The Toyota Supra, a Legacy of Performance

While Japan is a dominant automotive engineering powerhouse that has produced several iconic cars over the years, few are as legendary as the Toyota Supra Mark VI.  After a 17 year hiatus, the Toyota Supra is returning with the Mark V, an all new vehicle produced in partnership with BMW.

In this post, I discuss what made the Toyota Supra the legend that it is and what elements we know the Toyota Supra Mark V to carry over from previous generations.

The Toyota Celica Supra, the car that started it all

The ‘Supra’ first appeared in Toyota’s line up in 1979 as the Toyota Celica Supra.  Longer and wider than the Toyota Celica hatchback that it was styled after, it was the engine that distinguished the Supra.  Powered by a 2.6 liter inline 6, it was Toyota’s first engine to use electronic fuel injection.  Available with either an automatic or 5-speed manual transmission, the Toyota Celica Supra had a 4-wheel independent suspension and 4-wheel disc brakes.

Except for a few interior upgrades, the Toyota Celica Supra remained unchanged until 1981 when displacement of the single overhead-cam inline-6 was increased to 2.8 liters.  The 4-speed automatic transmission was revised and a new sport suspension package was made available as an option.

In 1982, Toyota updated the entire Celica lineup including the Celica Supra.  For the first time, it was available in two models, the L-Type and Performance.  Powering the vehicle was the new 5M-GE engine.  While displacement remained the same at 2.8 liters, the engine incorporated Double Overhead Cams (DOHC).

Both the L and Performance models were mechanically identical.  Differences were in the form of wider fenders, special wheels, and a sporty interior.

The Supra was finally given its own identity in 1986 ½ as ‘Celica’ was no longer included in its official name.  The displacement of the DOHC inline-6 was also increased to 3.0 liters.

In 1987, the Supra was also available with a turbo making it the first Toyota to be offered with a turbocharged engine and anti-lock brakes.  It was also available with an optional T-top for partial open air driving.

The “supercar” Supra

The next major update for the Toyota Supra took place in 1993.  It was update that vaulted the Supra into ‘supercar’ territory.  Available with a 3.0 liter DOHC inline-6 in either regular or turbo form, the focus of the new Supra was now performance. This was accomplished by several weight saving measures such as by making the optional rear wing on the Turbo model and interior carpet fibers hollow.

Toyota’s focus on building a car focused on performance worked as the motoring press hailed the new Supra Turbo as a true ‘World-beater’.  With the Turbo putting out 320-horsepower, it was Toyota’s highest most powerful production vehicle to date.

The JZ family of engines

In 1990, Toyota introduced the JZ family of engines. The JZ was a 24-valve DOHC inline-6 cylinder engine.  There were two generations of the JZ, the 2.5-liter 1JZ and the 3.0 lliter 2JZ. The 1JZ powered many domestic market Toyota models, including the second generation Supra that was of course sold in the United States.   The 2JZ powered several Lexus vehicles including the 1S300, GS300, and SC300 along with the third generation Toyota Supra.

The 2JZ-GE was the more common version powering the non-turbo Supra and Lexus vehicles. Output was 212 to 227 horsepower at 5800 to 6000 rpm and 209-220 lb-ft of torque. It had a cast iron block with an aluminum head containing 4 valves per cylinder.   It used Sequential Electronic Fuel Injection with some versions using VVT-I or variable valve timing, a way of improving performance, fuel consumption, and emissions.

The cream of the 2JZ crop was the 2JZ-GTE. It was like the more common GE except with an air-to-air side mounted intercooler and sequential twin turbochargers. The internals between the GE and GTE are the same with the exception of recessed piston tops in the GTE. This was done to give the turbo engines a lower compression ratio. Otherwise, the engines would ping an excessive amount.

One GTE was produced for the Japanese domestic market and another for export to the United States and Europe. The JDM GTE produced 276 horsepower whereas the export GTE engine produced 320 horsepower. This difference was achieved through the use of different turbochargers, revised camshafts and larger injectors. The export version GTE could accelerate from 0 to 60 in less than 5 seconds. This was very fast in its day.

Two transmissions were available on road going versions of the Supra. The Toyota A340E was the 4-speed automatic transmission whereas the Toyota V160 and V161 was the six-speed manual transmission, jointly developed with Getrag.

In 1998, the JDM GTE got VVTI and the United States received nothing. 1998 was to be the final model year for the legendary 2JZ-GTE in the United States.

A platform with significant potential

The Supra Mark IV continues to have a significant following to this day. Keep in mind that Toyota used this version of the Supra to make a statement as a manufacturer of performance vehicles. As a result, the 2JZ engine, specifically the GTE and the V160 manual transmission was over-engineered.

The 2JZ iron block is very strong despite its seven main bearings being held by only two bolts each. The bolts themselves are huge and firmly grip the camshaft. Its oil pump and water pump can handle engine modifications without failure. Since the engine deck is fully-enclosed, the engine can withstand enormous cylinder pressure. All of this means that you can double the horsepower of the engine without making any changes to the bottom-end of the engine. That is 800 horsepower on stock internals! In fact, it is not uncommon to routinely see 2JZ-GTEs routinely putting out over 1,000 horsepower!

Unlimited power

It isn’t very difficult to get to 1,000+ horsepower. Big bore and stroker kits are available to update the internals and swapping out the sequential Turbos for a single giant turbo are popular mods. Additionally, horsepower gains are available by changing the intake and exhaust, adding a larger front mounted intercooler and bolting on some bigger injectors and fuel lines.  The end result is a beast of a motor that can run with the best of them, if not dominate them.  Because of the tuning potential of the 2JZ-GTE, it still have a loyal following of tuners behind.

The upcoming 2019 Toyota Supra

In 2007, Toyota debuted the Toyota FT-HS concept car at the 2008 North American Auto Show. It was reported to be a possible replacement for the Supra discontinued in the United States in 1998. It was powered by a 3.5-liter hybrid system generating over 400 horsepower.

Built in cooperation with BMW, the Supra is intended as a sports car whereas the BMW is developed as a grand tourer. The structure and engine of the upcoming Supra are rumored to be BMW whereas the engine’s software is Japanese. It will have a 3.0-liter turbo straight-six engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox.

As a testament to the legacy of the 2JZ-GTE, the engine compartment of the upcoming Supra is designed to accommodate Toyota’s legendary power plant. However, it is not the Supra with the inline-6 engine but rather then one with the four cylinder engine.

With the debut of the 2019 Toyota Supra less than 3 months away, anticipation is building for the next generation of the legend that put Toyota on the performance map.



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