By Steve Laser and Nahoko Osuka reporting from Nagakute, Japan
What’s the most famous Toyota of all time? Some might say it’s the Corolla, a model with staying power that’s become the world’s best-selling car. Yet when it comes to celebrity status, exclusivity and market value, the Toyota 2000GT sports car takes the cake.
“Would you like to sit here?” Mr. Nunogaki, Director of the Toyota Automobile Museum, asks our editor, as he stands by the passenger’s seat of the “James Bond” 2000GT roadster.
This year the 2000GT celebrates the 50th anniversary since it went on sale in very limited numbers. To document this major milestone, we revisited the fabulous Toyota Automobile Museum in Nagakute, a Toyota Motor Corporation cultural facility and one of our favorite car museums.
In this video, we visit five 2000GTs at the Toyota Automobile Museum including the famous “Bond Car” roadster. (video © CarNichiWa.com)
The museum’s current collection includes five 2000GTs. Some are on public display in the three-story main building while others are tucked away in the museum’s private indoor storage facility. While 2000GTs have been selling at independent auctions for more than $1 million a copy, the museum also has one of the rarest and perhaps most valuable Toyotas in existence: the “James Bond” 2000GT roadster used in the epic spy thriller, “You Only Live Twice.”
Your editor gets a chance to “live twice” (two thumbs up) as he pays a second visit to the Bond car at the Toyota Museum in Japan.
Thanks to Naoaki Nunogaki, Toyota Automobile Museum Director, and Shinji Hamada, Deputy Director, we were allowed to revisit the Bond car. This occasion was even more special because the Director invited our editor to sit inside the car. While the driver’s seat of any sports car is usually the best seat in the house, the passenger’s seat in this car has special significance.
This 2000GT roadster prototype was crafted in 1966 especially for the 1967 James Bond film, “You Only Live Twice.”
The passenger’s seat is where Connery sat during filming for the movie while Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) sat in the driver’s seat. (Stunt drivers handled the high-speed scenes.) As the story goes, the 2000GT hardtop was a snug fit for Connery, so Toyota had two roadsters built from prototype cars in 1966 for the movie production. One was used for filming in Japan while the other was sent to London for studio filming.
The 2000GT roadster at the Toyota Museum is the genuine article. Yet it remains a mystery (that perhaps only James Bond could solve) whether this car was used for location photography in Japan or studio scenes in London. The second roadster’s whereabouts is unknown.
Under the hood of the Bond roadster (above) is the 2000GT’s DOHC inline-6, 1,988 cc engine rated at 150 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 18.0 kg-m torque at 5,000 rpm.
We also had a chance to look under the hood. Like most of the cars in the museum, the 2000GT is kept in running condition and used occasionally for special events. The engine compartment with its sparkling inline-6 cylinder twin-cam engine was so clean that one could eat off it. Actually, it’s possible to “eat” a 2000GT at the museum. (We’ll visit the gift shop a little later in this story.)
Your editor captured this view of the cockpit before sliding into the passenger’s seat. The sky’s the limit as far as headroom goes since a convertible top was never fashioned for the movie car.
At about 5-feet 10-inches tall, your editor (considerably shorter than Bond) enjoyed the “max headroom” feeling inside this incredibly rare 2000GT. The car was fabricated for the movie production from a prototype coupe donor car. The convertible “boot” mounted behind the driver’s seat is just for looks. Special props used in the movie, including a small TV screen, are not present in this car.
Be sure to watch our video for your editor’s “once-in-a-lifetime” view from inside this amazing 2000GT.
While Toyota had already established a reputation for building sturdy and reliable passenger cars and light trucks, it caused a sensation at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show when a prototype of the 2000GT was displayed. The next year, in a brilliant play of product placement, it received international acclaim during the production of “You Only Live Twice.” The 007 film was released in theaters starting in June 1967.
Meanwhile the 2000GT entered limited serial production starting in spring 1967 thanks to Toyota’s partnership with Yamaha Motor Co. who built the cars. A small number of cars were exported to the U.S. and Europe during the brief three-year model run.
The 2000GT was developed with the goal of creating a world-class sports car. Toyota says the 2000GT “astonished the world by entering a speed trial sanctioned by the International Automobile Federation and setting three world speed records and 13 international records.”
Two other examples of the 2000GT in the museum’s vault during our visit include a replica of the land speed record car (above) dressed in signature yellow and green livery and a 1969 production model that wears slightly different front styling that debuted that year prior to the series finale in 1970.
Before production ended, the 2000GT received a minor model change with a smaller grille and inset lights as shown on this 1969 model parked in the Toyota Museum’s vault.
With only 337 production models made, 2000GTs rarely change hands. When they do, those sold at independent auctions have passed the $1 million mark for a single car. The Bond roadster is “priceless” and likely the most valuable vintage Toyota in existence.
Original 2000GT publications in the museum’s collection include a repair manual, parts catalog, sales manual, advertisements and newspaper clippings (above).
Media, scholars and researchers can take solace in the fact that the Toyota Automobile Museum in Nagakute has an extensive collection of rare 2000GT publications in its library along with automotive books, magazines and historical photos of other Toyota models and the history of automobiles in Japan.
New Displays at the Toyota Museum
In this video, Mr. Nunogaki takes us on a tour of new displays in the museum’s third floor. We also visit the Annex, a Special Collections and Archives room, the new Cars & Books Café and witness a demo run outside the museum. (video © CarNichiWa.com)
Since its opening in 1989, the Toyota Automobile Museum has presented the history of the automobile from the beginning with many different makes and models of cars. The second floor of the main building was revamped last year, covering the dawn of the automobile age at the end of the 19th century up to 1950.
