Saturday, October 13, 2012

Toyota 2000GT Owner Interview

I've been a fan of the site for many years.  It's a treasure trove of information on Japan's first exotic sports car, and the kind of site you can lose yourself in for hours and not notice time pass.  The owner and editor, Luc, operates the site from Switzerland.  It's in French, but is easily translated with built-in browser tools for us typical monolingual Americans.  Luc's 2000GT has been in the family for more than forty years - below is my interview with him.

ANF:  You inherited your 2000GT from your parents, could you please tell us a bit more about that?

Luc:  My father bought it in 1971 from the importer.  This man was a sports cars dealer in Geneva and he imported three 2000GT's to Switzerland.  He sold two of them and kept the third as an executive car.  When he went bankrupt he sold it to my father.  In 1999, when my father passed away, he left me the 2000GT because he knew I was nuts about cars.

ANF:  Were your parents enthusiasts?

Luc:  My parents were both enthusiasts.  They started first with a Messerschmidt, my mother got a motorbike licence for it.  During all their life they drifted through various cars at once.  My father had a BMW 700, 3.0CS, 635CSi, Simca 1000 and 1200S, Celica 1600, Subaru Justy, XT, Mazda Miata.  My mother had a DKW, Ford Taunus, Opel Reckord 2.0 Sprint, Alfa Romeo 2000GT, Honda Civic VTEC, Mazda RX-7 first and turbo generations… there was always four or five cars at home, and when I started driving, it was up to seven or eight.  I myself have owned cars from Mazda, Peugeot, Renault, BMW, Subaru, Opel and Hyundai.

Luc's car in April of 1972

ANF:  What are your childhood memories of the car?

Luc:  I was five years old when the 2000GT arrived at the house.  My father was using it as a daily driver during nice weather, and sometimes he brought me to school in it.  I was very proud but I remember I was too small to even see the road over the dashboard.  When young, my favourite cars were Lamborghini, Lotus or Corvette, but the 2000GT was very appealing and comments from other people were always outstanding.

ANF:  Are there any other 2000GT's in Switzerland?

Luc:  Yes, from the three officially imported in Switzerland in 1968, mine is the only one remaining but there are at least two others in private collections.  One is on display in the museum of the main Toyota importer.  Another one is going to be in a private Toyota Museum soon to be open.

a more recent shot

ANF:  As I understand it, it's quite difficult to be a car owner in Switzerland - are there any
particular difficulties related to owning such an old, rare machine?

Luc:  No, there are many car collectors in my country, as there are many rich people who can afford it.  In my case, I have no particular difficulty except paying insurance!  But it’s not a myth, the periodical technical inspection is very strict.  There are two ways to register an old car - you can register it as you would a normal car with inspection every 3 years, or you can register it as a veteran with inspection every five or six years, but then the car must be in perfect state, and I mean like new!  A particularity of Swiss regulation is that the insurance (and the plates) belong to the owner, not the car - this means when you change your car, you keep the number plate.  You can have up to two cars using the same insurance and plate, so we play a game of one plate for two cars with interchangeable supports.  Of course we can drive only one at a time and we need a private parking to keep the second car when it is without plates.  We pay insurance for the most expensive of both cars, and my Previa costs more than the 2000GT anyway.

ANF:  What's it like to drive?

Luc:  I wish you can ride in a 2000GT once in your life.  The ride is very enjoyable and leaves nobody indifferent.  To drive it, you must be no taller than me (180 cm) or you won’t fit.  The big steering wheel falls right between my knees, touching them.  Even if the steering column is adjustable, space around the body is very limited.  You are in contact with the car’s interior all around, roof top is 2 cm over my head.  It’s cosy but comfortable and practical.  The 2000GT is a GT, meaning it’s made for the road, and that's where it's in its element.  Driving on the highway at 200 km/h holding the wheel with one finger is no problem, it goes straight, with perfect handling.  The first ever rack and pinion steering from Toyota works perfectly.  The double wishbone suspension is soft, with long travel when compared to modern sports cars.  The windscreen is so curved, driving with the side windows open at high speed does not increase turbulence in the cockpit.  One must be careful as the brakes are from another era!  Another thing you enjoy all the time in the 2000GT is the fantastic sound of the exhaust. It’s much more luxurious than a Porsche, you feel a lot more secure than in a Jag and finish is far better from what you find in a 'Vette.

2000GT veneers were made by artisans normally employed by Yamaha's grand piano division

ANF:  How frequently do you drive it?  What is the furthest you've driven it?

Luc:  I used to drive it once every month or so, but since I renovated the engine, it’s awaiting a new exhaust before I can go back to inspection.  I went to northern Holland for a Japanese car meeting in 2006, and it was a real pleasure to drive long distance.  The luggage space is very limited so you must travel light, especially when you bring a mate with you.

ANF:  Is it reliable, as one would expect from a Toyota?  Or is it true to its exotic roots,
needing constant attention?

Luc:  It’s no exception to the legendary Toyota reliability, and considering its age, there has been little to fix.  Hand constructed by Yamaha, the body and engine are made like works of art.  The three double-body Webers need adjustment sometimes.  With age some electrical components like alternator or radiator fan have been serviced, but no big trouble.  I can say there is no defect in manufacturing at all.

ANF:  How are parts sourced?

