JNC GARAGE: Ben’s 1980 Toyota Celica Supra

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On Monday Toyota UK posted a history of the Supra. This led at least one major media outlet to wonder aloud whether it had anything to do with rumors of the nameplate’s revival. Sadly, that same major media outlet led off with a photo of a Celica (-_-). Well, this seems a good a time as any to explain the intricacies of the Mark I Supra. 

188bh5525_Toyota Celica Supra MkI A40

Long-time JNC readers probably know that yours truly is a die-hard Toyotaku, but I doubt many of you know that I also own one of the most unloved slabs of Aichi steel in ToMoCo’s history. I even brought it to Toyotafest this year and nobody noticed.

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But why? Supra is the most vaunted name in the Toyota family tree, it was the flagship of Toyota’s US lineup in 1979, and it was the first Japanese car designed in America. It’s also the only other Toyota to rock the 2000GT’s “T” grille, which should indicate what Aichi had in mind when they made the darn thing.

Like the million dollar baby, it had four wheel disc brakes and power came from ToMoCo’s stalwart M family of engines, albeit one with a single cam and fuel injection.

The Supra started life as a second-gen Toyota Celica. Like many early Japanese cars (Skyline, Mark II), its nose was simply elongated to accommodate two extra cylinders. Give it a new name and voilà, we have the Celica XX!

Except then came the awkward moment when marketers in the west realized that “XX” was a rating for medium-core adult movies. Something had to be changed, and that’s how the legendary Supra name was born. Because of porn.

1978 Celica CALTY

Both the Celica and the Celica Supra were styled at the then-newly established CALTY in Newport Beach, California. Founded in the car culture nexus of Toyota’s most important market, the studio was Toyota’s effort to design cars for American tastes.

They didn’t exactly pen a timeless masterpiece, but in the context of the time its bustle butt made sense, and predated others like the Pontiac J2000 and Chevy Citation. In any case, it was good enough to win Motor Trend’s Import Car of the Year award in 1978.

189bh5526_Toyota Celica Supra MkI A40

It’s a design that could have only come from that brief window between the late 70s (when cars still had a lot of chrome) and the early 80s (when everything became uber-angular).

I may be biased but I think it looks quite elegant in black. The color sets off its copious brightwork well, especially that T grille. Heck, Toyota should still be using this grille today instead of the proboscis monkey schnoz they’ve got going on.

1981_Celica_Supra 0

Perhaps fortunes are changing for the once-unloved MkI. This year’s JCCS poster even features a special edition Supra celebrating its service as a pace car for the 1979 Long Beach Grand Prix.

Ultimately though, the reason why MkIs don’t have the legions of adoring followers that sharp handling MkIIs, Wangan brute MkIIIs, and land missile MkIVs enjoy is simple. It is none of the things its successors became. With 110hp the MkI was easily out-dragged by a Datsun 280ZX, a car Nissan nuts already considered bloated. A first-gen Mazda RX-7 ran circles around them both.

JCCS 2013 flyer

However! Fast forward 30 years and all that ceases to matter. The Supra and its contemporaries can be positively slaughtered by a soccer mom in a base 2013 Camry. That frees me up to do with the Supra what God and Toyota intended— glide around on a raft of plushness as I watch LA streetlights dance off that long black hood.

I’ve never seen anyone under the age of 40 show any interest in my Supra, but that’s okay. It is the chariot of a philandering salaryman, not a street racer. I want to feel its 80s-ness coursing through my veins like premium grade brown sugar when I drive it. I, um, just need to get it running.

Some images courtesy of Toyota.

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42 Responses to JNC GARAGE: Ben’s 1980 Toyota Celica Supra

  1. Oracles said:

    I don’t know about anyone else but I love 1st gen Supra’s.
    Your’s looks to be in excellent condition and I must say I envy you for owning one.

