Japan’s first supercar

Toyota 2000GT

The 1960s will forever be remembered as a decade of open-mindedness: free spirits, timeless music, unrestrained fashion and some of the most enviable cars to ever be constructed.

While most of these automotive head-turners were conceived and built in the factories of Europe’s finest, Japan quietly unveiled its very own pin-up, which remains as irresistible today as the moment it was released: the Toyota 2000GT.

Famous for its starring role alongside Sean Connery in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, the 2000GT arrived on the world stage in the same year and, in an instant, made a statement that Toyota was serious about challenging the best Europe had to offer.

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"Do whatever necessary to not only produce the 2000GT, but make it one, or perhaps even the greatest car in the world."

Shoichi Saito

The concept for a new Toyota Gran Turismo model began soon after the Japanese Grand Prix in 1964. It was brought to life in collaboration with Yamaha Motor Co. and overseen by project leader Shoichi Saito. His brief was simple, to: ‘do whatever necessary to not only produce the 2000GT, but make it one, or perhaps even the greatest car in the world.’

A year later, Saito’s vision became a reality when a prototype, the ‘280 A1’, was unveiled at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show. Its ultra-low coupe body wouldn’t grace customer’s driveways for a further two years but, for those lucky few, it would certainly be worth the wait.

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Looking at the 2000GT now, it feels as fresh as the day it arrived. You look at it in the same way you would admire a piece of fine art: soaking up the curvaceous ‘Coke bottle’ lines as they arc and flow down the sides. At the front, large plexiglass-covered driving lamps sit either side of a central T-shaped grille with discreet chrome bumpers protecting the corners of its contoured face. The long, sweeping bonnet houses not only the engine, but pop-up headlamps that give added illumination when switched on, but remain flush to the body when not in use to aid a smooth flow of air.

It’s plain the GT was designed with the driver at heart. The small but perfectly- formed cabin, which at its highest sits 116cm from the ground, is located purposefully towards the rear, providing not only perfect proportions, but a sleek and eager stance. A unique feature of the GT is the lines of its cabin glass; the A pillar leans backwards forming a peak towards the top, while the lower glass line curves up at the rear into a neat point that apes the slope of the roof line.

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Witnessing these iconic angles and sumptuous details, you begin to understand how much the 2000GT influenced the designers of the modern-day GT86 – the newest member in our long line of sporting models.

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At the rear, the wide shoulders and sweeping lines merge into a low coherent rear that features four circular lamps proudly encased within a narrow tail. Like the front, two discreet chrome bumpers protect its petite rear, while protruding proudly in the centre sits the GT’s purposeful exhaust pipes.

Inside, occupants were provided with a snug, low-slung view down the long bonnet to the road ahead. The ribbed, leather- covered sport seats were complemented elegantly by a luxurious three-spoke steering wheel, gear knob and a dashboard lined with a rosewood-veneer.

The driver monitors speed and matches revs from two large chrome-ringed dials behind the wheel, while ancillary information is provided on five smaller gauges alongside. Beneath these, the occupants had an auto-seeking radio to relax to, while all other minor switches and controls were laid out in structured simplicity, easily at hand.

But the 2000GT was more than just a pretty face as underneath its sumptuous body and plush interior sat an incredibly sophisticated machine to ensure it drove as good as it looked.

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Performance was world-class: a 150hp, 2-litre in-line 6-cylinder engine powered the 2000GT onto a maximum speed of 220km/h, while a sprint from 0-100km/h took a mere 8.6 seconds – the envy of many modern cars. Thankfully, the rest of the package wasn’t left wanting; power-assisted disc brakes on all wheels, independent suspension, a limited slip differential and lightweight magnesium alloy wheels meant that, not only were these components fitted for the first time to a Japanese-made production model, but the driver had all the tools at his disposal for safe and comfortable performance.

Before it went on sale in 1967, the 2000GT made quite an impression on the history books as well as the motor racing scene. Among the many speed records it set, three world records and 13 international records were the most prized, while the car enjoyed substantial success in motor races held in the U.S and Japan, most notably the 1967 Fuji 24-hour race.

After three short years, and 337 cars, the last 2000GT rolled out of the factory in 1970, so you can imagine seeing the car up close when there are so few examples in the world is special in itself. Exploring the perfect specimen used in these photos –and proudly displayed at the Louwman Museum in the Netherlands – made it even more enchanting.

There’s no doubt that this most desirable and rare of Japanese cars met its project leader’s brief even without James Bond’s help and the Toyota 2000GT has rightfully ended up being acknowledged as one of the greatest cars in the world.

Many thanks to Ronald and his team at the Louwman Museum in The Hague for their help in producing this article.

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