Here we’re back in Dublin for a look at some vintage Toyota goodness.
The last items of my personal possessions to linger in my childhood home are a stack of Autocar & Motor/Autocar magazines, from the period 1989 to about 1997, the last year of childhood and the early years of adulthood. This is a period when one is getting use to how the world is, to what constitutes normal. For most of human history it was likely that you could rely on this mental architecture for the rest of your life. Up until about 1900 the world didn’t change all that fast, perhaps even until 1970. This meant that what you took the first decade and half to learn remained relevant for the rest of your natural; for many that was just another thirty years.
My collection of car magazines embodies that phase when I was getting accustomed to things. And also, during this time prejudices and preconceptions landed intact from central London and what was once called the ‘farmstead of a man called Tuda, Totington or Todyngton’. The accumulated effect of absorbing 15 kg of motoring wisdom (that stack of magazines) was that I overlooked cars like this 1993 Toyota Supra.
I have a review of this car among the stack – it gets quite a decent write up, but the punches are pulled. The interior is plasticky (which is a term I would love have explained to me since all car interiors are mostly plastic in the same way the interior of the Mary Rose is a bit woody). When I squinted through the side glass I saw nothing but stone-solid fittings and the kind of seats that hold you like an egg glued into an egg cup.
German and Italian cars besotted me in the early 1990s. I especially admired the finish and fit of Mercedes and BMW. I didn’t notice what Toyota were up to. And so back to today’s car which stands up to very close examination. Toyota were in the early part of their Lexus phase and I would suspect a lot of what they were learning for Lexus got carried over to the Supra. It all adds up on the outside, no hanging edges or fudged details.
Alas for Toyota, this balls-to-the-wall sports car met a market that had lost interest in these kinds of cars. It has a rip-snorting 3-litre six, driving the rear wheels, a compact 4.5 metre length and is just 1.5 tonnes. Fast, capable, robust and sadly not a lot more than a refinement of the 1970s sporty coupé. Ireland’s roads are too bumpy and too narrow for a beast like this. I am however, glad to see it and glad such examples of engineering ingenuity exist.
34 thoughts on “Montain Green-Veined Whites – Everywhere.”
Thanks for that Richard, from a time that it finally hit Western manufacturers that Japanese makers could make better cars than them, with this car, the Nissan 300ZX, Mazda RX7, Mitsubishi 3000GTO, Mazda MX5 and Lexus LS 400.
There was a Lexus version on this platform, the SC 300. With the same sixes, turbo and not, auto and manual, and with the 1UZ V8, auto only. They were strong competitors to Mercedes’ C124 or a BMW 6series, (or Mazda’s 3 rotor Cosmo), but as you allude, not many people thought so at the time.
Toyota’s superior build quality is now more widely acknowledged, and Lexus with it. And because Lexus wasn’t sold on the JDM, there was a Toyota version of it, the Soarer, now not uncommon on the other world’s RHD markets thanks to the low pricing and great value of ex-JDM used vehicle prices.
That’s a familiar plate, from my state! That would be an early-noughties issue, just about the time when importing used cars from Japan was starting to take off.
The ´93 Supra is a very nice design that unfortunately (to me) is “stigmatized” by the huge rear wing. Without it (and stock ride height) it´s a whole lot better.
Anyway, I prefer the SC. Twelve years ago I considered buying one a british expat was selling in Costa del Sol (200 kms from home); alas, I thought twice.
Without the wing and with the ride adjusted it looks even more appealing: long body, small cabin, short rear deck. Goodness.
I do like the Supra, but are its extreme proportions, particularly in the examples above on its smaller wheels,verging on the cartoonish? The Soarer/SC300 looks rather better balanced to my eyes.
Japan’s automakers really were on a roll in the 1990s, both in terms of design and build quality.
This Toyota and its equivalent models Nissan 300 ZX and Mitsubishi 3000 GT absolutely bombed in the market over here.
They were too big (in particular too wide) for people who wanted an M3 and they were too openly US-oriented to be an alternative to a Benz or BMW coupé.
Details like the Toyota’s fishbowl rear lights and absurd spoiler certainly didn’t help to make it attractive for potential customers.
