How has Toyota managed to revive the Supra nameplate? We spoke to chief engineer Tetsuya Tada at this week's Geneva motor show to get the good oil.
Lexcen, Aygo, ProAce, Yaris iA, Cavalier and Duet are all Toyota models that haven't quite become modern classics like the 86, but all are examples of Toyota's willingness to work with other manufacturers to broaden its product offerings.
Now it's the Supra's turn thanks to a joint development project with BMW. Putting the heritage of Toyota's performance flagship in the hands of another brand may sound like a high-stakes gamble, but when it's the same company that gives us M products, we're feeling a little confident. The unveiling of the GR Supra Racing Concept in Geneva should boost your confidence, too.
The first sign of any Toyota/BMW collaboration was in December 2011, when the two companies agreed to identify and discuss potential collaborative projects. This was followed by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two in late June 2012, "aimed at long-term strategic collaboration in four fields: joint development of a fuel cell system, joint development of architecture and components for a future sports vehicle, collaboration on powertrain electrification and joint research and development on lightweight technologies."
We all now know what that future sports vehicle became, but Tada-san explained to CarsGuide exactly where the story started for him.
How do you get from 86 to BMW?
In February 2012, Tada-san was attending the very first European media drive event for the 86 in Spain, which you may recall was a very significant moment for the car we expected to become a modern classic.
You may recall Chris Harris's video of the event, starring Tada-san himself in his role as chief engineer of the 86 program.
Halfway through the event, he received a phone call from Toyota HQ in Japan, telling him to leave immediately for Munich and to keep his destination a secret. Tada-san later found out that his sudden absence was seen as scandalous by the attending journos.
The purpose of his visit was to visit BMW global HQ to look into the possibility of joint development projects with BMW. Note that this was two months after Toyota and BMW's announcement they were going to discuss collaboration, and four months before the above Memorandum of Understanding.
When he returned to Japan, he told his superiors he felt a joint development project could be possible. At that time, there was no complete image of what car he wanted to develop.
How did they arrive at Supra?
The decision to build a new Supra took about two years, after considering numerous other options.
"In the beginning we had many other possibilities that we discussed; mid-ship sports car could be a possibility, or a high deck car could be another possibility," Tada said.
Reading between the lines, the mid-engined option could have been a new version of the MR2, having been absent from Toyota's global line-up since the third-generation model disappeared in 2007.
A Toyota/BMW Sport Utility Vehicle is harder to imagine, given how full both brands' SUV line-ups are at present.
This Supra decision seems to coincide neatly with the unveiling of the red FT-1 conceptat the Detroit motor show in 2014, before a second version appeared with grey paint in Monterey that August. Its name expands as Future Toyota 1, but most of us concluded it meant a new Supra was on the way.
The Supra plan also aligned with BMW's expertise with rear-wheel drive and straight six engines, the two fundamental pillars Tada-san defined for a future Supra after consumer feedback suggested the traditional formula was imperative.
Tada-san explains that Toyota initially expected the joint development project would work just like the successful 86/BRZ project he'd just completed with Subaru, where the end result was a near-identical car aside from colours and badges.
BMW disagreed with what would be perceived as simple badge engineering, so insisted that each brand define the product they were seeking to create, and work backwards to see what components could be shared.
Which bits are BMW?
We now know that the Supra will ride on the same chassis as the next Z4, and use a turbocharged BMW straight-six engine. We assume it will be based on the 3.0-litre B58 unit, which currently produces 250kW/500Nm in BMW's '40i models.
One of the big question marks remaining for the new Supra is whether it will be offered with a manual transmission option, as with previous models which were always available in manual or auto. All Tada-san would offer on this front is that the team is still testing its options.
The GR Supra Racing Concept uses race-spec steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, which suggests it might be hiding BMW's DCT dual-clutch unit within its transmission tunnel.
As for manual potential, the concept's race-spec carbon-fibre centre console is neatly disguising whether there is room for a manual selector to poke through its clearly production-ready floorpan.
Tada-san also asserted that the BMW components within the Supra will be calibrated by Toyota, so it won't necessarily feel like a Z4-based product to drive.
Asked how the workload has been divided between Toyota and BMW on the project, Tada-san explained that the proportions are difficult to calculate. He said that aside from calibration, Toyota is responsible for the basic Supra concept and designs for the exterior and interior. BMW is in charge of the vehicle's development and production based on that concept and design.
"However, it's really a step by step process where we discuss at every step to decide the further direction and it's all based on agreement at each step," Tada-san said.
This indeed sounds like BMW is doing the lion's share of the work, but you know how the Kia Stinger is a better car because it's based on the much more expensive Genesis G70? The Supra should benefit in a similar fashion.
It also sounds like BMW will be building it in one of its factories, perhaps the Regensburg plant in Germany where the current Z4 is built. Tada-san wouldn't confirm the production source, but said that a joint Toyota/BMW announcement is coming.
Given the complexity involved in adapting a Toyota facility to deal with BMW's parts supply chain and manufacturing processes, and that the Supra will use BMW parts for its most complex elements, building it in a Toyota plant just doesn't seem to add up. The 86 and BRZ are built in Subaru's Gunma plant in Japan for similar reasons.
Generally, when old nameplates are revived, the new model aims to capture the essence of the best version from the past, which is rarely the most recent iteration. See the Nissan Z as an example. When the 350Z revived the classic Z nameplate, nobody mentioned the 300ZX as a key inspiration, but rather the 240Z that started it all in 1969.
Asked if there was a specific generation from the 40-year heritage of Supra that inspired the new A90, Tada-san explained the new model will be closest to the most recent A80 Supra which ended production in 2002.
