When you think of Toyota these days, the phrase "sports car" isn't necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. But back in the day, Toyota was actually dabbling in sports car technology a lot more than you'd think. Nobody would have mistaken them for Porsche or Ferrari, but it was more prevalent than today. At the behest of their CEO, Akio Toyoda, Toyota has been slowly but surely getting back into the sports car game, as evidenced by the outstanding Scion FR-S and some future cars in Toyota's pipeline. Here, we'll give you a brief history of Toyota's sports cars, as well as a quick look to the future.
The Sports 800, affectionately known as "Yota-Hachi", was Toyota's first production sports car, and was in production from 1965-1969. Only about 3,131 of these vehicles was produced, and it never made its way over from Japan to the United States. Mounting a 49 bhp two cylinder engine, the Sports 800 can reach a top speed of 97 mph and an 18.4 second quarter mile, all while getting 70mpg on open road driving! The Sports 800 was also on the forefront of sports car technology at the time, with its revolutionary Targa top (predating Porsche's version), lightweight aluminum and steel body composition, a horizontally opposed two-cylinder engine, and unbelievable fuel economy (especially for today!).
We've actually written about our very own Sports 800 that's here at Wellesley Toyota, so feel free to come by and check it out in our showroom anytime!
Like the Sports 800, the 2000GT was a limited production vehicle only sold and produced in Japan. Originally produced by Yamaha and manufactured between 1967 and 1970, the 2000GT really put Japan on the automotive world map, as it showed Japanese manufacturers could produce a sports car to rival the big guns from Europe. As the first "Japanese supercar", the 2000GT is a highly sought after collectible with only 351 regular production versions built, and sells at auction these days for as much as $375,000!
The car feautures extremely clean lines and a smooth look, as well as the large plexiglass covered driving lamps that hint at its relation to its older brother, the Toyota Sports 800. At just 45.7in from the ground to the highest point of the roof, the 2000GT was extremely low to the ground and this really conveyed its sporty and athletic personality. 2 custom open-top models were built for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, but these styles never made it to the production version.
The 2000GT's engine is a 2.0 liter straight-6 that produced 150 hp and enabled the car to hit a top speed of 135 mph, all while getting 31mpg. The 2000GT was also featured in the racing world, as it came in third in the 1966 Japanese Grand Prix and won the Fuji 24-Hour Race in 1967.
Although probably not considered by everyone to be a true sports car, the Toyota Celica deserves a spot on this list since it did begin as a rear-wheel drive car that "emphasized styling and driving enjoyment" and was a significant player in Toyota's World Rally Championship titles back in the 1970s. The Celica has gone through tons of design changes, but the most significant was its shift from rear wheel drive to front wheel drive and the addition of a Camry engine in 1985. Although the most recent mode,l with its athletic styling and high-revving engine, brought back memories of the Celica's sporty origins, it eventually lost out to other low-priced sports cars like the Subaru WRX.
The name "MR-2" comes from the car being a mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive 2 seater sports car. Produced in various iterations from 1984-2007, the MR2 kept its legacy by being a small, high-revving sports car made for purist driving.
The first generation MR2 was in production from 1984-1989 and was praised for its innovation, handling, and engine. Available with either a 1.5L or 1.6L engine and an extremely light body (as low as 2,350lb in the US), the first generation MR2 could go 0-60 mph in the mid to high 8 second range.
The second generation MR2 (shown here) was completely redesigned and was often referred to as a "poor man's Ferrari". Although about 350-400 pounds heaver than the previous version, the second generation MR2 had a 2.2L or 2.0L turbocharged engine which allowed the Tubo to go 0-60 in 6.1 seconds.
The third generation was known in the US as the Toyota MR2 Sypder, and was geared towards a younger crowd. Bearing a striking resemblance to the Porsche Boxster, this version of the MR2 sported a 1.8L straight-4 engine capable of putting out 138 hp and giong 0-62 mph in 6.8-8.7 seconds, depending on the transmission option. At just 2,195 pounds, this MR2 was the lightest of all the generations. Unfortunately, in 2004, Toyota announced the end of MR2 and Celica sales due to tough competition and a lack of sales, with production ending in 2007.
The Supra is the most iconic of Toyota's line of sports cars, even having its very own logo until 1991. Initially based off the Toyota Celica, the Supra actually traces a lot of its design back to the 2000GT. The engine is an inline 6-cylinder engine, which was very similar to the 2000GT's.
The last generation of the Supra, the Mark IV, was in production from 1992-2002 and featured the inline 6-cylinder engine mentioned before. The American turbocharged version had an upgraded engine that upped the power output to 320 hp, which could go 0-60 mph in a blistering 4.6 seconds. Unfortunately, despite its rank as one of the iconic sports cars of its time, its high price tag of around $70,000 made it the least popular. Despite this, a lot of enthusiasts are waiting and hoping for the next iteration of the Supra to arrive.
Scion FR-S/Toyota 86
And now to today. The Scion FR-S (known as the Toyota 86 outside the US), is Toyota's current day rear wheel drive sports coupe developed jointly with Subaru. It's name meaning "Front-Engine, Rear-wheel drive, Sport", the car has elements tracing back all the way to the Toyota Sports 800 and the Toyota 2000GT.
With a 2.0L four-cylinder boxer front-engine, the FR-S is capable of putting out 200 hp and can go 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds. The design was inspired by the 2000GT's low-to-the-ground profile and sleek lines, and is a truly beautiful and sporty looking car among Toyota's line of more conservative and family oriented vehicles. The manual version has an MSRP of $24,955 and the automatic version has an MSRP of $26,055.
Toyota has certainly kicked their sports car development into high gear with the FR-S, but they're definitely not stopping there. Toyota President Akio Toyoda has repeatedly said he wants to inject more excitement and identity into the brand, and they've already approved development for the successor to the Supra (check out the concept art!), as well as a possible successor to the MR2 which will be priced under the FR-S. With FR-S sales going brilliantly, its just a matter of time before Toyota comes out with its next great sports car.