Toyota Supra: A Brief History of an Icon
Read up on the A40, A60, A70, and A80 Supras, plus see photos of every generation.
The introduction of the 2020 Toyota Supra marks not only the beginning of the car's fifth generation, but also the continuation of a decades-long legacy. Here, we take a look back at Supras past, but before we go farther, let's consider the Supra name itself. Derived from a Latin prefix meaning "to surpass" or "go beyond," the car's very thesis is that it should be ever-improving. This brief history certainly illustrates how it has lived up to that badge—even when the market didn't.
First-Generation Supra (A40/A50) | 1979
A more luxurious, more powerful, longer wheelbase, inline-six-cylinder version of the Celica, the first-generation Toyota Supra laid the groundwork for the franchise. With 110 horsepower from its SOHC 2.6-liter inline-six, the 1979 Celica Supra didn't exactly blow the doors off any competition, but it nevertheless won its share of fans, and was successful enough to justify a second-generation super-Celica.
The inline-six in the Supra was Toyota's first production engine equipped with electronic fuel injection, and four-wheel disc brakes were standard equipment. Leather-trimmed seating and automatic climate control were added during the model run. In 1981, the engine was enlarged to 2.8 liters (but retained the single-cam layout of the original), the four-speed automatic transmission option was revised, and a sport suspension package was offered.
Second-Generation Supra (A60) | 1982
The second-generation Supra was, like the A40, based on the Celica, though its independent rear suspension was unique to the Supra, signaling the beginning of the transition away from the Celica. Upgraded to a 2.8-liter DOHC straight six rated at 145 horsepower, the A60 was markedly quicker, and given its placement in the nascent emissions-control era (the A60 launched in 1982), on par with some V-8s of the day. By the end of its run, the second Supra made up to 161 horsepower, and could reach 60 mph in just over eight seconds.
Two variants of the second-generation Supra were offered: L-type and Performance. Mechanically identical, the differences were limited to the Performance version's wider fender flares and accompanying wider wheels and tires, as well as a sport-themed interior.
Third-Generation Supra (A70) | 1986
The third Supra launched in mid-1986 was in a way the first, as it finally diverged completely from the Celica to become a standalone model. It was also the first generation to receive a Turbo variant, in 1987. More luxurious, more tech-packed, and more powerful thanks to a new 3.0-liter straight-six (good for up to 230 horsepower and 246 lb-ft of torque in Turbo form), the A70 Supra raised the benchmark for Supra performance even higher.
The 1987 Supra was the first Toyota in the United States to be offered with both a turbocharged engine and anti-lock brakes. A targa-style top was also available starting in 1987. From 1987 to 1993, the only real changes were stylistic.
Fourth-Generation Supra (A80) | 1993
It was the fourth-gen car that would go on to win the hearts and minds of America's tuner set, even though that wouldn't happen in full effect until several years after the car went out of production. The Supra's last year on sale in the U.S. was 1998 (it remained on sale internationally until 2002), but it was 2001's The Fast and The Furious that drove the Supra Turbo to superstardom among the mainstream. Rated at up to 320 horsepower and 315 lb-ft of torque, the Supra Turbo's stout 2JZ-GTE engine would become the stuff of legend, frequently reaching more than 1,000 horsepower in the hands of tuners, helping the model to become a supercar slayer and working-class hero in the aftermarket. This despite its high original sales price of $39,900—or about $62,000 when adjusted to 2019 dollars. That's about $8,000 more than the current A90 fifth-generation Supra, for those keeping score at home.
The fourth-generation Supra, as beloved as it became, floundered on dealer lots. It also began to run afoul of increasingly strict emissions regulations, which spelled doom for the six-speed manual transmission option for the 1996 model year, leaving only the four-speed electronically controlled automatic. Fortunately, the manual returned in 1997, along with a host of visual updates (including more extensive "Turbo" badging, and darker graphite-colored headlight surrounds—all part of the Limited Edition 15th Anniversary package fitted to all '97 Supras. Despite additional frame bracing and sound damping material, the increasingly refined, very capable Supra declined further in sales, and was discontinued for the U.S. after the 1998 model year.