Saturday, 12 November 2011

Supercar Weekday - Toyota 2000GT

Written for Jalopnik's gift to Jezebel each night

Think Toyota and you may well think Prius, or Corolla. Toyota have built their reputation on well-made, economical sedans (and nearly threw it away with the whole "Unintended Acceleration" fiasco, but let's not get into that now). The only problem with being known for cars like that is that it earns you quite a mundane image. Back in the 1960s, Toyota decided it didn't want such an image, and wanted to prove that they could not only build an original car, but something that could compete with the world's sports cars. In 1967, they stunned the world with the 2000GT, which was developed in partnership with Yamaha. This, then, is Japan's first 'supercar'.

The first thing that hits you about it is its appearance. The proportions are just-so for a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car, with a swept-back shape, and while some criticize it for looking like the Jaguar E-Type (XKE), I actually - dare I say it - prefer the Toyota at the back, because the tail just looks a little less... pinched. It's also deceptively tiny, with that long hood tricking you into thinking it's somewhat bigger than it is. I actually had the pleasure of seeing one at the Goodwood Festival of Speed (an annual gathering of history's greatest road and racing cars in southern England), and I can personally vouch for this. In fact, it's only 45.7 inches high, so when the 2000GT was used in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, they had to make a special open-top version so Sean Connery could fit in it! I guess good things come in small packages.

Front view. Pop-up headlights FTW.
It can cash the cheques its body writes, too. With a 150 horsepower, 2-litre (or 2000cc, hence the name) Inline-6 engine propelling the light aluminium body, it could keep up with the best of them, being able to hit 135mph in 1967 (and also managing 30mpg, although probably not at the same time). It wasn't just straight lines where it could impress either. Road&Track magazine said at the time that the 2000GT was "one of the most exciting and enjoyable cars we've driven", even comparing it favourably with that ever-present benchmark, the Porsche 911, as Toyota teamed its dynamic abilities with a rosewood veneer dash, auto-seeking radio and plenty of leather, all crammed into quite a small cabin but making it into a luxury GT.

The 2000GT ended up marking a turning point for Japanese cars. It was the first truly desirable car to come out of the nation, and because a mere 351 of them were made (as well as two topless Bond cars, one of which has disappeared), they now trade hands for a lot of money. They traded hands for a lot in the '60s, too, with US prices starting at $6,800, more than any Porsche or Jaguar of the time. Due to high production costs, Toyota didn't really profit on it either, and they made it primarily to make a point and to demonstrate their abilities as a company, which they certainly did, as the 2000GT won a 24-hour endurance race at Fuji Speedway and set several endurance records in a 72-hour test, which made Porsche stand up and pay attention to the Japanese automaker, designing the 911R just to beat them (a bit like the 911 Turbo S and the Nissan GT-R nowadays).

In many ways then, this was a highly successful car. It's easy to argue that they need to make an equivalent now, as their reputation for "beige" cars has come back with a vengence after they slowly killed all their '90s sports cars (Celica, MR2, Supra). But actually, they've already made it. So expensive they don't profit on it? A demonstration of their engineering? Getting the world to take notice and take Japanese sports cars seriously? That's the 2010 Lexus LFA. Unfortunately for them, it doesn't seem to have had quite the same effect, despite being a very impressive car...

Race-prepared Toyota 2000GT

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