In 1966, the James Bond movie producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided that the next 007 film was to be You Only Live Twice (instead of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Even though a lot of the original Fleming novel would be eliminated, the film was to be set and filmed mainly in Japan. Little did they know what they were in for.
The media frenzy that was going on in Japan has been widely discussed among Bond fans and shall not be the topic of this article. When speaking of You Only Live Twice, people think of Japan, Little Nellie, Ken Adam’s hollowed out-volcano and Donald Pleasence’s iconic Ernst Stavro Blofeld. But there also was a true gem of a Bond car involved: the Toyota 2000GT. Learn more about this unique vehicle and it’s history.
In 1963, Toyota had started in several lower categories at the Japanese Grand Prix and succeeded in all of them. Execs decided that Toyota needed to build a real sports car. Not easy for a company who had never done something like this, and in a country where nobody had done this before.
By that time, Japanese cars weren’t exactly to the world what they are nowadays: they were still something exotic. Toyota wanted to build that car to show the world that they were serious car manufacturers who really understood their job. And above all, they were desperate to succeed on the American market.
In May 1964, a small special unit was formed under the leadership of Jiro Kawano to develop what was then called the 280A. They knew that Nissan was working on a similar project, so there was no time to lose. Principal design and development had to be done by the end of the year. In December 1964, a first 1:5 scale model of the car was ready.
Reports on the 2000GT often state that the main design was done by Count Albrecht Goertz, an American based designer of German origin, who had also designed BMW’s 507 and 503 coupés. This is not true. Goertz had been working for Yamaha and a few other Japanese companies at that time, and Yamaha worked with Nissan on the A550X, Nissan’s own sports car project. But the Nissan-Yamaha team split up at the end of ’64 due to several differences between both companies, which originated in earlier projects. The A550X prototypes disappeared and were never to be seen again. A few years later, Nissan would develop the Datsun 240 ZG from these studies.
Yamaha changed sides and approached Toyota to work with them instead. They had built racing motorcycles and were eager to use their knowledge on cars and wanted to develop an engine for the 2000GT. Additionally, Yamaha also had skilled people who were experienced with body work. A contract was signed in January 1965. Most of the design had been done by that time, and even Count Goertz himself has stated on many occasions that he was not involved in the Toyota project at all. All 2000GT design sketches were signed by Saturo Nozaki, one of their own designers who had studied in California.
After the principal development was finished, Toyota would pull out most of their people to let Yamaha work on their own and build the first prototypes. By the time serial production was about to start, Toyota’s business boomed massively, and the company faced a lack of capacity in their own factories. It turned out that Yamaha would eventually have to produce the serial cars, as well. It’s completely unusual that not a single 1:1 scale model was built, so when Yamaha delivered the first prototype 280A/I to Toyota in summer 1965, this was in fact the first incarnation of a 2000GT in full size and glory.
While the 280A/I was undergoing a series of tests, the Yamaha crew hurried to build a second prototype for the presentation at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 1965, where it would become the beauty queen of the show. It must have been a few months after this event that Bond producer Cubby Broccoli saw pictures of the car in a magazine.
The earliest reports on “Japan’s answer to the E-Type” in the “western” world date from February 1966, and it is very likely that Cubby read an article in British ‘Car’ magazine (Australian ‘Wheels’ from the same month would be a bit far fetched and American ‘AutoTopics’ from July 1966 appeared too late to match the timeframe). Eon Productions did not underestimate the Japanese market and subsequently aimed at including lots of local flavour elements into You Only Live Twice, and one of those was to be this car, a worthy successor to the Aston Martin from Goldfinger and Thunderball.
It seems that getting the deal done was only a matter of a few phone calls: Toyota was very happy to provide the car, as “Zero-Zero” (how they call 007 over there) was extremely popular in Japan (something that crew and producers had to learn the hard way to the full extent) and the marketing effects were supposed to be tremendous. As previously mentioned, Toyota was aiming on the international market, seeing the Jaguar E-Type as their main rival. Eon ordered two cars for the movie production, one right hand and one left hand drive, both in white. As Yamaha had built some more prototypes by that time, Toyota decided to let Eon have two of the 280A/II models.
