Power Struggle - 1969 Toyota New 7

In 1968, Japanese auto giant Toyota had decided to join the bustling Japanese racing scene in earnest with a dedicated sports racing prototype. Although the company had built the car for the extreme, no holds barred FIA Group 7 category, the resulting 7 model was a far cry from the titanic Can Am monsters seen on the other side of the Pacific.

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With only a three liter, 300 horsepower V8 and an elegant, but aerodynamically inefficient body, the 7 wasn’t even on speaking terms with the category’s idea of fast. After being humiliated by Nissan in the prestigious Japan Grand Prix and the inaugural Fuji 200 Can Am race, Toyota realized they would have to seriously up their game.

Nissan's awe-inspiring GRX -3 V12 cast an ominous shadow over Toyota's project.

The 7 was only successful in endurance races, which both Nissan and the American contingent were unwilling or unable to contest. The 7 then, was already years behind its rivals, and Toyota designer Jiro Kawano knew the competition would not be sitting on their hands either.

Nissan had won the Grand Prix with small-block Chevrolet engines flown in from America at the last second, but the team’s delayed V12 would surely be ready for 1969. This GRX-3 engine was said to generate unprecedented amounts of power. far beyond any automotive engine ever seen in the land of the rising sun. To match their arch rivals, Toyota and engineering consultants Yamaha knew they had to engage in Nissan’s escalation game.

The 7's V8 was stretched out to its very limit.

To this end, the 7’s puny V8 was completely reworked, and gained a full two liters in displacement. Additionally, it abandoned the unusual Indycar-style hot-V layout for a more traditional setup with the intakes in the center of the engine. In its earliest form, the dual overhead camshaft, 32-valve flatplane unit now produced 430 horsepower, only 20 less than the Chevy V8 which powered last year’s winner. However, it would likely fall short of Nissan’s enormous 6.0L V12, which was rumored to produce in excess of 600 horsepower.

While the engine was being developed further to meet this requirement, Toyota decided to hedge their bets on two very different designs. Following a merger with Hino Motors in early 1968, the firm inherited brilliant American designer Pete Brock, who’s claims to fame included the Shelby Daytona Coupe and the quirky Hino Samurai. Toyota put Brock to work designing a coupe version of the 7, and gave him carte blanche to come up with the most advanced car he could think of.

The BRE JP6 in Japan.

This car, the JP6, featured some ground breaking concepts in terms of suspension design, but work on the V8 was so slow it had to be built around the old 3M straight six from the 2000GT.

Curiously, Toyota opted to ditch Brock Racing Enterprises in favor of Shelby American to run the American racing campaign of the 2000GT. Shelby was an importer for Goodyear, and promised the Japanese to supply the rubber for a heavily discounted price. And with that, Pete Brock was booted out of the company.

The BRE JP6 (white) being tested for the first time alongside four 7's, Fukuroi 1968.

Toyota upped the ante by seizing the JP6, which had been developed in BRE’s California workshop, and bringing it back to Japan. There, Yamaha was given the arduous task of completing the still-unfinished machine. Unfortunately, Yamaha’s engineers apparently failed to understand the advanced concepts used in the car’s initial construction, leading to potentially dangerous design flaws.

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As the V8 had by then reached completion, the JP6 was most likely retrofitted with a 3.0L unit or an early development of the 5.0L to ascertain its true potential. What actually happened next is shrouded in mystery. What’s sure, is that star driver Yukio (or Sachio) Fukuzawa climbed on board of a closed top prototype related to the 7 project on February 12, 1969. Fukuzawa was to test the car at Fukuroi, Yamaha’s dedicated testing facility.

The mysterious closed-top 7 prototype.

As he barreled down the long straight at nearly 250 kph (155 mph), the car suddenly spun off to the left and slammed into an embankment. After surviving the initial impact, Fukuzawa found himself trapped in the crumpled wreck, which soon caught fire.

Emergency workers at the scene were unable to extricate him quickly due to the intensity of the inferno. After twenty horrifyingly long minutes Yukio was out, but it was already too late. Yukio Fukuzawa succumbed to his injuries that fateful day. He was only 25 years old.

The scene of Yukio Fukuzawa's tragic accident, Fukuroi 1968.

