Japan’s First Supercar Wouldn’t Have Happened Without Yamaha. Here’s Why


Summary

  • The Toyota 2000GT is Japan’s first supercar, winning the title over the Nissan Skyline GT-R due to its superior technology and design.
  • Yamaha played a crucial role in the development of the 2000GT, collaborating with Toyota to craft its body panels and tuning its engine for optimal performance.
  • Despite its racing success and a feature in a James Bond film, the 2000GT faced challenges in sales due to its high production costs and negative perceptions of Japanese automotive products. However, it is now highly sought-after and holds the record for the priciest Japanese car sold at auction.



Despite producing the likes of the Nissan GT-R, Lexus LFA, and Acura NSX, Japan’s supercar lineage pales in comparison to offerings from European countries. Perhaps things would be different had Japan’s first supercar become a sales success. Two cars claim the title of Japan’s first supercar: the first-gen Nissan Skyline GT-R and the Toyota 2000GT. Supporters of the Skyline GT-R allege that the Nissan deserves the crown due to its racing pedigree.


Their opponents use 2000GT’s technology, build quality, speed, and looks to justify their position. Both cars are brilliant, but with all due respect to the GT-R, the 2000GT wins this fight without breaking a sweat. Interestingly, Nissan could have had the privilege of building the first Japanese supercar had it honored its partnership with Yamaha. The company ultimately helped Toyota build the 2000GT. Here’s why Japan’s first supercar wouldn’t have happened without Yamaha.

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Yamaha Used Boat-Making Techniques To Craft The Toyota 2000GT’s Body


Yamaha began collaborating with vehicle manufacturers in the late 1950s and early 1960s following failed attempts to branch into automaking. In the early 60s, it began working with Nissan on a coupe version of the Fairlady. Yamaha produced a prototype that Nissan rejected.

Toyota Also Rejected Yamaha’s A550X Sports Coupe Prototype

Following Nissan’s dismissal of the A550X sports coupe prototype, Yamaha offered it to Toyota, a company looking to capitalize on Japan’s new-found appreciation for motorsport. Toyota was impressed by the A550X, but it turned down Yamaha’s offer. The automaker instead asked Yamaha to assist with a project internally known as the MF10, which would later become the 2000GT.


Toyota handled the car’s design and overall layout. The Albrecht von Goertz-designed A550X partly inspired the 2000GT. Satoru Nozaki, Toyota’s design chief, ditched the angular style of the A550X, imbuing the 2000GT with curvaceous body panels. He fitted the GT car with covered headlights on both sides of the grille and pop-up headlamps that satisfied American laws for minimum height of the front lamps.


Muscular front fenders and a long hood gave way to a narrow waist, a raked windshield, and a fastback roof. The rear featured a quartet of circular lamps mounted on metal frames and centrally mounted twin exhausts. The car lay on an X-frame chassis and double wishbones with coil springs on all corners. It was about a foot shorter than the E-Type, two-and-a-half inches lower, and two inches narrower.

Yamaha’s Technicians Hand Crafted The 2000GT’s Body Panels

After Toyota ironed out the 2000GT’s design, Yamaha’s technicians crafted wood grids for the body panels and drew full-size diagrams. They relied on their boat-making prowess to hand-craft the 2000GT’s fiberglass trunk lid and hood. Yamaha artisans also shaped the car’s aluminum body panels by hand.


Furthermore, they used woodworking skills honed while building wooden grand pianos to finish the 2000GT’s rosewood interior. They used advanced techniques to protect the wooden steering wheel, dashboard, and gearshift knob from cracking and splitting when exposed to hot summer temperatures. The Yamaha artisans also used innovative techniques when casting the 2000GT’s magnesium wheels.

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The 2000GT Used A Yamaha-Tuned Inline-Six Engine

1968 Toyota 2000GT engine
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Yamaha was heavily involved in the development of the 2000GT’s engine. It was tasked with turning the Toyota Crown’s meek inline-six into a mill worthy of powering the 2000GT.

