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Loose Change Luxury

Toyota Soarer comfort - along with a decent amount of performance - for under 10 grand!

By Michael Knowling

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While we all know you can plough forty or fifty grand into a late-model Soarer or a twin-turbo Supra, it's important to realise there's some alluring machinery at the other end of the import market. Just take a look at the 'old school' GZ20 Toyota Soarer GT-TT - it's got twin turbos, an air-to-air intercooler, sophisticated suspension, every conceivable electronic feature, excellent build quality and, hell, it costs only around ten grand!

While many people will inevitably fail to look past the tragic '80s whiz-bang interior, the corduroy and dated pimp-daddy styling, there's no denying this thing has a special aura about it. Back in its day, this would've been an extraordinary (not to mention terribly expensive) motor vehicle; you can't help but look around the cabin and wonder who the bigwig was that originally owned the car in Japan.

First, we should point out the different models available in this particular body shape - read carefully, coz there's a tangly mess of 'em!!

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The earliest Soarer is the Z10, which was released in 1981. The Z10 looks similar to the vehicle seen here, except - most noticeably - it has a squarer nosecone. The most powerful engine in this earliest model was the atmo 5M-GE 2.8-litre six, which was good for 127kW.

For the Z20 1986 update, however, a lot more performance was injected into the range. The Supra's 7M-GTE (with 172kW at the time) was plonked in, as was the atmo 7M-GE (making 142kW), the 1G-GTE twin-turbo (good for 136kW) and the 1G atmo versions - which are completely irrelevant from a performance perspective. In the years following the Z20 update, power continued to edge its way up. In 1988, the 7M-GTE elevated to 179kW while the 1G-GTE climbed to 147kW and, in 1989, culminated with 154kW. Note that those Z20s with a 7M engine are labelled MZ20s, while the 1G powered versions are GZ20s. Production of the Z20 range ended prior to the release of the curvy American-styled Z30 body in 1991.

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Our road test Soarer is a 1987 Z20 GT-TT powered by the 1G-GTE. The 1G-GTE is a 2.0-litre straight six motor with double overhead cams, 24-valves, EFI, twin (simultaneous) turbochargers, 8.5:1 static compression and a front-mount air-to-air intercooler. As mentioned, the '87 car is officially rated at 136kW (at 6200 rpm), plus it makes 240Nm of torque at a relatively low 3200.

In reality, though, these figures are a little bit deceptive. Similar to the later 1JZ powered Soarer, the automatic trans equipped Z20 has a lot of torque converter flare to enable it to come up into the rev range where it's happiest. Caught at really low rpm, the little 2-litre low-comp engine really struggles to haul the 1400-odd kilogram kerb mass. Its mid-range is where it feels most urgent.

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In terms of performance, the 1G twin-turbo automatic Z20 whooshes and whizzes its way to 100 kays an hour in around 8-9-seconds - it's kinda swift, but it isn't a drag racer. Instead, remember the 1G engine more for its very low NVH - even by today's standards it purrs as smooth as a kitten. Note that a 5-speed manual gearbox came out in the GT-TT model, but it appears very few were produced.

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The Soarer has a reputation for being a grand, luxury tourer more than a sports machine. The Z20 fits this bill offering very soft spring and damper rates, yet - when you push it through a sweeping corner - it leans only half the amount you'd expect it to. Toyota's TEMS system comes standard on the luxury-spec GT-TTL, but as an option on the GT-TT (as tested). The absolute top-of-line 3.0-litre GT Limited AS flaunts Toyota's electronic controlled air suspension; this vehicle is dubbed the MZ21.

Using a power rack-and-pinion arrangement, steering is well weighted though slightly indirect around centre. Braking is quite good with - as far as we can tell - ventilated front and rear discs. Note that a limited slip rear diff is available in all Soarers except the lost-cause non-performance atmo variants. ESC (electronic skid control) and ABS was available as options, but standard on later model 3.0-litre GT Limiteds.

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Inside, the Soarer is extremely comfortable but it won't earn you any cred in style. Standard futures include power windows and mirrors, central locking, twin trip meters, digital climate control (complete with Japanese characters on the operating buttons) and, well, a fancy dash...

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Similar to the later models, the Z20 Soarer uses a 3D digital cluster containing numerical indication of road speed and graphs for rpm, temp and fuel. Oh, and there's also a Turbo light that illuminates when on boost (which is quite frequently, even in normal driving). A double DIN radio-cassette comes standard since we're talking pre-CD days.

Rear visibility is quite good, though the amount of practical space back there is quite limited. Listed as a 5-seater, there's a similar amount room as what you'd find in the back of, say an R32 Nissan Skyline coupe.

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The stying screams 1980s. The notchback layout now appears very dated, but partially offsetting this is Toyota's excellent paint quality and panel fit. Our test vehicle had been fitted with aftermarket side skirts, but the standard body - utilising its factory rear spoiler - has the (now) dreadful aerodynamic Cd of 0.36. The lacy style 15 x 6-inch alloys and 215/60 tyres appear terribly undersized in today's context - make sure these are replaced ASAP!

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Unquestionably, the GZ20 twin-turbo Soarer represents a lot of car for the money. Our 1987 test vehicle - supplied by Melbourne's Sports and Luxury Cars - had just 118,000 kilometres on the clock and can be bought for around $10,000.

From a parts perspective, body panels are difficult to source (especially with pre-1990 Soarers rapidly drying up in Japan), but many mechanical components can be sourced locally. We're told much of the suspension, steering and brakes are shared with the contemporary Supra. Various other parts are also compatible with the Cressida saloon. The engine, though, is a true orphan here in Australia - it'd be wise to have an engine and trans sitting as back up in the shed. Just in case...

Why you would..

  • Comfortable and well appointed
  • Pleasant to drive - smooth, quiet, nice steering
  • 1G twin-turbo engine performs willingly in mid-range
  • For around 10 grand it's bargain motoring

Why you wouldn't...

  • Pure '80s styling and interior
  • Body, engine and transmission parts becoming increasingly difficult to source
  • Bottom-end performance nothing special

Test vehicle supplied by Sports and Luxury Cars in Melbourne.


Sports and Luxury Cars
+61 3 9753 5799

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