Toyota built a Group A Mk III Supra and ran it in the toughest World Rally Championship event on the planet! Here is the car's very much forgotten story.
Up until the early 2000s, the WRC included the Safari Rally. The event ran for hundreds of miles across East Africa through a particular mix of mud, sand, and dirt that seemed to favor simple construction over raw speed.
What this meant is that relatively crude Japanese cars absolutely dominated the event, particularly in the '70s and '80s. Even as European teams switched to four-wheel drive, tough rear-drive Datsuns, Mitsubishis, and Toyotas endured the conditions and eked out wins.
Toyota has a long history with the Safari Rally, with seven overall wins in the '80s and '90s with their small but sturdy Celicas.
What I didn't realize is that Toyota briefly campaigned a couple of bigger, simpler Supras that time seems to have forgotten.
The Mk III (A70) Supra was actually how Toyota entered Group A competition in 1987, with a 290 horsepower, 3.0 liter '7M' straight six engine and rear-wheel drive.
Let's take a look at that full photo of the car catching air in front of Mount Kilimanjaro one more time just to soak in the awesome.
Since that engine was 10 hp short of Group A's 300 hp limit, the FIA allowed Toyota to homologate the turbo version of the engine, though that oddly put out something like 400 horsepower as Rallye-Info reports.
How did the car do? Well, that's not a completely clear question. Statistics doesn't exactly favor the car. Toyota's European motorsports team had a brilliant record leading up to the Supra's debut, winning the Safari Rally in '84, '85, and '86. The Supra ran in '87, '88, and '89 but its best finish was a third place an hour behind the leader in its debut year. The car only got a single victory in that year's Hong Kong-Beijing Rally.
The Turbo car was a particular disappointment. It usually just went kablooey and retired.
But there's something to the car that sort of slips through the cracks of history. The naturally aspirated car, ran by the legendary and recently-departed Björn Waldegård, was actually a serious competitor.
The N/A car had a lead in the '87 Safari until it overheated on the last day. The car was also leading the '87 Bandama Rally, but Toyota retired all of their entries after their Cessna crashed, killing a number of people on their teams.
Here's some footage of the two Supras racing in the '88 Safari. There's something particularly wonderful about hearing the local kids cheer "Kankkunen! Kankkunen!" as the turbo wastegate whistles by.
It wasn't the greatest of its time, but it was a credible long-distance rally car. it failed just enough to be completely forgotten, even though it has the setup of one of the more desirable all-terrain cars of modern times.
I think I found my inspiration for my next dream replica build. These things are way too cheap for me not to.
Photo Credits: Toyota