This car was one of the nicer surprises I’ve had this year. The Fiat Abarth, the Renault Gordini and the Mini Cooper all had a Japanese cousin, and I never knew about it until I happened to meet one a couple weeks ago. One big difference is that Toyota did all their specials in-house, so unlike all these snooty European double-barreled sports cars, this Japanese one has a deceptively short moniker. Another difference is in size and prestige, which are both a bit bigger in the Toyota 1600GT’s case.
The basis for the 1600GT is the humble Corona hardtop coupé, launched in 1966. I snapped the one above at the Megaweb History Garage last year. Toyota already had a sports car in their range in the shape of the tiny (but sublime) S800 Targa, in production since 1965, but the mid-‘60s saw an unprecedented proliferation of new models take place. The year 1967 was slated to be Toyota’s most important of the decade: the Japanese firm launched the 2000GT and the Century, two superlative cars to celebrate the 100th birthday of the company’s founder. They also debuted the third generation of the famous Crown that year, but that was probably the marque’s least noteworthy novelty.
In August 1967, somewhat upstaged by all the other major additions in the Toyota range, came the 1600GT. Aside from anything else, this was to be Toyota’s main contender in Japanese stock car racing, against the likes of the Prince Skyline, the Isuzu Bellett GT and the Nissan Bluebird SSS. And as such, the 1600GT was very successful, earning Toyota several podium finishes in the late ‘60s. This is one seriously spiked Corona!
The bodyshell and most of the chassis were straight off the Corona, though the brakes and suspension were beefed up some. The real innovation was in the engine bay, which housed the completely new 9R block – essentially a 4-cyl. version of the 2000GT’s Yamaha-engineered DOHC 6-cyl. Two options were available for the transmission: a 4-speed or a 5-speed, both manual and on the floor. I realize that I already nicknamed the Isuzu Bellett GT “the Japanese Alfa Romeo,” but this is even more deserving of the name.
The car was so fast that the Corona scripts fell off – it’s known in Japan as the Toyota 1600GT plain and simple (or GT-5, if it’s a 5-speed), or by its internal model code, RT55, regardless of the gear count. To emphasize the kinship with the 2000GT, the 1600GT got triangular emblems, both on the grill and the C-pillar, with a checkered motif, along with other small distinguishing touches, such as a dummy air intake on the fenders and those peculiar alloy wheels.
It’s unclear to me how Toyota thought they were going to sell this car, though. It was mostly destined for domestic consumption, though there are rumours of a few having been sold new in Australia and New Zealand. If they did not want to export it more widely, then sales numbers would necessarily be small. And they were: only 2222 were made, the last ones being sold in January 1969. Some consider this car to be a dry run for the Celica, which appeared only two years later – and this time on all major markets.
Judging by my empirical browsing on Google Images (and the brochure), it seems this model-specific yellow was quite a popular choice for this exclusive model. One could also opt for red, white or silver. Not a very expansive (or interesting) colour choice, then. For once, yellow was the best available shade — the others were just too common.
Naturally, the interior of the one I found was impossible to photograph, so here’s what the 1967 brochure can provide. It’s about as different from the antiquated Toyoglide Corona coupé (bottom picture) as it can be – very sporty and very late ‘60s.
I’m still not convinced by the looks of these shovel-nosed Toyotas. They’re ungainly, even in two-door hardtop guise – especially compared to their JDM competitors from Nissan and Isuzu. But I have a lot of respect for them, especially now that I’ve seen one of the more exclusive versions of the breed.
The obvious solution is to look at the 1600GT from the back. Now that’s an attractive car! The rear lights are bigger than on the Corona coupé, which soon adopted them, but they were first seen on the 1600GT; the blacked out rear panel is also specific to this model.
Charismatic though they may be – and valuable, now that they have reached middle age, Renault Gordinis and Mini Coopers are not half as remarkable as this rare Toyota, with its jewel of an engine, its bespoke interior and its ugly mug of a face. Of course, it’s no 2000GT, but it was made for mere mortals, not the fortunate few. It hides its fancy pedigree behind a common Corona façade – the ultimate Z car, with salt and lemon.
Highlight of the week: Prof. Tatra finds and features another Japanese rarity!
I remember reading a road test of one written up in the Melbourne Herald back in 1967, so they obviously had one available to the press, but I never saw one on the road. Mind you, Ken Hougham, the head guy at AMI who assembled Toyotas back then, had a perhaps reputation for bringing in all sorts of hot Toyotas that never appeared on the market here, so maybe that was one of his specials.
