available as options.

1993-1998 Supra: Becoming a serious performer

Leaner and meaner.


Introduced in June 1993, the fourth-generation Supra, or MKIV to car enthusiasts, became a more performance-focused machine with a $34,225 base price. Engineers began by trimming weight where possible using aluminum for the hood, targa top (if optioned), front cross member, oil pan, transmission pan and various suspension bits. In addition, small details like a magnesium steering wheel and plastic gas tank were utilized. Compared to the previous model, the Supra lost approximately 200 pounds.

Two engine options were offered including a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder with 220 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque connected to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. A turbo 3.0-liter inline six served as the range topping powerplant with 320 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque that worked with either a six-speed manual or four-speed speed auto.

The star of the original "The Fast and the Furious" movie forged on in the US until 1998 when low demand made Toyota cease importation of its performance animal. Production in Japan continued until August 2002.

2014 FT-1 concept: Preview of the new Supra?

Are you the new Toyota Supra?

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

At the 2014 Detroit Auto Show, Toyota rolled out the hot FT-1 sports car concept, which clearly leaned on the fourth-generation Supra for styling inspiration. With "FT" standing for Future Toyota, the company called the swoopy concept a "spiritual pace car" for upcoming designs.

The concept was unveiled without any specifications, but the design is unquestionably sporty with massive air intakes up front, long hood line, double bubble roof, massive automatic wing and rear diffuser. Like a proper show car, the package rides on huge 21-inch wheels.

Without any clues to what powerplant sits under the clear hood panel, the concept's interior does hint to the way Toyota is leaning towards when it comes to transmissions. The lack of a traditional shifter on the console or a clutch pedal, and the inclusion of steering wheel paddle shifters suggest either a dual-clutch or automatic gearbox for any future car based off the concept.

GR Supra Racing Concept: A new Supra is coming

A preview of the new Supra street car.

Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

With the debut of the GR Supra Racing Concept, the speculation about a new Toyota Supra coming was put to rest. GR stands for Gazoo Racing, Toyota's motorsports partner. Like previous Supras, this one will be front-engine and rear-wheel drive. What exactly will be providing power under the hood remains to be seen, but rumors said that it will be a turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine. Rumors also said that a traditional manual transmission would not be available.

Visually, the concept's body drew heavily from the FT-1 concept, particularly in the front and rear fascias. Being a race car, the bumpers, splitter, diffuser and honkin' rear wing are all developed with aero in mind. Additional motorsports-focused bits included center-locking BBS wheels wrapped with Michelin race rubber, racing exhaust system and Brembo brakes.

The cockpit didn't provide any hints to a road car at all with a purpose-built racing dashboard, an OMP driver's seats, roll cage and carbon-fiber door panels. In fact, Toyota didn't mention anything about the forthcoming road car at the time.

Supra prototype: Inching towards production

Toyota Supra prototype


Leading up to arrival of the fifth-generation Supra, Toyota announced plans to uncover a prototype version at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed. The prototype and news of Toyota taking the Supra to race in NASCAR were yet another couple of step towards the production car. Compared to the Gazoo Racing concept, the prototype loses the gnarly rear diffuser in favor a more subtle and road-friendlier one, but retained a strong trunklid spoiler.

Toyota also confirmed that the new Supra will feature a straight-six gas engine and rear-wheel drive to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors. The I6 was likely coming from development partner BMW, which was using the platform for the next Z4 sports car.

After a couple of concepts and prototype, it was confirmed that the 2020 Toyota Supra production car was finally going to be uncovered at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. 

2020 Supra: The legend returns

2020 Toyota Supra

Jon Wong/Roadshow

After an incredibly lengthy buildup, the fifth-generation Supra is finally here. Like its predecessors, the new car is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder sourced from BMW. With 335 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque on tap, it'll get the rear-wheel-driver sports car to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and have an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. Surely to disappoint driving purist, the only transmission available at launch will be a ZF eight-speed automatic, but Toyota representatives have said a manual is possible down the road.

The platform is shared with the BMW Z4 roadster giving the Supra 50:50 weight distribution. In addition, hardware such as standard adaptive dampers, aluminum control arms, torque vectoring rear differential and 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires will help deliver the goods in the handling department.

Design wise, it features cues from the forth-gen Supra on the front fascia, curvy long hood line and integrated arching rear spoiler, while the double-bubble roof comes from the 2000 GT. Big rear haunches deliver a tougher stance on a two-seater performance car that will hit dealers this summer wearing a $50,000 price tag. If you want to know how it drives, make sure to check out our review here

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