Toyota Sports800 – the pioneer
With the Gazoo Racing models, Toyota is currently massively counteracting its Biedermann image. The Toyota Sports800 already stood for a lot of driving fun in the mid-60s.
In Japan it lasted after the 2. After the Second World War, it took time for automobile production to pick up again. Because resources were scarce, especially steel was in short supply. At the beginning of the 1960s, the Japanese government relaxed the directive to manufacturers to build only sedans and trucks. And so the aircraft designer Tatsuo Hasegawa and the designer Shozo Sato started the construction of a model, which should go down in history as the first sports car of Toyota.
The first "Targa
It was clear from this constellation that it would be a small, light, aerodynamic vehicle. In 1962 a first prototype, called Publica Sport, was shown for the first time at the Tokyo Auto Show. Especially its roof construction caused a sensation, it could be slid open to enter the tiny vehicle. This design was not adopted for series production, which started in 1965, but the Sports800, as the car was christened, received what was probably the world's first removable roof (Porsche only came out with a similar design two years later).
The 1962 Publica Sport was powered by a blower-cooled 2-cylinder boxer engine with an alloy cylinder head that produced 28 horsepower. A larger engine would not have fit under the very flat engine hood at all. For the production version, 3.58 meters long, 1.465 meters wide, 1.176 meters high, wheelbase 2.20 meters, the displacement was raised to 790 cc. Power increased thanks to a sharper camshaft. Two single carburetors to a remarkable 45 hp at a still modest 5400 rpm.
Then also with seats
Thanks to the use of various aluminum components, the Toyota weighed just 560 kilograms and could accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 13.4 seconds. That was pretty terrific back then, in the mid-60s, a Porsche wasn't much faster either. Between 1965 and 1969, probably 3131 units were built, but not by Toyota, but by the "Kanto Auto Works". Over the years there were also some technical and optical adjustments, from 1966 there were decent seats (the first models had only seat shells as aluminum), from 1967 the first gear was synchronized.
About 300 examples were also delivered with left-hand drive, some of them were also brought to the USA, but after extensive test drives Toyota refrained from offering the car in the USA. In Japan the new price was 595'000 Yen, which is said to have been quite a lot. Actually, it is astonishing that Toyota did not pursue the Sports800 project more intensively, because there were not many small sports cars available at that time. In Europe only the twins Austin-Healey Sprite/MG Midget and the Fiat 850 Spider were commercially successful.
It is assumed that only about 10 percent of the Sports800s, which are called "Yota-Hachi" in Japan, have survived to this day. The one you can see on the pictures here came to Switzerland on adventurous ways. In 1988, the Sports800, born in 1966, was brought to Europe to take part in a fuel-saving competition – and, if possible, to make an entry in the "Guinness Book of Records".
In addition to some Japanese newspapers, the tire manufacturer Continental also appeared as a sponsor, which is why the vehicle was painted yellow. On an 8000 (!) kilometer-long course, the Toyota was driven across Britain and is said to have achieved an average of about 4 liters per 100 kilometers. This was neither enough for victory nor for an entry in the Guinness Book, which was achieved by a diesel, but it was still a brave performance by the little Japanese car.
The driving pleasure is pleasingly great. The small boxer has sufficient power even at low engine speeds – the engine's design helps here. And of course the low weight. The 4-speed gearbox is very easy to operate via the short gear stick, so you don't mind shifting, you don't have to rev the small two-cylinder engine. The chassis – triangular wishbones and torsion bar suspension at the front, cornering stabilizer, rigid axle with semi-elliptic springs at the rear – is also more than just decent, you can definitely endure longer distances there. The four drum brakes have no problems whatsoever with the low weight of the vehicle. The turning circle is just 4.3 meters.
The Swiss owner tells that he is often greeted on the street by drivers of English sports cars, who probably have the feeling to meet one of theirs. But it must be said clearly that the Sports800 was quite incomparable for the time, that Hasegawa and Sato had created an absolutely unique design – you can also see from which car the 2000GT, also introduced in 1965, was inspired. And yes, this small sports car anticipated the concept of the new GR86, boxer engine, rear-wheel drive, high agility – and above all, concentration on the essentials, namely on the pure driving pleasure.