Fearing a public backlash, Toyota kept the cause of the accident under wraps, and had the remains of the car hidden and possibly even destroyed. Because of this, it is impossible to ascertain if Fukuzawa was driving a more developed version of the JP6, or simply a coupe version of the newer 7 model designed in-house by Toyota designer Jiro Kawano.

Several pictures of this mysterious car made it to the press, but it was never seen on the track since Fukuzawa’s tragic death. Toyota engaged in a nearly CIA-level cover up involving accusations of driver error, sending photo’s of a different car to the police and engaging in a decade-long legal battle with Yukio’s distraught father Shintaro Fukuzawa, all the while citing “the protection of business secrets” as a valid reason for this inexcusable behavior.

Which car was actually used, and what exactly caused it to crash remains the subject of speculation.

Even though race fans all over the country were in mourning for the loss of their young hero, and even the Japanese parliament engaged in attempts to uncover the mystery surrounding Yukio Fukuzawa’s death, Toyota’s top brass decided to soldier on with the project.

In lieu of the controversy surrounding the crash of the closed-top prototype, it was decided to press on with Jiro Kawano’s take on an improved 7. Looking closely at the superior designs employed by Can Am kings McLaren, Kawano decided upon a squared-off, open-top wedge shape in an effort to start generating meaningful downforce, a term coined only two years prior by Chaparral designer Jim Hall.

Kawano's open car was selected as Toyota's new challenger.

This machine, internal name 574S, was a clear evolution of the original model. Its core structure was still made up of an tubular aluminium spaceframe. Owing to the larger engine and subsequent strengthening of the chassis, the car now weighed 750 kg (1653 lbs) a 70 kg increase over its predecessor.

Resized Lockheed disc brakes on all four corners provided extra stopping power, and a Hewland LG500 5-speed manual transmission served to direct all 430 horsepower into the much wider rear tires.

"Quick" Vic Elford, a true universal soldier in the world of motorsport.

To help with the development of the car, Toyota managed to sign 1967 European Rally Champion and the embodiment of versatility: “Quick” Vic Elford, a British racer who could make almost anything go like the clappers.

In 1968 alone, Elford won the Rallye Monte Carlo with a Porsche 911, the Daytona 24 a week later with a Porsche 907, the 11-lap Targa Florio on the 76 kilometer Sicilian Circuito Picollo delle Madonie in a similar car, and the Nurburgring 1000KM on the old Nordschleife in a Porsche 908, all the while competing in Formula One for Cooper.

Thanks in no small part to Vic’s immeasurable help, the New 7, as it became known in publicity material, handled like a dream. A single New 7 was sent to the first race of the season, the 1000KM event at the famous Fuji Speedway.

As the opposition consisted of outdated and much smaller-capacity cars like the Porsche 906 and Nissan R380-II, and a pair of fast but fragile Lola T70’s, Hiroshi Fushida and Yoshio Ohtsubo were able to sail to a comfortable win. With a margin of 8 laps on the second placed R380-II of Moto Kitano/Motoharu Kurosawa, the New 7 picked up where its older brother left off.

Fushida/Ohtsubo, Fuji 1000KM 1969.

Fushida and Ohtsubo recorded an eerily similar sequence of events at Suzuka, where they took the checkered flag in the 1000 kilometer race by the same margin to the same car with the same drivers.

However, Toyota’s second reign of supremacy in the endurance racing circuit was virtually meaningless to all but the most hardcore racing fans. What really matter was vanquishing their sworn enemy at the most prestigious even of all: the Japan Grand Prix.

Vic Elford getting into his car, Fuji 1969.

Looking to defend their crown, Nissan had brought three of their new V12-powered R382’s to the table, each 580 horsepower strong. To counter this, Toyota had souped up their V8 to 530 horsepower, helped in part by a large McLaren-inspired airbox over the intake system.

As if the power disadvantage to the Nissans wasn’t enough, Toyota now had an extra threat to deal with. After supplying customer chassis for years, Porsche’s factory squad had now also arrived. And they’d brought a nice new toy. Fresh from the production line, Porsche’s new 4.5L, 520 horsepower flat-12 monster instilled fear into those who knew what the Germans were capable of. The 917 had set foot on Japanese soil.

The 917 further complicated Toyota's chances.