The movie’s production was soon facing problems: actor Sean Connery, at over 6 feet tall, could not get into that car, as it was designed to Japanese height standards. Also, there were several shots planned showing the interior of the car, especially the cockpit and the gadgetry behind the seats, and those could not be properly done with a closed car. The crew tried to transform the car into a convertible but the results were not satisfying. The job had to be done by Toyota themselves, as quick as possible.
As those first two cars Eon received were Coupé versions, they couldn’t even be used for the promotional tour, so they were stored in Eon’s car park. The right hand drive MF10-10008 was bought for £1000 by Bond Production Designer and Art Director Syd Cain in July 1968. He owned it until 1971, then sold it to Viscount Raynham for £1800, who sold it back to Japan for £35.000 in 1995. The second Coupe, left hand drive, which had a Webasto sunroof fitted by the film crew, was first sold to William Attwell, then went to Sheffield collector Mel Farrar in 1976 and finally back to Japan, too, in 1995 – it was the last UK-based 2000GT.
Toyota had never thought of a “Spider” version of the car, but their project manager Jiro Kawano let them know that, for movie purposes only, something like that could be built in a short range of time. Toshiro Okada, interior designer of the car, came up with several solutions and presented them to the movie producers who were already in Tokyo at that time. Among those solutions, there was also a Targa version, but as this still caused camera problems, the decision for the completely open Spider version was finally made.
For 2 weeks, people worked hard day and night in a Toyopet service centre in Tsunashima near Yokohama to get the modifications done. The front part of the car, up to the windshield, remained as it was, the rear section (except for lights and bumpers) had to be rebuilt completely. The original body of the car was built stiff enough to, with a little support from the chassis, remain usable and in shape even with the roof cut off. But the car was not a real convertible car. Everything that can be seen in the movie that would lead to this conclusion was made up. There was no folding roof or a hard top. The movie cars also did not have any side windows, and the wire-type wheels had only been used on the prototypes, equipped with Dunlop SP41 tyres. Apart from that, and of course from the gadgetry, everything was serial standard.
Bond: “I love you.”
Aki: “I have a car nearby.”
When the cars were finally ready for use, Eon was facing another problem: Aikiko Wakabayashi, who played Aki, could not drive a car! But this time, a quick solution was found: the driving would be done by Toyota test drivers Hiroshi Fushida and Tomohiko Tsutsumi. The cars were used from July to October 1966 on 14 different locations in Japan. Several blocks were closed for an early morning shooting on Tokyo’s famous ‘Ginza’ street, but those scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, much to the disappointment of the Toyota bosses. They were also unhappy about the fact that in the final film, the car had a total screen presence of only 6 minutes in three different scenes.
The car was equipped with several communications gadgeds by Sony, which included a small closed-circuit colour TV receiver with VCR unit in the glove compartment as well as cameras behind the license plates, a two-way radio, a voice-controlled tape recorder and a Hi-Fi receiver – this was absolute top-notch high-technology in 1966.
Interestingly, there are some scenes in which the equipment is nowhere to be seen, even though it should be there. Apparently a genuine blooper: the rest of the interior also looks nothing like it should, the scenes were obviously shot in a completely different car. The Corgi scale model version of the car additionally had four rocket launchers in the boot. If this was an invention by Corgi, or if it was probably planned for the movie at an early stage remains unclear.
After shooting was finished, the cars were used for promotional touring. The history and whereabouts of both vehicles are a bit unclear. In true Bond tradition, there is a good portion of speculation about that. Two convertibles were built for the movie, both in white. But there are promotional shots of 2000GT Spiders in white, grey and blue (the latter inscribed “Used by 007 in ‘You Only Live Twice‘”). Obviously, the cars were repainted several times. A white car which was displayed at the Geneva Motor Show is said to be the same car as the grey one – the one that was used for the Japan shooting.
