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Spread of Supras - Part One

The early development of the Toyota Supra - one of the brawniest sports cars ever!

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • First of two part series
  • Tracing the early days of the Toyota Supra
  • One of the world's favourite Japanese sports cars
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The Toyota Supra has established itself as one of the most desirable, macho sports cars of the modern era. If you want a big‘n’brawny FR sports machine, the Supra is difficult to ignore - just ask enthusiasts in America, Japan and Australia.

The inspiration for the Supra can be traced back to the Toyota 2000GT of 1967. The 2000GT was an innovative sports coupe employing a backbone chassis with aluminium panels and a firecracker DOHC straight six. (See Toyota 2000GT for the full 2000GT story.) However, when the 2000GT was axed due to poor sales, Toyota had a gaping hole in its sports car line-up – and the Datsun 240Z was there to pick up the pieces. (See The First Z for the Zed story.)

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During the early 1970s Toyota shifted its focus to producing reliable, practical transportation at a competitive price. This was epitomised by the ‘sporty’ Toyota Celica coupe – a vehicle with go-fast looks but little to back it up. The performance of the Celica was improved with subsequent models but none could compete with larger go-fast cars of the time.

Finally, in 1978/1979, Toyota recognised demand for a larger bodied sports car. Its solution was to introduce the MA46 series Celica Supra (known in Japan as Celica XX).

Mark I Celica Supra

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The MA46 Celica Supra is essentially a stretched 6 cylinder version of the 1978 Celica. In addition to its extra length, the ‘mature Celica’ is also identified by its thick B pillars and 2000GT-esque grille. Four wheel disc brakes and a 4 link coil sprung rear are also fitted as standard.

But more important is Toyota’s first mass production use of electronic fuel injection.

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Beneath the Celica Supra’s bonnet is a Denso-Bosch L-Jetronic injected 4M-E 2.6 litre straight six generating 82kW and substantially more torque than any of its four cylinder cousins. Note that Japanese-market versions were available with a less powerful 2.0 litre M-EU fuel injected straight six. Later, a T03 turbocharged variation (coded M-TEU) generated 108kW and fitment of an intercooler bumped power up to 119kW.

In America (the Celica Supra’s biggest target market), the MA46 was positively greeted but copped criticism for a lack of differentiation and disappointing on-road performance; the extra grunt of the six cylinder engine was largely offset by the extra mass.

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In response, Toyota updated the Celica Supra in the following two years. Subtle body and interior trim changes, standard alloy wheels, an optional sports suspension and spoiler package and a bigger 2.8 litre engine were introduced. The 2.8 litre 5M-E engine gives only 4kW extra but with a better overall spread of torque. Note that 5M-E engine’d Celica Supras are chassis coded MA47.

These changes improved the Celica Supra so that it could compete more closely with the Datsun 280Z and Mazda RX-7. Still, the MA47 was seen as a ‘soft’ sportscar – its handling was dull and it felt happier at cruise.

Mark II Celica Supra

In 1982 the all-new MA61 Celica Supra (the ‘Mark II’) was introduced.

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The ‘80s-school-of-sharp-edges Celica was the platform for the new Supra model. The Mark II was pitched more as a performance vehicle than its predecessor – a standard independent rear suspension, optional LSD and a super-wide wheel and tyre package show the direction of the new model. The existing 5M-E six cylinder also received a DOHC head to widen the rev range and add 22kW over the 1981 model (the DOHC engine is coded 5M-GE).

An optional wide wheel and tyre package – which we believe came standard in some countries – comprises 7 inch wide alloys wearing 225/60 14 tyres. These required add-on flared guards which give more visual aggression when combined with the new pop-up headlight front-end. Leather trim, a rear sunshade spoiler, LSD and automatic transmission are available on certain models.

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The Celica Supra was now the obvious performance car of the Toyota range. With high 16/low 17 second quarter mile performance, it could hold its own against direct rivals and was another step away from the base 4 cylinder Celica.

Updates to the MA61 Celica Supra came in 1983 and 1984.

For 1983, the 5M-GE generates a couple of extra kilowatts, auto trans models receive electronic control and 5 speed manual versions score a slightly shorter diff ratio. Note that 1983 is the first year of the Celica Supra in Australia.

In 1984, the Celica Supra receives a new front spoiler, wrap-around front lights, relocated reversing lights, revised door handles and other small cosmetic changes.

