Despite being built in very limited numbers, the 2000GT is considered by many to be the ultimate classic Japanese sports car.
This is, in all likelihood, the car you’ve been waiting to see this whole time. The 2000GT was the first Japanese supercar, the only Japanese car to have been featured prominently in a Bond film, and 2000GTs at auction are the most expensive Asian cars ever sold. While models from other Japanese manufacturers might have served to change mainstream opinions of Japanese cars, the 2000GT was the first to truly be lusted after, a halo car for the whole country. The 2000GT didn’t actually start out as a Toyota model at all.
The car was actually designed as a halo model for Nissan by Yamaha, but when Nissan scrapped the project in 1964 out of a dislike for the 2.0-liter engine, Yamaha took the design to Toyota. Nissan would start all over on this project, eventually turning it into the Fairlady Z (Datsun 240Z). Toyota realized that the bold two-seat design could do much for the company’s sober image, helping it to be seen as something other than an econobox manufacturer. Not that Toyota had never built a sports car, the Sports 800 of 1965 had also proven to be a bold design and a capable car.
But as the Sixties progressed, competitors like the Nissan Fairlady were getting bigger and bigger engines and more and more power. Cars like the Sports 800 and similar competitors, cars with engines under 1.0-liter displacement, were quickly outclassed. So the Sports 800, with its 790cc engine, sold well at first, but the model lasted only until 1969. When it debuted in 1967, the 2000GT represented a massive shift in the abilities of Japanese manufacturers when it came to sports cars. This was further reinforced by the debut of the Nissan Fairlady Z the following year. The 2.0-liter I6 engine was based on the one found in the contemporary Toyota Crown, a full-sized sedan model.
But it was transformed by Yamaha into a proper DOHC sports car engine, and the same treatment was later given to a 2.3-liter I6, also sourced from the Crown. These breathed through three two-barrel carburetors, and produced 150 horsepower. This was an incredible amount for a time when Toyota’s only other sports model could only be optioned up to 45 horsepower. The 2000GT weighed in at under 2,500lbs and topped out at 135mph. No convertible 2000GT was ever made, although there is a certain amount of admittedly understandable confusion about this.
Toyota wanted the 2000GT to appear in the Bond film "You Only Live Twice", which took place and was filmed mostly in Japan. The star Sean Connery was too tall to fit into the car, and a last-minute fix was thought up by Toyota. Two cars were mocked up to appear to be convertibles (they were in fact simply roofless) so that the 2000GT could still be used. This would prove to be the closest Toyota would come to building a convertible 2000GT. Production would last only until 1970, but the legacy of the 2000GT would remain strong. Production would begin that same year on the Celica, which would eventually branch off and become the Supra, a legend in its own right.
From this point on, Toyota’s sports car credentials were solid, and its involvement in motorsports would increase. Just 337 units of the 2000 GT were built, most of which stayed in Japan, although about 60 made it to the US. This isn’t very many, but it is about in keeping with contemporary European exotics. One of the few US versions of the 2000GT recently sold at auction for $1.2 million, a new record for not just Japanese cars, but cars from anywhere in Asia. JDM versions aren’t quite as rare, and won’t command the same price, but it still has to said that it is one hell of a car and the ultimate Japanese classic.