I’ve watched the Mecum auctions on television for years. In many ways the ultimate reality show for automotive enthusiasts, the live and rebroadcast coverage of Mecum offers a high-definition front-row seat of the world’s largest classic car auction. Although I’ve seen enough footage to be able to place all the main characters, I’ve never made it firsthand to the Kissimmee, Florida, event until recently when Toyota invited me to travel to central Florida to witness the automotive extravaganza firsthand.
As a vintage Japanese sports car fanatic, the highlight of the show was watching the potentially record-setting 1967 Toyota 2000GT cross the auction block around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday night. The invitation also included an informal lunch with Mecum CEO Dave Magers and an in-depth, behind-the-scenes tour of what many car enthusiasts refer to as the greatest show on earth.
Since 1988, when the company held its first official auction at the Rockford airport in Illinois, Mecum has continually evolved, growing into an automotive auction powerhouse. Not only is the Kissimmee event the largest collector car auction in the world, but Mecum has the distinction of being ranked No. 1 in the world for the number of collector cars offered and sold at auction. Mecum also has the highest number of auction venues in the United States.
The Mecum formula is compelling. The vehicles are available before they cross the block for on-site visual inspection and if you bring your wireless device and the car or light truck was built for the 1981 model year or later, it is easy to instantly generate a CARFAX Vehicle History Report using the 17-character vehicle identification number (VIN). No need to bring cash either, Mecum offers financing for qualified buyers on the spot. The company works hard to make the buying process easy and safe, allowing potential buyers to participate in the fun whether they are simply there to watch or drive away with one or more auction vehicles.
Toyota 2000GT: The Vehicle that Redefined a Brand
While Mecum has built a strong reputation for auctioning some of the world’s greatest American muscle cars, the vehicles offered range from high-end European exotics to interesting aquatic vehicles, lifted trucks, retired race cars and more, including a sympathetically restored 1967 Toyota 2000GT from the collection of Sebring and Watkins Glen veteran, Otto Lincoln.
The Toyota 2000GT is a special car. In 1965, Toyota made a move that revolutionized the automaker’s reputation and fearlessly initiated the brand’s first foray into the import sports car movement. At the time Toyota was widely known as the most conservative of all the famously cautious Japanese automakers. With a bold vision for the future, Toyota wanted to strike out by offering a car that would rival the formidable Porsche 911 and Jaguar XKE in both style and performance.
By collaborating with Yamaha, Toyota would be able to offer a wildly attractive, rear-wheel drive sports car that not only rivaled the competition, but surpassed the European supercars in many ways.
The 2000GT was limited in production; only 351 were produced and of that number a mere 62 were sold in the U.S. between 1967 and 1970. Powered by a 2.0-liter six-cylinder engine that produced 150 horsepower and 130 pound-feet of torque, the Toyota 2000GT showed the world that Japan was capable of creating a car that not only exhibited unsurpassed quality, but was devastatingly beautiful and immensely fun to drive on the road or racetrack.
Further illustrating Toyota’s commitment to shocking the world, the automaker lost money on every 2000GT sold, despite the coach-built sports car’s steep asking price of $6,800. For reference a concurrently offered Porsche 911 stickered at $6,500 and the Jaguar XKE seemed cheap at $5,600.
The 2000GT’s high-revving engine was attached to a fully synchronized five-speed manual transmission. The 2000GT’s revolutionary construction resulted in an amazingly low ride height, while the front-mid engine position yielded a wonderfully balanced sports car. The 2000GT was also Toyota’s first car to feature four-wheel disc brakes and the automaker’s first car with a fully independent suspension system.
The 2000GT’s interior is equally impressive. Yamaha brought in the same artisans responsible for building the company’s highly-respected musical instruments, evidenced by the GT’s rosewood dash and mahogany steering wheel and shift knob.
The public’s reception of a Toyota priced above the mighty 911 caused a collective gasp. Perhaps the closest modern comparison would be the response to the briefly offered $375,000 Lexus LFA supercar, which is another vehicle that Toyota would build to showcase the company’s strength.
Toyota Wakes Up the Competition
The styling and performance of the 2000GT inspired Nissan, then known as Datsun in the U.S., to build what many consider the grandfather of the modern import sports car: the Datsun 240Z. The 240Z followed the basic formula of the 2000GT as a rear-wheel-drive, two-seat sports car, again powered by a stout inline-six with 151 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. Less concerned with taking on the likes of Porsche and Jaguar, the Z was aimed squarely at the popular British sports cars of the time and Nissan’s hopes were to rob some sales from the domestic sports cars and muscle cars of the era. With this in mind, the 240Z was sold for less than half the asking price of the 2000GT. An enthusiastic reception from the U.S. market allowed Nissan to sell over 168,000 first generation Z cars.
Toyota would go on to build more legendary performance classics, eventually reimagining the 2000GT in the form of a scintillating high-horsepower turbocharged Toyota Supra that would offer performance numbers and a driving dynamics right in line with the best comparably priced sports cars from Europe and the U.S.
Over time the Toyota and Nissan sports cars evolved, growing in size, weight and price. Both cars eventually ceased production by essentially pricing themselves out of the market. After a five-year hiatus in the U.S., Nissan reinvented the Z in the form of the 2003 350Z, but Toyota remained relatively silent on the flagship sports car front. Rumors would travel around the Internet from time to time, but the manufacturer never officially hinted at a new car in the lineage of the 2000GT.
Toyota Introduces a New GT Under the Scion Brand
In 2009, Toyota announced the FT-86 concept at the Tokyo Auto Show. Inspired in part by the late ‘60s Sports 800 and the mid-1980s AE86 Toyota Corolla, the FT-86 had even more in common with the original, but rarely mentioned, 2000GT. Not only did the Toyota concept and the 2000GT share many styling cues, but the new FT-86 was also the result of two Japanese automakers working together to build an industry standard sports car. This time around it was Toyota manufacturing the coachwork and Subaru providing the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque.
The warmly received concept soon entered into full production, getting the GT-86 moniker in Japan. For the U.S. market, the car was rebranded as the Scion FR-S and launched with great anticipation alongside its twin brother, the Subaru BRZ, for the 2013 model year.
The Scion FR-S had an immediate fan base. Critics loved it. The car sold so well that dealers experienced back orders for months at a time. It appeared that Toyota had reimagined the formula of a lightweight affordable sports car in the heritage of the Toyota 2000GT, but priced it more along the lines of Datsun’s 240Z.
Similar to the 2000GT, the Scion FR-S has one of the lowest centers of gravity of any production car on the road. We are talking Ferrari and Lotus territory.
The finely tuned suspension, wide 17-inch tires and record-book-low center of gravity result in an incredibly well-behaved and track-worthy sports car. From my own experiences driving the FR-S and BRZ around town (and on the high-banked Homestead-Miami Speedway) I can comfortably argue either as being one of the best-handling cars under $50,000, which is remarkable considering that 2016 FR-S starts at only $24,900. Adding to that value is that FR-S with the automatic transmission earns 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.
The FR-S truly embodies much of what made the original Japanese import sports cars so exciting. The aesthetics, incredible driving performance, reliability and unequaled value (both in initial and long-term cost), make the Scion FR-S a well deserved top pick for sports cars under $30k. I would go so far to call it a reimagined 2000GT for everyone.
The Bid Goes On
Unfortunately, the bright red 1967 Toyota 2000GT failed to sell. Although the auction shot up and froze at a healthy $775,000, the undisclosed reserve meant that, in the words of Mecum, “The bid goes on.”