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Toyota Celica Supra 1978-1981

1979-Supra comboToday's little post is just a follow up to Anthony Cagle's superb coverage of the 1970s Celica. In fact, this report is just a shadow of the last generation Celica featured in his post.

My admiration for this car began one day, as a 21-year-old, when I saw an ad for the first Toyota Celica Supra. The glossy presentation literally blew me away. Here, for the first time in my automotive history, was a small car available with all the refinements of any larger machine. It had power windows and door locks, a tilting steering wheel, a luxurious, plush interior, cruise control, a snazzy console, multi-adjustable bucket seats, and even a sunroof.

That ad showed a dash featuring an amazing array of seven gauges (Including the clock), a large sum of instruments not easily found on any other car of its time, nor even today. An industry-leading AM/FM 4-speaker radio was there, as was (dare I say it?) an 8-Track tape player. In 1979, leather seats and automatic climate control was offered, again, unheard of in a small car on these shores.

Supra engineReplacing the Celica's 2.2 litre I-4 with the 2.5-litre SOHC straight 6 under the hood, Toyota had to stretch the car's front end by 5.1 inches (The 1981 Model 2759 cc 5M-E is shown here). A welcome by-product of that surgery added much welcomed leg room for you taller Americans. And the extra wheelbase undoubtedly made the ride smoother and the handling... much better.

Your transmission choices were either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic, both with overdrives. That got the car going; to stop the car, the Supra had disc brakes everywhere. To turn it, you had McPherson struts up front, a 4-link rear suspension with coil springs and a lateral track bar, and stabilizer bars were on the front and the back.

79toyotacelicasupra adIt was obvious then that Toyota was trying hard to build a great small car. And compared to the other offerings of the time, I think they succeeded. You just got more bang for your buck with these cars, their dependability was unrivalled, and it's no wonder the Japanese took over the American small car market, then moved on to other things.

One element about Japanese cars of this vintage that does bug me, however, was their badges. It seems they plastered things like "5 Speed," corporate names, and "Overdrive" way too much on them. To me, these badges seemed to serve as miniature, subliminal advertisements more than auto nomenclature. Even the Supra's splash guards had "Celica" on them. And to some extent, this continues today.

And as we all know, the Supra grew into something altogether different than its origin. It fed on itself, became bloated and expensive, then paid the ultimate price for its gluttony... it died.

1981_Celica_Supra-rearBut the first Supra was something special... Toyota took a good little car and made it better. Much better. And they did it simply, with understated style.

That kind of thinking seems to be unique in the car world, and that's why I like this first Supra so much. Probably not enough to go look for one, but they do evoke a very pleasant memory.

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

Image Credits: The Supra collage image is from The Supra engine bay photo was found at The two-page Supra ad came from The Supra rear image is from


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My father in law was a successful small businessman in Southern California. During the 1960's and through the late 1970's he drove Lincoln Continental sedans or Lincoln Continental coupes--usually got a new one every year or two. By 1975 he was mostly retired, but was still hitting the golf course down at the country club five days a week.

But when the Celica Supra came out, he got one of those. It would carry a golf bag when he travelled from his home course, and it was as well appointed inside as the Lincolns he was used to.

He died a couple of years after buying the Celica (were the Lincoln gods smiting him for his heresy?) and the car was passed down to his granddaughter who was headed off to school at the University of Arizona--carried her through school just fine.

I remember seeing my first 1st-gen Supra near the church parking lot at night. I was surprised o seeing the 'Supra' badge and logo on that machine.
I didn't really like the design at first, particularly the way the glass design behind the B-pillars flowed. Made the car looked big, almost bloaty.
But, admittedly, the design has grown on me.

Tigerstrypes, I agree that the rear quarter glass may be the car's least attractive feature. But Japanese cars of the 70s and early 80s weren't necessarily known for their outstanding beauty.

I guess as awkward as it is, the design could have been worse. At least the rest of the car is easy to look at.

When I was a teenager, we used to sing, "You ... asked for it ... you got it ... FERRARI!" Because, let's face it, even with all the lux options and whatever, the machine was still a Toyota. My buddies and I all drove beat-up muscle cars from the late 1960s and early 1970s. See, if we'd kept those cars, they'd be worth some coin now, but Toyotas from that era are recycling candidates. Not that there's anything wrong with Toyotas; good little commuters, and the Toyota 2000 GT is still a gorgeous icon.

That car does have one butt-ugly butt.

Is it just me or did the first Supra preview the all new Celicas that arrived in 1982?

Correction to my post above...I messed up my Celica generations, this Supra is simply a stretched second gen car that came out in 78. BTW: it was designed in California...I've read that it was too "clean"..without fussy details and "surface excitement" and wasn't as popular in the Japanese home market. True?

It was a true sports car at that time.

A good friend of mine had a blue 80 Supra and I remember at the time what a really cool car that was. IMHO Toyota got it 100% right with the following 82-85 generation - great power, great handler and still (again, IMHO) one of the greatest looking Japanese designs ever made. The 86-92s got too big and bloated and the 93-97s got too narrowly-focused - not to mention hideously expensive.

If I could fine a low mileage 84-85 5-speed Supra in like new condition (a VERY tall order, I know), I'd love to snap it up.

I've always liked the first generation Toyota Celica Supra. It's like the Celica, but with some bling in all the right places. It's not as fancy as today's luxury cars, or as technologically advanced as today's cars, but so what? It's still a good looking car, even today. I'd buy one today if I could find one in good original condition.

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