The Toyota Supra
It was big, heavy, faded red and in desperate need of a good service, but on the upside it had a 3 litre straight 6 and a manual gearbox. Yes, we went out and bought a 1991 Toyota Supra Mk3.
Not a car I really knew much about before turning up to buy it. A bit of frantic googling told me what to look for and it was off to see a lovely old couple in Wales to buy their one owner from new Supra. The once glorious red paintwork had been sunburnt to a fetching shade of matt light pink, Stevie Wonder had parked it on more than one occasion and there was a bit of an exhaust leak from the manifold. On the test drive the old supra “lifts her skirt up when you want her too” as the elderly owner described the Toyota’s performance. £900 sealed the deal and I drove the massive spaceship of a car home, keeping myself amused on the M4 with the pop-up headlights, electric seats and dashboard that had more dials than your average aircraft.
Even this non-turbo model of the Supra packs quite a selection of gadgets and toys in its armoury; electric mirrors, electric seats, climate control, double wishbone suspension and a limited slip differential to name a few. Incredibly 90% of these gadgets were still functional, right down to the electric lumbar adjustment. The only thing I had to solder back together was one of the resistance wires for the automatic fan speed controller. A good clean and a new exhaust manifold gasket were first on the agenda for getting the Supra ship shape. Unfortunately this gasket failed again within a week. I noticed on second removal, in the piddling rain, in the dark, that the manifold had rusted at one end of the mating surface. The engineering shop I worked at at the time had some industrial strength steel putty they had used to repair a lathe bed, I put this to work on the deformed bit of manifold and once cured I proceeded to fill the workshop with metal dust by using the belt sander to get a smooth finish. Contrary to popular belief this bodge was successful and with a new gasket the exhaust was silenced. The silence lasted for about a week before I pulled out an angle grinder and turned the rear exhaust box into a straight bit of tube. Now the Supra made the sounds to match the size of engine and general road presence of such a ridiculous car.
A friend of ours was in the workshop while we were switching the exhaust pipe over and he just happened to be a paint expert. In a previous job roll he ran his own paint shop, so just the sight of the dead paint on the Supra was enough to wet his appetite for a bit of paint renovation. And renovate he did. Several hours of polishing, cutting and polishing again ensued. By the time he was half way through I think he regretted starting the job as the Supra was huge. The bonnet alone took over an hour, but the difference afterwards…
The pictures speak for themselves. It was like a different car. Especially with the early 90s spec filthy 3 spoke alloys I managed to swap with a fellow Supra owner for free. Suddenly everywhere I drove people were asking about the car and saying what a amazing vehicle it was. I really enjoyed driving this car, it was by no means a fast, the suspension was little soggy, but it always felt well controlled and there is something about driving a big soggy car with a huge engine that’s deeply satisfying; as the front end rears up when you accelerate and dives back down on the brakes.
The next issue in a long line of problems to occur was the small problem of the viscous fan being seized. The beautiful straight 6 engine sound was being muffled by a whoosh of cooling air. I pulled the fan off with the intention of ordering and fitting an electric fan. Unfortunately in between the two events the car overheated and head gasket failure occurred. I am sad to say it wasn’t the last time it would occur either.
Much debate followed about what to do, but the clear and best decision was to give the Supra the power it deserved and buy a turbo engine.
Why mess around with an old, unreliable engine, when you could have and equally old and unreliable turbo engine.
We sourced one from a chap who had built the engine up for a drag race project that was never completed. We were told the head had been ported and the head gasket replaced. All I could see was a reasonably tidy engine with the oh so need monster turbo that these old Supra’s came with.
It wasn’t an easy job but we got there in the end. The old engine was out, the new engine was in and we just needed to suss out the wiring… The engine came with several boxes of wiring from two different year turbo Supra’s both of which were automatic and we were trying to make this talk to out non-turbo manual transmission Supra, hmm. Eventually we came to the conclusion that we needed a manual, turbo ECU and we would be sorted. Amazingly, with no turbo pipes, no intercooler and no cooling system the Supra fired up first turn of the key.
The standard supra intercooler is actually a pretty good unit and the mounts were already on our car so we used that and some cheap custom intercooler hose from ebay. Several hours of custom bracket making and hose modifying later and we had an intercooler system. As I was fairly confident the old coolant hoses would be junk/wouldn’t fit the turbo engine I ordered some swish looking, Chinese manufactured, silicone hoses. All in all the engine bay was looking good. The most difficult job was refitting the turbo oil drain pipe when the gasket leaked/wasn’t fitted by the previous owner, a good few hours with several long extension bars and knuckle joints were spent just trying to get the bolts done up.
What a difference that turbo engine made though. All the hard labor was well and truly worth it, just for the sound alone. I took the liberty of blocking off the re-circulation pipe from the turbo for that epic choo choo turbo dose sound. It’s not to everyone’s taste but personally I love it. For a big old bus the turbo Supra certainly shifted, it still wasn’t a rocket ship, but great fun to drive.
Japfest 2015 was the crowning moment for our Supra and also its last moment. We had a turbo Supra, we were at a Japanese car show and we had a 20 minute track session booked, excellent. As we joined the queue of traffic to enter Castle Combe circuit the Supra overheated, despite the electric fans working flat out. Determined not to let this ruin the day, I put some more coolant in and left the Toyota in the car park to cool off before it went for its track session, I figured it probably wouldn’t overheat while it was moving quickly round a track…
Only on track I fell in love with the supra all over again. For such a big, wollowy, boat of a car, its control and predictability were quite something. Much to my surprise the brakes didn’t overheat completely either. With Gill on temperature gauge watch we managed 18mins of our 20 minute session before the temperature soured and we coasted down pit lane in a cloud of smoldering brakes and steam. Another day another head gasket. Unfortunately the rallying bug was summoning me once again and as much as I loved the Supra it had to go to make way for a rally car, so with little enthusiasm to take the head off again I sold the Supra with a blown head gasket. I’ll miss that car.