John Simister: Putting a Toyota 2000GT through its paces

08th October 2017
John Simister

As I write this, the Goodwood Breakfast Club's Sushi Sunday would have been just a couple of days away had the car park not suffered so much during the Revival weekend's rain. So, in the absence of real Japanese metal, we'll just have to imagine what might have been there.


Nearly all of it would have been made after the Motor Circuit ceased to hold races the first time round; there aren't many pre-1966 Japanese cars in the UK, especially sports cars. But in 1965, Japan revealed one of the tastiest sports GTs ever made. Would an example of one have made it to Sushi Sunday?

The car of which I speak is the Toyota 2000GT, a deliciously handsome machine which wouldn't be seriously oversold by being called a Japanese E-type. This rare and exotic confection might have stayed barely known to Western car-nuts had an example not had its roof removed, to the great detriment of its rigidity and chassis dynamics, for a starring role in You Only Live Twice.

Its decapitation ensured that James Bond and his girl could be seen more easily on film, and it ensured that a model version took Western toyshops – Britain's, at least – by storm. I still have mine, complete with the four miniature rockets that fire out of its boot. 

A real 2000GT, with roof and the first I had ever seen in the metal, formed the first story I ever wrote for Octane, back in 2003. It belonged to the Louwman Museum in Holland, a treasure trove owned by the Dutch Toyota importer but which also contains lots of other car makes. The GT didn't get out much, so the museum staff were keen that I shouldn't let the engine venture beyond 4,000rpm, just in case of disaster.

That seemed a shame, given that peak power – a vigorous 150bhp – didn't arrive until a very racy 6,600rpm, and even the peak of torque wasn't on tap until 5000. The straight-six engine, with its twin overhead camshafts and three twin-choke Solex 40 PHH carburettors made under licence by Mikuni, was clearly a very sporting motor. It was designed for Toyota by Yamaha; no wonder it was so vigorous.


And, goodness me, those looks. Big foglights flank a low slot of a grille; they'd have been the headlights had not legislation insisted they were higher, which is why a pair of pop-up lights hides higher in the curvy front wings. The bonnet is long, the doors' lower edges curve almost from the bottom of the sills in an arc past the rear wheel arches. Paired round lights terminate the fastback tail. Note the lack of rain gutters (very modern) and the way the rear side windows taper to a point.

The style has sometimes been credited to Albrecht Goertz, shaper of the BMW 507 before the Toyota and the Datsun 240Z after it, but that's because Toyota had the opportunity, not taken, to develop the shape drawn by Goertz for a rival, and canned, Nissan project which had also used Yamaha's technical expertise. In fact, the designer was Toyota's own Satoru Nozaki. 

On my first 2000GT drive, I was accompanied by Hirokazu Koga, Toyota's engineer for 'Europeanisation' of the company's cars and a grade-A car nut. He drove first, and the 4,000rpm limit was instant history as he sensed what was clearly a very fit engine. Then I had a go, sitting low and snug behind the height-adjustable steering wheel (very modern, again), the wood-veneered dashboard, the long bonnet. It got very warm, very quickly (no air-con, very un-modern), but Koga-san thought the temperature very pleasant as the straight-six thrummed its deep, smooth note. The gear change and controls were precise in the way we have grown to expect from Japan, the steering and handling were, well, like that of a smaller E-type.

Six years later, I was at a Toyota press event. A couple of GT86s, modified with factory-sanctioned tuning bits, were ours to hurl around the Parc Motor test track near Barcelona. And, unexpectedly, there was a 2000GT for us to try if we promised to be careful with a car whose value had already travelled halfway to the heavens. It was red, like the Louwman car. Was it the same car? No, I was told, just exactly the same.


The track is a three-dimensional playground of sweeps and straights and long curves. The GT86s were predictably entertaining and entertainingly predictable in equal measure, goading their drivers into drifts, playing the bends. Then I snuck myself into the 2000GT. 'Be gentle, no drifting,' said its minders. I promised.

It was brilliant. Heavier, softer and slower-witted than the GT86s, of course, but barely slower as I kept its momentum flowing. The engine was smoother and more sonorous, too, as you might expect. Soon I was cracking on at a good pace, the Toyota seemingly enjoying the unaccustomed exercise. It seemed to be getting quicker and quicker as the cobwebs and carbon blew away, and I nipped past a timidly-driven GT86 with embarrassing ease.

This did not go unnoticed by the track observers, and the next lap I was called in and gently told off. The mechanics checked the tyres and had a quick glance underneath. Then another: something wasn't right. Off came the left rear wheel, to reveal that the brake hose had been rubbing against the brake disc and would soon have been severed. One more lap and the Toyota 2000GT population, just 351 examples at its height, might have been reduced by one.

Maybe some Shinto god was looking after me; whatever, it was a lucky escape. There would be no more driving the Toyota 2000GT that day. But I consider myself very fortunate to have driven Japan's first serious GT not once in my life, but twice, and to have got to know it well. If only they'd made more of them.

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  • 2000GT

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