By Bryan VanZandt
I was 14 when I bought my first third generation Toyota Supra; this was a time where Ask Jeeves was one of the only search engines, and I hadn’t seen Paul Walker drive the Mark IV in The Fast and The Furious yet. I had no idea what the Supra was, or what the name Supra would come to embody. The first time I saw a Mark III Supra, the body lines where sharp, the silver paint was crisp, and by God, it had pop up head lights. It just looked like it was asking to be driven fast. Sitting in the driver’s seat was like sitting in a fighter jet; the leather seat was like a glove, and the dash was full of instruments all oriented toward the driver. The sound from the aftermarket exhaust was throaty. An obsession was born, and I knew I had to have that car.
I worked odd jobs for people all summer and fall to pay the $900 asking price. The Supra was then driven to my grandparents’ house, so my mom would not find out about it. Their driveway was long and allowed me to drive at least a little bit. I learned how to drive stick tooling around on the drive way and backcountry roads. It was fun to feel the road, while listening to the engine roar and the turbo spool.
It was a little while after I got the car that I saw The Fast and The Furious, which had hit the movie theaters two years prior. This of course was like adding gas to a fire, and the obsession grew.
As you would expect, you can’t hide things from your mom very long. The car had to go; my mom was worried I would wreck once I could drive it to high school. Of course, this didn’t end the obsession. The expression “absence makes the heart grow fonder” fits perfectly here; the Mark III became my dream car.
Fast forward a few years, and I was a senior in high school when I found someone selling a light blue 1989 Supra targa in good shape. Well, it was in good shape except for the engine; the block knocked harder than a door-to-door salesman. After some “shrewd” negotiation, I got it for $300 and a spare computer I had laying around. A replacement eBay engine, and lot of hard lessons later, I was in love all over again. For two years I drove that car everywhere.
By the time I was almost through my first year in college, I had a lot of time under the hood and only a high school and college student’s budget to work on it. I took it to a few test and tune nights to see what it could do in a quarter mile. The little blue Supra wouldn’t pull extraordinary numbers. but it would be in the low to mid 12s religiously. I would go to autocross events when I could find them. I had a lot of great times in that car.
Then, I found a red 1988 turbo Supra hard top for $500, and made one of the biggest mistakes in my car history. I couldn’t see past the word “turbo”: the car was in pieces, the engine was in boxes in the trunk, and the interior was all but gone. When it arrived to my house, it was apparent that the car was rusting away, and the engine parts where not all accounted for. However, I wanted a hard top turbo, so I sold the car that had been so good to me, and got to work on the new project. The rust turned out to be worse than I expected as I pushed on. The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, until I found that the rust had compromised the structural integrity of the car. After nearly a year of dumping money into it, it was apparent that I had to give up on this Supra.
By this point, I found out that the kid that bought my old blue Supra attempted to port and polish the head with a drill and failed, destroying the head. He cut the body up attempting to make it look “cool”. I also found out that he was into shady stuff. I had betrayed the car that had been the best to me. 8 years later, I found out that it was most likely crushed, an incredibly sad end to a car that only wanted to have fun. I wish I could find out what ever happened to the silver 1988 supra. Does it have a place to call home, if the guy from Massachusetts still has it? Had it met a similar fate as the blue Supra?
Some time passed, and the rusted supra just sat under a tarp, waiting to be a donor for the next project. I was again Supra-less. I looked everywhere for one, trying to find one that was not rusted out. Living in Upstate NY, most of them had not fared well over the years. I finally gave up looking for the dream project, as it seemed impossible. It was also around this time that I was single and kind of trying to stay that way.
However, sometimes life has plans for you, and when you’re not looking for something it finds you. That is when fate put someone in my life; my best friend, my wife, Stephanie. Shortly after we started dating, someone told me about a Supra hidden away at an old mechanic shop. The shop was not far away, so I decided to go take a look. Hidden behind a few rows of cars and a lot of dust, there she was, sitting on 4 flat tires. The black paint was faded, the clear coat worn out, and the leather interior had dried out and cracked over the years. It was truly a great barn find. Twelve years before, the previous owner had blown the head gasket and dropped it off to the shop for repairs. Unfortunately, the shop owner replaced the engine, so it was not numbers matching. During the repair, the owner passed away, and his wife gave the mechanic the title in lieu of payment. Looking at the build plate, it was built in May of 1989; it was within a month younger than me. The car had just over 60,000 miles on it, which matched the DMV records. I had to have it.
Today, I have owned my dream car for nearly 9 years, and put 20,000 overall miles on it. I have enjoyed all kinds of projects, like converting it from automatic to an r154 manual transmission, building a 7mgte engine, and swapping the entire interior. I have some big plans for it, like building a twin turbocharged 1UZFE, and I can’t wait to restomod the car with my twins Samantha and Dean when they are older. This will not be a car I sell; it will be a car I pass on. I know it is not a Ferrari or Lamborghini, but there has always just been something about the third generation Toyota Supra that I just can’t quantify. Like all dream cars, it is more than the sum of its parts, more than a hobby: it is an obsession.