Japan’s first supercar; the Toyota 2000GT

Built to change perceptions, the Toyota 2000GT was Japan’s first supercar

In 2021, there is no shortage of historically significant Japanese sports cars.  There is the Lexus LFA, Nissan GTR, and Toyota Supra Mark IV.   However, one of the first significant Japanese sports cars is also one of the most valuable.  Most importantly, it was designed and manufactured in the mid-1960s and once held several world records.  This vehicle has been referred to as Japan’s first supercar.  It is the Toyota 2000GT.

Toyota is mostly known for its SUVs and dependable sedans.  However, the early years of its existence were more difficult. It was challenging to export Japanese cars, not only were there laws to comply with, but Japanese items were also seen as inferior at the time.

Toyota single-handedly sought to redefine the Japanese automotive industry and shift the world’s opinion about the quality of Japanese products when it created the Toyota 2000GT.  It would also be the first Japanese vehicle to sell for more than a million dollars.

1967 Toyota 2000GT

Building the Toyota 2000GT to change perceptions about Japanese products

In the years that followed World War II, Japan struggled to rebuild itself as a nation.  Its industries needed to be rebuilt, and it needed to find clients for Japanese goods. Most Japanese business leaders struggled to understand western markets. However, things began turning around when they embraced new technology and began focusing on building the highest quality products.

The automobile industry in Japan was at a disadvantage. Only the wealthiest citizens in Japan owned automobiles. With such a small and constrained market in their home country, Japanese automakers were forced to look overseas, if they wanted to grow their businesses. They saw a growing market for small, inexpensive vehicles as an opportunity, and embraced it.

Despite a challenging environment, Japanese automakers never gave up.  Throughout the 1960s, they worked tirelessly to improve and optimize their production techniques. As you know, their work would eventually pay off in spades.  By the late 1980s, they were leading the global automotive market.

The Toyota 2000GT

The Toyota 2000GT was developed by Nissan as a replacement for their Datsun Fairlady 1500 and 1600 sports cars. The Goal for the 2000GT was to design a car that addressed the classic roadster-style sports car market with a coupe that would appeal to a broader audience.

Toyota 2000GT 04

Prototype Yamaha A550X

Nissan hired Albrecht Graf von Goertz, designer of the legendary BMW 507, and Yamaha to create a new sports car having broad appeal.   The result was the Nissan A550X, a prototype that resembled the second-generation 1963 Chevrolet Corvette. Upon the completion of a prototype A550X, Nissan went about developing a car internally, while Yamaha expressed an interest in continuing development. A working prototype was completed in September 1964.

Yamaha had spent a lot of money on the vehicle’s design, but they couldn’t sell it since Nissan was not interested. Yamaha approached Toyota knowing that the investment was risky.

Japanese consumers wanted cars they saw winning at the track

Toyota experienced early success in the first and second Japanese Grand Prix events in 1963 and 1964.  As interest in all forms of motorsport increased in Japan, car buyers began requesting that automakers build higher-performance road vehicles.

Soon after the 1964 Japanese Grand Prix, Toyota and Yamaha began in earnest building a vehicle to meet Japanese consumer demand.  Toyota called for the team to build a car that would be on par with, if not better than, the Porsche 911, Jaguar E-Type, and more elegant than Ferrari or Maserati. With the 2000GT, Toyota had a goal to build the best car in the world.

The Toyota 2000GT took a different path than the one laid out with Nissan’s A550X. It would have a backbone chassis similar to the Lotus Elan, with a “X” shape designed for the engine to fit into the front of the “X” while the differential would go inside the rear fork of the “X.”

Toyota 2000GT 05

What was the body of the Toyota 2000GT?

The vehicle’s external aluminum bodywork was sculpted to fit over the Lotus-style backbone chassis with complicated curves that looked more like a coach-built European sports car than anything made in Japan. While the Nissan A550X concept resembled a second-generation Corvette Stingray, the new Toyota 2000GT was considerably more European in appearance, with a few unique Japanese-type aesthetics thrown in for good measure.

