The mystique of the Toyota 2000GT has resonated with car collectors for years. The beautiful sports car was produced in the model years 1967-1970 and boasts only 351 copies. They are grabbing top dollar in the collector car market—one recently selling at auction for $1.2 Million—and are leading a charge of interest in rare and collectible Japanese automobiles. Carroll Shelby, best known for all his well documented work with Ford powered cars including the Cobra, GT40, GT350 and other icons, would seem unlikely to take on a Japanese import to go racing—but alas—he did! A special deal had the Gardena, CA-based racing operation preparing and racing the 2000GT as Toyota had something to prove.
Two of the most bespoke examples of this classic sports car were the Shelby-prepared SCCA C-Production racers driven by Davey Jordan and teammate Scooter Patrick in 1968. Davey Jordan reminisces: “It was a great year—I had never done a season with a big team like that before. It was the biggest highlight of my career. I have had more memorable positive moments, but racing for Shelby was a big deal.”
Davey Jordan was a young apprentice sheet metal fabricator to the HVAC industry when he caught the bug for racing. His first race was in 1958 at Santa Barbara in a Porsche Speedster that he and wife Norma traded his hot rod and the family Plymouth. He would build a reputation, not only as a very competent race driver, but as a friend to many of the “players” of the day.
Toyota did not have the same kind of racing history as Honda, who had made a foray into F1 or Datsun whose 1500 Fairlady was making a splash amongst the sporty car enthusiast. Toyota not only wanted domination amongst the Japanese brands, but their 2000GT to be a formidable competitor to the Germans. In 1968, a production model of the 2000GT would set you back $6,800. At the time you could buy a brand new Porsche 911 or Jaguar XKE for less money—still almost cosmic thought by today’s standards. But by racing the car in the high profile SCCA production classes, they had hoped to beat the Porsches—and in so doing, “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.”
In 1967 the SCCA C-Production Championship was the showcase in America for imported brands. Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Datsun, Triumph and Lotus were all gunning for the top spot on the podium. Because of the high profile of the series, big-name drivers of the day took part too.
Peter Brock was originally tapped to develop the 2000GT for the series, but Shelby made a power grab for the opportunity. Shelby won out after a meeting with Mr. Toyoda at his home and a lucrative Goodyear tire deal was reached. Goodyear had sought a Toyota deal and felt Shelby was the key to get the agreement. Shelby was also the Western distributer of Goodyear Tires, beyond all his famed automobile and engine production. For Brock, his BRE 510s in the hands of John Morton would become immortalized with their success in the 2.5 Liter class of the SCCA Trans Am Series.
With his plate very full of LeMans prototypes for Ford, Shelby handed the responsibility over to experienced and trusted team members for development and racing. Trans Am boss Lew Spencer, Crew Chief Rich Ericsson and fabricator extraordinaire, Phil Remington headed up the crew duties for this particular venture. According to driver Davey Jordan, “I never saw him the whole season except for the last race.”
Shelby’s stable of Trans Am drivers in 1967 were Ronnie Bucknum and Jerry Titus. Jordan was the back up driver. During that time, Jordan won the 1967 Southern Pacific Regional SCCA Championship in a Porsche 911—but ended up coming second in the National Championship at the SCCA Runoffs at Daytona to Alan Johnson.
About mid way through ’67 season, three cars arrived from the Toyota factory for the Shelby team. Testing at Riverside and Willow Springs, Bucknum took on development duties from behind the wheel. Jordan would begin testing the car at the end of the ’67 season at the urging and recommendation of both Titus and Bucknum. “It was a terrific car,” said Jordan. “Ronnie (Bucknum) was a really good test driver and nailed some of the things right away that it needed.”
Toyota would invest nearly $500,000 in the racing program. That was nearly Euro Prototype and Formula One money for 1968. Toyota had factory engineers at every race who worked closely with the Shelby crew to set up and develop the car throughout the entire season.
According to Jordan, “(Shelby Racing Division) did most of the testing at Willow Springs. It’s a special circuit for good handling high speed cars. Bucknum was turning laps there that were two to four seconds faster than any 911 had gone there. In fact that was one of the reasons I took the job—I was looking forward to getting in that car.”
“They built some low profile tires to fit on the 7-inch rims—that lowered the car about two inches,” observed Jordan. “The handling was phenomenal. Great brakes, very stiff. The only thing that was lacking was by mid-season we couldn't match the horsepower that Porsche was developing.”
The horsepower the 2000GT was making in testing would however be Shanghaied! A SCCA rule would force the team to change the carburetors on the car. “We did all the testing with three Weber carburetors on the car—but then SCCA disallowed it and we had to run Solex carbs—people say it cost us 10hp. The car ran good—but it was definitely down on HP,” Jordan reminisced.
Through the season, the Shelby Team and drivers Davey Jordan and Scooter Patrick gave their best shot. For their efforts they were classified in 3rd for Scooter Patrick and 4th for Davey Jordan in the Championship points from the Porsches. “Toyota lost a little bit of face and discontinued their racing efforts. There was no talk of going racing at all (in 1969),” Jordan remembers. “Like the rest of us they were figuring that they were going to walk away with this—but the reality of the thing hit home pretty quick. You could see (the Japanese engineers) were upset but they tried to put on a face.”
Deemed a failure by Toyota, the 2000GT would not race in America again. “I wish I had the money at the time to buy the car I raced,” said Jordan. "It sat in the back of a used car lot for a few years and then was shipped to Japan where it became a replica of the Toyota 24 hour Endurance Closed-circuit Land Speed record holder car.” The original was crashed and scrapped.
In ’68 and ’69, Scooter and Davey drove L88 Corvettes in endurance racing for movie and TV star, James Garner. Jordan went into F5000 for a few years, but hung up the helmet in 1972. He continued a successful career in HVAC and is retired with wife Norma in Big Bear, CA.
(Photos: courtesy of Dan Hsu and Ben Hsu, and the Dave Jordan Archives)