Supra Charged


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Thanks to the benefit of hindsight, most folks–at least those of us who have trimmed our mullets into more socially acceptable hairstyles–are willing to admit that the 1980s were a vast cultural wasteland. Nevertheless, there were glimmers of hope. Even as society was deep into coke, parachute pants, and jackets requiring “membership” in some unholy blood pact, automotive culture was again showing signs of real life.

Some of the brightest rays of sunshine were coming from Japan, which was beginning to trade its economy car image for a more well-rounded portfolio featuring proper sports cars, hot hatches and even the occasional grand touring machine. The second-generation Toyota Supra, for example, debuted in 1982 with an American version that featured a 2.8-liter DOHC inline-six, a configuration that had previously been more associated with German touring cars.

Like the original Supra, these second-generation cars were modified Celicas, but they were more evolved. Beyond the swap to the six-cylinder engine from the Celica’s four, Supras also got their own bodywork featuring a heavily revised front end with pop-up headlights and a distinctive bumper/grille combo. Higher-spec Supras also received aggressive fiberglass fender flares, which nicely straddled the taste line between boy racer and retro GT.

Head Over Heels

We’re not sure which of its many charms originally attracted Donald Lew to his Supra–when we arrived to speak with him about it, we were simply too taken aback by its awesomeness to remember to ask why he bought it in the first place. In any case, Donald’s 1984 model managed to open his wallet in July of 1984, and has stayed firmly planted in his heart and garage ever since.

This Supra saw 15 years of daily-driver duty in and around the San Francisco Bay area–Donald calls Fremont home–but didn’t turn a wheel in anger on the autocross course until the 21st century.

By then, of course, progress had relegated the Supra to a technological footnote. Donald realized that the only way he’d be competitive was to prepare the Supra for a more highly modified class.

The plan worked, and in both 2000 and 2002, Donald’s co-driver, Ben Martinez (no stranger himself to off-the-beaten-path car choices), drove the Supra to fifth-place finishes at the SCCA Solo Nationals in the D Street Prepared class. Donald managed a few National Tour wins himself during those early days of the Supra’s competition career, but he realized that the mildly prepared Supra was still an underdog.

Throughout the first decade of the new century, Donald continued to develop his baby from its beginnings as a “bolt-on” Street Prepared car to a fully developed class competitor. By the end of the decade, the Supra was closer to exploiting every dark corner of the rulebook, featuring individual throttle bodies, a Kevlar seat, a super-light flywheel and lots of other trick bits.

Despite its advanced level of preparation, the Supra was still outclassed by more modern competitors. Its original 5MGE engine had been tuned to produce more than 180 horsepower at the wheels–a stellar figure for such an engine in Street Prepared trim–but the BMWs that were beginning to dominate the class were easily putting down 200-plus.

During that period of the car’s development, Donald and company did develop several neat tricks and solve some problems that plagued other Supra owners and tuners. They determined, for example, that the weakness of the stock limited-slip diff could be overcome by installing a Detroit Truetrac helical LSD that was originally found in the front axle of four-wheel-drive 1986-’95 Toyota trucks. This application took the right mix of bearings and shims to work properly, but it fixed a glaring weakness of the as-delivered car.

Is This Love

Despite all the development, Donald’s Supra lagged behind the class frontrunners, all of which were benefitting from the gift of youth. A couple of failed engine builds led to the installation of a 1JZ-GTE powerplant and the requisite switch to the SCCA’s Street Modified ranks.

While even casual Toyota fans will recognize the 2JZ-GTE designation from the legendary turbocharged 3.0-liter engine used in the final Supra, the 1JZ-GTE is its Japanese-spec, 2.5-liter little brother. Donald converted the twin-turbo setup to a single Garrett GT30, and with the aid of a few simple bolt-ons, the Supra now had double the power of the original engine.

Of course, with more power comes more problems, and the extra thrust quickly exposed other weaknesses in the Supra–like the brakes. Fortunately the Street Modified rules are rather open, so Donald was free to develop his car with performance, rather than rulebook limitations, in mind.

No off-the-shelf brake solutions existed in 2012, when Donald was hot and heavy into development of his re-engined beast, so instead he initially focused on saving weight where he could. Advan Carbon built a custom hood that shaved away 25 pounds, while Jongbloed wheels cut even more weight. Their massive 18x10-inch size allowed Donald to mount 285/30R18 Hoosier autocross rubber.

By 2013, a custom big-brake kit was assembled using Raptor Racing rotors and Wilwood calipers, giving Donald a lot more confidence to rein in those nearly 400 horses.

