In 1968, Toyota was rapidly gaining an excellent reputation for building high quality small cars with attractively low pricing. There was nothing revolutionary about Toyotas, just surprising refinement and unexpectedly thoughtful details for the price classes in which the cars competed. The bulk of Toyota sales went to the economy Corona, priced at $1,790 ($13,070 adjusted). The most expensive model available in the U.S. was the Crown, which at $2,765 ($20,189 adjusted) was priced in-line with the Chevrolet Chevelle. Given the brand’s menu of basic low-priced fare, it was quite a shock when Toyota sent over an expensive sports car–the 2000GT–aiming at the Jaguar and Porsche. Car and Driver worked hard to get their hands on one to test–did they see Toyota’s GT as an anomaly, or the start of the something potentially very interesting from the Land of the Rising Sun?
Without a doubt, there was a lot to love about the 2000GT. As Toyota had done with its volume products, the sports car boasted high quality and attention to detail. Plus the 2000GT offered sophisticated engineering in keeping with the world’s best sports cars at the time, along with thoughtful features and surprisingly good ride quality for a high performance coupe. Car and Driver was quick to praise it as a great first attempt at a world-class sports car.
Not that it was perfect, however: flaws included a difficult shifter (despite being a 5-speed), tricky throttle and 4-wheel disc brakes that were good but not outstanding. The biggest issue was interior room, or lack thereof–the 2000GT could not comfortably accommodate a driver over 6′ tall, limiting its appeal outside of Japan. Pricing was also not as keen as it could have been–the Japanese upstart cost more than its established sports car rivals. The 2000GT cost $7,230 ($52,792 adjusted), while the Jaguar XKE Coupe went for $5,559 ($40,591 adjusted) and the Porsche 911L Coupe sold for $6,790 ($49,579 adjusted).
In the end, the Toyota 2000GT wound up being a mere footnote in the market. With minimal sales, the GT was soon withdrawn while Toyota focused on rapidly expanding its core business, satisfied in having shown the world its capability to produce a great product in any segment in which the company chose to compete. In that regard, the 2000GT was arguably the first Lexus, with its unexpected amalgamation of attributes like performance, convenience features and ride comfort–copying various characteristics from the best examples in the world to serve up an answer uniquely suited to addressing market needs. Plus, with Toyota being Toyota, they were careful to learn from mistakes and listen to existing and potential customers. So the next time they entered the high-end segment with Lexus in 1989, they were much more aggressive with pricing to dramatically undercut the established players and upend the market. While the GT may have been too small for Americans, it hinted at Toyota’s potential to be bigger and better than anything the world could imagine in 1968.