The Magic of the 2000GT

Toyota dealer Craig Zinn owns 11 2000GTs. This is what happened when he took his favorite to Japan. 
by Craig Zinn
Sept/Oct 2017
The Magic of the 2000GT
Full Throttle 
Craig Zinn drove his Carroll Shelby 2000GT race car in Japan last summer during 50th anniversary festivities for the car. Photo by Koichi Shinohara
In early 1967 my dad, who had already been a Toyota dealer for a few years, went to the Toyota Motor Sales port facility in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, and picked up the most beautiful car I had ever seen.  

He and my brother, Warren, drove it home to Miami. When I first saw the white 2000GT in our driveway, I fell in love with the curves and lines from each angle. It was so low to the ground, so modern yet classic. The five-speed transmission and rear window defoggers’ copper wires were the first I'd ever seen.

Fast forward 40 years. My love of the 2000GT is stronger than ever. When my wife and I visited Japan for a Lexus meeting earlier this year, I reached out to Jun Sugiyami, a former Toyota executive and an old friend.

“I’ve never met someone so passionate about the car as you,” Sugiyama told me.

“Sir, the 2000GT is my reason for living the Toyota dream,” I said. 

And that’s the truth.

When I returned to Florida after the meeting, I asked Bob Carter, Toyota Motor North America executive vice president, if he could help me celebrate the 2000GT’s anniversary by shipping my Shelby-modified car to Japan for the celebration. Bob enlisted Isaka Kanazawa, Toyota’s logistics and TRD racing coordinator, to help me ship the car. I’ve never met a car lover like Isaka-san. When he saw the No. 33 Shelby 2000GT, he agreed that we needed to get the car to Japan.

When I arrived in Japan, Isaka was waiting for me. With his big smile, he said, “I'm here to make your dream come true.”

We took the bullet train to the Toyota museum in Nagoya, where we went on the guided tour. I named each car from memory, talking about the history and significance of each. The cars were arranged chronologically, and when we got to the 1960s, the Corona looked exactly like my mother’s first Toyota -- the car she drove me to school in. The tears began to flow from my eyes.

My dad had to sell 36 cars that first year. When I became a Toyota dealer in 1981 I sold 36 cars my first day. I will never forget how proud I was.

It wasn't until I saw the first Lexus LS400 that I really began to see how Toyota and Lexus had changed the automobile forever and, more importantly, how my life was a reflection of those incredible cars on display.

Then we walked into the room with the 2000GTs. The curator told me my car would be displayed here. I suggested my car was too beautiful to hide in this area. He suggested parking the car next to the AB Phaeton in front of the museum would make the proper impression.

On the train back, we talked about the 2000GT. The car was the first Lexus, I said. It showed the world that Japan was a serious contender in the auto industry.

The next morning, we went to visit 2000GT club members who were all so proud of their cars. They named me “Crazy Gin-san” and asked me to drive and inspect their 2000GTs for approval. I was a celebrity by the time we got to the first truck stop, where several more 2000GT owners awaited my arrival.

As we stopped at more rest areas and amassed more cars, we convoyed to a Yamaha resort for the celebration. We were 27 2000GTs strong by now, most of them white, the traditional Japanese race car color.

When we took my Shelby off the truck, the club members began to understand why I had brought this car to Japan. The modifications Carroll Shelby had made were something they had never seen. The stripped down interior and the gauges were all unique. It was an incredible afternoon.
When we arrived at the Hamamatsu testing center the next morning, I was startled when I saw the Twiggy gold 2000GT. In 1968, my dad and I drove that car to the Miami Auto Show. It was a right-hand drive, and my dad let me shift gears as he drove. I scoffed at the irony that nobody wanted to buy that car in 1968. Apparently, it was too expensive.

The track was a Yamaha motorcycle test facility. Any oil or lubricants on the track would endanger the test drivers. Isaka and I both had the same thought: This car is 50 years old. I can’t think of any 50-year-old car that won’t leak a bit, especially a race car that has been driven as hard as mine. After a lot of discussion, we were given a yellow card, allowing us to drive it, but only after a thorough inspection. I sped down the first straight-away to get the tires hot and the oil up to temperature. The sound of the 2000GT at 7500 rpms is a symphony of baritone and the crowd heard it for the first time.

I began to drive like the car was meant to be driven. Hard and fast. I took the car to redline in every gear. If they were going to red flag me now, at least I got to enjoy the moment. But they didn’t stop me. They just marveled at the car’s performance. I went down the main straight-away at full rpms. With no speedometer and the pace car trying to get me to slow down, I pushed the car harder and harder.

When that session ended everyone now knew why the Shelby modifications were so special. The car was as fast as it was beautiful. The brakes and transmission modifications made it the best performing 2000GT they had ever seen or heard.

I couldn’t have enjoyed a trip to Japan more. I thank Toyota every day for building such a great car all those years ago. It inspired me to become a Toyota and Lexus dealer. And my goal is to perform like the 2000GT: with a relentless pursuit of perfection.

Zinn is CEO of Craig Zinn Automotive Group, which includes Toyota of Hollywood in Florida.

To take a spin with Craig Zinn’s 2000GTs, click on this video. 
To read more about Craig Zinn’s collection of 2000GTs, click here.

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