Famous for its starring role alongside Sean Connery in the 1967 James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’, the Toyota 2000GT made a statement to the world that Toyota and the Japanese motor industry was serious about taking on the best the Europeans had to offer.
Toyota is mostly known for its family sedans and SUVs, but throughout the company’s history it has produced some of the greatest cars of all time. From the Supra to the Celica and the Lexus LFA, Toyota has built themselves a solid name in sports car manufacturing, and the 2000GT was the start of it all.
The Toyota Gran Turismo’s development began soon after the 1964 Japanese Grand Prix. Initially designed for Nissan (Datsun) by Yamaha, the 2000GT was adopted by Toyota after the Yokohama-based company refused the idea and started working on their own sports car, the Fairlady Z. Toyota realized how the bold new two-seater design would change its image on the world stage, and immediately approved the program.
Many credit the German-American designer Albrecht Goertz as the inspiration for the project. He had previously worked with Nissan to create the Silvia and had gone to work for Yamaha in the early 1960s to modernize Nissan’s Fairlady sports car.
Shoichi Saito headed up the project and his brief was simple ‘do whatever necessary to not only produce the 2000GT, but make it one of the – or perhaps even the – greatest car in the world.’ One year later, Saito’s vision became a reality when the ‘280 A1’ prototype was announced at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1965.
Even before the 2000GT started official production in 1967, the new Toyota sports car was already impressing. Road & Track magazine summed up the car as “one of the most exciting and enjoyable cars we’ve driven”, and compared it favourably to the Porsche 911.
The 2000GT’s production carried on for three years and just 351 units were created. It was not only the first supercar to come out of Japan, but it is also the most expensive Asian car ever sold in an auction.
Toyota designed the 2000GT to be the ultimate driver’s machine. The small but perfectly formed cabin was driver focused and at its highest sits 116cm from the ground. It was also purposely located towards the rear of the car to give the 2000GT a sleek and sporty stance.
The 2000GT’s design is widely considered a classic among 1960s Gran Turismo cars. The bodywork was undoubtedly inspired by the Jaguar E-Type and had smooth lines that were built from aluminium. Pop up headlights added to the classic appearance and were located above large plexiglass covered driving lights that flanked the front grille. While a custom open-top model was made for the ‘You Only Live Twice’, a factory-produced convertible was never offered by Toyota.
Performance was world class: a longitudinally mounted 2.0-litre in-line 6-cylinder engine powered the 2000GT onto a top speed of 220km/h. The engine was originally based off the Toyota Crown’s power plant, but was then transformed by Yamaha into a punchier sports car engine. Nine special MF-12 models were also produced with the larger SOHC 2.3 L 2M engine.
A five speed manual transmission was fitted to the car and the 2000GT featured both a limited slip differential and all-round power-assisted disc brakes were fitted as standard, a first for a Japanese car.
On the inside, the 2000GT was a major departure from Toyota’s other products. While it was slightly cramped compared to Europe’s offerings, it did provide a comfortable and somewhat luxurious environment. The 2000GT featured a rosewood veneer dashboard, wood frames for the centre stack and centre console, and a wood-rimmed steering wheel. It was also fitted with an auto-seeking radio, but lacked air conditioning until 1969.
The instrument panel was typical 1960’s GT style and consisted of two main gauges behind the steering wheel and an array of buttons underneath it. The seats were somewhat sporty but were lacking compared to what Ferrari and Jaguar were offering at the time. All up, the 2000GT’s interior provided nothing more than what was needed for driving.
The 2000GT & Motorsport
The 2000GT not only made an impression with the world’s motoring press and general motoring population, it also made its mark on the motor racing scene as well. Among the many speed records it set the car enjoyed substantial success in motor races held in the U.S and Japan, most notably the 1967 Fuji 24-hour race.
The 2000GT set several FIA speed and endurance world records in a 72-hour test. Unfortunately, the record setting 2000GT was destroyed in a pace car accident and ultimately scrapped. The records set by the little Toyota prompted Porsche to build a 911R to beat it.
A pair of 2000GTs were entered by Carroll Shelby in the 1968 SCCA production car races competing in the CP category. Shelby initially built three cars including a spare, but the cars only competed in one season in the USA, despite performing well. Toyota took back one of the 2000GTs and turned it into a replica record breaking car. The other two of Shelby’s 2000GTs remained in the United States.
Toyota 2000GT & James Bond
Toyota built two one-off topless models, fitted with tonneau covers to simulate convertible roofs, for James Bond. It is rumoured that a targa top 2000GT was originally considered for the movie. This retained the original car’s fastback profile, but eliminated the side windows. The idea of the targa was ditched however, as Sean Connery’s head stuck out the top of the car. A roofless version was then quickly fabricated in just two weeks for the movie.
Toyota 2000GT Price
At the time, Toyota was known for its cheap cars, however the 2000GT was anything but that. The 2000GT was sold for more than $7,000 in the United States, which was roughly $1,000 more than the Jaguar E-Type and the Porsche 911.
Today, the 2000GT has become arguably Japan’s most collectible car. The little Toyota first surpassed $370,000 in 2010 and then smashed that in 2013 when the yellow-painted 2000GT was sold by RM auctions for $1.16 million.
2000GT vs the competition
The 2000GT’s main rival was the Fairlady Z (Datsun 240Z) when it arrived in 1969. This was the car that Nissan went onto design after rejecting Yamaha’s concept. Much like Toyota, Nissan needed a halo car that would give them a new image and the 240Z was just that.
While the 240Z featured a similar front engine, rear-wheel drive layout to the 2000GT, the car was more performance orientated and less luxurious. First models featured a 2.4-liter, inline-six engine rated at 151 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. The 240Z was lighter than the 2000GT at around 1,040kg and that meant that it could go from 0-100km/h in eight seconds, two seconds quicker than the Toyota. The top speed was lower however, with the 240Z only managing to hit just over 200km/h.
Toyota’s other main rival was also its inspiration, the Jaguar E-Type. This was the car that set the benchmark for the 1960s and is now regarded as one of, if not, the most beautiful cars of all time and was even praised by Enzo Ferrari himself.
When Toyota launched the 2000GT, Jaguar was still selling the Series 1. The 2000GT was no match for the 4.2-litre (increased from 3.8-litres) 265 horsepower Jaguar, which could hit 100km/h in seven seconds and could go on to 240km/h.
After short three-year production stint, the last 2000GT rolled out of the factory in 1970, making a total of 351 cars produced. The 2000GT’s importance can be seen in how it has gone on to influence the design of some of Toyota’s more recent sports cars like the Supra and the GT86. Toyota’s 2000GT will go down as one of the most legendary cars ever made, it changed the world’s view on the Japanese motor industry and showed the Europeans and Americans that they meant business.