Luxury Cars – One of three 2000GTs made to ride again
During the 1960s it was believed that Japanese cars did not offer the same level of quality, performance and reliability as their Western counterparts.
However, this was far from the truth, as Japanese cars were becoming increasingly popular globally and often proved to be more reliable than many offerings from the United States and Europe.
Japanese manufacturers had models that competed in almost every segment, ranging from economical hatchbacks to rugged off-roaders and sedans, but what they were missing was a luxurious high-performance sports car.
During the 60s, Europe offered the world cars like the Jaguar E-Type, the Porsche 911 and the Ferrari 250 GTO. America had the Corvette and other luxury models, but Japan was lacking on this front.
That was until the Toyota 2000GT turned up at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show. The model would go on to change the face of Japanese motoring and become the first million-dollar Japanese car.
This is the story of the 2000GT
Following WWII, Japan underwent significant changes. The country had to rebuild and many manufacturers shifted their focus to building economical cars and utility vehicles. It was not until the first Japanese Grand Prix in 1963 that drivers in the country became interested in performance. Just one year later, Toyota began working on a luxury high-performance model that would showcase the company’s technology and engineering abilities.
The project was headed up by Shoichi Saito, a major contributor to the development of Toyota as a manufacturer. His brief was simple: “Do whatever necessary to not only produce the 2000GT, but make it one of the best – or perhaps even the greatest – cars in the world.” The 2000GT would need to be practical and yet enjoyable to drive, the engine was to be at the front and drive the rear wheels, and finally it would need to embody a design that would rival those of the more expensive European models.
As a stroke of luck, Yamaha had approached Toyota at roughly the same time with a prototype they had designed. This prototype was originally developed for Nissan, but the rival company rejected the offer for reasons unknown. Nissan, however, took elements from the design Yamaha submitted and went on to create the 240Z, the main competitor of the 2000GT.
Toyota, however, approved the Yamaha design and would use it to improve its somewhat conservative brand image. Toyota’s designers, Jiro Kawano and Satoru Nozaki, took the A55X prototype and further developed it into what we know today as the 280 A1 prototype vehicle that was unveiled at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show.
The debut took place only a year after Shoichi Saito commissioned the project. The 280 A1 was met with great excitement and intrigue; however, buyers would have to wait until 1967 to get their hands on the production version of this new Toyota sports car.
The Toyota 2000GT
The production version of the 2000GT offers a smooth flowing body crafted out of aluminium. It was also the first Japanese car to be fitted with a limited-slip differential and all-round power-assisted disk brakes in standard specification.
The Japanese sports car is powered by a 2.0-litre straight-six engine developed by Toyota, but features a number of modifications from Yamaha, like the DOHC aluminium head – the result of which transcribed to 110kW and 175Nm, enough to get the grand tourer from 0-100km/h in 10 seconds and onto a top speed of 215km/h.
Although the performance of the 2000GT was impressive considering its power output, the Toyota struggled to compete with the likes of the Jaguar E-Type and American Corvettes. However, it did not fail to impress media the world over. Road & Track magazine stated that the 2000GT was one of the most exciting cars that they had ever driven and compared it to the then Porsche 911.
The 2000GT was also successful on the racetrack as it won the 1967 Fuji 24hr race. It also managed to set several FIA world records for speed and endurance in a 72-hour test.
In the United States, Carol Shelby himself entered a pair of modified 2000GT vehicles into the 1968 SCCA production car series. Despite these achievements, the 2000GT’s most famous moment came when it appeared in the 1967 James Bond movie You Only Live Twice.
Due to Sean Connery’s size and the relatively small cabin, two convertible versions of the 2000GT were specially commissioned for the film. Toyota simply chopped off the roof and replaced it with a soft-top unit.
The 2000GT’s main rival, the Nissan 240Z, only arrived in 1969. Incorporating somewhat similar styling to the Toyota, Nissan’s 240Z focused more on outright performance sacrificing luxury. After three short years of production, the last 2000GT left the factory in 1970, which completed the total build cycle of just 351 cars.
The 2000GT changed how the world viewed Japanese cars and it went on to influence the design of some of Toyota’s most iconic sportscars, such as the Supra, the GT86 and even the Lexus LFA.
Produced in such limited numbers, the 2000GT is widely considered to be the ultimate Japanese classic, which is reflected in auctions around the world. Pristine examples are fetching just under R15 million at these prestigious events.
Out of all the 351 examples of the 2000GT models produced, only three were designated for South Africa: chassis number MF10-10131 and MF10-10206 in Pegasus White and MF10 -10207 finished in Thunder Silver. The three vehicles arrived on South African shores between 1967 and 1968.
Toyota South Africa Motors has been in possession of one of these examples for many years, being chassis number MF10-10207. The vehicle forms part of the company’s private collection which comprises rare racing vehicles and other iconic Toyota and Lexus models.
In July, Toyota Gazoo Racing announced that it would be reproducing replacement parts for the Toyota 2000GT as part of the GR Heritage Parts Project, and would sell them both domestically and overseas.
This initiative paved the way to a decision made by Toyota South Africa to do a full bumper-to-bumper restoration of its own 2000GT. One of the biggest mysteries (and adding to the mystique), is that according to various sources the vehicle in question was produced in Thunder Silver, however, other sources recall it as being white, while in its current state, it is painted Solar Red.
Toyota has been documenting the restoration that started in 2020 and will be revealing the different stages of the complete nut-and-bolt restoration of this iconic car. Further details of its mysterious history will be uncovered as we take you behind the scenes and showcase the passionate people behind this once-in-a-lifetime project. Buckle up as history is made with the legendary 2000GT.
Luxury Cars – One of three 2000GTs made to ride again