There have been four Toyota Supras in the annals of automotive history, ending with the vaunted 4th generation (Mark IV) Supra of 1993-2002. This car is recognized as a legend for its performance and durability and today pristine examples fetch upwards of $50K. But that’s not the car I’m going to write about. Instead, I’m going to write about its little known antecedent, the Mark II Supra of 1982-1986.
In the early 1980’s, there was a full-on war between Toyota and Nissan for near luxury sports cars with inline six cylinder engines and a wealth of luxury features. Toyota brought all their guns to bear with the second generation Supra, with a fully independent suspension and a distinct body from the Celica, which continued with an anemic four cylinder engine and a solid rear axle. If you’re a fan of the 80’s, the Supra’s crisp and creased lines are a great example of the mores of the era, with pop up headlights, fender flares, and that fastback design that we all loved back then.
Back then, Japan had a booming economy and cheap currency that resulted in an unbeatable level of engineering and craftsmanship in their cars for your USD. The Supra is no exception with a powerful and smooth 160 hp 2.8L inline six engine in a sub 3000 pound chassis. By today’s standards, a featherweight, but a bloated luxo cruiser in the 1980’s. These cars had the best technology, from a digital dashboard to 14-way adjustable sport seats, and the later models had a suspension tuned by Lotus, who had started a partnership with Toyota for parts in exchange for some engineering expertise.
The Supra makes my list because it’s a rear wheel drive car with plenty of power, a sophisticated-enough chassis, and enough creature comforts to be usable as an everyday car. This was a car designed to be the best Japan could offer, and corners that are cut in today’s cars were left on in the Supra. Lifting the carpet in the cargo compartment reveals a full size spare on an alloy wheel, something few cars have today. Interior plastics, while blessed with the sheen of the 1980’s, are not susceptible to the cracking of European contemporaries like the Porsche 944.
There are two models, the L-Type and the P-Type. The L-Type has a digital dashboard, while the P-Type has fender flares and a limited slip differential. The P-Types are more desirable, especially since the digital displays on the dashboards can fail after almost 30 years and are expensive to replace. From 1984 onwards, the engines produced 160 hp, and the best models are the 1985-1986 P-Types. Of course, manual transmission is the way to go; automatic transmissions still had a way to go in the early 1980’s. Forget about airbags and ABS in cars of this era, they were simply not available.
The cars are not perfect- because these cars are light and torquey, they can have tricky handling, especially with the stock 14 inch tires. Power-off oversteer is something to be aware of, and my Supra had an unfortunate encounter with a tree in the hands of a friend. Be extra careful, especially in the wet. Cars with updated wheels and tires (up to 16″) are potentially safer.
Thanks to Initial-D, the AE86 Corolla GT-S has become a cult classic for its rwd handling and drifting prowess, but I think the less loved Supra is the car to have, with more power, a similar size, and an independent rear suspension. A good example should be between $2,000 and $3,000 with extra special examples with more powerful engines approaching $5,000, or a little bit more than half the price of a similar Corolla GT-S with less power.
Of the four generations of Supras out there, the Mark II is unloved and yet deserving of love. Therefore, it is worthy of my Cool Used Car list, as a car that is both special and inexpensive to buy.