The Ultimate Supra (No, For Real This Time, I Swear)
Updated: Jul 28, 2021
WORDS AND PHOTOS: VICTORIA SCOTT
Say the name, and there are almost too many race-winning and culture-defining examples to pick through to settle on a single definitive mental image for one. Most of the notable ones that come to mind, however, are from the fourth generation of the car, sold with the Yamaha-co-developed 2JZGTE inline six made famous to a broad audience like no other engine code with The Fast and the Furious.
The MK4, as the generation is colloquially termed, has made enough of a mark in the enthusiast scene that it needs no defense or introduction in most contexts - a simple “aw dude is that a Supra?” will suffice. The peak of the famous racing variants was perhaps the TOM’S Castrol GT500 version that found success in the Japanese Grand Touring Championship while racing alongside Skyline GT-Rs and the Honda NSX. Interestingly, though, that iconic car didn’t even hold a 2JZ under the hood - instead, it was the TRD rally team proven 3SGTE 2.0L I4 that powered it to a series win in 1997.
This, on the other hand, is a third gen Supra. We’ve written about these before, repeatedly, but pictured above is the ultimate version of this generation, and the most intense Supra ever to roll off the assembly line This specifically is the 1988 Supra 3.0GT Turbo A model, a specific homologation variant built for FIA Group A racing, which saw some of the most intense touring car racing on earth in the late 80s and early 90s.
The Turbo A was short-lived, with the FIA mandated 500 examples built in September and October of 1988, and sold only in Japan. Eleven race variants were built by TRD for the factory-backed entries to the Australian Touring Car Championship and JGTC, and the results from the project were unfortunately a bit disappointing. The Sierra RS Cosworth dominated the late 80s touring car circuit, and then handed the podium baton off to the R32 GT-R in 1990 as it debuted, giving the Suprathe stiffest competition ever seen in Group A - the R32 was so dominant at its peak that it essentially ended Group A competition, as entire top-tens become solely R32s, with other manufacturers barely bothering to enter. The Supra was even further weighted down by displacement regulations due to the 3.0L 7MGTE, and as a result it required more ballast than the 2.0L Cosworth or the 2.6L R32 to be competition legal.
And therein lies my reasoning for calling this the most intense Supra ever created, and in my eyes, the ultimate edition of the car. Despite its failures, this represents the first hardcore attempt by Toyota to build a world-beating touring car. It was not a class-defining champion, like the later MK4 Supra and Celica All-Trac, but the lessons learned from campaigning this car directly led to their later success. It also represents the only true homologation Supra ever sold. There was never a street variant of the TOM’S Castrol MK4, but you could buy the FIA’s approved variant of the TRD-campaigned MK3 in the form of this car.
For the homologated version, a variety of goodies were thrown to the customer. First off, the black-on-black paint of the subject of this story was the only option for the Turbo A, and was unique to this model. The fueling management is controlled by a high-tech-for-1988 unique mass air flow sensor (versus the more rudimentary air flow meter on the normal turbo Supra), and the intercooler and oil cooler are larger and repositioned for better cooling power in front of the enormous front air duct carved directly into the face of the bumper. The suspension and sway bars are upgraded and stiffer, with the heavy electronic TEMS suspension modules cut entirely from the car. The rear end gearing is astoundingly long - some back-of-the-envelope math based on the old Turbo model I owned, with the same transmission ratios, puts it around 3.40, and a top speed of somewhere around 160 mph from the minute it rolls off the factory floor.
And the driving experience is transformed as a result of these performance-minded upgrades, and all for the better. Having owned a regular Turbo in the past that I heavily upgraded to try and get some semblance of performance out of, this felt truly sharper and more connected in every way than my car did from the dealer. Highway cruising was comfortable, and chucking the car into the corner came without any of the excessive roll or steering slop that characterized the normal Supra variant of the era. The longer gearing made it feel both more comfortable at highway cruising and also more ready to destroy all comers in a Wangan-style top speed challenge, especially in an era where a Vette topped out below 155 mph.
The interior still came with the typical Supra luxury of the era, but the connectedness made it feel less like a plush 2+2 grand tourer meant for 85 mph cruising to a beach house and more like a canyon carver you could road trip to a track day. Admittedly, with the aftermarket now available for the MK3 Supra, it would be doable to create your own race variant of one without needing the Turbo A, but in 1988 before the era of affordable coilover manufacturers, this was a revelation for the platform.
The Turbo A is one of the cheapest ways to buy into a legitimate homologation car, and it offers more driving pleasure than I honestly thought imaginable in a bone stock MK3 Supra. Yes, you can build your own race-spec grand tourer, but there’s something incredibly special about buying the exact car Toyota made a reality to compete in some of the most iconic racing of the 80s and 90s. Plus, how often do you get to own one of the halo cars from Gran Turismo, right down to the paint code?