Suspension development continued as well. Donald currently uses Ground Control coil-overs in the front along with a custom-built, 1.5-inch-diameter, hollow anti-roll bar. In the rear, he developed his own coil-overs based around RideTech adjustable remote-reservoir shocks.

A Kaaz LSD has since replaced the Truetrac, and Donald continues to tweak and tune to get as much performance out of his Supra as technology, time and budget allow.

Never Gonna Give You Up

Although Street Modified is a very technology-intensive class, Donald Lew is more confident than ever that his Supra is getting closer to the pack. At any rate, he shows no signs of taking down the old-school flag in a class dominated by newer vehicles.

He’s content to keep developing the Supra in hopes that the old guy will be able to show the youngsters that a few good things did, indeed, come out of the ’80s.

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Comments
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spkorb
spkorb New Reader
2/20/18 2:05 p.m.

I love these cars so very much.  I had no idea how solid these cars were until I tried to take one apart with a plasma cutter.  The Mustang took a day.  The Supra took weeks!

Stefan
Stefan MegaDork
2/20/18 2:21 p.m.

Awesome.

racerdave600
racerdave600 UltraDork
2/20/18 2:44 p.m.
spkorb said:

I love these cars so very much.  I had no idea how solid these cars were until I tried to take one apart with a plasma cutter.  The Mustang took a day.  The Supra took weeks!

I remember taking apart a Supra for the first time and was amazed at how well it was built.  No plasma cutter, but it was a great car.  Everything fit together and was incredibly logical to disassemble.  You can't say that about every car.  I'd love to have a nice second gen car.  They're pretty rare these days in nice shape.

FSP_ZX2
FSP_ZX2 Dork
2/20/18 2:47 p.m.

The first car I legally drove on the street was an '84 Supra sport in white.  I have a very soft spot in my heart for these.

te72
te72 New Reader
2/20/18 11:37 p.m.

Owned an 84 P-type (the version seen in the article, with the flares) for about 5 or 6 years. Was a fantastic car, but even with the 6m swap a previous owner did, it was a dog at the 6500' altitude where I live.

 

Still... handled good even with worn out everything. Build quality overall was excellent. Was a perfect daily driver, fun enough to keep things interesting, quiet enough to not wear me out.

 

A note on that handling... Lotus was contracted for development of the suspension on these cars, and it shows. When you're hard into a corner and feed in enough throttle, it will oversteer a bit. It would oversteer if off throttle in a corner. It would oversteer if you even so much as looked at the steering wheel. All in good fun, mind you, it was very controllable, and it very well might have just been my particular Supra, but if they're all like that, I can't recommend them for inexperienced drivers...

Trackmouse
Trackmouse UltraDork
2/21/18 12:13 a.m.

Don’t forget, it’s an ra65 celica from the firewall back. My celica is sturdy, even for its 33yr incumbency. 

NickD
NickD UltraDork
2/21/18 5:27 a.m.

Someone had one of these for sale down the road from me. Except it was an L-type, so no cool fender flares. And it was an automatic. And I know for a fact that that car sat outside for years at a time. And he still wanted 5 grand for it.

Karl La Follette
Karl La Follette UltraDork
2/21/18 9:51 a.m.
Type Q
Type Q SuperDork
2/21/18 10:27 a.m.

I met Don Lew when I started autocrossing. That Supra, in DSP trim at the time, was one of the first cars I ever rode in during an autocross. I loved it. 

 

I started watching classifieds and craigslist for one similar for a while. My reality at the time was I didn't have funds or space for another car, even if I had found one.  

docwyte
docwyte SuperDork
2/21/18 10:40 a.m.

My Dad had an 85 Supra, really well done car.  Had decent power for the day, but today I'd want to swap in the 3G single turbo motor to give it more grunt.

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
2/21/18 10:58 a.m.

I spent a lot of time in these as a kid---- Dad had an 83, and an 85.5 (with the twin rear spoiler)   Both were great cars.   Not fast, but not slow either.  They were great long-distance cars, with fantastic seats and a sporty, but comfortable ride.   They were  like a "poor man's" Porsche 928.  I think the styling has aged very well. 

 

The  L (luxury) packaged cars had a wonky digital dash, no flares, no cool seats and most were automatic.   The P (Performance) cars had the flares, wide wheels, great seats, analog gauges, etc.    

 

 

JoeTR6
JoeTR6 HalfDork
2/21/18 11:16 a.m.

I really wanted one of these in college (early 80s), but could barely afford to eat.  After I graduated, I discovered the Honda CRX and never considered looking for a used Supra.  They still look good to me eyes.

jdoc90
jdoc90 New Reader
2/21/18 7:53 p.m.

though it is way down on power compared to an I6  I preferred my 86 mazda rx7 gxl.  not quite ujsp . universal japanese sports car  lol  it was just smoother ,sanded off the folded edges previously common  in the class. and cut like a ginsu knife with titanium edge on the road . heck when did get olde?  

te72
te72 New Reader
2/21/18 11:53 p.m.