Sorry, CC-in-scale doesn’t have one of these. You’d think the Japanese kit makers might have tooled up for it, but no 1600GT. Skylines aplenty, of course, and even Belletts, but no Corona.
Now available in 1/24 scale diecast.
And it’s even in the right colour! I still think it strange that Fujimi or Aoshima hasn’t kitted this (it’s not really Tamiya’s sort of subject). Perhaps Belletts have more of a following in Japan?
Looks like a bunch of used DampRid-type containers under the rear bumper, someone takes their car stewardship seriously.
I’m a whore for all the early performance Toyotas and I love this model in particular. Hardtop, twin cam, Yamaha involvement, GT badges, and 5 speeds. What’s not to like! I do appreciate the Bellet GTs and the 510 SSS but I much prefer the look of the 1600GT.
I drove one a few years ago with a view to buy but it needed more work than I was prepared to put in.
There were 8 or 11 of these sold new in Australia and were around the same price as an Alfa Romeo coupe. Speaking of Alfas the engine sounded just like an Alfa of the period. The current number in Australia is unknown but it is almost certainly less. Some were written off, some have returned to Japan and I was once told one example had been butchered with a Holden six cylinder after the original engine expired. I believe no examples were made in left hand drive. Some may have been sold in South Africa and some RHD Asian markets as well as New Zealand.
The 9R is not a 4 cylinder version of the Crown based 2000GT engine. It is based on the pre existing 3 bearing 4R 1600 OHV engine but with a Yamaha design twin cam head.
The seats and the gearbox on the 5 speed version were the same as the 2000GT. The front brakes was the same disc set-up as per the Corona 1600S sedan and hardtop.
The rear diff was a heaver duty LSD unit and the rear axle was a beefier unit with track rods to assist with location.
The front guards had larger wheel openings to facilitate wider rims and tyres for racing. I’m told the wheel wells front and rear were also larger than the standard hardtop for the same reason. Ironically the production version has the same size rims and tyres as the Corona 1600S. The wheels in the photo are the standard steel wheels with a stylised hubcaps, and not alloys. Exactly the same as fitted to the 1960S. A shame more were not made.
Oh dear, I’ve made much the same comment as you! I wouldn’t have except my attempts kept getting ate, and yours wasn’t visible during that kerfuffle.
I’ve definitely seen one in Melb about 10 years ago, a good but worn white one with ’68 Vic plates. Maybe it was the very one you tried.
I was aware of a white one in Melbourne/Victoria. The one I tried was a red one in rural NSW. Is was drivable and complete but tatty. The potential seller also has another white one in a state of disassembly but with a body in seemingly better condition. This was quite a few years ago.
To be honest if I wanted to try to buy one again I would just import one from Japan as from what I’ve seen, the examples there are always in much better condition. It seems that the local ones are somehow not fully appreciated and not looked after considering their rarity and specification. Or I’d try to find (in Japan, not in Oz as there is probably only one or 2 of them) a RT75 Mk2 GSS hardtop.
The dreary sedan looks like a cardigan with an electric bar radiator stuck to the front, but when it shed some doors and pillars and that grille and affected a jazzy hat, I think it quite transmogrified into a dainty little cutester.
It was indeed sold in Oz, but alas was priced as if it was for sale in Monaco (as well it might, for all I know). The average Aussie, or even the exceptional one, could buy as much top-line Holden as his checkbook could cover and still have change for a nice HMV television set before the price of the Toyota was reached, so by and large, he didn’t. It was nearly twice the price of the pushrod coupe.
I wonder about that power claim. This engine was based on the congested-lung pushrod wheezer in a normal Corona, complete with just three bearings. It did 18.6 for the quarter, and about 100 all up, not bad, but also not 110bhp in 2000-odd lbs either.
Still, one got the gearbox and seats from a 2000GT, and I’m sure the owner of one of those million dollar babies would give a guy good money for either if his car lacked them, so it was one for the canny but very far-sighted investor, I guess. If he lived that long.
Those peculiar alloys, Dr T, must be quite the shocker, as they appear to be entirely concealed behind wheelcaps.
This engine was based on the congested-lung pushrod wheezer in a normal Corona, complete with just three bearings.
In vintage reviews in the US, the 1.9 Corona pushrod engine came in for quite a lot of praise, including its ability to rev to 6,000 rpm. And it was decidedly faster than any of its competition, by a healthy margin.
Three main bearings has no direct effect on an engine’s ability to make power or rev; that was the standard for a very long time.
Australian Coronas all had a 1.6 litre engine, and an aurally-offensive and vibey thing it was, especially compared to their own 1.3 in the Corollas. It was this engine which got the Yamaha-designed head.
