Once in a while a car maker really manages to shake things up and launch a model quite unlike anything it has made before – and unlike what anyone expected.

Toyota did just that when it announced the 2000GT. Here was an out and out sports car, with no compromises. Exotic, exciting, expensive. Tantalising...

Making its debut at the 12th Tokyo Motor Show in 1965, the completely new 2000GT was an absolute knockout.

Count Albrecht Goertz was commissioned to style Toyota's new flagship sports car and the result was a taught, muscular shape, with sufficient elegance to mix with the great sports cars of its era. The bodywork was built in lightweight aluminium. Goertz had previously styled the BMW 507 sports car of the 1950s, and after the 2000GT, went on to design the Datsun 240Z - some similarities in the styling of the two Japanese cars are very apparent.

Yamaha was commissioned to build the brilliant 1988cc engine, which would be the heart of this new sports car. The 6-cylinder, double overhead camshaft unit was a jewel. The block began as a Toyota Crown unit, but the rest was bespoke. Fitted with triple carburettors, the engine produced a strong 150bhp at 6600rpm, giving a top speed of 220km/h and vivid acceleration to match. The car dealt with the 0-100km/h test in a flat ten seconds.

The 4-wheel independent suspension had double wishbones front and back. Other features included a 5-speed gearbox, limited slip differential, and Japan's first 4-wheel boosted disc brake setup.

Inside, the car was as sporty as outside. The dashboard with its rosewood instrument panel, featured an impressive, long row of seven gauges - with more below. The wood-rim steering wheel and gearshift knob added to the classic sporty feel.

It's little known today, but Toyota entered the 2000GT in a few competition events, finishing third in the 1966 Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway and winning the Fuji 24-hour Race of 1967. In a 78-hour endurance test, the Toyota 2000GT broke three long-distance international speed records.

In 1968 respected American magazine Road & Track described the 2000GT as "One of the most exciting and enjoyable cars we've driven." in a rave review.

One very special 2000GT was built, a convertible roadster. This car starred in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, but it remained a one-off. It was fitted with wire spoke wheels, where usually the 2000GT had alloy wheels. The in-dash television communication device was more imaginary… but an indication of the future.

Toyota only sold 337 examples of their supercar, with 54 of these going to the United States. The price was quite high, and buyers of exotic sports cars were not used to going to a Toyota dealer for their new toys. Maseratis, E-Type Jaguars and Ferraris weren't sold by companies whose showrooms were full of cheap little economy cars.

Just a handful have ever made it to Australia - remarkably, the car shown at the left still remains with the original buyers, in Adelaide. It's considered the most original example in the world today outside of Toyota's own.

Late in the piece, in 1969 Toyota developed an updated version of the 2000GT. It was identifiable by a more cohesively styled front, with the driving lights and their surrounds reduced to the size of the front air intake. Much better it looked too. The rather clumsy side tail light treatment also got some attention, as did aspects of the interior. These cars were available with automatic transmission and air conditioning as options, and are very rare collectors' pieces today.

The 2000GT served its purpose not in making sales in quantity, but alerting the world to what Toyota could achieve. Today the 2000GT is considered by many to be a true masterpiece and Japan's greatest ever sports car. A 2000GT sells for huge prices whenever a rare example comes onto the market and is snapped up by an astute collector.

When the 2000GT was announced, the motoring world was surprised – but very pleasantly. It was an expensive car, out-pricing the Jaguar E-Type and Porsche 911 considerably. Today, collectors understand the rarity of these cars and their historical significance. In the past few years values have tripled and any good 2000GT commands close to a million dollars.

Above: Incredibly rare updated version identifiable by smaller driving lights.

Above Photos Copyright