Considering the state of Japanese "sports cars" of the mid-1960s, the Toyota 2000GT was a marvel. And even today, the 2000GT can be considered a fine piece of craftsmanship, on city streets and the racetrack — although the car's rarity might keep you from driving it on either.
Walking up to the 2000GT, I can see how some might call it a mild Ferrari Daytona rip-off. But the 2000GT arrived in dealerships even before Leonardo Fioravanti's Daytona concept was shown to the public. Take that, tifosi.
The 2000GT's interior was designed for jockey-sized racers, as this 6-foot-1 American needed a chiropractor when I was finished driving. The dashboard jutted painfully into my knees. My ankles bent at startlingly sharp angles to fit in the footwell and work the pedals. My elbows were in my midsection to handle the steering wheel. My head was tilted at a 45-degree angle to fit under the headliner. No wonder Sean Connery had a chop-top version made for his Japanese stint as 007.
Once contorted in the driver's seat, I peered out through the narrow windshield, over the endless white snout of the hood, and turned the ignition key.
The 2.0-liter inline-six engine burbled to life with a staccato gargle, its idle set deliberately high to avoid stalling because of the car's infrequent use.
Engine supplier Yamaha had modified the tiny inline-six by slapping on three two-barrel carburetors and dual overhead cams. The result: 148 hp and a 7,000-rpm redline. Even in the modern era, that's impressive output for that displacement.
The engine hesitated slightly when goosed at low revs, but it jumped to life and pulled the car quickly ahead. Zero to 60 takes slightly more than eight seconds, which was fast in those days. Today, though, any Camry four-banger can do that.
Then again, a Camry does not plant your butt just inches off the pavement, so the sensation of speed in the 2000GT is more akin to a shifter kart.
The five-speed manual has short throws and narrow gates, but the gearbox expertly guides the driver's hand to avoid mis-shifts. The clutch actuated as soon as the pedal left the firewall. Double clutching was required to not grind the gears when shifting.
The test model I drove had a problematic clutch slave cylinder, which meant the car remained in gear even when the gearshift registered neutral. Popping the clutch pedal a couple of times was a temporary fix, but it affected my willingness to drive the car anywhere near its limit.
By 1967, Toyota had discovered solid disc brakes, but at around-town speeds, the feeling and feedback were little different from those of drum brakes. Given the rarity of the car, I didn't want to press the issue to feel the differences between the two technologies.
The 2000GT has a lightweight aluminum body, a rarity at the time. But because it was weighed down by some interior luxuries, the car feels heavier and not as lithe as I had expected. On the plus side, the double A-arm suspension gave just enough ride comfort to preserve my kidneys for organ donation.
The 2000GT straddles the line between performance and refinement. The dashboard and center console have mahogany inserts. The rear glass has heated wires to defrost it on cool mornings.
When the 2000GT went on sale, the closest comparable car was a Porsche 911. The two sports cars both had little six-cylinder engines, they weighed about the same, and their sticker prices were pretty close. There may be thousands of old 911s still around, but there are only about 40 examples of the 2000GT left in America. That alone makes it a classic.
— Mark Rechtin