You’re right that three bearings doesn’t directly effect revability or power (not that I said it did, mind). It can affect smoothness and ultimate longevity though, especially if flogged up to 6200 rpm on a regular basis. (Even if they did once upon a time get huge power out of supercharged Austin 7 engines – on two bearings!) In any event, the performance just seems short of the specs to me: not wildly, but about 10-15% off.
Slightly off-topic, the three bearing Peugeot 404 XC engines had no more or less power than early (’66-on) five-bearing versions, yet having owned both, it was noticeably coarser-sounding – but definitely used a bit less fuel.
The Australian assembled Coronas were 1.5 litre except for the 1.6 litre on the imported 1600S with twin carburettors.
The 1600S could match the performance of the 1900 version sold on the US, and it had front disc brakes and proper round instruments including a tachometer.
Here, the 1.6 litres came with the RT80 series in around 1970. Other markets also got 1.9 and 2 litres.
The ’69-72 Corona Mark II was a much better looking car. And you could get one in Japan with the 8R-G 1.9L twin cam.
Yes that is the Corona Mk2 GSS hardtop. Like the 1960 GT engine, the 8RG, also known, as the 10R was never fitted to another model.
I love those side view mirrors waaay out at the end of the fenders.
I couldn’t stop laughing at the term “shovel-nose”!
This car is remarkably clean, and it appears to even be dust free, indicating it’s driven, or at least cleaned, regularly.
I seem to remember the “shovel nose” name being used Here in the US, at the time. Though of course we never got such an exciting version, or really any exciting Toyota until the Corolla 1600 … when 1600 cc was big for that class car. I also appreciate that the 5 in the name referred to the actual number of transmission gears. Though today’s low-trim Toyota Tacoma SR5, a moniker once applied to the top of the line pickup, does have a 5 speed in the 4 cylinder version – automatic only. Strictly speaking, the V6 version should be an SR6 as it’s only offered with the 6 speed AT.
It’s a great find and an example I wasn’t even aware existed. And of course in excellent condition, it could itself be in the museum and perhaps should be.
However I just don’t like the styling of this coupe, I’ve never liked the roofline, to me it makes it less than obvious which is the front and which is the rear end.
Terrific find. Sweet little car, although these do of course look a bit stubby from the side view.
“Those peculiar alloy wheels” look to be just plain old wheel covers. And I always understood the engine to be just the Corona 4R engine with a new DOHC cylinder head via Yamaha.
Ugly frontage it may be but it was emulated years later by Lancia for their Beta saloon/sedan models.
The Corona was the first widely exported Toyota model and paved the way for the Corolla three years later.
An Australian motoring magazine suggested that the RT40/50 series Coronas unwittingly contributed to future car design. You have the Beta of course and then any number of cars with rearward sloping front ends S cars gradually became more “aero”.
These Coronas were referred to as arrowlines on Japan.
Beautiful car, pictures and writeup. It’s all the little details on this 1600 GT-5 that make it so tasty to look at: the script fonts, emblems, grille & headlight surround, etc. Just looking at it makes me want to queue up some similar-vintage movies from Japan this weekend. Thanks for this.
You, Sir, are more than a Professor as indicated by others……perhaps the David Attenborough of the Curbside.
An interesting find, well told. And do I spy a column shift on the Curbside red car?
I have a couple of the 1600Gt that I’m restoring in Australia, one yellow and one red, both Gt5.
I bought my GT5 in early 1972 -used it as everyday transport till 1986 then put it to rest for a few years then resprayed it in the early 90s. Not used much these days – not very fast but makes lots of noise.
Hi, I just stumbled onto this blog, dunno how!
I owned 1600GT5 in the early 80’s, bought it in Melbourne, rebuilt the engine and resprayed the body (off white). My father was the chief engineer for Toyota Aust. (AMI) for many years, so I knew what i had. I sold it in circa ’86, went O/S for a decade, and tried to hunt it down again a few years ago to no avail. It wasn’t a ‘nice’ car to drive, like a TE27/37 Levin, or TA23 GT Celica. The engine was full of character, induction/exhaust noise, but it was very harsh over 6000, (3 bearing crank), the transmission was BEAUTIFUL, notchy and precise, the diff was FUN, hang the tail out in the wet only lol. The brakes were crap, and the handling was terrible, diagonal pitch, and oversteer. Looking back on it, although the body was rough, min rust, but alot of filler, it was worth storing, as it deserves the Jap classic status it has now. BTW, as correctly pointed out by others in this blog, the 9R engine was based on the 4R 1600S engine. It had an unusual 1243 firing order, don’t know why. Thanks. 🙂