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The elusive Toyota 7 is the result of an incredible collaboration between Toyota and Yamaha and was almost one of the greatest race cars in history.
Every car manufacturer has an infamous story to tell, and Toyota is no exception. The year was 1968, and Toyota had set their sights on their very first racing car project. Crafting and designing a race car in the hopes of winning the Japanese Grand Prix was a dream that became so close, they could almost taste it. Determined to create a race car that would easily outrank anything that Nissan or McLaren would produce, Toyota was in it to win it with the Toyota 7.
So, did the Toyota 7 ever make it across the finish line, in spite of the Nissan R382? How fast is too fast when it comes to the most commanding and authoritative race car of its time? The Toyota 7 has a history that borders on both endearing and tragic. When reaching such high speeds, it's almost impossible for a story like this to end well.
Here is the story of Toyota's race car project, with tales so tall you'll swear they're fiction.
In the late 1960s, 1967 to be more precise, development began on the Toyota 7. Known under the code name of “415S”, the Toyota 7 race car got created in collaboration with Yamaha. The partnership between Toyota and Yamaha began in the early 1960s, when Toyota reached out to Yamaha for help in developing sports cars and upgrading their existing engines to achieve performance nirvana.
Toyota had its sights set on winning the Japanese Grand Prix, with the Toyota 7 created as the ultimate candidate. With breaking records, burning rubber, and victory on the brain, Toyota couldn't wait to test the limits of automotive engineering with this legendary race car.
Jiro Kawano, the man behind the Toyota 2000GT, worked his magic again with the epic design of the Toyota 7. Just one glance at this car, and you know it was specifically built for the track.
Testing on the Toyota 7 started on a more modest 2.0 liter engine, and then quickly graduated to a 3.0 liter engine with a lot more power. After much thorough research and testing, Toyota and Yamaha weren't done yet. A new Toyota 7 came into the picture, with a massive 5.0-liter engine.
Since the Toyota 7 was essentially dreamed up to conquer the Japanese Grand Prix, Toyota would stop at nothing to ensure that they could finally obtain victory in this race. Nissan had often beat Toyota in the past, motivating Toyota to pull out all the stops. They used the wind tunnel of fellow carmaker Daihatsu to shape the Toyota 7 into the most aerodynamic race car they could.
The unveiling of the Toyota 7 happened at the 1968 Japanese Grand Prix, with four different drivers taking the wheel. Unfortunately, the Toyota 7 didn't have what it took to finish the race ahead of its competitors. But it triumphed for the first time at the Suzuka Auto Racing Tournament in June of that year. Racing success just kept on coming for the Toyota 7, driving circles around its competitors (both literally and figuratively) at other races, such as the Suzuka 1000 km and the All Japan Clubman Race.
It is an unfortunate reality that racing cars can be a dangerous business. When dealing with speed, sharp corners, and thousands of pounds of steel, there are a number of things that can go wrong. Race car drivers are often no stranger to the risks involved in racing. As The Grand Tour's Jeremy Clarkson once said, “Speed has never killed anyone, suddenly becoming stationary…that's what gets you.”
Tragically, two drivers of the Toyota 7 were victims of this. Sachio Fukuzawa, who was one of Toyota's original drivers, was driving a prototype of the Toyota 7 during testing in 1969. The car he was driving lost control, crashing at high speed. The prototype caught fire, killing Fukuzawa instantly from the impact. There was some controversy surrounding how Toyota handled the accident — the car company initially provided pictures of an entirely different car to the police while under investigation. Fukuzawa's family received a handsome amount of money after a long legal entanglement with Toyota.
Regrettably, for the Toyota 7, tragedy then came to visit again – this time in 1970. Minoru Kawai was a lead driver for Toyota at the time, and was testing the Toyota 7 at the infamous Suzuka Circuit. A devastating accident on the track lead to Kawai's death, which led to Toyota ending further development on the car.
The Toyota 7 shows us a lot of promise, the kind of engineering feats accomplished when two powerhouses like Toyota and Yamaha join forces for a common goal. The Toyota 7 was sadly shrouded in tragedy, even among the monumental traits that the Toyota 7 succeeded in showing the world.
A rule change that came to the Japanese Grand Prix meant that the Toyota 7 would never be able to compete, despite being born and bred for such an occasion. This was a fittingly discouraging end to the Toyota 7 race car.
It's not all bad though. A team brought a Toyota 7 that was on display at the Toyota Automobile Museum back to life in 2001, rebuilding the race car and showing it off at the 2002 Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Sienna is a writer and photographer with a penchant for all things relating to cars. When Sienna was younger, she dreamed of being a rally car driver (look out, WRC!), and her dream car is a vintage Datsun 240z. She loves hatchbacks, old Top Gear reruns, and has only ever owned cars with a manual transmission.
The Toyota 7: A Race Car So Fast It Became Dangerous To Drive – HotCars
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