As you may recall from my Miata story, my wife was concerned for our safety and well-being driving it out on the highway – which rendered the car almost useless since we live in an isolated Iowa town. A takeaway though, we did learn to love the sports car/fun car lifestyle that bookended our reliable, practical and efficient sedan with the hardworking and versatile pickup truck. So we thought that was a genre to continue to pursue, just with a different car.
What to get became the question. There are so many great options out there in the sports car world and what a fun problem to have to select one. My favorite type of car (aside from the pickup – you can tell that about me by now, right?) is the GT. Grand Tourer cars represent some of the best attributes in a motor vehicle to me – speed, striking beauty, exclusiveness (typically), solid build quality (typically), hour on end comfort, quiet and smooth linear powerband (typically), refined driving experience, excellent visibility/airy greenhouse and more. Some of my favorite examples in no particular order include the Mercedes 300SL, Toyota 2000GT, Ferrari 456GT, Ferrari 330 GTC, Ferrari F40, BMW 2002, BMW E9, BMW M3 E36 LTW, Porsche 356, Audi A5/S5, Facel Vega HK500, ISO Grifo and Alfa Romeo Montreal. Seeing how I’ll never be able to afford any of those in good, operable condition I’d have to take my dreams elsewhere.
As Daniel Stern wonderfully described in this blog, a car-loving child remembers small details from a young age. Be it the wacky rubbing sound of the back and forth of mom’s windshield wipers or the physical details of other cars. Among several, one memory was of the late 1980s Nissan Pulsar and how I always thought the taillights looked like Good and Plenties (I’m a weirdo who has always loved anise, black licorice). Another was of the MKIV Toyota Supra’s giant spoiler – there was just nothing else like it on the road. So with that early affinity, I’ve always had an interest in the A80 Supra and have been tracking them since.
In 2017, with the Miata being up for replacement by another sports car, the timing seemed right so I began looking for a nice, stock example. Pricing had me exclusively looking at naturally aspirated examples and more often than not, automatic transmissions, too. The pricing between those and six-speed manual transmission twin-turbo cars is staggering. The NA/auto combo did not bother me as I was not going for the Fast and Furious boy racer look but rather a true GT experience. The NA would provide butter-smooth power and the auto transmission kind of plays into that, too. I looked at a few Supras in faraway locales as they’d pop up on the internet but had troubles pulling the trigger on cars with 200,000 miles on the odometer without seeing, driving them. And even then, they’d sell before I could begin to gesture interest. With just 11,472 LHD USDM MKIV Supras made, many lost to attrition and high demand, finding a good one can be hard. This search went on for a few months before a Supra showed up locally with my criteria. It was an adult-owned, really clean car – stock down to the stereo head unit and 121,xxx miles on the odometer. The unfortunate parts were the gaudy aftermarket wheels and his price but those could be fixed. I test drove it one day and liked what I saw/drove. We continued to haggle on price via text and eventually either got tired of it or found a common ground. The car was mine.
Ugh, my luck with buying old cars. When I returned with the money the car would crank but not start. He said he’d been driving it earlier that day and the engine was warm. Anyway, no amount of small tinkering would get it to fire up and he offered to pay to have it towed 35 miles to my local Toyota dealership. I probably should have had him tow it to HIS Toyota dealer and fixed before paying. Hindsight. But I was OK with his price and was saving hundreds already on transport fees by buying local. Being the car ran and drove just fine earlier in the week I thought it would be something minor. The fun began…
Once at the dealership they did some funky wiring fix via the AC/defrost button for constant power to bypass the issue and of course within the first two miles of driving it died again. So, I had the car towed home to my garage and dug in. An alternator replacement was in line, along with a new battery. That fall I sold the Miata and worked through preventative maintenance and other items with the Supra. I sourced some new tires, stock wheels and center caps and plugged the car into a trickle charger for the winter.
The following spring I did a full tune-up and preventative items were addressed. The car ran pretty well but would still have the occasional hiccups. More parts were replaced. That Halloween I stopped into the grocery store for some candy on my way home from work and the car would barely run when I tried to back out of my parking spot. A friend helped me limp it home, warning lights and black smoke all the way back to my garage where it sat again all winter. A new coil and ignitor remedied that.
So essentially each year brings new to-dos and items to tackle on the car. Last year it was new rear shocks, rear hatch struts and touching up cold solder joints in some instrumentation clusters. This year, so far, it has been a distributor shaft seal that was leaking oil all over the engine bay – and probably what killed my original alternator as it sits right under the leaking distributor. I also want to adjust the driver’s side door as it sags and address some cosmetic issues like cleaning the headlights, taking out some door dings, etc. But so it goes with old cars. A co-worker of mine laments on the topic – “If it were easy everyone would do it” and I’d have to agree with his sentiments.
I’m hoping I’m reaching a point that I can trust this car to drive it more. I dream of taking it to Oshkosh, WI for the airshow someday with my dad or other fun destinations. I plan to keep this car for many, many years so these minor challenges thus far have not been big deterrents. I’ve enjoyed learning the car/platform and doing my own wrenching where I can. I’ve also made a good friend through this car, one day I caught up with another 1993 Supra owner as he was parked downtown and we now go to car shows together, cruises, share wrenching tips, etc.