There’s no major news for 1985 or 1986 aside from 15 inch wheels, a new rear sunshade spoiler and tail spoiler.

Mark III Supra

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For 1986 the Toyota Supra was divorced from the Celica model. At last, the Supra could be purpose-developed as a rear-wheel-drive performance vehicle – meanwhile, the 1986 Celica had adopted a front-wheel-drive layout.

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The MA70 ‘Mark III’ Supra hit the streets in 1986 and, finally, Toyota comprehensively outgunned the contemporary Nissan 300ZX. Toyota had invested a huge R&D effort in the MA70 – and it certainly paid dividends

The MA70 brought a much better-sorted chassis with class-leading aerodynamics, double wishbone independent suspension at each corner and 16 inch alloys with 225/50 tyres. An optional LSD and TEMS (Toyota Electronic Modulated Suspension) was also available.

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Inside, the modern Supra cabin features comprehensive instrumentation, analogue climate control and tilt/slide steering wheel. Power windows, cruise control, electric adjustable driver’s seat and digital dashboard were also available. Removable targa roof panels were available to complete the package.

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Under the bonnet, there’s a big bore and stroke version of Toyota’s M-series in-line six - the 7M-GE 3.0 litre. The new engine also benefits from its two-stage variable intake manifold and 24 valve breathing in addition to having DOHC. The new Supra engine delivers at least 80 percent of peak torque (245Nm) all the way from 1200 to 6400 rpm. Top-end power is 140 - 142kW. Again, buyers had the choice of a 5 speed manual or 4 speed electrically controlled auto transmission.

And just when new car buyers thought the Supra was hot, it got even hotter!

Shortly after the release of the naturally aspirated MA70, we were introduced to the awesome MA71 Supra Turbo; a low 15 second bent-eight tromping Japanese sports car!

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Peer under the bonnet of this monster and you’ll find a low compression version of the 3.0 litre DOHC wearing a CT26 turbocharger, air-to-air intercooler and oil cooler. Dubbed 7M-GTE, this engine cranks out 173kW in its early guise and as a result, the Supra Turbo became a potent bitumen racer.

The 1600-odd kilogram Supra Turbo also scores unique suspension settings, optional ABS, standard LSD, a choice of 5 speed manual or 4 speed auto transmission and integrated rear spoiler. (For a test of the MA71 Supra Turbo see Toyota Supra Turbo.)

In 1989 the MA70/71 Supra was updated.

A new grille, front spoiler, taillights and rear spoiler are fitted and the 7M-GTE turbo engine is upgraded to 179kW, primarily due to extra boost pressure. Suspension settings are tweaked and the power assisted steering is road speed based rather than rpm based.

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The Supra Turbo established a rear-wheel-drive performance benchmark during the late ‘80s/early ‘90s and, even today, its performance must be respected. Unfortunately, few people experienced the pleasure of owning a Supra T because of its horrendous retail price – in Australia it was sold at almost double the price of Mazda’s MX-6 4WS turbo coupe.

There are no major changes to the MA70/71 Supra until the 1993 arrival of the latest and greatest Supra – the giant-killing JZA80 series.

Japanese Market 70 Series Supras

The Japanese domestic market was lucky enough to have two additional performance engines available in the 70 series Supra – the 1G and 1JZ.

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The 1G-GTE engine was available from 1986 and is widely regarded as a ‘fringe’ high performance engine. The 1G-GTE is a 2.0 litre straight six with a DOHC, 24 valve head and twin simultaneous turbochargers. With a standard intercooler, this engine generates only 136 to 154kW – not much more than the 3.0 litre 7M-GE non-turbo.

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In contrast, the later generation 1JZ-GTE was fitted to the 70 series Supra from 1990 – and it creates one awesome beast! The 1JZ-GTE 2.5 litre straight six employs a beautifully engineered DOHC, 24 valve head design and an upsized simultaneous twin-turbo arrangement. A large front-mount air-to-air intercooler also aids in reaching 206kW – the Japanese industry power limit. Note that the Twin-Turbo R version received Bilstein suspension and a Torsen LSD to complete the package.

Note that 1G and 1JZ powered 70 series Supras are coded GA70 and JZA70 respectively.

Stick around for Part Two of this series – we’ll look at the JZA80 Supra and modifications.

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