Toyota’s failure to crack the U.S. pony car market over the long term is one of its few major stumbles. When I found the pristine Celica Supra Mk I and then ran across this sad-looking and likely abandoned/stolen Mark III, I knew it was fated that I do a three-parter on the first three generations of Toyota’s ill-fated pony car challenger. It took me a while to find the Mark II, but now we’re at the point of pulling the whole thread together. I’m far from an expert on the Mark III, so please add to the limited body of knowledge I can either muster or fake. One thing is clear: Toyota’s trajectory for the Supra led to a dead end–and that path started early on, perhaps right from the get-go. And the Mark III clearly marked the beginning of the end.
The regular Celica’s mission in life was relatively easier, at least longer than for the Supra. The Celica was to the Mustang and Camaro what the Corona/Corolla was to the Impala/Malibu and the like: a smaller, lighter and cheaper alternative when those attributes were in demand. But despite a strong start and a fairly good run, in the end the Celica’s mission didn’t work out, due to the Mustang’s incomparable dollar/horsepower value and the return of buyer interest in V8-powered pony cars.
But the Supra had an even harder road to hoe. On the pricey side from the beginning, it kept getting even more expensive. Also, its market positioning was problematic: The Mark II had the kind of high-tech features not all that common at the time (DOHC six, IRS, et.al.) and superb build quality to pull off its super-Mustang price, never mind that much of its performance envelope was eclipsed by the crude but effective ‘Stang.
The Mark III represented a substantial notch upward in terms of chassis sophistication (double-wishbone suspension) and performance (turbo version), and an upscale move overall. Based on Toyota’s Soarer, the Mark III also got the cream of Toyota’s engine stable at the time, the 3.0-liter 7M-GE four-valve inline six. The normally aspirated version made 200 hp, and the (mild) turbo 230 hp. Although quite a healthy jump from the 160 hp of the Mark II, the contemporary Mustang GT made 225 horses, and for thousands less.
The niche for high-tech, JDM-style sports tourers was small and too crowded; its inevitable collapse wouldn’t come to full fruition until the Mark IV era, but sales numbers for the III were shrinking (which is borne out by the dearth of Supras of this vintage on the streets here). For quite a while, this one was the only one I came across. I’ve seen one or two since then, but they’re pretty elusive.
And though you might be turned off by the condition of this yellow buzz-bomb, I find it strangely appealing. The contrast of the yellow paint and the dirt (or whatever has stained it) is compelling, photographically. I strongly suspect that this car was stolen and then abandoned here, since there are no houses nearby. It’s also attracted the attention of a prospective next owner, judging from the tattered note on the windshield asking: “Is this car for sale?” You wouldn’t likely see that on an old, tattered Mustang. The Supra may be gone, but it’s anything but forgotten.