Lifestyle

Japan's First Supercar


While NSX devotees continue to explain why their car should be accepted as a "real" supercar, Toyota 2000GT owners need make no such excuses

Toyota's 2000GT is widely acclaimed as the first Japanese car to be taken seriously by Western critics--the country's first "supercar." The model marked Japan's rise away from dull derivative models toward the highly competitive position it enjoys today.

The 2000GT was originally penned by Albrecht Goertz (creator of the BMW 507) for Nissan, who were hungrily looking at the burgeoning American sports car market, but when accountants vetoed the car on the grounds of cost, Yamaha (who developed the engine) persuaded Toyota to pick up the project.

The 2000GT debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1965, but the first cars didn't reach owners until 1967. The model ran until 1970, but in the end just 337 2000GTs were built, thanks to a price tag ($7,150 in the U.S. in 1967) that towered above even the Jaguar E-type ($5,580) and Porsche 911 ($5,990).

If the eye was wooed by the aluminum body, the heart was won by the twin-cam engine packed with the latest technology from Yamaha's motorcycle experience. Offering a top speed of around 130 mph in road trim, the car could be tuned to 200 hp, power that was well within the limits of the Lotus Elan-inspired backbone chassis, equipped with double-wishbone independent suspension and disc brakes all round. A 5-speed synchromesh transmission, rack-and-pinion steering, oil cooler, heated rear window and magnesium-alloy knock-off wheels completed the state-of-the-art specification.

Performance credentials were established with a 3rd place in the Japanese Grand Prix of 1966 followed by a 78-hour endurance run in October that broke 13 international records and three world records, including the 72 hours, 10,000-mile and 15,000-mile records (with averages of 206.02 km/h, 206.04 km/h and 206.18 km/h respectively). This was underlined by victory in the Fuji 24-hour race the following year.

In the U.S. the 2000GT so impressed Carroll Shelby that he agreed to develop it for Production C class racing, despite strong objections from the Big Three. But after a strong start, Toyota soon turned their attentions to other sectors of the market rather than their supercar. Thus it remains one of those endearing quirks of automotive history and the source of endless musings along the lines of "what if…?" It is rare that examples of this icon reach the open market. One in this condition deserves the attention of discerning collectors. (Courtesy of Christie's)

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $225,988 at Christie's auction in Le Mans, France, July 8, 2006.

While devotees of the Honda NSX continue to explain how and why their car should be taken seriously as a "real" supercar, Toyota 2000GTs owners need make no such excuses.

The 2000GT has it all--great looks penned by one of the most talented auto designers, a sophisticated powerplant and chassis, prowess on the track, a starring role in a James Bond movie ("You Only Live Twice"), and rarity matching the most exclusive Italian sports cars.

It's ironic that the 2000GT was originally conceived for Nissan, which of course went on to produce the 240Z and stayed in the sports car market in a way that Toyota didn't. But neither manufacturer would likely have continued production or developed the car in any meaningful way. It simply wasn't part of the overall growth strategy for Japanese companies in that period. In that way, it can be compared to another famous Goertz project, the BMW 507. That too was a neat car, but had nothing to do with BMW's ultimate success.

It's really hard to think of these cars as Toyotas in a real sense, as they were designed, developed, and built by Yamaha. That was their downfall, as Toyota's management felt it necessary to move the 2000GT from contract hand-building to in-house assembly line construction. When they asked U.S. dealers if they could sell 1,000 cars a month at twice the retail price of anything else in their showrooms, the response was overwhelmingly negative. Unable to make the economic case for boutique production, Toyota killed the project.

Nevertheless, the cars they made are sensational. Their looks equal their most pedigreed European competition, with a compact, svelte aluminum body. Build quality is outstanding, and the cars are more usable than many sports cars, with excellent space utilization for two small people and their luggage. Small is the operative word--one of the reasons that two convertibles were made for the James Bond movie was that Sean Connery couldn't squeeze his 6-foot 2-inch frame behind the wheel.

Performance is outstanding--a real 130-mph car, with terrific torque and a 5-speed gearbox. Today they make superb vintage rally cars, with abundant mid-range power, a stable yet supple suspension and power disc brakes.

Sixty-two 2000GTs were imported into the U.S., and it is thought that 40 remain in existence. In spite of their rarity, they are well supported by an American dealer in Maine--Maine Line Exotics (www.mainelineexotics.com)--which has been active in 2000GT circles for many years.

In evaluating one of these cars, begin with the condition of the glass. Unavailable as spares, the windshield and rear window are outrageously expensive to source. In addition, the non-structural but double-skinned rockers should be examined to make sure that the jacking plates are connected to the subsill and the rocker. They are omitted sometimes in "restoration," making it difficult to raise the car without damaging the suspension.

The wheels are magnesium and subject to corrosion and pitting. Ironically, wheels are the only part of the car to be reproduced, but unfortunately the aluminum replacements tend to be out-of-round. Mechanically 2000GTs are robust and once properly set up should present no problems.

This car was sold at the October 2000 Brooks sale in Hershey, Pennsylvania for $151,000 (SCM# 10511). The sale was judged then to be "heavy money." However, the market has been moving upward, and truly collectible cars like this one have done well. I would say that the current sale price of $226k is at the least market correct, and perhaps a small bargain.

Evaluated six years ago as being in very clean #1 condition, the odometer showed 45,281 kilometers. At the time of this latest sale it has 76,326 kilometers on the clock, indicating it has been driven over 30,000 kilometers since 2000 and is still an attractive #2 car. It's a testament to the driving pleasure this rare Asian landmark offers, and I hope the new owner flogs it in the way its makers intended for many miles to come.

Years Produced: 1967–70

Number Produced: 358

Original List Price: $7,150

SCM Valuation: $175,000–$225,000 (1/06) (at time of print)

Tune-up Cost: $150

Distributor Caps: $40

Chassis #: MF1010140

Chassis # Location: On cowl; also right side chassis rail behind right front wheel

Engine # Location: Right side of block above oil pan

Club Info: Toyota 2000GT Owners Club, PO Box 617, Saco, ME, 04072; 207.282.6161

Alternatives: 1973 Porsche Carrera RS 2.7, 1965–71 Alfa Romeo GTA, 1965–69 Bizzarini Strada

Investment Grade: B


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