    • Ben said:

      Thanks. You’re the first person to ever say that! :)

    • markstoys said:

      But you are OLD!!! Like Ben said, only old guys like these. Actually I like the 1st gens too. And I was admiring that car at Toyotafest (of course, I’m no spring chicken either).

      • Oracles said:

        old and old school

        • Scott said:

          Old is fine. I’m 22, there are guys my age cruising in old RX2 rotaries. I had a Z31 for a while, people thought it was awesome. I thought it was awesome.
          Old Jap cars are dripping with character, and it’s not only old people who realize it.

  2. Victor said:

    This car makes me wanna try the “fast and furious 7″ :D

  3. Nigel said:

    This one has that old school MIB vibe. Deep freeze cool.
    (Got to wear Ray Ban aviator glasses with this one).

  4. Loquendo said:

    dude your car is awesome.

  5. Kuroneko said:

    Gorgeous!

  6. Aaron said:

    Smoooothies!

  7. invinciblejets said:

    No respect for the mk 1

    I love it! Especially like you said in black looks so elegant…..

    As for power throw a 7m or 1jz in….

    Even stock I’d die to have a pristine one to cruise around in.

  8. Toyotageek said:

    Ben, next time I see you with that car, I want you to be rockin’ a crazy-ass mustache and some wild 70′s threads. ;-)

  9. Kabigami said:

    Much respect for the Mk1. Who cares if it was out dragged by any of it’s “competitors” of it’s day. Fact remains, it’s a great car. Im from South Africa, we ONLY had the Mk2 available for sale here, in the 80′s. Seeing a Mk1 is great! Take care of that posession

  10. Nice-looking classic Toyota.

  11. Patrick Strong said:

    “I’ve never seen anyone under the age of 40 show any interest in my Supra…”

    Ouch.

  12. Ben E. said:

    I always have had a hard time eyeing up MKIs. But yours looks like it belongs. The styling has been growing on me over the years. But to me the most interesting part is the history, and how the Supra model evolved over the years away from the Celica. I want to find an MKII someday but for now I’m happy with my black RA64. They all look best in black no matter the model :)

  13. Dave said:

    A name chosen because of porn, how can you not love that! I’ve always liked these, but can see why some of the people typically drawn to later Supras would look past them. I actually did check out this car at this year’s Toyotafest after I visited the JNC booth. So don’t worry, it didn’t go unnoticed =)

  14. artferrer said:

    My friend saw it from far and he was like dude its a second gen celica i was like no man your dumb this one has a different front end its a 1st gen supra, and then he was like naw man naw its not a supra, the first gen supra came ot in 1983 , (just goes to shpw how much he knows about classic toyotas and he even drives an ae86 wtf!) / (he was literally yelling at me) its a freaking celica! then i was like ok lets walk up to it and ill show you whos right , sure enough we walked up to it and the supra emblem apeard and i was like see your dumb it is a supra! and he was completely mind effed. I was ike you see i was right this is a first gen supra dont doubt me when i say its a supra

  15. Ben said:

    Thanks everyone for the kind words about my Supra! It is already feeling considerably more loved :)

    • Mystic67 said:

      Ben, I just bought a 1980 Supra gray in color. 84k on it and not been turned. Black interior with gray seats. Automatic EFI I am using your car as a model for my build.

  16. Bart said:

    Ben, I think your car is gorgeous, fwiw. Personally, I really enjoy seeing the more obscure classics, rather than the same type of popular classic over and over again. Every time I go to a car show, I gravitate towards the different and obscure vehicles. With Hot August Nights hitting Reno this week, I am seeing all the familiar American muscle hit the streets, but when I start going to the shows this week and next week, it will be those oddballs that my lens looks out for. I hope to see your Supra at JCCS this year. I will (hopefully) make it down in my Impulse. I am all registered up!!

    • Ben said:

      I’m not sure if the Supra will make another appearance looking the same twice in a row. I want to lower it, so if I can get that done maybe it’ll be there. In any case, I def hope to se your Impulse there. It would be a first showing of that model!