Lucas make the electrical bits in that car?
Hahaha! I sure hope not! Mostly Denso from what I’ve seen.
I’m a die hard Toyota fan, and these do nothing for me. Weird (but not terribly bad) looks. Zero rear seat. Great mechanicals. Interior material levels that are no better than a Celica.
I’d buy an E36 over this in a heartbeat (excepting the Soarer/SC coupe, which I’d pounce on). Fast and Furious elevated these cars into something they aren’t, but the market decides…I’m not adding boost so my F’s will go elsewhere, thanks.
Sounds like the MkV Zupra might be more in line for you. Toyota/BMW hybrid.
Are you glad you sold your “bullet proof” Miata yet? IMhO, for the $, they (Miatas) are MAX FunToDrive for something with 4 wheels! To each hi$ own! 🙂
I spent many happy driving hours on highways and backroads in the 4 Miatas I’ve had! DFO
Well, to be fair, random chance could plague a shopper with a similarly problematic Miata, he didn’t sell his Miata because of reliability concerns, and he stated quite clearly he was after a grand tourer rather than a roadster.
Sam, I forgot to ask in my comment below, but since you were looking for a GT, did you consider the SC300 as well? I’m guessing the Supra is still a sharper handler.
Yes, any 28-year-old car will be susceptible to fits – it’s a given.
No, the focus was on the Supra at all times. The SC300 is a nice car no doubt but I didn’t need the leather, luxury, and additional weight/complexity.
Very nice! Well, will be when it’s sorted…
I forgot these came with the naturally aspirated six, so prevalent are the turbo versions in legend and at auction. Toyota cleaned up a few comparison tests against some impressive machinery with this generation of Supra but sales were terrible as you note. For all the enthusiasts sniping at Toyota for cancelling its sports car line twenty years ago, well…blame the enthusiasts from twenty years ago who didn’t buy either it or the lengthy roster of sports cars from numerous brands who got the axe over the years for the same reason.
Cool car from a particular time. When you do get it sorted out, I hope you’ll write another review with your driving impressions.
Yes, sales were pretty dismal when new. Stiff competition and high prices were certainly factors. This carried a $35,000 sticker when new and Turbo cars were even more. That’s roughly $63,000 in 2021 dollars – might have been a tough pill to swallow paying that for a Toyota.
The stock rims are a big improvement. The electrical issues are a little worrying but hopefully after sorting through them it proves to be reliable.
These are ultra rare in Canada as the pricing was even more challenging here when new. There is the occasional JDM import around though.
Yeah, they were available for even fewer years up there than here. An ultra-rare Canadian market recently sold on BringATrailer. I was jealous of the heated seats, an option US cars never got.
Extremely rare here, but that applies to all generations. I hope you enjoy it for many, many years!
Thanks! I think she’s a keeper! Looking forward to sticking with one platform, learning/becoming knowledgeable about it and staying the course. I’ve already done a lot to this car that my buddy needs to do to his so I’ll be happy to lend a hand when the time comes.
I love these, 90s Japan had such a great mix of sport coupe designs with a lot of diversity in their looks, these, the FD RX7, 300ZX, 3000GT/Stealth spoiled me as a kid of the time deeply into cars, nothing has been as interesting since. I love how clean yours is with the white on black and despite the boldness of the wing on back it’s still much more subtle than the erector sets people had a tendency to affix to them in a certain terrible but inexplicably successful movie franchise.
I forgot these came NA too, this would actually be my pick despite most people my age dreaming of a built up 1000 horsepower monster. My dad had this engine in his old GS300 and it was more than powerful enough in that heavier sedan to have fun with, though that throttle body crossing over the valve cover was annoying when doing plugs.
Thanks! Agreed, Japan offered us some wild stuff in the 80s and 90s!
And yes, it was a bear replacing the plugs and wires because of that intake. Ugh!
When I bought our ‘93 Land Cruiser used, from a Toyota dealer in 1995, there was a red Supra turbo in their small indoor showroom. The salesman said it was a tough sell at the list price … people willing to spend that much wanted Land Cruisers, everybody else wanted (or could only afford) a Camry or Corolla.
Yes, neither your lightly used LC nor the Supra would’ve been cheap! My buddies and I stopped through a Toyota dealership last weekend while out on a bike ride. A new LandCruiser today? $87,000!
Congrats! This gen Supra is the first Japanese car to really become valued as a collectible. I mean they are quite expensive. I’ve had several first gen Datsun Zs but they weren’t as expensive fifteen years ago as they are now. I had a ’92 Nissan 300X two seat N/A engine five speed with T Tops in the early 2000s, they are pretty cramped under the hood. Your car looks great and is well worth holding onto. I know that any old car is going to have some problems so I’m glad to hear that you are going to stick with it. Best of luck and thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Jose! Yeah, it’s nice to see some Japanese iron get appreciated. I suspect that goes hand in hand with younger folks joining the car scene. Early Zs have skyrocketed lately. I’d argue the Toyota 2000GT has always been expensive, collectable but nice to see the newer and high volume stuff get respect, too!