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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

Toyota restores R20m ‘forgotten’ James Bond car

One of the stars, in one-off convertible form, of 1967's You Only Live Twice, the only Solar Red 2000 GT in South Africa that won't be hiding anymore.

The Toyota 2000 GT is not the type of car you would call bewitching or timeless along the lines of the say the Jaguar E-Type.

Elegant and sporty yes, but most likely not pretty. As much as these thoughts and likely utterances where the norm before Toyota showcased the 2000 GT for the first time at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show, the eventual result probably shocked a number of onlookers to the core.

Perception changer

Afterall, Japanese automakers, at the time, were churning out what many considered facsimiles of European or American cars with comparatively tiny four-cylinder engines seemingly incapable of moving, never mind completing the yardstick 0-60 mph (96 km/h) dash in any respectable time.

All this, however, changed in the late ’60s with the 2000 GT being of the forerunners intent on showing not only Japanese prowess, but also an ability to produce a grand tourer worthy of the GT designation.

South Africa's restored Toyota 2000 GT
Only 351 2000 GTs were build between 1965 and 1971.

While it arguably transformed the perceptions of the time, Toyota had no intention of availing its newest creation to the mass market.

In fact, while it initially planned on producing only 337 examples, a total of 351 2000 GTs emerged from the Iwata plant between 1965 and 1971, notwithstanding the one-off convertible used in the 1967 James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, and a few destined for the race track.

Adding to this was the 2000 GT price tag. According to renowned historic car insurance firm Hagerty, the 2000 GT, in 1967, carried a sticker price of $7 150, which made it not only more expensive than muscle cars such as the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Corvette by a considerable margin, but also the E-Type that retailed for just over $5 500.

While branded a failure in the States given its production run versus actual numbers, as is known today, the 2000 GT has become icon that ultimately set the template for present day two-door Toyota models such as the GR86 and Supra.

South Africa's restored Toyota 2000 GT
Nut-and-bolt restoration involved the aluminium body being stripped and redone. Image: Toyota

What to do?

As per the reported brief of then project head, Shoichi Saito, to come up with “perhaps the greatest car in the world”, Toyota South Africa posed a similar challenge in mid-2020 to local firms, Dino’s Classic Restorations and Generation Old School Benoni, to restore one of only three 2000 GTs residing in the country.

Resplendent with the chassis number MF10-10207, the original Thunder Silver painted 2000 GT once belonged to the wife of Toyota South Africa founder and CEO, Dr Albert Wessels, who drive it occasionally as evident by the 32 000 miles (51 499 km) on the odometer.

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Painted Solar Red somewhere during its lifecycle, the other choice of colours being Pegasus White, Bellatrix Yellow, Twilight Turquoise and Atlantis Green, the 2000 GT sat unattended at Toyota HQ with its future being anything certain.

Amidst the still brutal effects of the pandemic, the eventual call was made by Toyota’s Senior Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, Leon Theron, to fully restore MF10-10207 from the ground up.

South Africa's restored Toyota 2000 GT
Painted Solar Red from its original Thunder Silver at some stage, the decision was made to keep the final product red instead of reverting back to the original hue. Image: Toyota.

Tasked with keeping the car as original as possible, the almost 18 month process involved more than a just of series challenges.

A matter of history

While described as being in fairly good condition, modernised practises with ’60s detail retention had to be applied in order to bring the 2000 GT back to life.

This included refurbishing the wooden gear lever and steering wheel, improving various parts without modernisation, retaining the original patina and having to craft the windscreen out of a custom mould that took six months to complete.

Besides sourcing the carburettors for the 2.0-litre straight-six engine from overseas, the rest of the restoration was done locally.

South Africa's restored Toyota 2000 GT
Six metre rosewood dashboard couldn’t be removed during the stripping proses due to its age and fears for cracking.

Touting as being 85% original, MF10-10207 retains not only the original spare wheel it rolled out of the factory with in 1968, but also the audio system that had to be rewired using period methods.

In fact, the only non-original feature is an air-conditioning system that required fabrication of a mount for the compressor inside the engine bay itself.

Red or silver debate

Arguably one of the biggest challenges though was the rosewood dashboard that couldn’t be removed during the stripping process as a result of its age and fears of it cracking or being too brittle.

A subsequent decision was made to leave and restore it as best as possible while the major exterior work continued around it.

South Africa's restored Toyota 2000 GT
Yamaha co-developed 2.0-litre straight-six got refreshed. Image: Toyota

Just a big a decision was whether to keep it Solar Red or repaint it back to its original Thunder Silver.

Although aware of a potential backlash from aficionados regarding the colour not matching the chassis number, it was decided, along with specialist US 2000 GT firm, Maine Line Exotics, to keep the latter whilst also painting the mirror caps Graphite Grey in order to avoid a colour mismatch as chrome items featured on models painted Thunder Silver.

Period performance, still fast today

In addition to using 3D technology to craft the key from, the 2.0-litre straight-six engine has been overhauled from scratch by Kempton Park-based Wessels Motors, yet retains its 1968 appearance as “old-school” tinkering had to be applied in order for it to run.

Co-developed with Yamaha, the 3M unit produced 110kW/175Nm when new, which made the 2000 GT one of the most powerful cars Japan had ever made.

South Africa's restored Toyota 2000 GT
Even the 2000 GT badge got overhauled

Mated to another period novelty, a five-speed manual gearbox, the aluminium headed 24-valve mill whisked the 1 120 kg 2000 GT from 0-100 km/h in a reported ten seconds, but on to a still more acceptable today top speed of 215 km/h.

Aside from being equipped with four corner disc brakes and a rack-and-opinion steering, the 2000 GT also came standard with a limited slip differential, a first for any Japanese car that also made it one of the few cars in the world at that stage to have it.

What’s next?

Worth in the region of between R20 to R40-million, a process Toyota refers to as its Covid-19 baby for obvious reasons, the 2000 GT will make its public debut at next month’s Concours South Africa after debuting to a great deal of mouthing and reluctance to get near it, never mind touch it, at the official media unveiling last week.

The incredible end product of a process riddled with potential death traps, MF10-10207 will be experienced by a select group of media, from behind the wheel, under incredibly strict and controlled conditions next year in what promises to a proverbial life changer.

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