Kiichiro Toyoda and The 7
Original Toyota boss Kiichiro Toyoda once wrote in his final piece of work entitled “Auto-racing and the Japanese Automobile Industry”: “Japan’s auto industry must succeed in building passenger vehicles. To this end, manufacturers must participate in auto-racing to test their vehicles’ durability and performance and display their utmost performance. With competition comes progress, as well as excitement among motoring fans. The aim of racing is not just to satisfy our curiosity, but rather to enable the development of the Japanese passenger vehicle industry.” I wouldn’t classify this as an Enzo Ferrari level of commitment to his car company’s motorsports effort, but clearly there was an understanding of how motorsports creates a trickle-down effect of its technology to a manufacturers production cars. There is no question that the true test of a race cars durability and resilience is a 24 hour blast around La Sarthe.
Accordingly, Toyota’s initial aim was not to storm a world championship season, but rather put their emphasis on performing strongly at Le Mans. If you can’t/don’t want to show up for every race of the season, pick the best one to compete in, right? However, Toyota’s first major effort in sports car racing came many years before the inception of Group C, in the form of the well known 7.
The same man who had developed the Toyota 2000GT, Toyotas now insanely collectable sports car coupe that put them on the map of the automakers world stage, also developed the Toyota 7 racecar. The car was powered by a Yamaha V8 and produced 800 horsepower in its most powerful iteration. The car ran in various Japanese endurance racing events, and although earlier versions saw consistent but middle of the pack finishes, 1969 was the year they showed their winning potential by taking the 1000km of Suzuka. However, the main event of their racing calendar, the Japanese Grand Prix was taken by storm by Nissans, too much for Toyota to overcome.
Toyota added two turbochargers to their powerplant to bring it up to its maximum output for the 1970 season, but the Japanese Automobile Federation announced that the Japanese Grand Prix would be revised for use by open wheel cars from that year onward. At this point, Toyota cancelled their 7 program. Toyota was in fact planning to move their Sportscar racing effort over to North America to compete in the Can-Am series, but both main drivers Sachio Fukuzawa and Minoru Kawai were killed in separate testing accidents. In the case of Fukuzawa, Toyotas only coupe version of the 7 went up in flames with their driver in the incident, and this would be the last we saw of Toyota in the sports car racing scene until the 80’s.