Nissan locked out the front row in qualifying, with Moto Kitano/Tatsu Yokoyama on pole, Motoharu Kurosawa/Yoshikazu Sunako second and Kunimitsu Takahashi/Kenji Tohira third. The fastest Toyota was that of Hiroyuki Kukidome/Shihomi Hosoya, a demoralizing 3.48 seconds behind the fastest Nissan.

The New 7’s of Hiroshi Fushida/Minoru Kawai and Vic Elford/Toshiaki Takahashi followed, chased by the lone Porsche 917 of Jo Siffert (CH) and David Piper and the New 7 of Mitsumasa Kanie/Kiyoshi Misaki. Also in the race for the win were the Lola T160 of Ginji Yasuda/Tadashi Sakai and a pair of the new Chevrolet-powered Isuzu R7’s driven by Jirou Yoneyama/Hiromi Nishino and Tsuzumi.

At the start of the race, the Toyota’s and the Porsche got the jump on the Nissans, but their lead wouldn’t last long. Porsche’s dangerously unstable 917 wobbled about the track, overworking its tires and terrifying its drivers, causing it to swiftly drop back down the order. The New 7’s held on for dear life, but they succumbed to the overwhelming power and speed of the R382’s after only a few laps.

Kikidome/Hosoya (2) leading Fushida/Kawai (2), with both being chased by eventual race winners Kurosawa/Sunako and Kanie/Misako (6).

As the private Lola’s, the Isuzu’s and the Porsche were no longer a concern, all the Toyota crew could do was hope for a mechanical gremlin in their rival’s formidable V12. Luckily for Toyota, the Takahashi/Tohira Nissan did suffer some issues, but the other two kept on pounding round.

In the end, a third place for Fushida/Kawai, one lap down on winners Kurosawa/Sunako, was the best possible result. Elford/Takahashi came in fourth, with Kukidome/Hosoya fifth and Kanie/Misaki left unclassified.

A new wing and more power gave the New 7 a better chance of success at Fuji.

For the second annual Fuji 200 Can Am race, Jiro Kawano opted to revise the New 7 once more. In an effort to generate even more downforce, the conventional ducktail rear wing was replaced by a huge wing mounted on two struts, reminiscent of Chaparral’s unique designs. Unlike the American cars though, the 7’s wing was fixed in place following the FIA-wide ban on movable aerodynamic devices.

The V8 was further fettled for the occasion to now produce 610 horsepower at 8000 rpm, finally allowing it to outgun the pesky Nissans in the coming Japan Grand Prix. Until then, it would be used to wage war against America’s finest. In a curious turn of events, Toyota also fielded a McLaren M12 equipped with the new V8, in an apparent experiment to test their own chassis against the industry standard.

The McLaren-Toyota was fitted with a broadly similar aero package to achieve parity.

Ironically, the McLaren-Toyota driven by Hiroshi Fushida managed to out-qualify the full-blooded New 7 piloted by Minoru Kawai, pipping it to second place behind the titanium Autocoast Ti22 of Jackie Oliver (GB). In spite of this, Kawai managed to enthuse his home crowd by taking a confident victory ahead of cars with engines decidedly bigger and more powerful than his.

The seven liter, 650 horsepower Ford in the back of John Cannon’s (USA) Ford G7A failed to keep up with the lighter and more nimble Toyota, which was thrown around the track by a local with vastly more knowledge of the tricky speedway. Lothar Motschenbacher (USA) and his Chevrolet-powered McLaren couldn’t hang on either, resulting in Minoru Kawai taking the flag with a 12.1 second lead.

Minoru Kawai powering ahead, Fuji 1969.

Ecstatic with the first high-profile success of the brand in an international sprint race, Toyota immediately started work on the third step in the program. Minoru Kawai’s performance had been epic, but the fact remained he was racing at his home track, giving him the edge.

In order for Toyota genuinely prove their engineering prowess, they would have to make the jump to the Canadian-American Challenge Cup and beat the Americans at their own game. With the North American market a major growth opportunity for the company, doing well in Can Am was seen as essential for the establishment of Toyota as a serious auto maker.

To achieve this, Toyota’s engineering boffins knew even more power was needed. In light of that sentiment, they turned their attention to the dark art of turbocharging to create the ultimate Can Am killer.

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