With the passing of time, we are seeing more and more cars pass into 25-year classic status from what is perhaps the most epic era of Toyota history — that of the inline six-cylinder engine. From early Land Cruisers and Crowns to the almighty Supra, the Straight Six era of Toyotas turned legions of enthusiasts toward the steel of Aichi.
The M-series was the original Toyota inline-six, spanning seven iterations and three decades from the 1960s to the 1990s. The last version, the 7M, powered Cressidas and turbo Supras alike, or Cressidas wearing Supra sawblades.
When it came time to retire the M-series, Toyota succeeded it with the legendary JZ-series motors. Though Toyota has created everything from the V10 powering the LFA supercar to the 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8s driving a variety of high-end Lexuses today, the iron-block straight-six 1JZ and 2JZ, especially in turbo form, will always be the tuner’s favorite.
In Japan, there was even the smaller-displacement G-series, limited to 2.0 liters for tax purposes. Soarers such as this import came with either G- or M-series engines depending on the grade. Despite the size, G-series were no less potent, and a favorite of tuners and street racers alike.
The sheer number of models that the Toyota inline-six has powered is truly remarkable, and as a result it’s mechanically pretty easy to swap them around provided you have the harness and ECU that goes along with them. Case in point: Lloyd Letherman’s famous 2JZ-powered “zombie” drift Cressida. This year, Lloyd made a return with new Longchamp XR-4s and takeyari pipes.
In general, straight-sixes are the weapon of choice for the bosozoku, whether you’re talking about a Toyota G or M engine or a Nissan L-series. Shadows and hearts on a boxy Toyota go best with an inline-six under the hood.
Likewise, drift Cressidas also require Toyota sixes, but in this case the preferred powermakers are engines of the JZ family. Massively overbuilt and easily tuned to numbers that would rival any modern exotic, it’s unlikely such an engine would ever be put into production nowadays.
Of course, the Toyota six-cylinder engine is most known as the heart of the Supra. Even in the pre-turbo days, twin-cam 5M-GEs gave cars like David Salazar’s 1984 MA61 a truly futuristic feel.
Part of that futuristic aura was due to the shape, too. With its angular wedge shape, there was nothing like it back when it debuted in 1982. Normally, a wheel that’s too modern doesn’t look good on a car decades older, but in this case SSR SP1s fit the sleek lines of the A60 perfectly.
What was truly inspiring to see were the rows and rows of A70 and A80 Supras. Not so long ago, all of them would have been festooned with excessively vented hoods, bizarre body kits, kandy paint jobs and massive wings (well, more massive than the stock JZA80’s at least). Nowadays, though some JZs are still putting out massive horsepower, the trend is shifting heavily towards preserving the look of the original car.
Then there are the all-original examples, like Andrew Risteen’s 1984 Supra, which still boasts its factory paint, engine and interior. There are also only 105,000 miles on the clock, a well-preserved specimen of 80s Toyota excellence.
When it comes to forced induction Toyota sixes, Americans are probably most familiar with those found in the Supra Turbo. In Japan, however, there were also supercharged versions of the G-series engine, shoved into an otherwise inconspicuous Crown sedan like Carlos Hernandez’s 1988 GS131.
The Lexus IS 300 and its big brother GS 300 were the last cars in the US to come with a Toyota inline-six. When they ended production in 2005, Toyota switched to V6 engines for better packaging and greater versatility.
Something was lost when that happened, and we’re not just talking about the smoothness of the I6’s inherent balance or the ridiculous quantities of horsepower that could be extracted from its cylinders. The changeover marked a shift towards practicality and cost-benefit analyses, and away from the anything-goes drive to build the best engines possible. It was the end of an era.
Our Toyotafest 2017 coverage continues, but in the meantime check out Part 01 — New Digs, Part 02 — Celebrating the all-conquering Land Cruiser, Part 03 — Fun to Drive, Part 04 — The rise of the E30 Corolla, and Part 05 — Trucks, as well as a spotlight on Richard Pope’s 1977 Celica, a pair of drag-spec Celicas, and Orly Tapay’s works replica KP47 Starlet.
You can also revisit Toyotafest 2016 (Part 01, 02, 03, and 04), Toyotafest 2015 (Part 01, 02, and 03), Toyotafest 2014 (Part 01, 02, 03, 04), Toyotafest 2013 (Part 01, 02, 03, 04), Toyotafest 2012 (Part 01, 02, 03, 04), Toyotafest 2011 (Part 01, 02, 03, 04, 05), and Toyotafest 2010 (Part 01, 02, 03).