The Yin to the Prius' Yang.
Almost every generation has its most iconic performance cars. The Baby Boomers grew up with the Shelby Cobra and the Corvette Stingray. Gen-Xers worshipped at the altar of the Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari Testarossa (of course, when I say “altar” I mean “poster on the bedroom wall next to the one of Kathy Ireland in a one-piece”). But what asphalt scorchers are the most revered by Gen-Yers like your humble servant? Well, if I had to bestow upon one car the honor of Most Likely to Be Worth Stupid Money at Auction 30 Years Hence, it would be the fourth generation Toyota Supra.
While the first two generations of the Supra were basically posher Celicas that were lengthened between the firewall and the front wheels to accommodate an inline-six engine, the Celica’s 1986 switch to front-wheel-drive (and occasionally all-wheel-drive) meant the Supra’s branch would have to snap off the family tree in order for it to remain rear-wheel-drive. The third generation Supra – known to many fans as the Mark III – arrived as a 1986½ model, and sold well enough. But as we’ve already seen, the early 1990s was a period when Mazda, Mitsubishi and Nissan all made their top sports models considerably more butch, and Honda (by way of Acura in this market) had joined the club, so the designers and engineers at Toyota were bound to defend the corporation’s honor by making the Supra Mark IV at least as badass as the competition. And lordy, did they deliver.
Using the Lexus SC as a starting point, the development team created a platform with a five-and-a-half inch shorter wheelbase (meaning the two rear seats are only comfortable if you have orange skin, green hair and work for Willy Wonka) and 100 to 400 pounds less weight than the sexy Lexy (No, I wouldn’t recommend typing that into Google, particularly if you’re at work…). Even with all the extra content, extensive use of aluminum and other lightening materials meant the Mark IV was a couple hundred pounds lighter than its predecessor. Like the Mark III, the Mark IV featured a 3.0L DOHC inline-six in normally aspirated or turbocharged form, though the Mark IV’s engine was a new design. In another break from its predecessor, the new Supra’s forced-induction engine featured two turbochargers working sequentially rather than a single one, and there were no sub-3.0L engines offered in the home market. The normally aspirated version served up 220hp and 210 lb.-ft (which rose to 225hp and 220 lb.-ft with the addition of variable valve timing in 1998), while the U.S.-spec Turbo belted out 320hp (The base Corvette of 1993 could only muster 300hp.) and 315 lb.-ft. Both powerplants could be paired with a 4-speed automatic, while human/machine interface fans could order the atmospheric engine with a 5-speed manual (which was dropped for ’98) or the forced induction with a 6-speed manual (except in 1996, due to emissions issues). Aside from an extra cog in the manual trans version, the Turbo also added larger brake calipers front and rear, 17-inch wheels rather than 16s, differential, basket handle rear wing (which was eventually made standard on all Supras) and, beginning in 1996, a standard targa roof. Also, the 1998 Turbo wasn’t available in California and eight Northeast states that followed California emissions regulations; domo freakin' arigato, CARB…
If the Supra sounds like a perfectly average performer by today’s standards, where the latest 500+ horsepower Mercedes AMG sedan or 270hp minivan is greeted with a chorus of “Mehs,” you’re right. But the Mark IV was and is, along with the never-sold-here Nissan Skyline GT-Rs of the ‘90s and early ‘00s, the holiest of holies in the import tuner world. The orange monster that had a starring role in the first The Fast and the Furious movie certainly reinforced that status, but the foundation of that rep is built on solid ground, because modified Mark IVs are capable of positively bat guano power figures…on stock bottom ends. And even when the boost is cranked up to levels that do accelerate the production of shrapnel, block reinforcing can accommodate enough pressure to get into the sevens in the quarter mile.
So what will a Mark IV Supra cost you these days? A normally aspirated model will start in the mid- to high-teens, while factory Turbos (as opposed to normally aspirated cars that have been converted, known as NA-Ts) command at least mid-twenties. Modified cars far outnumber stock ones, and heavily upgraded show-quality examples have been known to be listed at substantial premiums. As mentioned above, drivetrains are usually very robust, but other, more minor issues can arise, including rattling hatchbacks and targa roof panels, noisy motor mounts, and fussy dashboard warning lights. But if you have your heart set on a semi-affordable ‘90s performance car that is all but certain to appreciate in value, the Mark IV Supra is the vehicle for you.