Like all great cars from the Beetle to the Bugatti Veyron, the fourth-generation Supra had one great man behind it, chief engineer Isao Tsuzuki – now that it’s making a comeback, can the upcoming Supra developed with BMW continue the legacy?
The Supra may have began life in the ‘70s as merely an export-market Celica, but with the fourth generation built between 1993 and 2002 the name signed off as one of the most respected Japanese sports car of all time.
Now 16 years after the Supra went out of production and the Playstation generation that fell in love with it is all grown up, and cashed up, Toyota is preparing to resurrect the nameplate with a new fifth-generation car developed in partnership with BMW. It will be straight-six engined and turbocharged driving the rear wheels, but little else is know about the new Supra. The one thing that’s a given is that Toyota can’t mess this up because quite a legacy is at stake.
At the time during the late ‘80s the Japanese sports car world was reaching its zenith with the Honda NSX, Mazda RX-7, Nissan 300ZX and Mitsubishi GT3000 all vying for Western attention, out-geeking everything else on the market with aluminium construction, rear-wheel steering, electronic suspension, and twin turbocharging.
For its Supra Toyota would need to dig deep, and a company lifer was called on to challenge the world with a simple brief: design the greatest Japanese GT ever built. Isao Tsuzuki started his career at Toyota in 1969 and left a mark with his development work on the first generation Celica and the mid-engined MR2. All great cars are the conceptual work of a single man, from the Model T to the Bugatti Veyron, by way of the Beetle, the Mini, the 911, the Fiat 500… And so it would be with the fourth-generation Supra. Which is ironic, from one of the world’s biggest car companies.
Away from the vans, trucks, pickups, hatchbacks, sedans, minivans and SUVs, chief engineer Isao Tsuzuki got to work on Toyota’s GT in February 1989. To save weight over the outgoing model Tsuzuki’s team used aluminium panels like the bonnet, a lightweight fuel tank, alloy suspension components, and even went as far as making the carpet out of hollow fibres. With other detail work like a newly developed lightweight resin for the car’s trademark rear wing (placed high so as not to obstruct rear vision and catch the air rising over the slippery Cd 0.30 body) the Supra tipped the scales 100kg lighter than its predecessor. It was still considered portly by the media when it launched in 1993, weighing in at 1,430kg, which would make it amongst the lightest GTs on the market today.
In ultimate 320 horsepower form with a smooth straight-six, the car impressed journalists everywhere, delivering a muted, effortless luxury car experience with pace to match anything Europe or America could come up with. For around $32,000 at launch, the fourth-generation Supra was hard to beat. In fact one US magazine – Shock! Horror! – published a comparison test giving the Toyota joint first place shared with a Porsche 911.
Tsuzuki had done his job. Now Toyota, and BMW, have to do theirs.