Supra Charged


Written by JG Pasterjak

From the Aug. 2014 issue

Posted in Features

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.

Not a subscriber? Each magazine contains all the latest amateur motorsports stories. Subscribe to Grassroots Motorsports now.
Join Free
Join our community to easily find more Toyota articles.

Reader comments:

Feedyurhed SuperDork
March 3, 2016 3:52 p.m.

I like it!

Trackmouse HalfDork
March 3, 2016 4:35 p.m.

"My Celica ate your supra." It's on my car.

Woody MegaDork
March 3, 2016 5:58 p.m.

Those are great looking cars.

I have a brother who is a lot older than me. Back in 1983, he went on a week long ski trip with a bunch of friends from college. They all left their cars at my parents house. There was a new Supra, a new Celica, and a '74 BMW 2002tii. I spent the whole week staring at each and every deatail of those cars, and I'd love to own any one of them today. Especially a cream colored '74 tii with tan leather Recaros. It's the reason that I love big tail light 2002s.

Storz Dork
March 8, 2016 7:27 a.m.

Love it!

Powar UltraDork
March 8, 2016 7:34 a.m.
Trackmouse wrote: "My Celica ate your supra." It's on my car.

Oh, man. Mine needs that.

Karl La Follette
March 23, 2016 10:15 a.m.

Nice deal

April 4, 2016 7:04 p.m.

In reply to Feedyurhed Love this :

Matt B
Matt B SuperDork
July 20, 2016 11:50 a.m.

I'm pretty late to this party, but I'd be interested to know what needed to be done to stuff all that rubber under the fenders. Can these really swallow that much rubber stock?

oldeskewltoy UltraDork
July 20, 2016 1:16 p.m.
Matt B wrote: I'm pretty late to this party, but I'd be interested to know what needed to be done to stuff all that rubber under the fenders. Can these really swallow that much rubber stock?

I seem to remember 225/60/14 for the flair equipped models.....

Back in Pa... my wife owned one... she loved it....

Kartoffelbrei UltraDork
July 20, 2016 1:37 p.m.

But we had New Wave in the 80s!

kanaric Dork
July 20, 2016 10:54 p.m.
Kartoffelbrei wrote: But we had New Wave in the 80s!

I don't remember the 80s since I was a toddler but when I think of the 80s I think of this song for some reason. My parents liked E36 M3 like this and depeche mode.

I like 80s music but listen to non-hair metal mostly. Like Iron Maiden lol.

Cotton UberDork
July 20, 2016 10:57 p.m.
Karl La Follette wrote: Nice deal

Karl if you still have this one shoot me a pm or email at cottonyzf at gmail.

You'll need to log in to post.

The Latest

What Do You Get When You Cross a Modern Honda and a Vintage BMW?

2 days ago in News

Find out in the next issue of Grassroots Motorsports.

2017 Nissan Armada Platinum

2 days ago in New Car Reviews

The Nissan Armada is the brand's largest non-commercial vehicle and is a direct competitor to Chevy's Suburban and Ford's Expedition. ...

Tech Tips: 2015+ Ford Mustang

3 days ago in Articles

How to make it your way.

Speciality Insurance for Our Special M3?

3 days ago in Project Cars

Can you save 15% or more with Hagerty?

First Drive: 2017 Subaru BRZ Performance Package

4 days ago in Articles

We’ve heard it before: The Subaru BRZ doesn’t make enough horsepower.

10 Cars to Buy Now

5 days ago in News

Hagerty recently announced the top 10 classic cars to buy in 2017.

Reader's Ride of the Week: Cone-Killing Camaro

5 days ago in News

This one's a work in progress, but we can't wait to see the finished product.

Get Our Magazine in Print and Digital for just $17.99

5 days ago in News

Now is a great time to renew or start subscribing to our magazine.

Treading on Thick Ice

5 days ago in News

How do you improve your car control in the racing off season?

Strap In

1 week ago in Articles

Is your racing harness installed correctly?

2017 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

1 week ago in New Car Reviews

Volvo's XC90 is the manufacturer's luxury SUV and this—the T6 Inscription—represents the highest tier of that model. And to triple ...

Flyweight Flier

1 week ago in Articles

The masses may not view the Mazda2 as much of a sports car, but enthusiasts have learned otherwise.

Grassroots Motorsports Magazine

Subscribe Today

Also get your instant access to the digital edition of Grassroots Motorsports Magazine!

Learn More