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1967 Toyota 2000GT - The Japanese Magnum Opus

Long hood. Sloping roof line. Front engine. Rear wheel drive. The description of a classic grand touring coupe. In the sixties if you lived in the jet set rivieras of Monaco you’d be looking at cars like the Jaguar E-Type or the Chevrolet Corvette C2. And if you wanted the engine behind you the Porsche 911 and Ford GT40 provided plentiful amounts of performance for your budget. So for the countries that have been in the business for a while their established heritage has earned them the title of a respectable automaker.

But one country was missing - Japan. To the rest of the world they simply did not make anything exciting enough to compete. Before 1965 their most sporty models could best be described as a car that’s ‘sport inspired’. Models like the Toyota Sports 800 weren’t befitting of the coastal highways of California. To change that image Toyota set out to build a Yamaha designed grand touring coupe project that would beat the current offerings by the Germans, Italians, and Americans. The catalyst was a recent victory at the Japanese Grand Prix and they were ready for more.

However, there was some doubt the 2000GT could succeed. At the time Yamaha was known for motorcycles and pianos, not cars. Their initial proposal was rejected by Nissan before going to Toyota as they didn’t see the benefit of making such an expensive model. The project demanded an enormous investment from both companies but design lead Soichi Saito was determined to simply make the greatest car in the world.

So in 1967 Toyota was able to start deliveries of the 2000GT to customers around the world at a cost of over $7,000. Again, this didn’t bode well for Toyota as the Jaguar E-Type cost around $6,000 while the Corvette C2 was a mere $4,500. But the cost was justified when you see what it can do.

Sitting under the hood is a 2.0-liter aluminum straight-six taken from a Toyota Crown sedan. And while the Crown was inspired by the Ford Falcon, the engine was not. This one featured triple side draft carburetors by Solex, Yamaha’s dual overhead cams, and a synchromeshed five speed manual. The 2000GT also packed a limited slip differential, four wheel power disc brakes, fully independent suspension, and a 49/51 weight distribution. It was also lighter than the Jaguar E-Type by over 300 lbs weighing in at 2,400.

Putting all of this together gives the 2000GT a run from 0-100 km/h in 8.6 seconds. Its top speed according to Toyota was 136 mph (220 km/h). This meant multiple world records and a hugely successful racing career in 1967. Not bad for a car making 150 hp.

The legacy of the 2000GT reached new heights when Toyota cut its roof off for the Bond film You Only Live Twice. This was a one off built only because Sean Connery couldn’t fit in the hardtop version but its appearance as a sexy film car helped its publicity. News of 2000GT’s success reached across the globe even falling into the hands of Carol Shelby. It must have reached him fast because he bought three, and the ones he got were some of the first 6 ever built. Under Shelby’s direction and modifications he was able to secure sixteen podium finishes in SCCA with two cars - a testament to its performance and reliability.

Out on the road you can see Toyota definitely didn’t sacrifice comfort for speed. Its interior is clad in a gorgeous matte wood inlay provided by Yamaha’s piano division. There’s air conditioning, an auto-seeking radio, and a mahogany shift knob. It’s hard not to fall in love with its yacht-like qualities. Space is a little tight, and the A-pillar is oddly close to your face but it’s still a wonderfully luxurious place to sit.

Dynamics wise the 2000GT, as shown with its racing success, handles in a superb fashion. Motor Trend has driven it on several occasions once in 1967 at release and again in 2005 in a comparison to the Jaguar E-Type. Both times they loved the 2000GT for its flat cornering and low center of gravity despite being down on power compared to its British rival.

But that competition ended prematurely. In 1970 Toyota was forced to cease production of the 2000GT. By that time they had made 351 out of 1,000 initially planned. They were just too expensive to build.

At the time it’s hard to imagine how much of an impact the 2000GT has on the Japanese automotive industry. Its elegant design, magnificent handling, and exclusivity pins it as not only the first Japanese supercar but a sign that Japan is capable of building great driving machines. It’s a symbol of a country ready to take on the old guard.

Today, that symbol has triumphed. While an E-Type Series 1 can fetch a maximum price of around $320,000 the Toyota 2000GT auctions in the realm of $800,000 to over a million. A price like that is only as a result of dedication and passion to automotive enthusiasm. It’s just as much an investment with your heart as it is your head. And although Japan has made many great cars since then, none of them have reached the desirability and beauty of a car like the 2000GT. It’s a Japanese masterpiece - their magnum opus. The risk that was worth every penny.


All photos by Patrick Ernzen ©2015 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's