How Yamaha Helped Develop Japan’s First Ever Supercar


Summary

  • Yamaha and Toyota engineers collaborated to design the 1969 Toyota 2000GT, Japan’s first supercar.
  • The 2000GT was built by hand at Yamaha’s facility, showcasing Toyota’s technical prowess.
  • The 2000GT set world records and achieved racing success, but its high production costs limited its sales, making it a rare and valuable collectible today.


In the early 1960s, Japan’s recovery from the devastation of World War II was in full swing. However, the country’s revived automotive industry had an unfair reputation for building cheap, disposable offerings. Japanese automakers weren’t known for producing exciting performance cars; to be fair, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for sports cars or motorsport among the people. The 1963 and 1964 Japanese Grand Prix changed Japan, infusing the country with a fanatic love for speed.

Automakers scrambled to capitalize on the people’s new-found obsession and demonstrate that they could produce sports cars capable of competing with the world’s best. Nissan, in collaboration with Yamaha, developed a prototype for a world-class sports car before Nissan abandoned the project. Yamaha, already a motorcycle racing powerhouse, was all too happy to offer the prototype to Toyota, culminating in the production of Japan’s first-ever supercar, the 1969 Toyota 2000GT.

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In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from various manufacturer websites and other authoritative sources, including Hemmings, Toyota Automobile Museum, and classic.com.


The Toyota 2000GT Was Designed By A Special Team Of Yamaha And Toyota Engineers

An advantage for Toyota in the race to develop Japan’s first supercar was that Yamaha, with the input of famed German designer Albrecht von Goertz, had done most of the design work. In the autumn of 1964, Toyota and Yamaha convened a special team to complete the 2000GT’s development.

The 2000GT Was Built By Hand At Yamaha’s Facility

Part of the 2000GT’s purpose was to show off Toyota’s technical prowess. Therefore, the company pushed the envelope, incorporating exotic materials and dimensions hitherto unseen in its mainstream offerings. As such, the 2000GT couldn’t be developed or assembled on Toyota’s production lines. The elite team handling the 2000GT project (codenamed ‘280A’) worked out of Yamaha’s Iwata facility. Led by Jiro Kino, the team’s plan was to build a world-class Gran Turismo car. They made every 2000GT, including the prototype, by hand.

Toyota Unveiled The 2000GT At the Tokyo Motor Show in October 1965

Toyota and Yamaha moved at breakneck speed, producing the first 2000GT prototype in August 1965, about a year after the car’s development began. The second prototype debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 1965. The aluminum-bodied 2000GT understandably caused a stir.

Clearly influenced by the ‘coke-bottle’ vehicle designs, lead designer Satoru Nozaki gave the car a long hood, narrow waist, short overhangs, fastback-esque roof, and muscular front fenders. The 2000GT had a unique headlight layout consisting of two exposed headlights mounted in the front bumper and two retractable headlamps, which came up when needed.

Toyota mounted the rear lights on metal frames rather than on the car’s body. In 1969, the automaker revised the 2000GT’s exterior, reducing the diameter of the lower headlamps, reshaping the front turn signals, and resizing the rear turn signals.

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Yamaha And Toyota Developed An Inline-Six Engine For The 2000GT

1968 Toyota 2000GT engine
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To outperform competitor cars from Europe and the United States, the 2000GT needed a reliable and potent power unit. Toyota based the GT’s mill on the second-generation Toyota Crown’s 2.0-liter inline-six engine.

The 2000GT Had A Top Speed Of 136 MPH

Yamaha modified the Crown’s inline-six engine to produce more grunt. The automaker incorporated a DOHC head and three Mikuni carburetors, increasing output to 150 horsepower and 130 pound-feet. The mill paired with a five-speed manual gearbox with overdrive that routed power to the rear wheels. Several 2000GTs featured a 2.3-liter inline-six churning out 140 Japanese ponies and 148 pound-feet of twist. In 1969, Toyota introduced an optional three-speed slushbox for the 2000GT.

