Last week, a 1994 Toyota Supra Turbo with approximately 7,000 original miles sold for $121,000. About a minute later, the automotive interwebs went into meltdown.
While prices for the most desirable Japanese cars have been steadily moving upward for several years, the notion that a fourth-generation Toyota Supra was suddenly a six-figure automobile seems to have been more than many could swallow. Reactions were largely negative, with commenters across a broad spectrum of platforms echoing the sentiment that this was “crazy” or “stupid” money for “just a Toyota.”
Value judgements are inherently subjective, and if you’ve already decided that a Supra shouldn’t be a six-figure automobile, it’s a free country. But we’re here to tell you that not only are the best A80 Supras well-deserving of $100K price tags, they are almost certainly headed for further appreciation.
Any proper evaluation of a collector car’s value must start with a comparison to its contemporary rivals. For the Supra Turbo, the obvious comps are the other members of the Four Horsemen of the Bubble Era: the 1990-96 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo, the 1993-95 Mazda RX-7 Turbo, and the 1991-99 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4. On paper, they looked similar. Each had two turbos. All but the Mazda exceeded Gentleman’s Agreement Japan’s 276 horsepower, and the Supra was tied with the Mitsu at 320 hp. In addition, the Supra was priced in line with its compatriots when new, and targeted the same car-buying demographic.
However, when looking strictly at performance, none of these cars came close to the Supra. All of them went from 0-60 in the mid-fives or low-sixes; in 1993 Car & Driver clocked the Supra Turbo reaching 60 mph from a standstill in just 4.6 seconds. It could pull nearly one lateral g on the skidpad. Though governor restricted to a top speed of 155 miles per hour, it was said that uncorked Supras were capable of up to 180.
Many magazines of the day compared the Supra to even more expensive machines from traditionally premium brands. The Porsche 968 drew a popular comparison, as it boasted a similar price and layout. For a stretch, some compared it to the Ferrari 348ts, whose price could afford you three twin-turbo Toyotas. They were wrong. Both were pale shadows of the Supra Turbo.
In reality, the Supra Turbo’s performance was much closer to that of the 993-generation Porsche 911 Carrera and even the Ferrari 512TR. Few people question the “collectable” value of those two machines. A 993 Carrera with similar mileage would certainly command a $121,000 asking price, and a good 512TR with low miles trades in the $200,000-250,000 range. It’s not unfair to ask why the Supra should not get similar consideration.
Furthermore, the Supra’s robust capabilities were soon discovered by the most power-addicted denizens of the tuner community, thanks to Its massively overbuilt iron-block, forged crank and closed deck construction. Its bulletproof 6-speed transmission and 2JZ-GTE straight-six could handle obscene amounts of boost without breaking. So while its competitors eventually languished as mere used cars, the Supra Turbo never got truly cheap. Instead, it got a second act as one of the most revered tuner cars of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The tuner community sowed the seeds of the car’s future collectability by creating a legend surrounding the marque, one based on the car’s seemingly infinite performance potential. This legend brought with it a young, dedicated fanbase, one that had not yet reached its highest earning potential in the workforce — but who would certainly remember the car of their high school dreams years later when it finally came time to spend a career’s worth of discretionary income.
Only around 4,000 Supra Turbos were sold in the US over the model’s six-year lifespan (fewer, it should be noted, than the other Bubble Era heroes, or for that matter, the serially built Porsche 993 Carrera). Many of them were hacked up or modified beyond recognition in the service of horsepower.
Consequently, few cars survived in stock configuration, and fewer still were maintained in a way that would preserve value for the future. Say what you will about garage queens, but it’s undeniable that rare cars in pristine condition with low miles get all the love at auction time. That there are few such Supras left today goes a long way toward explaining their high price tags on the collector market.
The elephant in the room behind the Supra Turbo’s ascent to six-figure status is, of course, The Fast and the Furious. Though some may find it distasteful, the Supra’s placement as the hero car of an era-defining movie is certainly a factor in its monetary appreciation, as well as its cultural staying power.
Despite its prodigious performance, outside of a small group of hardcore enthusiasts and tuners, the A80 Supra Turbo was a relative non-entity among the general public during the 1990s. That all changed with the release of F&F, which instantly catapulted the Supra into the public consciousness.
In the history of cinema, only two other automobiles can claim to have been lifted similarly from obscurity to stardom by virtue of their appearance in a single film: the Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger, and the DeLorean DMC-12 in Back to the Future.
The DB5 was a British GT with limited recognition outside of England until it was cast alongside Sean Connery in the James Bond film. Suddenly, the slightly truckish and frankly not-great-performing DB5 became the sexiest and most desirable car on the planet, and has retained its hold on the public’s imagination ever since. It even allowed Aston Martin to parlay that popularity into a bona fide supercar brand compared to the likes of Ferrari today.
Though it’s hard to remember now, the slow-and-shoddy DeLorean was nearly forgotten by the mid-1980s but for its creator’s well-publicized legal troubles. Then Robert Zemeckis turned one into a time machine, and ever since the car has become a cherished icon of ‘80s pop-culture far out of proportion to its real-world capabilities.
The Supra, on the other hand, was already a stellar performer before being discovered by Hollywood. The Fast and the Furious connected with a young, diverse audience and the Supra played a central role in creating that connection in two pivotal scenes.
In the first, the tuned Supra is used to humiliate a douchebag in a Ferrari F355, a scene that surely resonated with the DIY, “built-not-bought” ethic of the film’s fans. In the second, the Supra squares off against a fully built ’68 Dodge Charger and mostly comes out on top (by virtue of not being destroyed). For a generation that has moved en masse away from old-fashioned Detroit muscle cars and toward high-tech imports, the Supra’s victory in this sequence was viewed as a validation.
The Supra, as was now suggested on celluloid, could vanquish all challengers. Its spiritual connection with the late Paul Walker, a tragic icon to members of the F&F generation, should also be noted. Like James Dean and the ‘49 Mercury of Rebel Without A Cause that went before, the legend that grew around Walker after his passing only served to enhance the legacy of his most famous four-wheeled co-star.
Here, then, is why the best examples of the A80 Supra Turbo are justified in commanding $100,000 price-tags. Though it began life as just one of many luxury-sports GTs in the 1990s, the Supra’s narrative changed over time. It came by its collectable status the hard, honest way: through years of grassroots enthusiasm. Though it lacks the mainstream “pedigree” of cars like the 993 or any number of contemporary Ferraris, the Supra Turbo became a classic through the sheer devotion of its hardcore fans, and the eventual pop-culture breakthrough that would introduce the masses to the car’s undeniable charms.
So while some might point to the Supra’s badge or no-longer-impressive stock performance statistics as reason enough to dismiss it as a true six-figure collectable, the fact is that the A80 Turbo resonates with an entire generation of car enthusiasts in a way that can’t be manufactured or conjured by a marketing team.
Cars don’t exist in a vacuum, and there’s more to establishing pedigree than just success on a racetrack or having a name-brand automotive designer. The Supra is valuable because it has meaning, and as our society moves ever farther away from the era of audacious analog cars toward a digital, autonomously-driven future, cars like the Supra will only increase in desirability in the years to come.