But the sleek, low-slung two-seater wasn't conceived with the intention of lighting up the sales charts.
The 2000GT's mission was to raise Toyota's global image and profile. "Eiji Toyoda wanted to show that our engineers could do it," says Mitsuo Yamada, now 77, who supervised distribution in this country in the 1960s. "We made it because we wanted to."
Some aspects of the 2000GT's pedigree would be impressive if the car were to debut tomorrow.
At launch in May 1967, the 2000GT had a handmade steel body, a 150-hp double-overhead-cam 2.0-liter engine teamed with a five-speed manual transmission. It featured a strong but compact backbone chassis similar to the layout that British automaker Lotus used on its Elan. That enabled a double-wishbone four-wheel independent suspension.
Toyota used disc brakes on all four corners. The snug interior was outfitted with a pair of bucket seats and a set of chrome-ringed gauges mounted in a beautiful wood instrument panel.
Not only did Toyota want a flashy image car, it needed one.
By the mid-1960s, Toyota had grown to become Japan's No. 1 automaker with its mountain-goat-tough Land Cruisers and unbreakable but dull economy cars. And the company was making major strides in export markets. But Toyota didn't have any kind of sporty vehicle for well-heeled buyers looking for performance and style.
The 2000GT solved that problem. Starting in 1965, prototype versions of the 2000GT captivated crowds at several major international auto shows. In 1967, it appeared as a convertible in a James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice.
The car set speed records and racked up a string of impressive victories on the racetrack against Porsche and other European sports car manufacturers. The 2000GT had a top speed of 130 mph, making it one of the fastest 2.0-liter sports cars of the late 1960s.
The 2000GT's value and stature among collectors and Toyota fans has grown steadily over the last 20 years. Today a clean original or expertly restored 2000GT sells for about $300,000, said Peter Starr, president of Main Line Exotics in Biddeford, Maine. The company has been buying, selling and restoring 2000GTs for more than 30 years.
That price puts the 2000GT in the same league as various Italian exotics, making it the most valuable collectible Toyota and the highest-priced Japanese classic car.