For the past two years, a team led by Naohiko Saito comprising 50 of Toyota’s top engineers has been painstakingly restoring one example of the Toyota 2000GT and converting it into a solar-powered car called the 2000GT Solar Electric Vehicle.
It’s all part of the Crazy Car Project, which is supported by research and development teams from leading Japanese companies including Panasonic, Denso and Gentex.
The Toyota 2000GT SEV recently came to the UK as part of the 2012 Goodwood Festival of Speed. Before the solar-powered car was taken back to Japan, we were lucky enough to get the chance to drive it.
There’s no doubt that the 2000GT is a beautiful car, but the first thing that strikes you is just how small it looks – it’s absolutely tiny. In profile though, it makes up for its diminutive appearance with near perfect proportions. The bonnet is beautifully sculpted and the teardrop shaped cabin contains seats mounted far back, almost directly above the rear wheels.
But behind the classic silhouette, there’s a high-tech edge. The car is covered with solar panels, and the logos of all the companies that helped build it. Under the wheel arches you’ll spot new BBS alloy wheels.
The theme of old school-design meets hi-tech kit continues inside. The rear view mirror is actually a video screen connected to a rear mounted camera, and there is LED lighting throughout. The leather seats and lower parts of the console are highlighted in lime green, and the dashboard has been skilfully re-trimmed in Alcantara. 007 would be impressed.
That’s not to say history has been completely ignored in this solar-powered car. Important details are very much in keeping with the original 2000GT – even if they have been updated to reflect this car’s modern power source. The seven dials across the dash remain, but they now display info on the battery charge and performance. The old handbrake lever stays, but operates electronically.
The attention to detail is quite amazing – the gold and silver dusting used to finish the dash is particularly eye-catching.
Even the fact that this car’s original six-cylinder engine has been removed and replaced by a silent electric motor has been addressed. The Crazy Car Project team recognized that a big part of the original 2000GT’s character was the sound it made.
Hiroyuki Ogawa, a senior Crazy Car Project engineer, says: “We could not keep the sound of the original car, so we tried something completely different that would get people’s attention.”
They turned to HALOsonic sound, which specialises in generated sound systems for electric vehicles. The system has two purposes – for safety, by letting pedestrians know a car is approaching, and to create a sense of speed for the driver.
The HALOsonic system is controlled by an iPad that links to the car via wifi. It allows the car to make a range of sounds in place of an exhaust. It can be set to sound like the original car, or emit a range of other noises, including a spaceship, galloping horses or tweeting birds.
On the road, It’s certainly different…
Started by the same key that came with the car, the speakers hum into life, filling the air with a synthesised engine note.
At first, the experience of driving the solar-powered car is much like other electric vehicles we’ve driven – performance is smoothly delivered, and the acceleration is even.
On the test track, though, it’s clear that the vintage feel remains. The steering is incredibly direct and even the throttle response has a relaxed, vintage feel.
The SEV is definitely quick though – under full acceleration speed builds quickly. At our test track, we run out of straight road long before the power eases off.
After the drive is over, we can really appreciate the incredible amount of work involved in building the car.
The solar-powered car is a genuine showcase of the best of Toyota’s engineering talent and imagination. From the computer generated exhaust note, to the LCD display in the rear view mirror, none of what’s new outshines the car, it only enhances it.
If, as Saito says, the Toyota 2000GT SEV is meant to act as a high-end research project and an inspiration to young people aiming to get involved in engineering and technology, then it’s incredibly successful.