Ever since Farago inaugurated the Fantasy Garage with the RUF RT12, you all have been clamoring for specific cars. "Where's the 250 GTO? (right here) Where's the E-type? (right here) Where's the
Tumbler E39 M5?" (right here) And of course, "Where's the Toyota 2000GT?" As we grind down to the 50-car wire please be assured that there are certain no-brainer entries that will be put up to a vote. This being Japan Week, what better time than the present to (possibly) induct Japan's first supercar, the aforementioned Toyota 2000GT? Exactly, none.
When it debuted at the Tokyo Auto Show in 1965, Toyota's 2000GT set the world's view of Japan on its head. Before then, we knew that Japan liked to build cars, but the bulk of them (hell, all of them) left motoring enthusiasts asleep at the wheel. Most of the designs were heavily influenced (or stolen outright) by other car makers (see Subaru) and even those that were wholly original, were just barely above farm equipment in both driving dynamics and purpose. The 2000GT was a samurai sword to the face of that particular line of thought. Just 20 years after their shattering defeat in WW2, Japan was now showing the world a sports car that could take on the best Europe could offer in terms of both performance and sepuku-inducing good looks.
However, Toyota didn't do it alone. In fact, Toyota was hardly responsible for the 2000GT at all. The bulk of the heavy lifting was done by motorbike and piano maker Yamaha. Nissan was also planning a swift GT car and teamed with Yamaha to build it. The latter brought in German designer Albrecht Goertz (BMW 507 anyone?) to skin the car. We can only imagine how effing hot that collaboration would have been, but sadly the project was killed in 1964. Though an altered version did resurface a decade later as the 240Z. Luckily, Toyota invited Yamaha to help them build their own svelte GT, Using a design penned by Satoru Nozaki, the two firms agreed to build the project codenamed 280A.
From day one the plan was to beat the E-type. Jaguar had set the world on fire in 1961 with the Geneva reveal of its sexy phallus mit 4 wheels. It had the racing heritage, the power, the technology and the looks that absolutely slaughtered. However, the Japanese being the Japanese, took one look and determined that they could do it better. How do you improve upon perfection? Borrow a page (or three) from Colin Chapman. The 2000GT was to be lighter, smaller, more nimble and some will argue better looking. Damn hot, regardless. More importantly, the joint Toyota/Yamaha team looked at a wide range of sporty cars including the E-type, Porsche 911 and Lotus Elan. Ultimately they decided that the Elan's backbone chassis was the spot from which to pitch their tent.
Compared to the E-Type, the 2000GT is shorter, narrower and way lower. In fact, the car is only 45 inches tall. The pop up headlights were actually a result of a California law that required headlights be at least 2 feet from the ground. Those giant Cisitalia 202-inspired lights on the nose are just driving lights (though in the JDM only Sport 800 they function as the headlights). Like the Elan, the 2000GT was light, barely hitting the 2500 pound mark. It was also quite technically advanced for the time, and especially for a Japanese car. All four corners were independent of each other and featured unequal-length control arms. The steering was rack-and-pinion. The 2000GT was also the first Japanese car to feature 4-wheel disks and a limited slip differential.
The engine was a rodded version of the 2.0-liter inline-6 from the Crown sedan. Think of it as a mini-version of Jag's 3.8-liter straight-6 (they did). Yamaha fabricated an aluminum head complete with hemispherical chambers. They then fitted two chain-driven overhead camshafts. Feeding the mill were three twin-throat Mikuni-Solex carburetors. This setup produced 150 horses. While not exactly screaming (especially by today's standards), this was more than enough power to make the 2000GT the fastest car ever from Japan. Its 130 mph top speed was more than twice as fast as most other cars on the island nation. For those still not convinced, subbing in a set of Webbers quickly boosted the power to well over 200 hp.
Only 351 2000GTs were ever built (though some claim as few as 337). One side effect of the super low production numbers (less than say the Enzo) is that each car was hand made. From the engine to the body to the gorgeous interior to the hand etched, "leaded fuel only" on the standard racing fuel cap, the customer was getting a truly bespoke product. Sadly this was reflected in the price, which in 1967 was $1,000 more than the faster and more comfortable E-type (about $6,800). I still remember when Acura was launched my old man saying, "$20,000 for a Japanese car? Are they nuts?" And that was in the late-80s. Back in the mid-60s, Toyota had a huge mountain to climb.
Rest assured, it was worth every yen. Fully aware that part of the E-type's mystique was its racing heritage, Toyota began racing (and winning with) the 2000GT. In 1966 a 2000GT came in third in the Japanese Grand Prix. Another won the Fuji 24-hour event in 1967. Carroll Shelby even raced a pair of 2000GTs in SCCA competition. More importantly, the 2000GT set several FIA 1500 - 2000 cc class speed and 72-hour endurance records prompting Porsche to field the 911R specifically to beat Toyota.
But performance is hardly the reason we're nominating the 2000GT for the Fantasy Garage. As with most inhabitants, just bloody look at it. Cynics will say the shape is nothing more than a shrunken E-type, but they and there hard hearts are missing both the point and the glorious purity of one of the world's greatest ever designs. In fact, if you look long enough, you might even notice the starting point for the Ferrari Daytona (just add in a sprinkle of Datsun Z). The nearly bumper-less rear is frankly perfect, the swooping sides as sensual as those of any car you can think of while the front end is lusty,powerful and still able to wow us more than 40 years on. Want to make it a Bond car? Just hack off the top. Good on you, Toyota. Happy voting.
(Thanks to Harumph for the awesome pics — and Bumbeck for the equally righteous gallery shots)
[The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage appears every Wednesday. Readers vote the cars in or out. The idea is that we'll have 50 cars in our Fantasy Garage, the world's greatest mechanic and endless wads of cash. Would you like to nominate a car for the Fantasy Garage? Write firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Fantasy."]
The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage, So Far:
RUF RT12 | 1978 Aston Martin V8 Vantage | Honda 1300 Coupe 9 | 1931 Daimler Double Six 50 Corsica Drophead Coupe | Ferrari 288 GTO | Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 | 1970 Buick GSX 455 | First Generation BMW M Coupe | Bugatti Veyron 16.4 | Ford GT | Citroen SM | Porsche 928 | Jensen FF | DeTomaso Vallelunga | Audi Quattro S1 | Buick GNX | Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R | Honorary Fantasy Garager: The LS1 Powered Rotus | Lamborghini LM002 | Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe | Ferrari 250 GTO | Bentley Speed Six | Talbot-Lago T150C SS Figoni et Falaschi Raindrop/Teardrop Coupe | Porsche 917 | Audi RS4 Avant || Lamborghini Miura | Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 | BMW E39 M5 | Jaguar E-type | Mercedes-Benz 300 SL | Dodge Charger/Challenger R/T