Japanese manufacturers were far better at producing attractive coupés one size smaller like RX-7, Celica, 200 SX.
Here is another admirer of the 90ies sportscars from Japan. I especially love the MR2, the Supra and the RX-7.
But : Here in Germany the reputation of the Opel Manta as a serious sportscoupé was totally destroyed by a movie called “Manta Manta“.
Didn’t the Fast and Furious movie series the same with the Supra and many other truly fantastic sportscars from Japan?
I was told that in Germany they made jokes about Manta owners…
They made jokes about Manta owners long before this movie.
Opel had made the Manta a parody of itself and a joke on wheels by keeping it in production far beyond its best before date and by providing options that went out of fashion thirty years before like a black bonnet in 1988.
The Manta attracted a specific clientele that liked to (literally) stick on cheap bodywork addenda and apply multicolor flip flop paint.
The British equivalent would have been Essex boy with white XR3.
This subculture and its members attracted lots of jokes already long before the movie.
The movie simply reflected this particular parallel universe.
I was once patiently waiting my turn behind an obviously prized, colour coordinated yellow Manta in a German filling station and looked up to see it rolling back towards my stationary vehicle. I naturally hooted. In no time Mantaman had got out and was standing inches from my face, shouting that I’d first hooted impatiently at him then, because he hadn’t moved fast enough, nudged him with my car. I pointed out that, as he was clearly no longer parked in front of the pump, it might have been the other way round. He grunted, got into his car and made a noisy exit. I thought then that I might have encountered a new species, and Dave now confirms it.
The shortest joke about Mantas:
There’s a Manta parked in front of a school.
Lol – the same happened with the Capri in the UK.
I think you need to have a ‘Swinger’ for the full effect. I do miss the ‘70s.
It was the same in the Netherlands. Mantas were mainly sold to a certain clientele. The Manta jokes were a German phenomenon. I don’t recall any Dutch jokes. back in the day we made fun of Lada.
Manta drivers’ favourite literature (picture shown only for educational purposes)
Thank you for an interesting article Richard. The detail work on Japanese cars of this era has long been underappreciated I think (perhaps understandable in the Supra’s case with that rather distracting rear wing).
I think you hit peak Autocar there (I excitedly received my first issue in 1990), the period after the merger with Motor and leading up to the 100th anniversary. Looking back I think the magazine pushed upmarket somewhat and the content became closer to that of 80s/90s Car Magazine, with more design-focused stories and historical articles. The pace of Autocar’s graphic redesigns did get a bit frenzied (“New Look!” roughly once a year I think), but sadly now the complete opposite is true and if I look at a 2023 issue (stapled these days rather than perfect bound), it appears identical to a copy from 15 years ago.
As for the Supra, the details are nicely resolved but personally I agree with others here in that I prefer the Soarer Z30/Lexus SC. The Mk2 (’91?) Honda Legend Coupe and the JDM only ’90 Mazda Eunos Cosmo and were both also very smooth and sophisticated (although admittedly I’ve never managed to see either in real life).
I’d add the Subaru SVX for its futuristic looks.
Agreed! I think at that point the SVX was probably the best thing Italdesign had done since the Uno and Piazza in the early 80s.
For me personally it’s Eunos Cosmo, RX7 FD and NSX, even though I have some issues with the looks of the Honda.
The 1991 Legend is a cracked. It´s not a Supra competitor though.
The Lexus SC is overall great, spoiled for me by the silly inner headlights.
Thanks for showing me the Eunos Cosmo. It´s just astonishing, as if GM designers on a good day were allowed to do things the right way instead of the cheap way. It is also not a Supra competitor – it seems more like a very lovely GT.
I had a look at the Eunos Cosmo interior. It looks like one of the most integrated assemblies of elements (inside a car) I have ever seen. It seems that the rear head restraints are hidden until a lid until needed.
Take a look at this: https://www2.mazda.com/en/100th/virtual_museum/episode/episode008.html
Sometimes I see a design so inherently lovely and right I do not know what do with the feeling of aesthetic delight. This car provokes that feeling. It´s poignant that most of the examples are gone and getting to see one would be a challenge of a high order.
