1987 Toyota Supra Twin Turbo

The Good:
– Fast as hell
– Adjustable suspension
– Now cheaper than dirt
The Bad:
– Handling could be better
– Limited luggage space
– Outdated interior design

Although not given as much thought as Italian exotics, the Land Of The Rising Sun was the birthplace of a whole assortment of high-tech sports cars back in the 1980s. Yes, certain Japanese fast cars were always highly regarded among well-informed enthusiasts, but these low-profile exotics, such as the Nissan Skyline GT-R, the Mazda RX-7 and the Toyota Supra Turbo didn’t gain a widespread fan following until stupid movies and video games made it cool to own a Japanese sports car. Even then, only the more recent models got all the publicity and gained the high resale values, so the earlier models can be had for pocket change. That’s why we were able to pick up this 1987 Toyota Supra Twin Turbo for the price of a laptop. We’d say the money was well-spent, impressing the chicks instead of impressing the geeks.

Our 3rd-generation Supra was in a sad state when we picked it up, but being a Toyota, it was still in working condition, and most of the damage was due to worn trim rather than mechanicals. The car came with a 1JZ-GTE engine swap and other upgrades performed, which made it as fast as most modern overpriced sports cars. The mods were obviously done on a budget by a ghetto street-side garage, but this haphazard tuner served as our benchmark sports car for almost two years, until we replaced it with a BMW M-something.

The outdated interior looked to be in tatters, with a layer of dust which we never could wipe off fully during our entire run with the car. But we did notice that the cloth parts of the interior were in one piece, with no worn areas whatsoever, and smeared only by a few greasy spots. The parts that suffered the most were some of the plastics, with a cracking dash, a warped glovebox, and some pieces in the centre console which were loose. Surprisingly, this wasn’t too bad for a 20-year-old car with 200,000 km on the clock, so we didn’t blow any money fixing any of it, even though we patched up the exterior and got a full body repaint done. Our car also had been updated externally to look like the 1989 facelifted version.

Unlike most non-GCC-spec imports, our car was American-spec, so it was an original left-hand-drive car. The funky seats were cloth. The driver’s seat was power-adjustable, with cool side-bolsters that could be electrically adjusted in width. The tight back seat is severely cramped. Most of the cabin panels were soft to the touch. The big gauge cluster had the usual instruments, along with a turbo boost gauge. The only non-original bits inside were an aftermarket steering wheel and a broken CD/MP3 player. The targa roof could be removed with a screwdriver and stored in the trunk. Other features included power windows, yellow foglights, electric mirrors and non-working cruise control. The a/c is very strong, but has a tiny leak. The shallow luggage trunk can fit flat-packed stuff. And in true 1980s fashion, there was only one square cup-holder, and no airbags — a real man’s car.

Its manliness was brought out further by the bulletproof 280 hp 1JZ-GTE twin-turbo engine that was swapped over from a Japanese-spec 1991 Supra R model, good for 362 Nm of peak torque at 4800 rpm. With the additional mods, our motor was probably good for well above 300 hp — a solid upgrade over the original 1987 230 hp turbo engine. Our car came with upgrades such as a huge Blitz muffler, an H&R blow-off valve, a larger Lancer Evo intercooler, a deleted catalytic converter, a TRD racing clutch, stronger flywheel and two electric cooling fans, some of which we added after purchase. The engine was combined with a standard five-speed manual and rear-wheel-drive, with traction control disconnected. All this was enough to move this heavy 1610 kg car from zero to 100 kph in 5.3 seconds. With the right launches, it is easy to break 6 seconds consistently.

In fact, on the streets, we were continually challenged by new Mustang GTs, common Lumina V8s and crappy Honda wannabes, and they were all toast at stoplight drag races. About the only car that pounded us down was a V12-powered Aston Martin, which costs about 15000% more. The Supra’s sequential turbos come alive one after the other. So there is natural torque below 2000 rpm thanks to the 2.5-litre inline-six, after which there is a slight shove as the first smaller turbo comes on at around 3000 rpm. And then all hell breaks loose as the larger turbo spools up and kicks in at higher revs with a massive kick of power, a crazy whoosing sound and a roaring exhaust note. As Honda boys will know, it feels like the uneven power delivery of older VTEC Civics, except with actual power instead of just noise.

Our Supra had other goods too, namely double-wishbone independent suspension, stiffer H&R springs, lightweight 16-inch Works rims, four-wheel ABS-assisted disc brakes, and standard electronically-adjustable shocks that can go from soft to hard at the push of a button. Those shocks were amazing on a car from 1987, let alone in 2007. On paper, the specs look good enough to make it seem like a good track warrior. However, over the previous years, we believe the car lost its “balance” and so it never handled as well as we’d hoped. The uneven power delivery and the abused suspension meant it was easy to unexpectedly break traction on the rear tyres during a turn. New 225/50 tyres and an alignment helped matters somewhat, although the Supra in general has always been regarded as more of a highway bruiser than a track terror. To its credit, the car never did have anything more than minor body roll, the disc brakes did well, and the ride was fairly comfortable even in “sport” mode.

But our tuner car was still a chore to use as a daily driver. The racing clutch was hard and had a short engage-point. The exhaust drone at highway speeds blew out our ears. The power steering was hard. The engine used to overheat if pushed for too long in the summer. The all-round visibility could’ve been better. The fuel economy was awful at 20.1 litres per 100 km. And the targa roof leaked so we used to hold up tissues inside a car wash. As we got our pants wet yet again, we decided to pass this car along to someone who had the money and the time to extensively fix this thing up. We drove the car hard, but we never abused it, and it left our hands a better car than what it initially was.

Many so-called “tuners” seen on the streets driving around in body-kitted economy cars have no idea how much work goes into maintaining a true modified car. Our Supra had enough branded aftermarket parts to make any teenager green with jealousy, but we kept the exterior of our car clear of any stickers or even standard badges. Passing annual governmental inspections is a hit-and-miss game, but it can be managed with a bit of perseverance. Any rich loser can buy an expensive new exotic and cruise around in slow motion, but real car guys can buy something like this old Supra for less money and fix it up themselves, so that they don’t have to worry about tiny scratches and high dealer-maintenance costs every second of the day as they fly past chicken-driven Porsches.

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