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Love affair with the Toyota Supra

/ 11:08 PM February 12, 2013

SUPRA being painted Carrera White, a Porsche color, at Miguel Archangel Autocare

It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow and since everyone loves a sitcom/drama series, I’d like to share my own. But instead of with a person, it’s with one of my cars, the Toyota Supra.

I purchased my JZA80 Toyota Supra MKIV in the middle of 2007. It was an original LHD, 1995 USDM targa-top with the highly desirable German-made Getrag V160 6-speed transmission and a targa-top, instead of the rarer coupe version. Called ‘hachi maru’ in Japan (for 80), it was previously owned by a friend and business partner, who had bought it from one of the owners of one of Manila’s top tuning shops. It was modded and loaded to the hilt:  a crate engine rated for 1000 HP on race gas, huge race-spec AP Racing brakes, RAY’S forged magnesium wheels with Bridgestone intermediate race tires, an original TRD wide body kit, and a stand-alone MOTEC M800 computer box rounding out the big-ticket items. But prior to it being completed, the owner got tired of the car, sold it, and  development of the car was stopped.

SIDEVIEW of JGTC-style body kit being shaped to fit.

The succeeding owner tried his best to continue development and tuning, but he too tired out. When it came up for sale at a bargain price (little did I know), I snapped it up, thinking it was the fastest way into quasi-supercar ownership. The problem is, I had my own ideas about the car. I wanted to be able to use it every day. Take it on long drives, take it to the race track (the original setup was drag oriented), maybe cruise with some friends. And that’s where the (mis)adventures began.


We removed the race-spec engine (the engine builder had told me it wasn’t going to last long with how I intended to use it), the 1000 HP-capable turbo setup and fuel system, removed the custom-wiring harness and replaced it with a new OEM harness, a surplus stock-engine, a simpler, plug-and-play stand-alone computer box and a fuel system capable of a more sensible 600 HP. The problem is, no one believed it could be done, and nobody told me that, too. Hence, numerous problems cropped up: the surplus engine was apparently in need of a top-overhaul, the cooling system was very marginal, the rest of the electrical wiring system was a spag-bol of a mess, the list goes on. It broke down seven times in one year, a record for anyone. I got an AAP membership because of my Supra. It failed to start on me three times in a public location. It overheated twice on the road. And the engine spewed smoke like crazy at odd times, incensing many motorists, commuters and pedestrians alike. And I inconvenienced so many friends (and almost everyone else within a few kilometers’ radius around me) when these things happened.

FRONT bumper and fenders being aligned with an empty engine bay freshly painted

Through it all, I never lost hope. Or as some of my friends say, I was delusional, thinking that I could do the impossible. For almost five years, I researched, fixed, guessed, figured out and learned on my own how to fix my Supra, since at that time, I didn’t know anyone else rebuilding one. Information was scarce, and there were so many variations between US and Japan Supras, and OBDI and OBDII spec USDM Supras. But through it all, I never thought of selling my troubled car. Is it love, infatuation or obsession?

A turning point came when I met Tommy Teng of DTM Motorsports. I had known of him before, but got close to him thanks to Dolf Santiago of Emperor Motorsports/HKS Super Oils. Together, both of them took pity on me, as I must’ve looked like a sheep without a shepherd, wandering aimlessly, spending aimlessly.

What followed was even far more spending, but with repeatable and promising results. Tommy spent a year fixing my car with Dolf supplying crucial components in the process: first the engine, followed by the wiring, then chassis and suspension improvements. Power was growing from 336 whp to 366 whp, then 380 whp, and on our last dyno session 412 whp on a very hot summer day with 35 degrees Celsius ambient temperature. 412 whp is roughly 500 crank HP. Not bad at all from a now 17-year-old car with an equally old engine.

The cooling system also showed impressive results: from hovering close to 100 degrees Celsius, to a consistent 90 degrees Celsius. The 10 degrees Celsius difference is enormous in automotive terms. This is where I started to value proper, regular and continuous heavy servicing and maintenance work as a prerequisite for high-performance tuning. But then I got married, so development work on my car stopped for a few months. I was afraid I might have to sell it, but thankfully, my missus has acknowledged my car as the official ‘number 2,’ which is OK with her, so long as it’s not another person. Now, we’re about two months away from finally getting it back on the road.

A friend had bought my old TRD body kit, and with my friend David Chang of SIGMAX Carbon, a friendly Taiwanese national, we decided to build a proper JGTC-looking body kit for my

FIBERGLASS body kit fabricated by Sigmax

Supra. It’s now even wider, almost 10 inches wider than the original body, with even lighter body panels and bumpers. We’ve stripped out almost 3 boxes worth of unused wires, assorted nuts, screws, fasteners and brackets, and we’ve wire-tucked the electrical components from the engine bay, added race-car-style ducting for the various heat exchangers, and added additional reinforcement bars throughout the chassis, modeled after Supra race cars I’ve seen and researched thoroughly online, often calling/e-mailing foreigners surprised to find a curious fellow in me asking about their cars.

All told, we’ve removed close to 100 kilos from the car’s original weight  when I got it, but added back some in the form of extra chassis reinforcement and ducting fabricated by my close friend Roland Gavino of Miguel Archangel Autocare. And whenever parts were best sourced from the US, I had my other really good friend Nick Laconico buy them for me and send them home. It was Nick who also told me that real car guys never give up on their cars, much the same way real men never give up on their family, friends and loved ones.


All this time, I’ve driven various sports and supercars: from Ferraris, Audi R8s, Lamborghini’s Aventador and Gallardo, various Porsches, BMW M-cars, AMG Mercs, Subaru STI’s, Nissan GTR’s and 350Z/370Zs, Mitsubishi Evos. They are all great vehicles. They run like clockwork, never skipping a beat. They are reliable. Many of them infinitely better. But none of them have the same allure as my cantankerous Supra. Which is why I’ll be keeping mine indefinitely, perhaps maybe forever, or at least till I join the great track-day up in the sky. What about you? Do you have any stories with your car/s?

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