      • Bart said:

        Yeah, I can’t imagine there are many Isuzu fans out there. But still, surprising no one has ever brought one. Definitely come find me when you are there!

  17. jkwade said:

    I am 23, and I have looked long and hard for a good MK1 Supra with a 5 speed. I love them. You are certainly right that they could only have come out during a narrow window of time, but that is precisely their appeal.

    Too bad cars like this just don’t appear in the Midwest, at least in any sort of workable condition.

    Oh, and black is certainly the most flattering color on these.

  18. j3wman said:

    I love classic supras, the mk1 has a place in my heart as much as the mk4 does but the MK2 with its glorious angular perfection has more real estate in my heart than my gf does. That is the pennicle of automotive design. Every car should be designed like that car, because it. is. perfect.

  19. invinciblejets said:

    Speaking of I saw this earlier in the week

    http://raleigh.craigslist.org/cto/3962933853.html

  20. Jeff Koch said:

    I believe the movie story to be suspicious. I’ve heard of X-rated and XXX-rated movies; Midnight Cowboy was X (and won an Oscar to boot), and there are vast quantitles of the latter available both on the internet and in my mind. What the hell is XX? I have never seen or heard of an XX-rated movie.

    As for those who don’t dig the Supra, Ben … fxxk the haters.

    jk

    • Ben said:

      I was too young to see any X rated movies when the rating system was in use, but I could dream. This is from the unassailable authority that is Wikipedia:

      As pornography began to become chic and more legally tolerated, pornographers placed an X rating on their films to emphasize the adult nature of them. Some even started using multiple X’s (i.e. XX, XXX, etc.) to give the impression that their film contained more graphic sexual content than the simple X rating. In some cases, the X ratings were applied by reviewers or film scholars, e.g. William Rotsler, who wrote “The XXX-rating means hard-core, the XX-rating is for simulation, and an X-rating is for comparatively cool films.”

      In either case, even if there wasn’t an explicit XX rating, you could see why a manufacturer wouldn’t want to be associated with X or XXX.

  21. Germskee said:

    Oh so you’re Ben! I didn’t remember your name, I was hanging wish Josh (black 2j X7) at this past JCCS when we met, thanks again for the Magazine!!, love your car bruh it’s stuuupid clean, Keep her beautiful!

  22. Germskee said:

    I meant ToyotaFest…. not JCCS… haha

  23. I reside in South Beach -Miami Beach, the land of the pretentious and bling. Everyday I Drive my mk1 Supra I get thumbs up from young and old alike. This is especially impressive considering that around here one doesn’t seem to give a second look to a Porsche or Maserati. I’m also the proud owner of a 1980 Celica USGP and love retell of the day when from across the street from where my car was parked come sales guys from that dealership to get a better look at my car. They had a debate on whether it was a first gen Supra or a second gen Celica. They explained that exotics are common place in this town, whereas an old school Japanese car is quite special. I was thrilled to see your beautiful car on my favorite website!

  24. gaijinshogun said:

    Unfortunately, vintage Toyota enthusiasts are the very ones that helped send these to the grave for their limited slip, disk brake rear ends. The 5 speed in them make great upgrades for 4M and 2M motored Crowns, Cressys and Mk II’s.

  25. Will said:

    If I ever found a mk1 in good body shape here for sale I’d get one quick. I love my mk2 but I’ve always liked the looks of the mk1.

  26. john said:

    Didn’t this car give up it’s diff for the Cressida wagon? :)

    • Ben said:

      Indeed it did! But I felt so guilty about it that I bought another diff and put it back in, lol. Coming in a future story :)

  27. MIKE said:

    I own a 84′ mk2, and like someone said “if cars were to be likened to film stars a Porsche 911 would be Dustin Hofmann, and the Celica Supra mk2 would be Burt Lancaster”
    A real drivers car and a pleasure to own