(Editor’s note: During the month of January, the ClassicCars.com Journal presents a series of stories related to and perhaps explaining the recent increase in interest in collecting cars produced by Japan-based automakers.)
It may seem to some that collecting Japanese cars is a pretty new part of the hobby, with interest in these cars only going back 5 to7 years or so, and largely due to the cult-like appreciation of the The Fast and the Furious films.
While that might be the case for vehicles such as the Datsun and Nissan Z cars, the Mazda RX-7, and the Toyota Supra, there has been a group of collectors quietly acquiring and appreciating Japanese cars not from the 1970s, ‘80s or ‘90s, but from the 1960s. And while prices for the Zs and 7s and Supras might seem low compared to what American muscle cars demand, these earliest of Japanese collectibles sell for nearly a million dollars.
The cars are the Toyota 2000GT and the Mazda Cosmo Sport 110.
Both cars were designed in the 1960s and one reason they are less familiar than the cars than the Japanese cars that followed is that neither was imported to the US in any kind of volume when new. However, that has in no way dissuaded collectors to learn about these fabulous cars and to acquire them.
Let’s start with the 2000GT. This is the top-tier car of Japanese collectible cars and for good reason. The 2000GT is a masterpiece design built by Toyota with assistance from Yamaha for both the engine design as well as for parts of the interior.
In fact, the genesis of the 2000GT was at Yamaha. After Yamaha created a design for a sports car, the 2000GT, it attempted to interest Nissan in producing the vehicle. Nissan passed. Yamaha next offered the design to Toyota, which saw the sports car as an opportunity to build a “halo” vehicle to show the world itcould build more than just economy cars.
The 2000GT is an absolutely stunning car, taking ideas from the best European cars and bringing it up to another level, and at the same time using now technologies in engineering and improving reliability. Toyota would even race the 20000GT in the US, with a team managed by none other than the legendary Carroll Shelby.
The biggest star moment for the 2000GT happened in 1967 when a specially built convertible version was used in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Though the car was not driven by Bond, it did feature a “Q” type onboard audio/video communications system and had a lot of screen time.
Sadly, the 2000GT was not a big seller, only 351 of these stunning cars were built. Having driven a few of these cars, they are absolutely remarkable and capable sports cars, offering an attention to detail that shines as bright as the finest cars from Aston Martin and are a great driving and comfortable classic sports car with more than adequate performance.
The Hagerty Price Guide states that the 2000GT is today worth between $550,000 to $780,000 depending on condition.
The second of the first-generation of Japanese collector cars is a bit different. Meet the Mazda Cosmo 110S. The Cosmo was also built to be a “halo” car. The Cosmo was powered by the first production Mazda rotary engine, the 10A, and like the 2000GT the Cosmo featured striking styling combined with exceptional build quality.
Of the two cars, while I like the 2000GT and think it is stunning, I have found the Cosmo much more approachable. It is a fun GT car, kind of like a Japanese version of a Lancia Fulvia. It has an almost Swiss-watch feel to its controls and assembly.
The styling is straight out of the 1960s and the 10A rotary engine revs as high as you want. The interior of black vinyl with cloth houndstooth inserts is just perfect. They drive nice, handle predictably and are a lot of fun to drive.
They are also quite a bit more affordable than the 2000GT, with the Hagerty guide estimating a value between $87,000 for a nice clean driver level car to $155,000 for a concours example.
Mazda built 343 Series One cars from 1967-1968 and then 1,176 Series Two models through 1972.
For more than a decade, the 2000GT and the Cosmo 110S have been sought-after cars with demand well exceeding supply. These cars represent Japan’s first dip in the water for building high-quality exotic sports cars that could compete with the best Europe had to offer, and they paved the way for the Z cars and all the other Japanese sports cars that followed.