The funny thing about Toyota is that every now and then an incredible performance machine pops out of their endless sea of beige cars. The 2000GT, the Celica GT-Four, the GT86 and the Lexus LFA are just a few examples. But I would argue none have ever been as lust-inducing as this: the fourth generation Supra.
While today isn't the actual birthday of the most potent and final Supra, Toyota recently celebrated the car's 20th in the UK with a huge gathering of more than 100 of the cars in the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon. Now seems like as good a time as any to reflect on a car that enthusiasts everywhere have enjoyed, raced, tuned, and pined after for two decades now.
If you grew up dreaming of the MKIV Supra like I did, realizing that it turns 20 this year will probably make you feel incredibly old. Mass production of the last and most potent Supra ever began in earnest in 1993 and lasted all the way to 2002 in the Japanese market. We Americans weren't so lucky, as we only got it until 1998.
The fourth Supra made its debut at the 1993 Chicago Auto Show. Like its competitors, it was a big coupe, but it actually managed to lose some weight compared to its dated-looking, 1980s-fantastic predecessor. This new Supra had flowing, elegant lines, a long hood, and its signature huge wing. I think that in terms of design, the Nissan 300ZX and Mazda RX-7 have aged better, but the Supra is unmistakably pretty. I always thought of it as a modern Japanese take on a Jaguar coupe.
Power famously came from the 3.0-liter JZ straight six engine in either naturally aspirated form with 220 horsepower or in twin turbocharged form with 320 horsepower. Zero to 60 mph came in just 4.6 seconds, according to Car and Driver. They said that made it faster than all its competitors.
We now live in an age where the humble V6 Mustang puts out horsepower numbers close to that and where sub-5 second zero to 60 times don't feel all that special. But back in the early 1990s, the Supra was astoundingly fast.
And that was before the tuners got their hands on it. Everyone has met a guy who once cranked his Supra up to 1,000, or 1,200, or 1,500, or 2,000 horsepower. The turbo six's output seems limited only by its owner's imagination and budget.
The Supra and its cohorts the 300ZX, RX-7, NSX and others were the last products of the era when Japan was invincible and unstoppable. All of them were high-tech land missiles that could engage or defeat the best cars that America and Europe had to offer. The 1980s proved that Japanese cars could compete — this class of sports coupes proved they could surpass. For a generation of people raised on the import car scene, on Gran Turismo and Initial D, they remain revered like ancient, mythical gods.
But then times changed. The world, Japan in particular, was hit with a nasty recession. Tastes changed and buyers switched to SUVs. Emissions regulations got tighter. The cars' inflated price tags became harder and harder to justify. A 1998 Supra Turbo's MSRP was around $40,000, which is about $57,000 in today's money.
And so, the Age of Supra ended, rather unceremoniously as sales dwindled. They are still highly sought after today, and with massive price tags, but good luck finding one that hasn't been modified into something tasteless and undesirable.
I think it's safe to say now, in 2013, that Toyota's beigeification has subsided considerably. Sure, they still make snoozers like the Avalon and the disappointing 2014 Toyota Corolla. But they also make the FR-S/GT86 and the impressive new Lexus IS. And then there's that news that Toyota is working with BMW on a new high-tech halo sports car.