Yamaha Raised Power Output By Fitting A Twin-Cam Head And Three Carburetors

Yamaha sourced 150 horsepower from the Crown’s 2.0-liter inline-six engine by fitting an aluminum alloy, DOHC cylinder head, and three Mikuni carburetors. The power unit delivered 130 pound-feet to the rear axle through a five-speed manual gearbox (Toyota made a three-speed auto available in 1969). Yamaha and Toyota mounted the mill between the A-pillar and the front axle, giving the car a marginal rear weight bias, a large dash-to-axle ratio, and short front overhangs.


The two companies completed the first prototype in August 1965, less than a year after the project commenced. Toyota paraded a second prototype at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show, where it aroused the automotive world. Before putting it into production, however, the automaker set about proving that it was as fast as it looked.

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)

A 2000GT Tuned By Tosco Broke Several World Speed Records


Tosco, the 1960s equivalent of Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR), painted a Toyota 2000GT green and yellow and entered it into a speed and endurance race at the Yatabe Test Track. Despite the typhoon weather conditions, the 2000GT set 13 international records and broke three world records. The Toyota supercar also won the 24 Hours of Fuji and the Suzuka 1000 Kilometers. The automaker destroyed the yellow and green 2000GT; the one in the Toyota Museum is a near-identical replica.

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Toyota Sold The 2000GT From The 1967 To The 1970 Model Years


Toyota 2000GT production started in May 1967. Toyota introduced a minor update in ‘69, increasing the 2000GT’s overall height, reducing the size of the lower headlights, and revising the front and front turn signals.

High Production Costs Raised The 2000GT’s Sticker Price

  • By the time Toyota discontinued the 2000GT in 1970, it had built 351 examples, 62 of which were sold in America.
  • Toyota’s plan to produce 1,000 units wasn’t feasible, as each 2000GT was built by a small team by hand.
  • Toyota made a maximum of 14 2000GTs every month.


Furthermore, demand for the sports car was low, partly because of its high sticker price. High production costs forced Toyota to slap a high MSRP on the 2000GT. It cost more than, the Jaguar E-Type, the Porsche 911 and the Chevrolet Corvette. Furthermore, Japanese automotive products were unfairly maligned as unreliable, and perhaps, memories of Pearl Harbor still plagued American minds.

Racing Success And Hollywood Stardom Failed To Turn The 2000GT’s Fortunes

Three Toyota 2000GTs raced by a Carroll Shelby-led team were successful in their first year as SCCA racers, beating the Triumph TR250s but losing to the powerful Porsche 911s. With further development, the 2000GTs might have usurped the 911s. However, Toyota pulled the cars from the competition as racing success failed to improve sales.


An invaluable marketing opportunity provided by James Bond also failed to turn the 2000GT’s fortunes. In the 007 film You Only Live Twice, Japanese actress Akiko Wakabayashi drove a convertible 2000GT. Toyota removed the sports coupe’s roof to accommodate the tall Sean Connery. One of the two convertibles made for the film is in Toyota’s museum.

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The 2000GT Is A Highly Sought-After Collectible

1967 Toyota 2000GT classic JDM
Toyota


Of the 351 2000GTs built, only 339 were road-going versions, making the 2000GT a very rare car. Therefore, the unique 2000GT has become a highly coveted collectible.

The 2000GT Holds The Record For the Priciest Japanese Car Sold At Auction

In early March 2022, a 2000GT sold for $2.5 million, making it the priciest Japanese car sold at auction. (The 2000GT might not hold that title for long as prices for the Lexus LFA, another Toyota supercar partly developed by Yamaha, are rising.) It fetched such a high price because it was the first 2000GT with a serial number and was one of the three examples raced by Carroll Shelby for Toyota in the United States. Standard 2000GT’s cost around $1.05 million, as per classic.com.



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