Tiff Needell

WHEN THE FOURTH GENERATION

Tiff Needell

ďTHE SUPRA COULD NEVER MATCH THE 928, BUT TOYOTA CERTAINLY BUILT A CHASSIS THAT WAS AS FUN TO DRIVEĒ

WHEN THE FOURTH GENERATION Toyota Supra arrived in 1993, we pitched it as a car ahead of its time for my item on Top Gear, having it emerge from an underground garage outside a house. Wreathed in dry ice, it made a dramatic entrance with green under-car lighting adding to the mood - I even wore some wraparound shades to try to add to the futuristic look!

You donít have to look hard to realise the designers were fans of the Porsche 928 and, while the Supra could never match the prestige of the Stuttgart car nor the quality of its interior, they certainly built a chassis that was as fun to drive.

The wraparound, arched dashboard layout and high transmission tunnel made you feel like you were behind the wheel of a single-seater racing car. And there was plenty of encouragement from the whistling of its clever, sequential twin-turbo that produced an impressive 242kW (in European specification at least) - only 15kW shy of the 928 GTS at that time and, thanks to extensive use of aluminium, in a slightly lighter car.

Although its Getrag six-speed manual gearbox had a slightly spongy feel to it, there was still plenty of fun to be had jumping from gear to gear. Mind you, with the turbo system minimising lag and providing a wide powerband you didnít have to change that often to keep it on the boil.

I might, of course, be slightly biased in favour of the mighty Toyota Supra, as Iíd had a couple of outings racing a Group A version of the thirdgeneration model in the All-Japan Touring Car Championship when I was out there driving for the factory in the Group C Japanese Sportscar Championship.

Mind you, my memories of an outing at Tsukuba Circuit bring back thoughts of tears of pain, not joy! The little 2.1km track about 80km north of Tokyo - Japanís equivalent of Wakefield Park - isnít best suited to large, rear-wheel drive coupes, and summer temperatures well into the 30s and humidity around 90 per cent are common.

With slow average speeds there was precious little air flowing into the cockpit. With a one-and-a-quarter-hour stint ahead of me and 30 cars on track, I knew it was going to be tough.

The sequence of 11 twisting corners soon destroyed the tyres and left me grappling with an ever-increasing lack of traction and constant work with the unassisted steering - but that wasnít the worst problem!

With the standard, stripped-out interior there was only painted metal under my legs - and under that metal were the exhaust pipes heading out the side just behind me! With half an hour left to run, the heat of the pedals began to burn my feet and my heels began sticking to the floor. The paint was melting.

Of course you canít stop because thereís a race to be won - there was little chance of beating the dominant Sierra Cosworths, but I was running fourth, in with the chance of a podium and, most importantly, ahead of the other Supra! The heat was unbearable, I had no water, the air was heavy with the humidity and my feet were being oven-baked.

The only tactic was to survive one lap at a time! Get to the end of the lap and tell yourself that you can surely do one more - and when you manage that, tell yourself that you can surely do one more and then...

The finish finally came, with no podium result - but there was much amusement when I arrived back at the pits and plunged both feet into a large bucket of ice!