According to Toyota sources, this car was wrecked in 1970. And this is the point where speculation starts to run wild: there are rumours that the company who should have done the wrecking hid the car instead of doing their job and sold it for a large sum of money to a collector, maybe even to a Toyota exec, for his private collection. The second car, which was used for the interior shooting in Pinewood is said to have disappeared in an English private collection. The whole situation is very opaque and it is very difficult to say which car is which, as both have no chassis number, because they were built from prototypes.
In 1977, one of the two original Spiders was discovered in Hawaii, bought by Toyota and brought back to Japan. It is highly likely (but not confirmed) that this is the same car that is said to have been located in Mozambique for some time, then was brought to South Africa to be shipped to an unknown foreign destination. This car was carefully restored by Toyota and is now on display at the Toyota Museum in Tokyo. It is the museum’s most valued car, and Toyota won’t sell it for any amount of money.
Bond car collector Peter Nelson and ‘Cars of the Stars’ museum owner had tried to buy it for his exhibition. When he learned that there was no way to get his hands on an original car, he decided to build a replica, based on a serial 2000GT Coupé. Nelson started in 1995 and put four years of work and a good amount of money into this, travelled to Japan and even contacted Eon Productions in order to obtain the best possible result – and he was successful, as many people still believe it to be an original movie car. And this replica actually has some originality to it: as Nelson had contacted Eon, the Bond people were aware of his project. One day, a huge parcel arrived at Nelson’s place. Impressed by the effort, Michael G. Wilson had decided to let him have the original control panel with the TV screen from behind the seats to build it into the car. Apart from this one, several other 2000GT Coupés have been transformed into convertibles by their respective owners.
At 2.38 Million Yen, about double the amount of a Japanese high class limousine, the car was the most expensive Japanese car of its time. Retail price in Switzerland was 33,000 Swiss Francs, U.S. price started at $6,800 and later rose to $7,200, which was more than a Porsche 911 or Jaguar E-Type at that time. Unfortunately, new U.S. safety regulations required further modifications which would have led to an even higher price, an estimated $9,500.
Toyota had no choice but to pull the plug: In 1970, the 2000GT was discontinued. 351 cars were built (including racing and movie cars), 150 of which were exported to various countries. In the past few years, it has turned out that a three-digit number of them has survived all around the world (some 20 years ago, experts had estimated the amount of existing ones at roughly a dozen). If available at all, a Toyota 2000GT (Coupé version, of course) in perfect condition currently sells for no less than 300,000 Euros. Prices are likely to rise further.
Technical Specifications Toyota 2000GT
• Model: MF-10
• Time of production: 09/1967 – 10/1970
• Total number of cars built: 351
• Overall length: 4175 mm (164.4 “)
• Overall width: 1600 mm (63 “)
• Overall heigth: 1160 mm (45.6 “)
• Weight: 1120 kilo (2469.2 lbs)
• Tires: Dunlop SP41, 165 HR 15
• Engine: 3M – Liquid-cooled 4-stroke,
6 cylinder, 12 valve DOHC
• Body/frame: steel backbone frame with
welded semi-unit aluminium body
• Engine location: Front, longitudinally mounted
• Displacement: 1.988 liter (121.3 cu in)
• Compression ratio: 8.4:1
• Fuel feed: 3 Solex 40 PHH Carburetors
• Induction/carburation: Naturally Aspirated
• Gearbox: 5 speed Manual
• Suspension: unequal-length A-arms,coil springs,
tube shocks, anti-roll bar
• Power: 150 bhp / 112 KW at 6600 rpm
• Torque: 175 Nm / 129 ft lbs at 5000 rpm
• Top speed: 220 km/h (137 mph)
• 0-100 km/h acceleration: 9.0 s
• 0-60 mph acceleration: 10.1 s
This article was originally written and published on CommanderBond.net in November 2005. It was lost in a site upgrade and has been restored, revised and republished in August 2010.