With the new Supra on the horizon, we look back at Toyota's rich performance heritage.
These days, Toyota is hardly a brand one would automatically associate with fine performance cars – ones that set your soul ablaze every time you look at and drive them. They’re really just manufacturers of appliances now – the equivalent of a washing machine on wheels. But among the Priuses (or is that Prii?) and Camrys of the world, the recent teaser of the new Toyota Supra sent our hearts and minds back in time to remember ten occasions Toyota gave the world some serious performance icons.
This Toyota-Yamaha collaboration was so very nearly the first Nissan Z-car, until Nissan and Yamaha separated paths, leaving Toyota to jump in and this 1967 sports car to be the progeny of the pairing. Arguably one of the most beautiful Toyota’s ever built, the 2000GT’s styling was more than just vaguely reminiscent of Jaguar’s E-Type. Under the elongate hood of the 351 cars produced, a Yamaha tuned 2.0-liter straight-6 motor developed 150 horsepower, sent to the rear wheels through a 5-speed manual transmission.
Nine special MF-12 models were built with a larger 2.3-liter engine, but the most famous of all 2000GTs has to be the open top model used in the 1967 James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, featuring Sean Connery.
The first generation Toyota Celica was Japan’s answer to the pony car – in particular the Ford Mustang. It shared a platform with the Toyota Carina sedan, but was restyled for a fastback appearance and a 2+2 seating configuration. A range of engines were available, but it was the range topping 2.2-liter 4 cylinder that offered the best performance, with an available 96 hp and 120 lb-ft driving the rear wheels. Interestingly, in California the engine was detuned to just 90 hp. In the US, a choice between a 4-speed manual or automatic gearbox kicked things off, and we never got access to the Porsche-designed close ratio 5-speed that was available in Japan.
Few performance Toyotas are as highly rated in pop culture as the AE86 is amongst JDM fans. It’s the hero car of anime and manga series Initial D, in which hero character Takumi uses his father’s AE86 for the unlikely combination of racing and making tofu deliveries. But in reality, this rear-wheel drive Corolla variant is one of the most revered JDM drift missiles that ever went on sale. In its top US specification, the AE86 GT-S featured a 112-hp 4A-GE 1.6-liter 4 cylinder that drove the rear wheels of the 2200-lb machine via a 5-speed manual gearbox. For the USA only, an optional limited slip rear differential was available.
Though it underwent a major redesign in 1989, America didn’t see the second generation MR2 until late the following year as a 1991 model. The mid-engined, rear wheel drive sports coupe was larger and heavier than its predecessor, but featured larger engines and sturdier suspension bits to go with the new design that many characterized as being a ‘baby Ferrari’. There were 3 engines on offer; the most potent being a 2.0-liter 3S-GTE turbo-four delivering 200 hp to the rear wheels in the US-spec with a manual gearbox as the only transmission choice. Performance was impressive, with the MR2 Turbo completing the 0-60 mph dash in a sprightly 6.1 seconds.
It’s arguably one of the most iconic Toyota sports cars ever – and another one with a massive pop culture following. But long before Paul Walker told Vin Diesel to pop the hood in The Fast and The Furious, the Mk4 Toyota Supra was already making waves globally thanks to the immense power one could generate on stock engine internals. It was for one reason and one reason only… the 2JZ engine, obviously In its most potent twin-turbo form, the Mk4 Supra generated 276 hp and 318 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the rear wheels for a 0-60 mph sprint of less than 5 seconds, before maxing out at over 177 mph.
The GT-Four name was given to the highest performance Celicas on offer, with the ST205 being the last of its ilk. For rally homologation purposes, 2,500 units were produced, powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-four that developed 239 hp mated to a 5-speed manual and all-wheel drive. In motorsport circles it’s known for one of the greatest cheats ever when during the 1995 WRC season, turbo restrictors were used: illegal when driving, but perfectly legal when parked. Then president of the FIA, Max Mosley, labelled the trick, “the most sophisticated device I've ever seen in 30 years of motor sports.”
In some markets, it was known as the Lexus IS, but the Altezza nameplate stuck for many in tuning circles. The Altezza inspired the trend of clear taillight housings that would be displayed on the original Fast and Furious era cars proudly. But it was beneath the skin that the front engine, rear wheel drive Altezza packed its meanest punch. The Altezza may have been an executive sedan, but the top spec model was known for its naturally aspirated version of the Supra’s 2JZ engine, which made it bulletproof reliable and with big tuning potential that many exploited in the form of aftermarket boost.
Possibly the rarest of all Toyota road cars, the GT-One Road Car was quite literally a road going variant of Toyota’s TS020 Le Mans racecar. Only two were ever built for homologation purposes to compete in the production-based GT1 class. The road-going model featured the same mid-mounted 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine, developing a round 600 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. Power was sent to the rear wheels through a sequential manual transmission featuring 6 forward gears, enabling a 0-60 mph sprint of 3.2 seconds with a claimed top speed of 236 mph – though the real figure was nearer to 260 mph.
To meet road regulations, the GT-One Road Car featured air conditioning and even a full climate control setup, and the vehicle complied with emissions standards of the time.
The most recent of Toyota’s performance exploits is the one they co-developed with Subaru, and the one that’s come in for the most criticism. The 2+2 seater 86 took over from the badge-engineered Scion FR-S, a car whose front-mounted boxer engine and rear wheel drive layout with a manual gearbox has made it one of the purist driving experiences currently on sale. But the 2.0-liter engine up front is devoid of any form of boost, and has been widely criticized as being underpowered – punting out just 205 hp and 156 lb-ft. But enthusiasts and Toyota alike all scream that it has the right amount of power for you to enjoy the drive as the true spiritual successor to the AE86 of old.
Cheating? Maybe, but as Lexus was Toyota founded and wholly owned, the Lexus LFA deserves its spot on this list. Widely regarded as the finest performance machine to be developed by Toyota, the LFA arrived with a raft of technological wizardry that sent jaws dropping the world over. Not only was the supercar clad in carbon fiber body panels before it was cool, but it featured a completely bespoke developed front mid-mounted even firing V10 engine with a 4.8-liter displacement and unparalleled responses.
The 552-hp V10 could rev up so quickly that no analog tachometer could keep up, leading Toyota to develop a digital gauge cluster that could display the engine’s speed in real-time. A single-clutch six-speed sequential ‘box handled shifting, with the rear-drive LFA accelerating from 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds on its way to a 202 mph top speed.