Journal: Japanese Spies Found in the United States

Japanese Spies Found in the United States

By Petrolicious Productions
October 29, 2013

As Japan struggled to find its voice in the 1960s Europe and America were in full swing, the later practically dominating the performance community while creating cult followings across the globe. Everybody wanted a Jaguar E-Type, a Chevrolet Corvette and, of course, nearly any Ferrari. But who would want a Toyota or even Mazda?

Both companies had been known for developing economical, efficient working machines built for the commoner or the contractor. Nothing, up until this point had been created to inspire their constituents to remain within the brand and love their cars. That was until both companies had decided to swing for the fences.

Toyota 2000GT

Known internally as project #280A, the 2000GT was Toyota’s first real skunkworks concept project. Originally conceived by designer, Albrecht Graf Goertz (famous for his BMW 507 design) for Nissan (who abandoned the project), the 2000GT was a design that nearly found its way to the trash can. Luckily, Yamaha would take the design to Toyota who ultimately saw the project through to completion.

Debuted in 1965 at the Tokyo Motor Show, the 2000GT was received with rave reviews. After shelling a few out to the world’s media, nearly every journalist would report to their constituents their new found respect and desire for the sultry GT. One reporter was famously quoted as saying the 2000GT as “the best sports car you’d never heard of.” What propelled the 2000GT further into cult classic fame was an appearance by its topless brother in the 1967 James Bond film, You Only Live Twice.

Toyota would only produce a total of 351 cars, with only 53 left-hand drive models making their way to the United States. The cars were priced roughly $2000 more than a Corvette and a Porsche during that time. And while the car was wildly popular amongst the general population the company had a hard time justifying long term production for the cars price.

One originally imported U.S. model recently left the Don Davis collection for $1.15-million dollars at an RM Auction in April 2013.

Mazda Cosmo Sport 110

The inspirational cues of Ferrari and Jaguar ooze from the first rotary-powered car on the planet. Designer Heiji Kobayashi wanted to place Mazda in the history books for creating a car not of conventional Japanese practices.

Debuted in 1964, a year before the Toyota 2000GT, the Mazda Cosmo was unlike anything anybody had ever seen from a Japanese company. Design cues from the Pininfarina penned Ferrari Superfast can be found from the headlights to the front fenders. The rear, however, took on more flare thanks to inspiration derived from afterburner tail lights of early 60s Ford Thunderbirds.

Eighty pre-production models would be created to educate dealers, customers and even Mazda themselves about their new experiment into performance vehicles with a totally new type of motor. A grand total of 1519 would be created during the car’s lifespan––this includes Series I and Series II models combined.

Now a cult favorite, the rotary engine was a drastic leap in engine technology. If you’re unfamiliar with how the engine works, we’d suggest following this link. If you do know how it works you’ll know that earlier version did come with their fair share quirks.

This wouldn’t keep Mazda off the raceways of the world though. Mazda took the Cosmo 110S to the world famous Nurburgring in Germany to compete in the most grueling automotive sport of the day––the 84-hour Marathon de la Route. Two, mostly stock, cars were entered. Both would run in fourth and fifth place for a vast majority of the race. Unfortunately, one car would not finish due to axel damage in the 82nd hour, while the other would complete the race finishing in fourth place. This would be the only time Mazda would compete with the car, but its safe to say their point was made.

Photography by Otis Blank for Petrolicious

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Greg Ritter
Greg Ritter(@quattrogreg)
8 years ago

Psssssttt… The Mazda wasn’t the first rotary powered car, the NSU Wankel Spider was 🙂 the Mazda was the first to have two rotors for the rotary engine the NSU only used one.

Erik Tomlinson
Erik Tomlinson(@fb_120400543)
8 years ago

“If you’re unfamiliar with how the engine works, we’d suggest following this link.”

This isn’t actually linked to anything. Perhaps you meant to link to this Wikipedia page?

Also, these cars are absolutely beautiful. Great article.

Shervin Nakhjavani
Shervin Nakhjavani(@fb_510065242)
8 years ago

I love the fact that despite their obvious Japanese heritage, the Cosmo’s license plate reads, “The Spirit of America.”

JanMichael Franklin
JanMichael Franklin(@jmfranklin)
8 years ago

I’m really glad that you guys are giving respect and attention to these two classics! I hope there are a couple of cool videos to go along with this article!

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle(@mosler)
8 years ago

I was never a fan of the color white but after reading this article and seeing these two beauties on the screen im starting to have second thoughts on that. I may not be the biggest japanese car fan in the world but i would definitely have these two in my dream car collection

8 years ago

I grew up in Japan back in 70’s and 80’s, and my neighbor had 2000GT parked in his drive way. I thought it was the second coolest thing ever. He also had the first coolest car parked next to it, which was Toyota Sports 800 (, oh I envied him. As for the Mazda, one of original Ultra-man, the team used Cosmo. It looked really futuristic to my eye. And it still does.

I just want to mention, that there’s one car, sort of unsung hero to me, that nobody seems to care about from the similar time. Isuzu 117 Coupe. My dad was a huge fan of this car, I grew up with it, my sister learned to drive in it, and kept it in our household till my parents decided to sell it a couple of years ago.