Everybody down to the youngest of gearheads knows about the fourth generation Toyota Supra, primarily because of its many appearances in popular video games as well as the “The Fast and the Furious” film series.
With its basket-handle rear spoiler and powerful twin-turbo inline-six engine, the final Supra model (made from 1993 to 1998) has long been subjected to overwrought sport-compact customization, for better or worse. The Supras that survive intact are likely assured a role as future classics on the world’s auction stages.
But what of the earlier models, the three generations of Supra built from 1979 through 1992? These are also pretty cool sports coupes, all powered by Toyota’s slick and torquey inline-six engine.
The first generation of Supra, now known as the Mark I and produced from 1979 through 1981, is particularly appealing because of its attractively detailed styling, one of the best mainstream production designs from the late 1970s.
Starting off as a slightly longer and upscale version of the Celica sports coupe – stretched to accommodate the inline 6 and named the Celica Supra – the first generation stepped up style and performance to compete with the highly successful 240Z from arch rival Datsun (now Nissan).
Horsepower from the 2.6-liter six seems paltry by today’s standards at 110, raised to 116 in its final production year, but Celica Supra Mark I was lightweight and still enjoys a reputation as a gutsy performer.
The second generation, or Mark II, was also a variation of the Celica. The styling is more streamlined and features the hideaway headlights that were so popular in those days. Toyota boasted that the suspension was tuned by Lotus, and power was raised with a 2.8-liter six producing 145 horsepower, moving up to 161 in its final 1986 model year.
The Mark III continued the styling trend set by the previous version, but it was now based on a new platform, and Celica was dropped from its name. There was also a major boost for the inline six in size and power, moving up to 3.0 liters and 230 horsepower. But the Mark III gained weight, hitting around 3,500 pounds, which somewhat dulled performance.
The exotic Mark IV raised Supra’s profile considerably, particularly with the twin-turbo six that boasted 320 horsepower in standard trim. The final Supra enjoyed a lengthy run from 1992-1998 (with Japanese home-market models continuing through 2002)
Toyota has already set a precedent for the collectability of Japanese sports cars, with the rare 2000GT of the 1960s now commanding prices in the high six figures. It’s the only vintage car series from the Land of the Rising Sun to regularly achieve those lofty results. It has also raised the respectability of its more-humble Asian brethren, including the Supra.