Another fun fact about these cars, those stock 14x7 wheels only weighed about 10 lbs each, due to being magnesium. They were the RPF1 of their time.

 

Before I let a friend buy mine, I was seriously looking into a 3SGE BEAMS swap from the Altezza, came with a 6 speed and a rev-happy (and much lighter) 4 cylinder that in BEAMS configuration made about 220hp. Other considered options included a triple carb setup for the 6M (for the sound), and a 1uz swap.

 

Realized that the Mk3 that I was building at the time required my full attention and funding, so I let it go. I'd say I don't miss it from time to time, but I'd be lying.

kb58
kb58 SuperDork
2/22/18 8:41 a.m.
te72 said:

Another fun fact about these cars, those stock 14x7 wheels only weighed about 10 lbs each, due to being magnesium. They were the RPF1 of their time.

Wait... what? Are you sure? Magnesium wheels are very expensive and nearly impossible to keep from corroding, especially for street use. 

te72
te72 New Reader
2/22/18 8:24 p.m.

In reply to kb58 :

They were silver painted. I had a set that had been bead blasted to a bare finish, and while they looked nice, once I spent a bit of time driving, they deteriorated a bit.

 

I may be mistaken, but I've NEVER held an aluminum wheel with spokes that thick that was anywhere near that light, so I'm fairly certain that the stock wheels were in fact, magnesium. Oddly I can't find anything confirming this, I'm gonna email a friend who has been into these cars since the early days, see if he has a good reference to back up the claim.

te72
te72 New Reader
2/28/18 12:51 a.m.

Friend mentioned in my post above got back to me. He's owned these cars since sometime in the 90's, and is of the opinion that they are an aluminum alloy of some sort, as far as the wheels are concerned.

 

I'm still of the opinion that they're magnesium, due to the freakishly light weight. We're talking sub-10 lbs for a 14x7, and if you see the thickness of the spokes, you'll understand why that might be difficult with aluminum to achieve such a light weight.

 

Next time I'm among the truly wise old guys at the annual Vegas meet, I'll have to ask what's what.

Trackmouse
Trackmouse UltraDork
2/28/18 1:12 a.m.
te72 said:

Friend mentioned in my post above got back to me. He's owned these cars since sometime in the 90's, and is of the opinion that they are an aluminum alloy of some sort, as far as the wheels are concerned.

 

I'm still of the opinion that they're magnesium, due to the freakishly light weight. We're talking sub-10 lbs for a 14x7, and if you see the thickness of the spokes, you'll understand why that might be difficult with aluminum to achieve such a light weight.

 

Next time I'm among the truly wise old guys at the annual Vegas meet, I'll have to ask what's what.

Being a third gen celica owner, I’m gonna have to disagree here. The GTS wheels are lightish, but definitely not 10lbs or less. Let me see if I can get a forum buddy to weigh them, I sold my GTS wheels awhile back. 

Edit- he got back to me. 15-16lbs each. 

toy4speed
toy4speed None
2/28/18 11:50 a.m.

Thanks for all the kind words!  The Supra is still being developed, always and ongoing process to make it more competitive and more importantly more dependable as the power levels have increased the stress on the chassis/drivetrain.  After some suspension changes, turbo upgrade, LSD upgrade, the current project is developing stronger rear half axles and CV joints.  Hopefully new axles will have the car back onto the autocross courses in the next few months.  

Oh, the stock wheels for the P-type models (like mine) are indeed aluminum allow, 14x7, +8mm offset, at 15 lbs each.  Pretty light for the size, was quite popular as a cheap upgrade for the AE86 folks on their cars.

te72
te72 New Reader
2/28/18 8:57 p.m.

15 lbs huh? I stand corrected. Was probably the second lightest wheel I'd ever felt to that point in my life, compared to everything else I had ever held, it was eerily light, especially for an old OEM wheel. Combine that with being in the best shape of my life at the time, and I can see how I thought they were lighter. Darned arm calibration must have been off haha! Thanks for the correction!

 

Toy4speed, beautiful car man. Have you considered upgrading the rear end / axle parts to Mk3 components yet? I'm sure fitment might prove interesting, but seems like something in your (no pun intended) wheelhouse? I know that stuff is VERY strong, at least to the point where us 1jz guys don't need to worry about breaking them, something about torque... Heck, only guy I have known break a diff in his Supra was launching on slicks with about 800wtq and slicks, with the 4.30 ratio. They're tough. =)

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