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Toyota 1600 GT (RT55). Japanese exotic from the sixties

© Archive Benny Heuvinck / Joan Hettema
ER Classics Desktop 2022

Many older youngsters consider the third generation of the Toyota Corona to be one of the first models offered by today's Japanese superpower in Europe. This Corona was available as a sedan in the Netherlands and Belgium during its career. Toyota built several variants based on the Toyota (or rather Toyopet) RT40 generation of the Corona. One derivative was the very first two-door hardtop from Japan. And this version was again the basis for a few illustrious Toyota-made models.

In July 1965, Toyota made its mark by launching the hardtop version based on the RT40 series. In fact, that was a 2 + 2 version. The hardtop version (also called hardtop coupé) debuted as RT50 with the 1.5 liter 2R OHV engine. Later Toyota also added the RT51 variant. This Corona 1600 S hardtop got the 4R OHV engine. That was the 1.587 cc power source that would later play an important role in the further development of the Corona's hardtop range.


Sporty heart in the Corona range

At the heart of the program, Toyota now also had sporty models with multiple engine choices within the range, which was mainly intended for the home market. A small number of RT51 (LHD) units reportedly ended up in Finland, Belgium and Luxembourg. The Toyota Corona hardtop was also built for the American market with the 3R 1.9 engine (RT52), just like the two mentioned engines, that was an OHV power source. In addition to manual transmissions (three or four-speed gearbox), the buyer could also opt for the two-speed Toyoglide automatic.

4R power unit. A block as the basis for a gem

The Corona hardtop was also available with a 7R engine, which was available from 1968 and had a cylinder capacity of 1.591 cc. This engine was derived from the 4R power source. And it was precisely the latter engine that formed the basis for the highlight within the RT4 # / RT5 # series: the RT55 or the 1600 GT that was used in The Block as the basis for the beautiful 9R engine. This received a cylinder head with two overhead camshafts, developed in collaboration with Yamaha. The head was derived from the version fitted in the Toyota 2000 GT. The sporty series of this Corona series had its finest hour, the 9R engine was also built exclusively for the Toyota 1600 GT.

Even more adjustments

Despite the familiar engine, the engine got its own character. That was amplified by the increase of the compression ratio to 9.0: 1. The installation of two twin Solex Mikuni carburettors was another factor contributing to the power increase to 110 HP. The 1600 GT was therefore good for a top speed of almost 180 kilometers per hour. The Corona chassis was also adapted for more sportiness, which, according to tradition, led to excellent handling. In a technical sense, the buyer could also choose from a version with a four-speed gearbox (GT-4) or a five-speed gearbox (GT-5). The latter transmission was specially developed for the 2000 GT and thus also found its way to the Toyota 1600 GT, which was never sold as Corona.

Answer to indigenous competition

The Toyota 1600 GT was a carefully crafted answer to national sports enthusiasts. These saw the light of day thanks to the growing popularity of sports models based on sedan versions. For example, Japan had become acquainted with the Isuzu Bellett 1600 GT, the Prince Skyline 2000 GT, the Hino Contessa 1300 Coupé and the Datsun Bluebird SSS. These sporty family cars had been on the market for a few years, but Toyota put a rock-solid weapon against it in 1967.

Same color options as the 2000 GT

Remarkably, it also borrowed a few cosmetic items from the prestigious 2000 GT, such as the inverted triangle on the grille. That was not entirely coincidental, because the 1600 GT was positioned as the smaller brother of the exotic 2000 GT. Nice fact: just like the 2000 GT, it was available in the colors Bellatrix Yellow, Pegasus White, Solar Red and Thunder Silver Metallic. The interior was kept exclusively black, and the front occupants found themselves in adjustable bucket seats.

Only for Japan, European rally debut in Monte Carlo

Toyota kept the car home, it was only available for the Japanese market. In less than two years, the 1600 GT left the production line 2.222 times at the Motomachi factory. He remained exclusive, had technically very good genes and was illustrious in another way as well. The Toyota 1600 GT-5 took part in the Rallye Monte-Carlo twice, and was in fact the first car to drive rallies in Europe with any Toyota support. Jan Hettema was at the wheel in both 1968 and 1969, and that also applied to the Total International Rally in Africa, where Hettema was part of the field in 1969 with an RT55 version. The 1600 GT was used at home in the circuit races that are prestigious for the Japanese manufacturers.

Face to face with something special

However, we know what it means to come face to face with this hardtop. This Toyota was also not just any Japanese sports car because of its 2000 GT genes. In September 2020 we were in Dendermonde for the report on Toyota's rally history. In the showroom of the Toyota dealer Holvoet, worn by enthusiasts, we saw the RT55 RM, painted in Bellatrix Yellow. That was a special discovery. That was special because the 1600 GT is a rarity in Europe. And the realization that this 1600 GT is the patriarch of a whole series of Toyota coupés and hardtop models only added to that special feeling of seeing this Toyota 1600 GT in person.

 

 

 

5 Comments

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  1. I drove for about 8 years in a Toyota Corona 1977 2 ltr 5 speed fine car I had this for 13 years when it became too expensive for our family and the rust demon came around the corner, but experienced very nice things during the time it and my wife was., would have liked to see more photos from several years of construction.

  2. Japanese from the 60s and 70s are unfortunately still totally undervalued at the moment, although the design is also beautiful.
    My father bought a Toyota Crown in 1968, unfortunately this was a Monday morning car, it soon started to rust in the middle of the roof and hood and. After only 4 years, 3 exhausts further and a lot of electricity, demolished this direction. Monday morning cars were available for all makes, including Japanese.
    In terms of design, these cars do at least as well as the European models.

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