Before Z-Car, Before Celica, There Was The Toyota 2000GT
Work began on the 2000GT, a low-volume "halo" car to boost corporate image, in early 1964 under chief engineer Jiro Kawano. A prototype appeared at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show and was a stunning showstopper, easily eclipsing the Nissan Silvia and the rotary-powered Mazda Cosmo. It was, by far, the most exotic automobile ever made in Japan.
"Road & Track" called it "extremely handsome, purposeful in appearance, low, sleek and fast-looking." Design credit went to Toyota design staff member Satoru Nozaki. The prototype was reported to be in the 150-mph class, with power from a 200-hp, DOHC 2.0-liter engine. The car would go into production in late 1966.
Before that, however, the 2000GT went on the racetrack, with two lightweight versions entered in the Japanese Grand Prix (not Formula 1, of course) in May 1966. One finished third, behind two factory Prince R380 mid-engine prototypes; the other overheated and didn't finish. Both lightweight Toyotas not only finished the Suzuka 1,000 km race in June, but placed first and second in Japan's first-ever endurance race.
The production model appeared right on schedule, and immediately appeared on the cover of "Car and Driver." Some critics carped about the car's front end, particularly the pop-up headlamps needed to meet the laws of some countries. Big fog lights behind Plexiglas covers had a low beam feature that operated with the main headlamps retracted. Everyone loved the rear three-quarter angle, the fastback roofline incorporating a faint ducktail and a hinged liftgate. Twin round taillights were set in bezels to the outside of vertical "overriders" that served as rear bumpers. There was no front bumper other than the T-bar grille.
If the body borrowed from Jaguar, the chassis cribbed from Lotus. A central spine frame, a la Elan, was forked fore and aft of the passenger compartment. Although stiff longitudinally, it lacked torsional rigidity. The all-steel body therefore contributed extra stiffness. Front suspension was conventional double A-arms with coil springs around tube shock absorbers. At the rear, the coil-over shocks were mounted on stamped upper A-arms and tall "horns" on the backbone frame, while the lower A-arms were tubular and adjustable. Front and rear anti-roll bars were used as well.
Yamaha used Toyota's stodgy Crown six to power the 2000GT, but kept only the cast iron block, seven-bearing crankshaft and connecting rods. A new chain-driven double overhead cam head had two big valves per cylinder and hemispherical combustion chambers. Stock compression was only 8.4:1. Three twin-throat 40mm Mikuni-Solex sidedraft carburetors were used, while two three-branch cast aluminum alloy headers led to a side-by-side dual exhaust system. Ignition was by a conventional breaker point system, and an engine oil cooler was standard equipment. Maximum power was 150 hp at 6600 rpm, with 130 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm.
The 2000GT was the first Japanese car to have four-wheel disc brakes, solid discs front and rear, 11.0 and 10.5 inches respectively. Genuine magnesium wheels were used, with center locks that were tightened and loosened with a removable "spinner." Original equipment tires were Dunlop SP41 radials, 165HR15, tall 78-series tires.
The interior, though designed with American drivers in mind, was snug and had only two seats. Befitting Yamaha's piano-making business, the dash and console had beautifully finished rosewood panels. Instrumentation was complete with a 160-mph speedometer and a 9000-rpm tachometer, plus coolant and oil temperature, oil pressure, ammeter, and fuel level gauges. A novel feature was a signal-seeking radio.
But how did it go? Quite well, actually. Its $6,750 list price was not far below the $7,000 asked for a Porsche 911S, incredible for a Japanese car. But the 2000GT wasn't far off in performance, with a quarter mile time of 16.6 seconds (per "Road & Track"), compared with the 15.7 seconds for the 911S. Not bad, considering the 2000GT was trimmed as a luxury sports car and weighed 2,480-lbs curb weight. It was remarkable enough that the Toyota, a Japanese car, would be compared with the German sports car icon.
Yet Porsche continued to flourish, and with the much less expensive 240Z, Nissan apparently stole the ground prepared by Toyota. Toyota's partner, Yamaha, summed it up best: The "2000GT sent out the message that such a high-performance car would be made solely by Japanese hands, and brought new confidence to Japanese automakers that would inspire their eventual leap into world markets."
Between 1967 and 1970 Toyota built only 335 2000GT coupes and two "James Bond" roadsters for the movie "You Only Live Twice," of which a reported 62 cars, including nine single-cam models, came to the United States. With such low volume, and a price of almost $7,000 apiece, Toyota surely lost money on every 2000GT it made.
The low-volume coupe is a piece of automotive legend, which is exactly why choosing to use a 2000GT as a platform for an electric conversion strikes us equal parts blasphemous and awesome. But that's exactly what Japan's Crazy Car Project has done.
The engineers behind the exercise ditched the standard 2.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine in favor of a 161-horsepower electric motor. A 35kWh lithium-ion battery provides the system with power, and the hood has been covered with photovoltaic cells to help keep the car going. Likewise, the back glass is covered in a transparent solar panel. All told, the system can propel the vehicle to around 124 mph.
Inside, the 2000GT SEV features a modernized interior with plenty of tech-laden gadgets. The vehicle was built in cooperation with Toyota and debuted at the 2012 Tokyo Auto Salon.
When the deal went sour with Nissan, Yamaha approached Toyota and the 2000GT was designed by Satoru Nozaki.Although Toyota eventually built the 2000GT, it was Nissan which originally contracted Yamaha and stylist Albrecht Goertz in 1963 to create a two seat sports car. Backing out after the initial prototype, Yamaha approached Toyota.