The Best Supra? It’s Not the New One
I don’t get all the breathless hype around the 2020 Toyota Supra. Yes, I know it’s quick and sticks to the road like a burr to a blanket. And no, I’m not annoyed that much of it was engineered by BMW. It’s just that, slightly goofball styling aside, it doesn’t move the needle one iota. It’s a modern mainstream sports car by the numbers. Formulaic. Predictable.
It wasn’t like that 33 years ago.
The A70 Supra, launched in 1986, was a Toyota that truly took your breath away. Its predecessors—the A40 and A60 Supras—were slightly restyled Celicas with a six-cylinder engine under their extended hoods. They were typical sporty coupes from a mainstream automaker, a mashup of sedan-derived hardware and mildly sexy two-door sheetmetal, and mildly interesting to drive. Toyota’s Mustang, if you will. The A70 Supra was something else altogether. In an era when big bore twin-cam engines, multi-link suspension all round, four-wheel disc brakes, five-speed manual transmissions, and limited-slip differentials were the stuff of Italian exotics like Ferraris and Lamborghinis, this Toyota—a Toyota!—had it all. And more.
The 3.0-liter twin-cam straight-six under the hood, codenamed 7M-GE and developing 200 hp and 196 lb-ft, boasted a variable induction system. The multi-link suspension front and rear was damped by electronically controlled shocks. The brakes—11.9-inch diameter front and 11.5-inch rear—were among the biggest fitted to a mainstream production car anywhere in the world at the time. And the A70 Supra rolled on 16-inch alloy wheels fitted with unidirectional Goodyear Eagle tires, the first 50-series tires ever fitted to a production Toyota.
It was built like no other Toyota, and it drove like no other Toyota. I tested one in early 1986, for Car Australia magazine, and came away hugely impressed with its ability to imperiously devour fast, sweeping roads. The A70 was more a GT than a tightly wound sports car—compared with the 2020 Supra it was 9.4 inches longer overall and had a 5.0-inch longer wheelbase—but it steered precisely, was nicely balanced, gripped well, and that naturally aspirated twin-cam straight-six revved joyously to 6,500 rpm as you worked the five-speed manual transmission.
The A70’s weight was its only downside—3,400 pounds was considered porky back then. Curiously, though, that’s right on what Toyota is claiming for the new Supra, which also has a 3.0-liter, twin-cam straight-six under the hood. The new Supra’s engine is turbocharged, of course, and pumps out far more power and torque than the old 7M-GE: 335 hp and 365 lb-ft. But, fascinatingly, the Car Australia test numbers show the manual A70 to have been virtually as quick as today’s eight-speed auto Supra to 60 mph—4.2 seconds versus 4.1 seconds (stay tuned for a full instrumented test of the 2020 Supra, coming soon).
Of course, the new Supra will be way faster than the A70 over the quarter mile, and much quicker around a racetrack. But context is everything, and in the context of 1986, the A70 Supra offered proper supercar hardware and a genuine GT drive experience at a Toyota price. As a result, it redefined the Toyota brand for a whole generation of enthusiasts.
The 2020 Supra merely reminds us how good Toyota was all those years ago.
Want more Supra? Check these out:
- 2020 Toyota Supra First Drive: Automotive Husbandry
- 2020 Toyota Supra: The Aftermarket’s Take
- 2020 Toyota Supra: Here’s Something You Probably Didn’t Know About its Logo
- Supra Returns! The Inside Story on the 2020 Toyota Supra’s Comeback
- 2020 Toyota Supra Design: From FT-1 Concept to Production
- Toyota Supra History: Looking Back at Toyota’s Sports Car
- Why Toyota’s Supra-Z4 Partnership With BMW Makes Sense
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