It has never been easy for Japanese manufacturers to break into the prestige end of the performance coupe market. No matter how talented the car, potential buyers often admire the car from afar, before neatly swerving for the closest Porsche dealership at the last minute.
Few cars prove the trend more strongly than the A80 Toyota Supra. Moving away from the flabby, long-legged predecessor, the fourth generation model came as a surprise to many, shedding around 140kg in mass and gaining a much firmer, more focussed suspension setup.
The result was a car which became highly regarded against contemporary coupe rivals like the Porsche 968, with handling and performance singled out for particular praise. The sequential twin-turbocharged inline six (non-turbo variants were sold outside of the UK) delivered a circa-five second 0-60mph time – not only fast enough to see off anything Jaguar or Maserati offered at the time, but the BMW M3, too. Braking performance was incredible too though, a lack of pedal feel was one of the car’s few weak points.
It’s biggest failing, however, was its price. Back in 1994, the Supra was priced from £38,989 - £1500 more than a high-end Porsche 968, and £5800 more than the BMW M3 Coupe. As a result, fewer than 500 found homes in the UK, and sales were canned in 1996. The Supra continued in Japan for another six years, until tightening emissions regulations forced Toyota to stop.
Most used toyota models are famed for legendary reliability, but the Supra is arguably one of the most bulletproof of all. Most major components could handle as much as 1000hp without too much fuss, and as as a result very examples today remain in their original state of tune.
Which one to buy?
Today, many buyers consider the models sold here in the UK to be among the most desirable models. These examples - in addition to left-hand drive counterparts sold in North America - feature uprated turbos and larger fuel injectors than Japanese domestic market cars, so they’re more receptive to the heavy tuning so many owners look to carry out.
Several features single out UK market models from the rest, most notably a large central bonnet vent and headlight washers on the outside, and leather-trimmed seats on the inside. UK models also feature glass covered headlights as opposed to the plastic items of JDM models. All UK cars were equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels as standard - a necessary upgrade over the naturally aspirated car’s 16-inch items because of the need to house larger brake discs. If you’re still unsure, check the VIN plate: UK models are denoted by an R-prefix to the model number, Japanese examples begin with GF.
Japanese turbocharged models were available in the trim levels RZ, RZ-S and GZ, and feature a ‘GTE’ tag on the VIN plate. The GZ allows those wishing to live out their Fast and the Furious fantasies thanks to the optional T-Bar ‘Aerotop’ roof, and it also gained a Torsen limited slip differential. Contrary to what might be implied by the movie in which a Supra had a starring role, the manual gearbox featured only six speeds. Indeed, many Supras were sold with a four-speed auto. Naturally-aspirated models were dubbed either SZ or SZ-R, depending on spec.
Performance and specs
Engine 2997cc inline-six
Power 326bhp @ 5600rpm
Torque 325lb ft @ 4800rpm
Top speed 155mph
Fuel consumption 25mpg
Gearbox Six-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• The engine and drivetrain are hugely over-engineered, and therefore properly serviced Supras present very little trouble
• Engines, differentials and gearboxes (particularly the six speed manual) are capable of handling huge power and torque increases, frequently without the need to overhaul internals
• Those wishing to extract a little extra power will be best served by UK models as opposed to grey imports - they have uprated (and tougher) turbos and fuel injection systems
• Of course, with a car so popular among tuners, a detailed service history is desirable in order to learn when, where and how any upgrades have been carried out
• One of the only areas where there might be issues is in the suspension. though most components are as tough as the rest of the car, the dampers are known to wear with enthusiastic use.
• Cosmetically there isn’t much to worry about, but it’s worth checking the tailgates for rust, and checking sill areas if aftermarket body kits have been added
April 1993: Order books for the fourth-generation A80 Supra begin, with first deliveries the following month
Sep 1994: CD autochanger becomes standard fit for UK models
1996: Official sales through UK dealerships end
1996: Mid life facelift introduces a revised front bumper
1999: T-bar ‘Aerotop’ model discontinued
Aug 2002: Supra production ceases
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
For the performance on offer, the Supra still remains something of a bargain. The less desirable automatic models are the cheapest today, with cars showing around 85,000 miles on the clock priced at around £7-£8000.
Prices from there vary wildly according to a mix of condition, mileage and how highly the seller values their own fettling. Generally, the market tops out at around £18,000 for tuned UK examples.
Words: Alex Ingram