During our visit we spotted a 1967 2000GT coupe on display in the first-floor lobby of the museum parked next to a 1947 MG TC.
The museum changed its third-floor displays earlier this year. While this floor was previously reserved for Japanese car brands, it now features 67 vehicles from Japanese, American and European automakers from the early 1950s to the present displayed in five zones.
Visitors to the museum have a chance to see two iconic Toyota sports cars together in this display, a 1968 2000GT and 1965 Sports 800.
Before launching the 2000GT, Toyota introduced a smaller and more affordable sporty car called the Sports 800 in 1965. It borrowed components from Toyota’s Publica economy car including a 2-cylinder air-cooled engine.
We completed our quest to visit all five of the 2000GT models at the museum for the 50th anniversary with this 1968 coupe spotted on the third floor.
While the 2000GT had a brief three-year model run, its spirit lives on in models that followed including the Celica, Supra, mid-engine MR2, exotic Lexus LFA and today’s Toyota 86.
This area, called Zone 9, features “new starts” in America, Europe and Japan in the late 1950s and early ’60s with vehicles that can be compared side-by-side.
We’ve been regular visitors to the Toyota Automobile Museum for the last 24 years. Just like Tokyo Disneyland, we keep returning because there’s always something new to see.
European cars from this era featured remarkably creative and distinctive styling that still makes us smile. The red Messerschmitt appears to be having a discussion with the light blue BMW Isetta.
The lineup of vintage European cars shown above includes (left to right) a Citroën 2CV, 1955 Messerschmitt, 1959 BMW Isetta, Fiat 500, 1959 Mini and 1959 Jaguar Mark 2.
We’re glad to see the museum’s 1960 Corvair Monza make its way from the museum’s “vault” to the remodeled public display on the third floor.
Your editor has a soft spot for the Chevrolet Corvair because it was his first car decades ago. The museum gave its own Corvair a new place of honor parked next to a first-generation Honda Civic on the third floor.
To help celebrate the Corolla’s 50th anniversary, the museum has a special display where guests can stand behind a full-size cutout and say “cheese.” (Mr. Nunogaki gives us a big “thumbs-up” in the above photo and also in our museum tour video.)
More Lexus models have been added to the third-floor display to join the LFA that we saw on our previous visit. There’s a 1990 LS 400 and a 2000 RX 300. During our tour, we discovered that Mr. Nunogaki was the chief designer of the first generation Lexus RX.
This cool Toyota Hilux Surf (called the 4Runner in the U.S.) has been added to the third-floor display.
While the long-running Land Cruiser has already been recognized by the museum, another popular Toyota SUV has joined the party. The Hilux Surf is now on display along with the popular Estima family minivan, also known as the Previa.
Mr. Nunogaki pointed out that a Honda Insight has joined the first-generation Toyota Prius in the museum’s hybrid and EV display area.
“Towards a Sustainable Future, Diversification of Power Supplies” is the theme of the last new zone added to the third floor. Here, five vehicles are on display, including a Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Toyota fuel cell concept car.
Updates to the Museum’s Annex Building
The Annex Building, a separate structure connected to the main building by an elevated walkway, has revamped part of its displays. Annex also houses the museum’s Gift Shop plus the new Cars & Books Café.
This looks like a Corona hardtop, but it’s actually a separate model sold in 1967 called the 1600GT.
While few could buy a 2000GT, perhaps the next best choice in 1967 was the Toyota 1600GT. It offered a 1.6-liter DOHC engine and 5-speeed manual gearbox plus sporty features shared with the 2000GT like a woodgrain steering wheel, shift knob and unique front bucket seats.
This 1973 Celica Liftback looks great without the extra-large U.S.-spec bumpers of the era. While the 2000GT was out of production, Toyota continued the name as a model of the Celica. Note the “GT 2000” badges on the rear fascia of the car above.
Mr. Nunogaki invited our editor to watch a demo run of the museum’s 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen replica, known as the first production automobile to run on gasoline.
The Toyota Automobile Museum is a great place for visitors of all ages to become immersed in automotive history and culture. Recognizing that automotive industries in many countries have been closely intertwined with one another throughout the course of history, the museum holds demonstration runs of vehicles from its collection and also participates in community activities.
We said earlier that it’s possible to “eat” a 2000GT at the museum. These tasty cookies on sale in the Gift Shop are made in the forms of different vintage museum cars.
The best way to conclude a visit to the Toyota Automobile Museum is to browse the array of automotive-related items in the Gift Shop. During our visit we purchased a couple of 2000GT T-shirts to add to our collection at home.
Mr. Nunogaki was happy to show us the new Cars & Books Café. We learned that the floor was renovated using cedar timber obtained through forest thinning.
Joining the museum’s restaurant is the new Cars & Books Café. It’s a great place to sit, relax, sip a coffee or latte and borrow a book or two from the display racks.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 2000GT made this visit extra special. We plan to continue our 24-year tradition of visiting the Toyota Automobile Museum the next time we’re in Nagoya.
For more information, including operating hours, tours, admission prices and special events, visit the Toyota Automobile Museum website.
The Toyota Automobile Museum is located at 41-100 Yokomichi, Nagakute City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan
CarNichiWa.com thanks the staff of the Toyota Automobile Museum for providing us with media passes and full access to the facilities so we could bring you this story.
Story, photos and videos copyright © 2017 CarNichiWa.com