The SVX is beooming a famously forgotten car, isn´t it? There have been a bunch of cars that created a splash and then sank gradually despite their technical interest?
The Eunos Cosmo is the kind of car which deserves to have more people know about it! I feel Jaguar in the 1990s could have learned a lot from especially the fantastic interior but in fact the exterior too, rather than going down the S-Type retro route.
I shudder to think how much the development costs were for the Cosmo. It’s such a shame that a car this ambitious and well resolved was stymied by so many factors (the bubble economy bursting, Mazda’s labyrinthine and baffling 90s multi-brand strategy and changes in Japanese dimension regs too apparently).
For me it´s difficult to choose between the SC, Legend coupé and Eunos Cosmo. I have a soft spot for the Honda but I suppose it´s because it seems the most affordable to buy and own.
In US there was a manual transmission SC300 that was as fast as the auto SC400 and a 6 speed manual Legend that could be very interesting.
I believe that LJK Setright, road testing a Cosmo in Japan, had an unintended off road excursion…
Worth a look,
I really like this version of the Supra, even/ especially with the grotesque rear wing which it wore with great abandon.
There was a lady living close to us, very glamorous looking, must have been in her late 70s or even early 80s who drove one of these … she clearly loved the car because she kept it for years and it was always sparklingly clean (it needed to be, it was brilliant white in colour).
I preferred the RX7 FD of a similar era, though, it looked smaller, more lithe, and – of course – had the insane rotary engine … and the rotary is making its come-back as a range extender to the slightly odd-ball MX-30 EV.
I’ve often thought it was a shame that Ford didn’t badge engineer the Sentia/929 into a Jaguar S-Type.
Japanese designs from this era are fantastic. The Eunos Cosmo, Supra, SX200, the RX7 FD, even something humdrum like the Civic is rather neat (if a bit sparse):
Shame most Japanes cars from that era are… tinkered with:
Partly because their engines are bulletproof and react very well to tuning, I gather.
I would also refer to Freerk’s lovely picture of an RX7 in the wild in Tokyo:
Reminds me of what somebody told me many years ago: ‘I had to make a decision between a 1750 GTV and an Opel GT. But the Opel was driven by so many idiots…’
Good morning Richard. How nice that you found one that hadn’t been tinkered with. I can’t think when I last saw a standard Supra. The Fast and Furious franchise has a lot to answer for – even if I did enjoy the first few when my son was in his teens. And as an inveterate model car builder I’ve done one or two. The only thing I dislike about this one is the colour – or is that grey meant as urban camouflage to hide it from the Gardai?
In many ways this was the era of Peak Japanese Car. Clean designs, amazing engineering, and good value. For a while there it seriously looked like there was no stopping them, as though they were going to lead the world, then they seemed to lose confidence. Like a runner in a race who looks behind to see where the competition is. Or maybe having got to this point, they weren’t sure where to go next.
Late Friday at work and passing an upstairs window i saw my first Astra pass by! Rubbing my eyes in disbelief at the pleasantly golden yellow affair, the Griifin was soon followed by a navy blue Supra – my mood perked up immeasurably. I didn’t believe the first vehicle existed and cannot remember the last time i saw any form of Supra. This was unadorned by spoilers but too far away to discern anything else.
Well found in Dublin, Mr Herriot!
The Astra, the new one? Surely not?
In the last 2 weeks I have seen a new white Astra, twice. Whether this is two separate cars or the same one on both occasions, I can’t say, I’m afraid.
I’ve seen them occasionally. I wasn’t impressed, I’m afraid: it has the same wonky proportions as its Peugeot brother. Usually it’s equipped with the contrast-coloured roof, but I saw one in, er… unicolour (roof the same colour as the rest of the car) recently and it really drives home the resemblance to the Golf VIII, which I don’t like either. Personal opinion of course, but Stellantis’ C segment cars don’t work for me.
I can see in the metal that the Peugeot has proportions that resemble those of the RWD BMW 1 series. Unfortunately, I don’t really like those models either, but at least I can see what they were going for.
The signs of continuity in Opels are subtle and they are absent from the new Astra. They do however sell it in Opel gold which is rather delightful.