By the mid-1960s, Japanese car makers were actively trying to establish themselves in the West. But this meant fighting off perception that Japanese cars were cheap, dull and slow. Toyota were arguably most guilty of this and the Toyota 2000 GT was their solution to this problem.
In the early 60s, Yamaha had been taking up contract work for many Japanese carmakers. One such assignment was a new design for Nissan’s Fairlady sportscar. Yamaha worked with German-American designer Albrecht Goertz and a prototype 2000 GT was shown to Nissan. However, the project fell through and given that Toyota were looking to make a GT car, the design was sold to them. As is fairly obvious, the exterior design of the 2000 GT was heavily influenced by that of its contemporary, the E-Type. Having said that, it was a not a straight rip-off and the Toyota 2000 GT had enough unique touches (notably the front end) to stand out as a piece of design good enough to compete with its European counterparts. The interiors were exceptionally finished in high quality rose wood veneer. Other features were auto-tuning radio and a reach adjustable steering column. Air conditioning was added as an option in 1969.
The two-seater, front engine, rear-wheel drive GT was powered by a 150bhp 2.0-litre DOHC straight six 3M engine derived from the SOHC unit used in the contemporary Toyota Crown. This made the car good for 136 mph (219 kmph) and 0 to 62 mph(100 kmph) time of 8.6 seconds. The low aluminium body sat on an X shaped backbone frame and power was put down via a 5- speed manual and later an optional 3 – speed auto. The car came with independent suspension all around, magnesium alloy wheels and disc brakes all around. These features were unique to Japanese cars of the time and further established the Toyota 2000 GT as a serious performance car.
Between the car’s 1967 to 1970 production run, only about 351 were made. This was mainly due to flawed buyer perception and the $6,800 list price in America, far higher than other sports cars at the time. Given the low volumes, production was outsourced to Yamaha. Even rarer were the left hand drive models: only 62 were built. This makes the car seen here, and offered for auction at RM Sotheby’s Arizona 2018 sale, exceptionally unique. Further increasing this particular car’s appeal is the Bellatrix Yellow paintjob. Most Toyota 2000 GTs were finished in red or white and only 9 nine were painted this shade.
The Toyota 2000 GT also has some motorsport credibility. An example finished 3rd in the 1966 Japanese Grand Prix and won the Fuji 1000 km race in 1967. Carroll Shelby also used three of these cars to compete in the 1968 SCCA production car races, but the 2000 GTs saw middling success and raced for just the one season. The 2000 GT’s biggest motorsport achievement though was in the 1966 Speed Trails held at the Yatabe High Speed Testing Course in 1966. Over the course of the 72 – hour event, the car broke 3 world records and set 13 new international records for speed and endurance, while averaging 128.76mph (207.21 kmph) around the circuit’s banked oval. However, most people will recognise the 2000 GT by way of its appearance in the 1967 Bond film, You Only Live Twice. Two examples of a droptop version were created only for this movie with no customer version being made later.
Although reviewers at the time generally praised the 2000 GT, taking note of the car’s poise and handling, it was never a commercial success. It is only recently that car enthusiasts have rediscovered this car, and rightly so. The 2000 GT was a turning point for the Japanese car industry showing that performance cars from Japan were also an option, and not a cheap or second rate one at that. This paved the way for pretty much every performance car to come out of Japan, now an endless list which includes stalwarts like the GT-R and the NSX. Photos by Darin Schnabel for RM Sotheby’s