The Toyota 2000GT is a limited-production, front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seat, hardtop coupé grand tourer designed by Toyota in collaboration with Yamaha. First displayed to the public at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1965, the 2000GT was manufactured under contract by Yamaha between 1967 and 1970. In Japan, it was exclusive to Toyota's Japanese retail sales channel called Toyota Store.
The 2000GT revolutionized the automotive world's view of Japan. The 2000GT demonstrated that Japanese auto manufacturers could produce a sports car to rival those of Europe, in contrast to Japan's image at the time as a producer of imitative and stodgily practical vehicles. Reviewing a pre-production 2000GT in 1967, Road & Track magazine summed up the car as "one of the most exciting and enjoyable cars we've driven", and compared it favorably to the Porsche 911. Today, the 2000GT is seen as the first seriously collectible Japanese car and the first "Japanese supercar". Examples of the 2000GT have sold at auction for as much as US $1,200,000.
Much of the work was done by Yamaha, which in addition to its wide product range of the time also did much work for other Japanese manufacturers. Many credit the German-American designer Albrecht Goertz, a protégé of Raymond Loewy, as inspiration for the car. He had gone to Yamaha in Japan in the early 1960s to develop a two-seater sports car for Nissan. A prototype was built, but Nissan decided eventually not to pursue the project. Yamaha also worked for Toyota, then perceived as the most conservative of the Japanese car manufacturers. Wishing to improve their image, Toyota accepted the proposal, but employed a design from their own designer Satoru Nozaki.
The 2000GT design is widely considered a classic in its own right. Its smoothly flowing bodywork was executed in aluminium and featured pop-up headlights, as well as large plexiglas covered driving lamps on either side of the grille similar to those on the Toyota Sports 800. The design scarcely featured bumpers at all, and the plexiglas driving lamp covers in particular are rather easily damaged. The car was extremely low, just 45.7 in (116 cm) to the highest point of the roof. In 1969, the front was modified slightly, making the driving lamps smaller and changing the shape of the turn signals. The rear turn signals were enlarged at the same time, and some alterations were made to modernise the interior. The last few vehicles were fitted with air conditioning and had automatic transmission as an option. These cars had an additional scoop fitted underneath the grille to supply air to the A/C unit. Two custom open-top models were built for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, but a factory-produced convertible was never offered during the car's production run.
The engine was longitudinally mounted and drove the rear wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. A limited slip differential was fitted, and in a first for a Japanese car, all-round power-assisted disc brakes. The atypical emergency brake gripped the rear disc directly.
Only 351 (regular production cars) of the 2000GT were built, figures comparable to elite Italian supercar production of the day. According to Toyota and Yamaha data, there were 233 MF10s, 109 MF10Ls, and nine MF12Ls. All were actually built by Yamaha; it took two years for production vehicles to emerge. In America, the 2000GT sold for about $6,800, much more than contemporary Porsches and Jaguars. It is believed that no profit was made on the cars despite their high price; they were more concept cars and a demonstration of ability than a true production vehicle. About 60 cars reached North America and the others were similarly thinly spread worldwide. Most 2000GTs were painted either red or white.
Carroll Shelby would also enter a pair of 2000GTs to compete in the SCCA production car races competing in the CP category. Initially Shelby built three cars, including one spare. Although performing well, 1968 was the only season the car competed in the US. Toyota took back one of the cars and rebuilt it into a replica of their record car, which still resides in Japan. The two remaining Shelby cars still reside in the United States.
The 2000GT made its most famous screen appearance in the 1967 James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, most of which was filmed in Japan. Even though the car was never commercially available as a convertible, two were made specially for the film. However, they did not have roofs, just an upholstered hump at the rear of the cabin to simulate a folded top, and therefore were not fully functioning convertibles. Prior to the decision to make fully roofless cars, building the car as a targa was tried, allegedly due to Sean Connery's height not allowing him to fit into the ultra-low coupé version. This retained the hatchback of the original car, but eliminated the rear side windows. However, when the Targa was completed, Connery's head stuck out of the top to such an extent that it was decided it looked too ridiculous and that roofless versions would have to be made if the car was to be featured in the film. The car was mainly driven by his girlfriend Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) in the film.
Although not quite as well known to the general public as later Japanese sports cars like the Nissan Z, the 2000GT is regarded by many collectors as possibly the first highly collectible Japanese car. As of 2010, good examples can reach very high auction prices, though parts availability is a problem. Some combination of interesting provenance (particularly the first and second owners) and cosmetic perfection seems to be the formula for the highest auction values.