In 1978, a legend was born in the automotive world, as the first-ever Toyota Supra made its debut, initially known as the Celica XX. While today’s Supra is celebrated for its speed, iconic status, and memorable appearances in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, it had humble beginnings. In its inaugural year, it shared the Japanese market with the Celica before venturing into the U.S. market the following year.
A Legacy Inception
The Toyota Supra was conceived to uphold the legacy left by the iconic 2000 GT. The first three generations of the Supra inherited the M engine lineage of the 2000 GT, with design cues borrowed from the Celica liftback, albeit featuring elongated and wider dimensions. However, the defining characteristic that set the Supra apart was its heart—the engine.
Offering both manual and automatic transmissions, along with standard 4-wheel disc brakes and an independent suspension system, the Supra gradually introduced luxury options like leather seats and automatic climate control. Despite these additions, its core essence remained largely unchanged for years. That is until the emergence of the third-generation Supra, also known as the ‘Mk3’.
The Birth of Toyota Supra Mk3
In 1986, the third-generation Toyota Supra made its debut, marking a significant departure from its Celica roots and establishing itself as an independent model. Unlike the Celica, which transitioned into a front-wheel-drive sports coupe, the Supra unwaveringly maintained its rear-wheel-drive configuration. The 1986 Toyota Supra, the third generation of Toyota’s six-cylinder sports coupe, was the first to bear the Supra name in the Japanese market.
Originally slated as a 1986 model, production delays led to its mid-year introduction, resulting in the 1986.5 designation. It boasted a distinctive exterior design characterized by uniquely slanted front windshield pillars, broader center pillars, and a curved rear end.
Under the hood, the third-generation Supra featured a 3.0-liter DOHC inline-6 engine, producing 200 horsepower and 196 lb.-ft of torque. It embraced a sleek 2+2 arrangement with a foldable glass hatch and compact rear seats. Although slightly shorter than its predecessors, the Mk3 was nearly 375 pounds heavier due to the inclusion of various features, including an optional removable Sport-Roof panel.
One standout feature was the Electronic Modulated Suspension, offering electronically controlled independent suspension. Toyota crafted 33,283 units of the Supra Mk3 in the 1986 model year.
Turbocharged Powerhouse: The Mk3 Turbo
In 1987, Toyota introduced the first Turbocharged Supra, featuring an intercooler and a turbocharged version of the 3.0-liter inline-6 engine. This upgrade elevated power output to 230 horsepower and 246 lb.-ft of torque. The 1987 Turbocharged Supra came equipped with an engine oil cooler and an integrated rear spoiler, capable of reaching a top speed of 150 mph. It offered a standard sports package comprising headlamp washers, a limited-slip differential (LSD), and the Electronic Modulated Suspension system. Buyers could also opt for an Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) at an additional cost. This year witnessed approximately 29,907 Supras rolling off the production line.
Continual Refinement: The 1988-1992 Models
In 1988, Toyota made several refinements to the Supra lineup, transitioning from cloth to vinyl interior material and discontinuing the optional Beige/Brown two-tone paint. Minor changes were made to the engine to enhance noise reduction, although power output remained consistent. Production numbers reached around 19,596 units for the year.
The following year, in 1989, Toyota refreshed the Supra with a new grille, rear spoiler, and taillights. Engine modifications were made to the turbo, intake, and wastegate, resulting in a minor power bump of 2 horsepower and 8 lb.-ft of torque. This marked the final engine-related update for the Mk3 Supra. Despite its feature-packed design, the Supra’s weight offset its full power potential, making it slightly faster than some lighter competitors, such as the Porsche 924S. The brand also increased rear suspension system rates for a smoother ride and relocated the cruise control feature from the column-mounted stalk to the wheel spokes.
However, production numbers began to decline, with 1989 yielding 14,544 units. The following years brought more changes, including the introduction of driver-side airbags as a standard feature and fluid-filled engine mounts. Despite Toyota’s efforts, sales continued to dwindle, with only 6,419 units produced in 1990.
In 1991, ABS became standard on all turbo models, accompanied by 5-spoke wheels equipped with Goodyear GS-D Z-rated tires. Toyota introduced the optional out-sliding power sunroof feature on all 1991 models. The powertrain and drivetrain remained unaltered for the year, but production numbers dwindled further to 3,623 units.
As the Mk3 era drew to a close in 1992, only 1,193 units were manufactured. To bid farewell, Toyota revised the automatic transmission shift points.
A Lasting Legacy
The Toyota Supra Mk3, through its evolution over the years, solidified its place as a classic in the automotive world. Its journey from shared roots with the Celica to becoming an independent sports car model showcased Toyota’s commitment to innovation and performance.
The Toyota Supra Mk3, though eventually overshadowed by its successors, left an indelible mark on the automotive landscape. Its distinctive design, powerful engine, and continual refinement make it a classic that enthusiasts still hold in high regard. The legacy of the Toyota Supra Mk3 lives on as a testament to Toyota’s dedication to engineering excellence and automotive artistry.