As we wrap up another Tokyo Motor Show and say goodbye all of its wonderful displays of Japanese weirdness, I can't help but be a little disappointed again. There's one car I keep hoping to come out of that show that never happens: a new Toyota Supra.
We kinda, sorta came close a few years ago with a very attractive sports car concept that came out of the 2007 Detroit Auto Show called the Toyota FT-HS Concept. When it debuted, and for years afterward, there was a great deal of speculation that would become the next Supra.
It didn't. But it evolved into something else we like, and the idea doesn't seem dead yet.
(Welcome to Long Lost Concept Cars, a new semi-regular series on Fridays where we highlight amazing concepts from years past that never made it to production — but maybe should have.)
Some days, I don't think Toyota realizes how much equity the "Supra" name has to younger folks who grew up on Gran Turismo and Initial D and Best Motoring videotapes. While Nissan was more than happy to resurrect and capitalize on their Z and GT-R nameplates, and Mitsubishi and Subaru both saw the value of selling their legendary rally cars in the U.S., Toyota has seemingly given up on their most famous sports cars. (Mazda's RX-7 faces some other issues of its own.)
I think everyone would love to see a Supra comeback, and the FT-HS really made it seem like it could happen. The idea called for a new sports car with a hybrid-electric V6 engine. At the time, a hybrid sports car seemed like a radical, even heretical plan; in 2007 the hybrid was synonymous with the Prius. I don't want any Prius in my Supra, thanks, the enthusiasts scoffed.
But in 2013, the age of hi-po hybrids like LaFerrari, the Porsche 918 Spyder, and now even the next Nissan GT-R, that idea seems much more palatable. It's been almost seven years, but can Toyota still make it happen?
What was it? A stylish rear-wheel drive, 2+2 sports car with a hybrid 3.5-liter V6 engine intended to be both fast and eco-friendly, a true "21st-century sports car." Its name stood for "Future Toyota Hybrid Sport."
What were the specs? According to Motor Trend, the FT-HS used a hybrid version of Toyota's nearly-ubiquitous V6 engine tuned to about 400 horsepower. Toyota projected a zero to 60 mph run in the 4-second range thanks to capacitors that discharged electricity for bursts of speed not unlike the KERS systems in Formula One.
The concept car was said to have a four-speed automatic gearbox, which almost certainly would have been ditched for something better when it went to production. What do you think this is, the Corolla?
So-called "freeform geometrics" integrate fluid surfaces with hard corners, promoting airflow and reducing turbulence, which Toyota claims increases stability in high speed driving (translation: freeform geometrics is fancy terminology for functioning aerodynamics). "Integrated component architecture" is next in the design philosophy. This entails showing what needs to be seen-tail lamps spanning the width of the vehicle-and hiding what does not, al-la-retractable spoiler. Ultimately, the FT-HS styling goal is to achieve "subtractive mass", which is a minimalist style that is not only lightweight but also looks lightweight, according to Toyota.
The FT-HS' central roof panel could also retract backward, exposing the cockpit and giving the driver an open-air experience.
What did it look like on the inside? Extremely concept-y. You had a hollow, hubless drive-by-wire steering wheel with paddle shifters and a carbon fiber beam instead of the instrument panel. Who needs gauges when you can have more structural rigidness, right? That's what I've always said.
Did it actually run? It seems that this concept was purely that — a concept. I could find no evidence that a working prototype or a mule was ever built, or that any auto news outlet ever drove one. It doesn't seem that a functional version was made.
Was it ever planned for production? Even a Toyota Australia executive admitted that the car "could be a vision for a Toyota Supra of the future," so it seemed that way for a while. At first the car was greenlit, but by summer 2008, citing the recession and rising fuel costs, Toyota said production plans had been scrapped. Rumors and other claims persisted for some time, though they may have referred to something else...
Should it have been built? Okay, here's the crazy thing: It was. Just not as a V6 hybrid Supra successor. It's clear that Toyota really liked the design of the FT-HS, because it is nearly identical to the FT-86 Concept, the car that gradually evolved into our beloved Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ. The overall shapes, headlamps, and tail lights are just about the same.
The FT-86's design was ironed out considerably before it became a production car, but it's easy to see that the FT-HS formed the basis of one of our favorite new sports cars.
As to the question of whether the FT-HS itself should have been built, I'll say I'm not sure. Given the choice between an inexpensive, back-t0-basics sports car like the FR-S and a high-end performance hybrid like the FT-HS, I'd be inclined to go with the former, at least at first.
But while this concept morphed from a neo-Supra to a neo-AE86, we know for certain that the idea of a hybrid sports car isn't dead at Toyota. They're said to be working with BMW on something along those very lines, possibly as a supercar to take the place of the dearly departed Lexus LFA. Plus, now is a better time for a such a car anyway — the idea of a hybrid performance car is far more feasible now than it was in 2007.
When and if that day comes, I hope it carries the Supra name.
Long Lost Concept Cars runs on Fridays. Got a favorite forgotten concept you'd like us to feature? Drop a suggestion in the comments.