Luc:  Finding parts is a problem when you need it.  Some parts are available in USA, but you must look to Japan to for others.  I went to Japan for that purpose and found it very difficult to purchase any parts, the market is in the hand of very few people, and they are not willing to sell to a foreigner easily.  Some parts have been remade in Japan but their price is very high - for example the magnesium rims have been remade in aluminium but they go for sale on auction and get very expensive.  One day Toyota Switzerland contacted my father to say they would be sending a stockpile of various parts back to Japan, and offered him a last chance to buy them.  So I have a little stock for clutch, head lamps and so on.  When I had to change the brake calipers, it was impossible to find original Sumitomo parts made under Dunlop licence, so I substituted similar original stainless steel Dunlop calipers.  Even for the air filter, I can’t find a replacement in the size of the original one.

ANF:  Is it difficult to work on?

Luc:  Working on my car is easy as any normal car.  The engine bay is a bit narrow but everything is reachable.  Adjusting the double switch ignition is not simple but a friend of mine managed to fix it.

all photos are of Luc's personal car

ANF:  How do people react to it?  Do they know what it is or do they assume it's a Jaguar or Ferrari?

Luc:  Usually people don’t know what it is, they think it’s a unique car or a prototype.  When I say it’s a Toyota, they then ask me if it’s a new model.  It always brings a big interest in car connoisseurs, as it’s often the first time they've see one in the metal.  Because of its shape and noise, it’s not a discrete vehicle - one must be prepared to make new acquaintances at every stop.  Women are seduced by its style and Bond heritage.

ANF:  The market for classic Japanese cars in the US has grown substantially in the past
few years, with 2000GT values rising well into six-digit territory.  How is the Japanese
classic market in Europe?

Luc:  I've heard interest is growing on the other side of the Atlantic.  The younger generation is more open-minded than the old collectors who only believe in well known classic cars.  Nowadays a collector, an amateur or a museum curator will show interest in any kind of historically important car, regardless of heritage.  This is true for all kinds of cars but I think it’s more obvious for Japanese cars that were totally ignored in the past.  Eastern European cars have shown a similar increase in interest over the past decade or two, but the market is still not as strong as it is for Japanese classics.  There are so few 2000GT's for sale, and the market is international, with Americans playing with the prices and Japanese who want to repatriate their heritage.

ANF:  How does it handle modern traffic?

Luc:  It’s definitely a small car but visibility is good, considering you’re sitting very low.  In traffic, you should be aware of others because they don’t see you.  Bumpers are virtually non-existent, and you must anticipate braking distance and keep an eye on every other vehicle in traffic.  Another eye must pay attention to the temperature gauge so as not to overheat the engine.  The clutch is heavy and the precise gearbox changes demand your constant attention.  It was OK in the traffic of the 60’s or 70’s, but today it’s not the car to bring downtown - you’ll get frustrated to stay in first gear most of the time.

ANF:  I recently read that the Japanese are snapping up rare examples of their automotive
heritage from overseas - have you had any offers from Japan to purchase the car?

Luc:  As we discussed before, it’s true the Japanese are looking for nice examples to repatriate.  But maybe you know the Japanese are shy with communication, it’s a very big deal for them to establish contact with western people.  And in the Nippon way, you never ask for something that is not yours, you wait for it to be offered.  So, no, I've never received an offer from Japan.

ANF:  Your website is an exhaustive resource for detailed information on the 2000GT and
seems to be quite a labor of love.  How do you find all your pictures, figures and

Luc:  Because I have a bad memory, I wanted to concentrate all information I can get about the 2000GT to find out easily the right thing when I need it.  I started this website in 1999.  Of course, it was also a way to meet other owners and to inventory all existing 2000GT's.  It was without knowing Japanese people at this time and their lack of enthusiasm about what is happening abroad (in my opinion).

In 2002, Shin Yoshikawa published his reference book that became the bible of the 2000GT.  I contacted him and he was kind enough to allow me to use the material that he collected over the decades to fill up my pages.  I translated the text into French and scanned the pictures, then added a lot more material from my own collection and from other donators.

At the beginning, for the purpose to place the 2000GT in context, I compared the Toyota
to others sports cars of the era like Porsche and Jaguar, but there are many other GT's I
mentioned so I started to make a page for each of them.  As I became more versed in Japanese automotive history I added pages to cover this subject as well.  I made a true investigation as there was no information available in French, and soon got a big interest in all the unknown cars from Japan that I was discovering and documenting.  After a few years it grew to hundreds of pages covering all Japanese makes and their history, including racing and prototypes.

It has grown a lot and the original structure is not used anymore, with many pages only
accessible by through the sitemap.  My eventual wish is to split the site in two, with a website purely dedicated to the 2000GT and another one for all other Japanese cars.

ANF:  Are there any other classic Japanese cars you particularly admire or would like to own?

Luc:  A big classic is the Honda NSX for its conception and its performance; it’s a piece of
automotive history by itself.  For a contemporary and reliable car I would like a Skyline or the new Toyota GT-86.  I really appreciate pre-80’s cars, too - a Nissan Silvia or a Fairlady SR311 will be an elegant choice but are both hard to find.  More reasonably, a Honda S800 is a smart option.

ANF:  If money, availability or other constraints weren't an object, what is your ultimate dream car?

Luc:  If money wasn't a matter, I’d probably buy a lot of cars.  A BMW Z8 or Audi R8 for a daily driver, a Miura to give a change to the 2000GT and maybe a Maybach Exelero to go out in at night.  But you know, a good old Mini Cooper is so much fun!

ANF:  Is there anything I haven't asked that you'd like to add?

Luc:  I'd like to say if I have a special interest in Japanese cars, it’s not only because I own a Toyota, it’s also because information was scarce and I wanted to complete my automotive collection.  I’m an all sportive car nut guy, and I have enough material to make a website about many cars, including the Countach, DeLorean or the Puma GT.

Many thanks to Luc for agreeing to be interviewed and for his thoughtful and thorough answers!

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