17 years after the MkIV version went out of production, there is - at last - a new Toyota Supra. But early on in the joint venture between BMW and Toyota, which has also given us a new Z4, the odds were stacked against both cars. A well-timed change in management was key to the whole endeavour, as explained by Supra chief engineer Tetsuya Tada at the launch of the car in Madrid.
The A90 Toyota GR Supra’s story can be traced back to a phone call Tada-san received during the launch of the GT86 in May 2012. He was to be dispatch to BMW’s headquarters in Munich to discuss a collaboration.
“At that time nothing was specified about what car we’d be working on - there was nothing said about it being a sports car,” he said, adding, “It was just a feasibility study.”
Tada-san, however, already had in mind exactly what the potential project could be. “On my way to Munich on the plane, I distinctively understood that this was a message for me to make the new Supra”. For him, it was all about the engine. “The heritage of the Supra is the inline-six, and at that time the only manufacturer with a high-performance inline-six engine was BMW,” he said.
While launching GT86, it was clear to Tada-san that among dealers, fans, and many others, the appetite for a new Supra was huge. Joining forces with BMW was a way to quench the thirst.
“I had a good feeling about the meeting so on the way back I wrote a really easy-going report towards [Toyota] headquarters that said we might be able to do something because it was such a nice atmosphere,” he recalled, but concluded, “Boy, that was a mistake!”
A year into the negotiations, no progress had been made, leaving BMW and Toyota at an impasse. Tetsuya Tada had committed himself to making a “pure sports car” to succeed the MkIV Supra, but the then-development boss of BMW, Dr Herbert Diess, was doubtful about the business case.
While understanding Tada-san’s urge to make a new Supra, Diess was keen to steer him away from pure sports cars to more profitable options. The key moment came went Dr Diess left BMW to joining VW.
BMW management protocol meant Diess’ subordinates went too, with replacement Klaus Frölich bringing in his own team of people. “This change had been pivotal in making this car happen because the guys under Mr Frölich had been crazy car guys,” Tada-san said. “They really took on to what we were trying to achieve…This is when it [the project] turned to the better for us.”
From here, everything “progressed quickly”. It was soon decided that BMW would make a roadster and Toyota a coupe, inspired in part by Porsche having the Boxster and Cayman siblings in its range. BMW was going to gun for the Boxster, while Toyota’s target was the Cayman.
The pair were to be built on a new, joint platform with a very short wheelbase, a wide track and a low centre-of-gravity.
After BMW’s “extensive simulation work” showed that the intended dimensions would work, a 2-series based test mule with a shortened wheelbase and widened track dubbed ‘Full Runner’ was built. After significant testing all across Europe, the Z4/Supra in this form was given the go-ahead.
This set the platform and the “suspension elements” in stone, after which point all ties - design, R&D, the lot - were cut between BMW and Toyota, allowing the two parties to go their separate ways and create two different vehicles based on the same ingredients.
The resulting cars, the Z4 and the GR Supra, are finally here, but they almost never happened.