A driving experience
In one of his adventures, “You Only Live Twice” (1967), Bond – here: Sean Connery – is never behind the wheel. He is only ever a passenger. Whether this was because the script couldn’t offer him an Aston Martin, or perhaps because he had a “licence to kill” but no Japanese driving licence, escapes us. And yet “You Only Live Twice” made a car famous: the Toyota 2000GT.
We have learned from the story of the first Toyota sports car, the handsome Sports800, that Japanese car manufacturers were forbidden to build anything other than trucks and sedans until the end of the 1950s. The Sports800, built between 1965 and 1969, was Toyota’s first attempt to move in a different direction after the ban was lifted. It cannot be called overly successful, only 3131 Sports800s were built. But Toyota knew that more was possible – and that such a sports car would be good for the image.
But now things are getting mysterious. In contrast to the Sports800, Toyota did not design the new sports car itself, but commissioned Yamaha’s development department. Yes, Yamaha is famous as a motorbike manufacturer, but people tend to forget that the Japanese also have an excellent reputation as an engine manufacturer (and already did back then). But it is astonishing that Yamaha hardly tinkered with the engine, a 2-litre in-line six-cylinder from the Toyota Crown, only giving it two overhead camshafts, which brought the power up to an impressive 150 hp. Nine later examples also had a 2.3-litre engine with the same base; for American needs, a few examples were also fitted with an automatic transmission.
When Toyota presented the 2000GT at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1965, the public was mainly positively surprised; the prototype clearly stole the show from the Sports800, whose series product celebrated its world premiere at the same fair. Although the new sports car was distantly reminiscent of the Jaguar E-Type, there had never been such a beautiful car in Japan before. Who exactly the designer was will probably never be clarified. It is considered certain that Albrecht Graf von Goertz, who became famous as the creator of the BMW 507 presented in 1955, had worked for Yamaha in the early 1960s.
But whether it was a design by Goertz that Yamaha presented to Toyota is unclear – and unlikely. The role of Albrecht Graf von Goertz is a bit obscure anyway, he was also considered the designer of the Datsun 240Z for a long time, although he never had anything to do with this first successful Japanese sports car. In any case, Toyota attributes the design with the unusual folding headlights to one of its own employees, Satoru Nozaki.
When the 2000GT finally came onto the market in 1967, the experts were surprised. The American magazine “Road&Track” compared the Japanese car with the Porsche 911. The chassis with independent front and rear suspension with wishbones and coil springs was miles better than what the Japanese had to offer at that time. The driving performance was excellent, the 2000GT was around 220 km/h fast, shifted via a manual 5-speed gearbox, the Toyota had disc brakes front and rear. Apart from the unusual magnesium rims, there was another small special feature, an “emergency brake” that only acted on the rear wheels – this was perhaps installed especially for James Bond. By today’s standards, the 2000GT is tiny with a length of 4.17 metres and a width of only 1.60 metres; the kerb weight was just over 1100 kilos.
The car was very well received by the press, even though its price of $8800 was more expensive than any Porsche or Jaguar of the time. But more importantly, Toyota’s top management recognised in the 2000GT that design had its place; in 1970, the Celica was launched, finally putting the Toyota brand on the radar of customers outside Japan.
Bond rode in a very special 2000GT in “You Only Live Twice”, one of only two convertibles built. Both came straight from the factory, but were never officially offered. And actually they weren’t really convertibles at all, because they had no roof at all. It is said that these two cars were created because the tall Connery did not fit into the low coupé – the 2000GT is only 1.16 metres high. Toyota first tried a Targa version, but James Bond is said to have had too little space there, too. So they left the roof off altogether.
I can’t quite understand that: Sean Connery is exactly the same length as me, 1.89 metres. And certainly a kilo or two lighter. However, I didn’t have the slightest problem with space in the 2000GT, quite the opposite, I felt extremely comfortable (which could be because I don’t have a Walther PPK to carry around). Unlike James, I was also allowed behind the huge, very thin wooden steering wheel. The in-line six-cylinder comes to life a little sullenly, it takes a few minutes until it runs nice and quiet. But then it runs: already quiet. With that typical sound that only straight six-cylinder engines have. From around 3000 rpm it croons rather hoarsely, that’s nice, beautiful.
And yes, the old man also goes forward well. Admittedly, the 5-speed gearbox is not what we would call crisp today. But after a short time you get used to this agitator. And also to the fact that the steering is more of a directional indicator than a precision instrument. Of course, we don’t really bang the 2000 GT around the bends, but we soon realise: that would be all right, it would take a lot of punishment. But of course you have to respect the age, the beauty – the rarity of the vehicle.
Only 351 examples of the 2000GT were built, all by Yamaha. Of course, these Toyotas are extremely expensive today, probably the most expensive Japanese cars of all; the milliomillion mark has been reached before. The example shown here once belonged to the collection of the Swiss Toyota importer, but has since been sold. No problem, because the collection also owns a second 2000GT.
Photos: Wale Pfäffli/Annette Fischer.