Performance Specifications

Engine

Naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline-six

Horsepower

150 horsepower

Torque

130 pound-feet

Transmission

Five-speed manual

Driveline

RWD

0-60 MPH

8.6 seconds

Top Speed

136 MPH

(Specs: Toyota)

The 2000GT Set World Records At The Yatabe High-Speed Testing Course

Before Toyota started selling the 2000GT, it set out to prove that it had built a fast and reliable GT car. To do so, it entered the 2000GT in endurance races and speed trials. Success in motorsport would give the Toyota GT credibility and raise anticipation for the nameplate’s release.

Toyota entered a 2000GT tuned by Tosco (now Toyota Racing Development) in the 1966 Speed Trials at Yatabe High-Speed Testing Course. Despite facing extreme weather conditions, the 2000GT averaged 129 MPH around the course’s banked oval. The 2000GT set three world records and thirteen international records for endurance and speed, proving it could compete with the best in the world.

The 2000GT not only featured a powerful engine but also a sophisticated suspension system. Double wishbones on all corners facilitated stability and handling, while disc brakes behind all wheels provided stopping power. The vehicle’s tires straddled magnesium alloy wheels unique to the 2000GT.

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A Carroll Shelby-Led Team Successfully Raced The 2000GT

The 2000GT was a force to be reckoned with in Japan’s circuit racing scene. It placed third at the 1966 Japanese Grand Prix, then a sports car race, and won the Suzuka 1,000-kilometer race. To test the GT’s capabilities against potential showroom rivals like the Porsche 911, Toyota entered the car in the United States’ SCCA competition.

The Toyota 2000GT Was Quite Successful In Its One Year As An SCCA Racer

Toyota initially approached Carroll Shelby to spearhead the automaker’s expansion into the United States market. After Lee Iaccoca convinced him that Japanese vehicles would fail in America, Shelby turned down Toyota’s offer to head the automaker’s dealership in Texas. Shelby passed the opportunity to Tom Friedkin, who enjoyed great success selling Toyotas.

Rather than sell Toyotas, Shelby, who had great success racing cars like the ultra-rare 1955 Ferrari 410, decided to race them. Working with a $500,000 budget, Shelby lowered the 2000GT’s ride eight and fitted the three cars he was given with custom magnesium wheels. Despite initially struggling to coax more power from the 2000GT’s Yamaha-built engine, Shelby eventually drew around 200 horsepower from the mill.

Shelby’s 2000GTs beat the Triumph TR250s but were unable to triumph over the more potent Porsche 911s. Still, third and fourth place were good first-season results. With further development, the 2000GT probably could have beaten the 911. However, Toyota withdrew from SCCA racing as the automaker’s success on track failed to improve sales.

A Convertible Version Of The 2000GT Appeared In A James Bond Film

The 2000GT that appeared in You Only Live Twice belonged to Japan’s intelligence service and was driven by a woman named Aki. Toyota had to remove the 2000GT’s roof so the 6’2’’ Sean Connery could fit in the car. Therefore, the automaker made two convertibles 2000GTs for filming. Other modifications to the convertible included a lower ride height and a removable acrylic windshield.

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You Need Around $1,100,000 To Buy A 1969 Toyota 2000GT

1967 Toyota 2000GT classic JDM
Toyota

The Toyota 2000GT was a brilliant and beautiful car. However, it was a sales failure, partly because it cost more than its illustrious competitors.

Toyota Built 337 Road-Going 2000GTs

Toyota failed to sell many 2000GTs because the car cost more than most of its competitors, including the Porsche 911, Chevrolet Corvette, and Jaguar E-Type. High production and development costs forced Toyota to slap a comparatively high sticker price on the 2000GT. The automaker initially planned to build 1,000 units; by the end of production in 1970, Toyota had only produced 339 road-going examples.

The Average Cost of A 1969 Toyota 2000GT is $1,100,000

Despite being a sales failure, the Toyota 2000GT is one of the iconic cars of the 1960s. Its value has skyrocketed, with classic.com stating that the average price of a 2000GT is around $1,100,000. Special 2000GTs, like the three tuned by Thomas Shelby, sell for as high as $2.5 million.



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