In Latin, the word supra means “to surpass” or “go beyond.” For decades, the Supra has done just that — inspiring, exciting and moving Toyota drivers to take up the vehicle’s mantra and go forth. But to truly grasp the impact this automotive icon has had on the driving community, it’s important to look back and see how each generation of Supra fit into the world around it. So, even though the definition of Supra propels us forward, let’s take a moment to travel back in time to the vehicle’s genesis and trace its evolution toward the upcoming fifth generation — the newest installment after 20 years.
What Lies Beneath... The Hood
1979 - 1981: Toyota Celica Supra A-40 (Gen 1)
The year is 1980. Arcades are lighting up with the arrival of Pac-Man, office executives are quizzically looking at small sheets of sticky paper called “Post-its” and the world marvels at a colorful sequence of tiles called a Rubik’s cube.
Having just been introduced in 1979, the first-generation Supra was based on the popular Celica liftback design but was longer and wider. Its engine, however, was a standout. The Supra's 2.6-liter inline-6 engine was the first Toyota production engine to be equipped with electronic fuel injection, an innovative step toward improving fuel efficiency and reducing pollution. Offered in both a manual and automatic transmission, the Supra came standard with four-wheel independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes.
From Supra to Surprise!
1982 - 1986: Toyota Supra A-60 (Gen 2)
Fast-forward to the mid-’80s: Martin Luther King Day is finally observed as a national holiday in 1986. Five million people in the U.S. make a human chain to fight hunger and homelessness.
In 1982, the Supra saw a complete redesign along with the entire Celica line-up. Now available as two distinct models, L-type and Performance, the Supra also received an engine upgrade. The new 5M-GE engine still displaced 2.8 liters, but now sported double overhead camshafts (DOHC). Both the L-type and Performance package vehicles were mechanically identical, with differences being limited to fender flares, wider wheels and tires, and a sport interior within the Performance package.
Large and Turbocharged
1988-1993: Toyota Supra A-70 (Gen 3)
As we make our way into the late ’80s, the world seems to stand still as the Berlin Wall collapses.
In 1986, the Supra finally gets its own identity. No longer part of the Celica range, the 1986 Supra was equipped with a 3.0-liter DOHC engine, but it retained the four-wheel disc brakes and all-independent suspension of its predecessors. In 1987, Toyota added a turbocharged model to the line, making it the first Toyota model in the United States to be available with both a turbocharged engine and antilock brakes. The 1987 Supras were available with an optional targa-type sport roof for open-air driving.
A Higher Power
1994-96: Toyota Supra A-80 (Gen 4)
In the ’90s, we see Intel shipping the first Pentium chips, revolutionizing the computer industry. Meanwhile, the space shuttle Atlantis docks with the Russian space station Mir.
In 1993, Supra entered the realm of “supercars.” Available in both turbo and non-turbo guises, the new Supra was a radical departure from Supras of old. Performance was now the main draw, and many weight-saving measures were employed, such as equipping the vehicle with hollow carpet fibers and a rear spoiler (optional on turbo models). The turbo model was hailed as a true world beater. With 320 horsepower, it was the highest level of performance and strongest commitment to performance that Toyota had ever placed in one vehicle.
The Supra is Back
2020: Toyota GR Supra A-90 (Gen 5)
Touching back down in present day, the Supra is once again making headlines. The design for the fifth-generation GR Supra was released in January. The fully forward-looking sports car is packed with a cutting-edge powertrain, chassis and multimedia technology. Like the pinnacle of the previous Supra series, the 2020 model will be powered by a turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine.
Kevin Hunter, president of CALTY Design Research based in Newport Beach, California, and his team worked closely on the revival of the Supra. In an interview, he told us that the fifth-generation Supra takes 50 years of automotive excellence and rolls it into one complete package. “This is its pure form. This is its pure statement. It’s as if it had never left,” he said.
“Driving is the ultimate expression of freedom. We’re just continuing on with our lineage of Supra-ness.”
Originally published on July 10, 2019