The A80 indeed represents the pinnacle of Toyota sports cars to date, but Tada-san revealed there's a deeper meaning behind its development. The A80's chief engineer, Isao Tsuzuki, was his teacher.
"He taught me all about designing cars," Tada-san explained.
Tada-san also confirmed that there will be a visual link between the production A90 and its A80 predecessor.
"So to give an example of its exterior design, the rear fender design, and how it is curved, it is something I've taken from A80."
What does the concept reveal?
First and foremost, the Toyota GR Supra Racing Concept represents official confirmation of the use of the Supra name. It's also given us the new car's model code, with the '90' race numbers on each door referencing its A90 classification.
Hiding behind the GT3-esque swan-neck wing and diffuser, pumped wheelarches, jutting front splitter and winglets, centre-lock wheels, bonnet vents and latches and racing door mirrors and it's not hard to imagine the production version's look, which seems not too far removed from the FT-1 concepts.
The head and tail-lights are perhaps the biggest clue to its production readiness, with their intricate LED internals and seemingly full functionality. Look closely and you'll see that the lenses are devoid of part numbers etc, but these could have been buffed off for the show.
Disregard the pumped wheelarches, carbon vents and race-spec latches and the clamshell bonnet pressing looks to be about right, while the ducktail bootlid, glasshouse, door pressings, door handles and the stamped and bonded metal floorpan also seem a bit real. The 2000GT-esque window line and double-bubble roof are a nice nod to the original Toyota sports car.
Given the similar treatment applied to the limited-edition Yaris GRMN hot hatch, you might assume the concept's centre exhaust will make production, but recent spy photos suggest the road car will use a more conventional outlet on each side.
On the inside, the dash details are hidden behind Alcantara wrapping, but the door handles within the carbon-fibre door trims appear to be the strongest hint of the production car's interior design.
The GT3 look seems to build on Toyota and Lexus's Nurburgring 24 Hours entries, which have included the Lexus LFA and LC 500, Toyota 86 and C-HR to date. Toyota Australia spokesperson Orlando Rodriguez tells us there's no concrete plans to take the new Supra racing at this stage, however.
Where's the production version?
Rumours that the Supra was to be revealed in Geneva have been circulating for months, and they're not entirely incorrect, but the full road-going version isn't too far off.
Toyota's press material compares the GR Supra Racing Concept to the C-HR Racing concept shown at Geneva in 2016, with its timing in relation to the production C-HR hinting that we'll see the road-going Supra within the next year.
Toyota Australia sales and marketing boss Sean Hanley told CarsGuide the Supra is yet to be confirmed for Australia, but the local arm is certainly very keen. He describes the Supra's fanbase as a tremendously strong following, even though the most recent model to be sold locally was the A70-generation, which disappeared from showrooms in 1993. Any A80 model you see on Australian roads is a grey or personal import.
If the A90 Supra does come here, Mr Hanley says it will be available from every dealer in the country, rather than limited to specialist outlets.
Unlike the ethereal positioning of the $189,000 Nissan GT-R and $420,000 Honda NSX, the new Supra sounds like it will be priced within the stratosphere.
Nobody is willing to talk specifics or any benchmark rivals at this stage, Mr Hanley explains that there is strong demand for an affordable sports car. Following such breadcrumbs, it's sounding like somewhere in the vicinity of $80,000. Not far from the current cost of a base Z4 or 200 Series LandCruiser, but more than double the 86 that will sit beneath it.
What happened to S-FR?
There's a little green elephant in the room that's missing from this 86 and Supra Toyota sports car party. And it's the smaller model that would round off the three-tier sports car line-up Tada-san has publicly outlined as his vision of the future. Previewed by the S-FR concept at the 2015 Tokyo motor show, this little cutie appeared soon after the ND MX-5's production debut.
This got our tongues wagging about the prospect of the Toyota equivalent of a fixed-roof MX-5, or an even more playful 86 – both of which sound like fantastic fun.
I gave the S-FR the third degree on its Tokyo stand, and surmised that it was surprisingly close to production readiness, with a very detailed interior and all of its bumper shut lines in the right places etc. These are usually the things that change between concept and reality.
It was said to have a 1.5-litre engine under the bonnet from the Yaris, but it's unclear what rear-drive platform it used. A shrunken 86 platform perhaps? That would involve a lot of parts integration between the Subaru chassis and the Yaris parts, which is more complicated than it sounds.
Perhaps a rebodied version of the ND MX-5? The size seemed right and Mazda does have a technology sharing relationship with Toyota. Mazda has also demonstrated a willingness to spin more models off the MX-5 like the Abarth 124 Spyder to help amortise development of its unique rear-drive chassis.
The show car wasn't an ND MX-5 in disguise though, or at least its rear suspension wasn't as can be seen in the gallery below.
Things have gone pretty quiet on the S-FR since, and despite one high-ranking Toyota Australia insider all-but confirming its production future with this author in late 2015, it would seem the S-FR may have suffered an 11th-hour cancellation.
Asked about S-FR at this week's Geneva motor show, Tada-san wouldn't confirm if it was still on the table. His response did include a reminder of the role fan support played in cementing the Supra project, so it's not drawing a long a bow to interpret this as the S-FR concept having lacked fanfare.
He ended our chat by asserting that he isn't the S-FR chief engineer, which sounds like there's actually no such role, given he's managed to fill those shoes for the 86 and Supra. Or two thirds of his ideal three sports car line-up.
I hope I'm wrong.
This article originally appeared on CarsGuide.