The comely-but-expensive Toyota 2000GT presaged an era of fine Japanese sports cars.
It was as good a 2.0-liter sports car as any automaker could offer. Coming from a Japanese manufacturer with no sporting tradition, the Toyota 2000GT was simply astonishing.
Toyota had been building cars for 30 years, but they'd been mundane people-movers of high reliability, little sophistication, and no soul. A world-class Grand Touring automobile would do wonders for its image.
The solution started as a sports-car prototype built by Yamaha for Toyota's rival, Nissan. Heavily involved in the design was Count Albrecht Goertz, who had shaped the BMW 507. When Nissan turned down the prototype, Yamaha sold it to Toyota, which, after some slight changes, unveiled it at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show as the 2000GT. Sales began in 1967.
Outsized driving lights beneath awkward pop-up headlamps distinguished the nose, but the aluminum-bodied two-seat hatchback was otherwise a fresh blend of familiar elements. The steel backbone chassis and independent suspension were inspired by the Lotus Elan. Rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes (the first on a Japanese production car), and magnesium-alloy road wheels were de rigueur in Europe but unheard of in an Asian. Power came from a Yamaha-developed 2.0-liter dohc conversion of the 2.3-liter sohc inline-six from Toyota's big Crown sedan.
The interior had decent room for two American-sized adults, though just 4.8 cubic feet of luggage space. Equipment, however, was luxurious for a sports car of the day: full instrumentation in a rosewood dashboard, a modern heating/ventilating system, self-seeking AM radio, "rally" clock/stopwatch, telescopic steering wheel, and a comprehensive tool kit.
The 2000GT appeared in 1965 with independent suspension, four-wheel discs, and a gritty twincam 2.0-liter four. Just 337 were made.
Low production precluded volume sales at a reasonable price, but the car was the image-maker Toyota desired. Acceleration was very good for the available power, and overall behavior was superb. "When it comes to ride and handling, nobody in his right mind could need or want more in a road vehicle than the 2000GT has to offer," said Road & Track in June 1967. Prototypes did well in Japanese sports-car races, and Carroll Shelby's competition group developed three 2000GTs into 250-hp SCCA C-production winners. For good measure, a couple of convertibles were run off for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Overall, though, the 2000GT was just a bit ahead of its time: The world was not quite ready for a Japanese GT at Jaguar prices.