To comply with California headlight height rules, the designers of the 2000GT incorporated retracting headlamps into the hood while converting the lower headlights into driving lights, giving the vehicle a better lighting system than most other sports cars of the time.

What was the engine in the Toyota 2000GT?

The 2000GT had a longitudinal six-cylinder Toyota engine with a displacement of 1,998cc. The DOHC aluminum head was designed by Yamaha with hemispherical combustion chambers and 79° valves, with a compression ratio of 8.4:1. The fuel mixture was regulated by three Mikuni-Solex 40PHH carburetors. The engine produced 148 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 129 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm.

Putting power to the pavement was an all-synchromesh 5-speed transmission with three final drive ratios that drove a limited-slip differential.

1967 Toyota 2000GT 18

What was the suspension of the Toyota 2000GT?

The 2000GT had an independent suspension with unequal length wishbones and front and rear coil springs with telescopic dampers.  All four wheels had power-assisted brakes, with the fronts measuring 11 inches and the rears 10.5 inches. The handbrake on the dash ensured that the rear discs were gripped securely enough to function correctly. The suspension set up was completed with rack and pinion steering.

The 2000GT was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1965.

In 1965, Toyota debuted the totally new 2000GT at the 12th annual Tokyo Motor Show. The automobile caused quite a stir. The car was hailed as Japan’s first supercar, and rich consumers scrambled to get their hands on one. Some people thought the sleek new Japanese entry resembled a Jaguar E-Type, while others said it was technically inspired by Jaguar’s sports vehicle.  But below the aluminum shell, it wasn’t an E-Type Jaguar, but rather something from the Lotus factory in Coventry.

1967 Toyota 2000GT Shelby

Enthusiasts, owners, and reviewers alike were impressed

The excellent build quality of the new car was not immediately apparent to spectators at the Tokyo show. However, enthusiasts from all over the world soon learned about the car’s attention to detail and superior construction.

Both reviewers and owners alike impressed by the new Toyota 2000GT’s driving performance. Despite having just 148 horsepower, Yamaha’s engine provided smooth and consistent power that was most noticeable when revs topped out around 3,500 rpm. Between 3,500 and 7,000 rpm, the engine revs like a turbo and sounds silky smooth, reaching 100 mph in third gear.  The car could accelerate from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 8.6 seconds, accelerating through to a top speed of 136 mph.  The handling of the 2000GT is described as predictable and precise.

The Official Launch in 1967

Toyota introduced the 2000GT to the Japanese domestic market in May 1967. The vehicle was built using exotic materials and unheard-of specification levels as a low-volume model. The car wasn’t built on a standard Toyota assembly line; instead, it was sent to Yamaha, where it was cobbled together in tiny batches and meticulously finished by hand.

The public, on the other hand, judged the 2000GT to be no match for the competition. Despite the fact that both the Toyota and Datsun 240Z had a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration and the 2000GT was more luxury, the Datsun was more performance-oriented, with 151 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. The 240Z was also lighter than the 2000GT, weighing roughly 1,040kg, allowing it to hit 62 mph in around eight seconds. However, the Datsun’s top speed was lower at 125 mph.

With an initial asking price of $6,800, the Toyota 2000GT was more expensive than its competitors, but priced less than what it cost to produce.

Lackluster sales results

Toyota expected to sell 1,000 2000GTs every month. Unfortunately, only 351 automobiles were produced in between 1967 and 1970.  Over its four-year production run, 351 vehicles were built: 233 MF10s, 109 MF10Ls, and 9 MF12s. The remaining 72 vehicles were created for racing or other purposes, with 337 being ordinary production cars.

A total of 150 cars were sold to other countries, with 62 of them going to the United States in left-hand drive.

Much has changed since the Toyota 2000GT was first released.  It has since become very sought after by collectors with copies changing hands for more than $1,000,000, when they become available.   To see where current prices are trending, there is an auction on bringatrailer.com with a bid just north of $500,000 with several days to go.

Photocredits:  Bringatrailer.com

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