Toyota Supra Development: The Supras We Never Saw

The design process is a lengthy, painful one. The casual observer has no idea how delicate and meticulously precise the process of creating a new automotive form is. In terms of time scale, a motif is arrived at quickly on a piece of paper or digital tablet, but to arrive at that theme, hundreds of gorgeous little sketches are tossed, ignored, rejected. Styling is a systematic, brutal annihilation of creation where only one idea survives. As a result, we often discover the detritus of conception in the form of studio development sketches and photos.
The last Supra development of course was no exception, spawning numerous prototype models during its formation in the early 1990's.

The Supra was designed to be a halo vehicle, a "specialist" car with low production volume number targets of around 1000 units per month, world wide. It had separated from a special edition Celica generations before into its own higher end chassis. The overall theme was based on a sprinter's musculature. During this era, Toyota's California design studio had produced the groundbreaking organic Lexus SC300, so it was apparent that similar themes were being explored on both North American and Japanese studio shores.


The red mockup photo introducing the article is a late development, and yet, much different from the final design, the side vent for example was discarded as looking too similar to the recently released Pinifarina Mythos concept. Earlier clay mockups in 1/5 scale show an even greater diversion from the final design, while some elements like the proportion, overall gesture, and front graphic dimensioning carried through to production.

The first form is pure to an extreme, not quite expressive enough and lacking character.

This alternate proposal feels tougher, less lean and hints at the production integrated closed loop spoiler. The reverse a-pillar is an interesting element, one that made an appearance on the Porsche 917. Integrating that kind of curvature into a production windshield is an unrealized and probably unrealistic dream.


Another too-clean form, but the haunches in back, drooping beltline are familiar.


Apparently this theme was selected to develop into the red prototype, some weight, balance and detail modifications occurring in the process, notably in the side vent area and again elimination of the optimistic but unrealistic backward bending a-pillar. The rear view shows a rear-light theme similar to production.


The final image here appears to be a full-size mockup from the Toyota studio in California. While the proportion is Supra, the overall impact is more elegant than sporty but has plenty of attractive elements like the c-pillar that doesn't connect to the body and compound rear glass.


So 20 years on, a similar process of creation and destruction is likely happening behind the same closed doors with perhaps even some of the same designers at higher levels of their careers.

Images: Car Styling Magazine #95, July 1993.

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