Toyota has been building cars called ‘Supra’ since 1978, but until now these have been derivatives of Celica and, indeed, have been properly known as ‘Celica Supra’. The third model series to carry the ‘Supra’ name is now a range in its own right and so, almost imperceptably. Toyota has emerged as a major sports car manufacturer.
It’s been a long time since a volume producer has had three distinct sports cars (MR-2. Celica GT and Supra) in its model line-up alongside more bread and butter saloons. In fact, we have to go back to the Triumph of the early Seventies (Stag, TF16/7, Spitfire/GT6) to find a parallel. British appetite for sports cars remains undiminished despite the decline of the home-based volume producers and the UK is one of Toyota’s most important markets for its sports cars. We took 20% of all MR-2 production last year (Japan accounted for 50%, the USA for 20%, and West Germany for 8%). The sales of Supra have shown a steady increase since its introduction here in August, 1982, and reached 1,442 last year. This year’s target is more modest: 200 of the old ‘Celica Supra’ and 800 of the new model, split 50/50 between cars fitted with manual gearboxes (at £15,298 83) and those with automatic transmission (at £15.998.98). The one option on the UK market is hide upholstry at £747.50 Supra is a close-coupled 2 + 2 built around the 7M-GE engine which is a straight six, with belt-driven dohc, four valves per cylinder long stroke (83 x 91mm) imected unit of 2.954cc. This gives 201 bhp at 6,000 rpm with 187.4 lb ft torque at 4,800 rpm which propels the five speed manual gear-boxed car from 0-60 mph in a claimed eight seconds and on to a claimed top speed of 138 mph. Figures are not available for models fitted with the threespeed (plus manual over-drive) automatic transmission but the example I drove felt significantly less accelerative though, given a long run, the top speed should be about the same.
The electronically-controlled automatic transmission has two modes, each engaged by a switch. One can have ‘economy’ or ‘power’. the difference being the number of revs at which the gear shifts occur.
Suspension is independent all round by coil springs/telescopic dampers, double wishbones and anti-roll bars. Ventilated disc brakes (11.9 in, front, 11.5. rear) are fitted all round and have Toyota’s version of Bosch’s electronic ABS system fitted as standard. Power-assisted steering is also standard and tyres are Goodyear 225/50 VR 16s.
Equipment levels are extremely high, with electric windows and mirrors, central locking, electric adjustment lor seat width arid lumbar support, cruise control, and fore and aft steering column till adjustment. lf it moves, move it by electricity. The split rear seats fold forward to increase the luggage carrying area which is generous for a car of its sort but into which the damper units intrude.
Most welcome of all the gadgets, though, was air conditioning. More than any other ‘extra’, air conditioning can keep a driver in good shape over a long route Its astonishing that it is not more widely available, especially when one considers the amount of money which sunroofs, electric windows, etc can cost. When one holds Supra on a steady throttle and switches on the air conditioning, the engine diverts sufficient power to operate the pump to lose perhaps five mph, but in real terms that’s an easy trade.
On the road it reveals itself as a refined sports-tourer With the automatic transmission fitted, forget the ‘sports’ for the engine is not particularly well mated to the transmission. One would certainly like a fourth gear in the box (there is a fourth, but it’s a manually operated overdrive) for the engine response is too slow when cornering hard. Perhaps. too, the engine would benefit by being tuned to deliver its power lower down, even at the expense of top-end power.
With automatic transmission, Supra is definitely for boulevards and motorways This impression is compounded by the p a s which does not have a great deal of feel to it.
With the five speed manual gearbox, a different personality emerges. On balance is still makes the Supra a ‘sporting’ rather than a ‘sports’ car. The difference is hard to define but really comes down to how well the car communicates with the driver. In the Supra, the driver is too well insulated from the road for the car to be a true sports car. The steering, heavy at low speeds, has little feel. The limits of the suspension have to be pressed before it communicates while uneven surfaces cause the car the twitch and skitter.
On the other hand, Supra’s ride is first class, being supple rather than soft. The car puts its power down well and one has to try very hard to spin the rear wheels when taking all. Noise of any description is at a low level and this, together with the car’s stability, makes tor smooth high speed motoring.
Toyota launched the car in France and since one leg of our drive ended at Reims, the romantic among us took the opportunity to explore the mouldering grandstands and pits of the old Reims circuit Magic! Naturally we put in a few laps, not in Supras but in shark-nosed Ferraris, Jaguar D Types and what have you. Exceeding 130 mph lust past the pits was entirely undramatic. One did not have to raise one’s voice to communicate, one relaxed in air conditioned comfort and swished by.
Supra occupies its own niche in the market It’s priced against Porsche 924S (Supra is much more carter the money, bulls shorter on prestige) and Nissan 300ZX (no contest. the Nissan’s not in the same class) but really Supra is a more sophisticated first cousin of Ford Capri. In the UK market. at least, it has the cache of comparative rarity — M.L.