Paradise Lost - 1968 BRE Toyota JP6 Prototype
By the late 1960’s, Japan was on its way to rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with on the global car market. The country had been devastated by the horrors of World War II, but it was very quick to rebuild. From the ashes an industrial powerhouse rose up like a phoenix, and Western car makers were beginning to express worried looks at the Land of the Rising Sun’s relentless rate of expansion.
The first few cars which made the jump across the world were less than impressive however. Unimaginative, derivative styling, cramped interiors, wheezy engines and tiny dimensions did little to tickle the average buyer. But the Japanese had an ace in the hole: stone cold reliability. With cars like the Datsun 1000, Honda N600 and the Toyota Corolla, Japan showed the world that car’s really didn’t have to break down every five or so minutes. For an increasing number of people, this one defining trait sold them to the concept of the Japanese building cars.
Shortly after their introduction to the world market, Japanese car companies became known for small, ugly, slow but very dependable runabouts. Sales were good, but soon after the bigger companies started dreaming of more glamorous things. As the construction of Suzuka Circuit reached completion in 1962, and Fuji Speedway followed in 1965, Japan fell madly in love with the noble art of motorsport. There, reliability was still definitely a factor, but speed, power, acceleration, engine noise and striking designs were as well.
In response to this, Nissan, Toyota, Isuzu, Honda and Daihatsu all started building competition machinery to defend their brand’s honor. However, most of these companies originated from totally unrelated industrial conglomerates like weaving companies, leaving them totally in the dark in terms of technical know-how. For truck manufacturer turned car maker Hino, this meant they needed outside help to build a competitive racing car.
Help arrived in the form of American luminary engineer, designer and race driver Pete Brock, the man responsible for the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray and the Ferrari-bashing Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. Brock had recently given up his position at Shelby after Ford pushed its GT40 program forward, leaving him with little creative input.
Fed up with corporate politics, he started his own company by the name of Brock Racing Enterprises. Brock closed a deal with Hino, and put in some impressive performances in Trans Am racing the Contessa sedan.
Following a spectacular victory, Hino put Brock in charge of the American distribution of their trucks, the management of their fledgling racing program, and gave him free reign to design a new 1.3L GT-prototype. This spawned the innovative active-aero Samurai in 1967, but the car was shunned by racing officials governing the annual Japanese Grand Prix for being too low.
Following the Samurai-debacle, Hino Motors was absorbed by the much larger Toyota concern. Under new rule, the company would focus exclusively on making trucks, with the road car division being dissolved to avoid in-house competition with Toyota’s own offerings.
For Pete Brock this mean he was technically out of a job, but Toyota had followed his progress with the space-age Samurai. Recognizing his potential, the automotive giant employed him under very similar circumstances.
Through BRE, Brock was to coordinate the Sports Car Club of America racing program of the beautiful 2000GT, and create a new sports prototype in accordance with FIA Group 6 regulations to compete in the Japanese Grand Prix and possibly even Le Mans.
As before with the Sting Ray, Daytona Coupe and Samurai, Pete Brock freely drew up a sleek streamlined coupe. With long, seemingly endless flowing lines, the car looked like serious business. There was no doubt Toyota “Project 400S“ was going to an aerodynamic masterpiece.
On the mechanical side of things, Toyota had promised a powerful dual overhead camshaft 3L V8 for BRE to use in the project, but development of this unit was progressing rather slowly. To keep the ball rolling, Brock decided to use the 3M2.0L straight six from the 2000GT as a placeholder, allowing BRE chassis engineer Trevor Harris and fabricator Bruce Burness to start creating the car’s core structure.
The straight six had little to nothing in common with Toyota’s experimental V8, so Brock and his BRE team had to be careful to avoid building a chassis which would rule out use of the much wider engine. Keeping this in mind, Trevor Harris went on to design an intricate and unusual-looking aluminium tubular spaceframe.
The straight six engine was mounted longitudinally right behind the driver, with the five-speed manual gearbox serving as a transaxle behind it. Unfortunately, the motor required its own heavy subframe, as it was unable to function as an integral part of the chassis.
Suspension-wise the JP6 featured a completely new concept, consisting of parts akin to double wishbones. Contrary to their more conventional counterparts, these components were made incredibly long and met up right in the middle of the chassis.
This was done in an effort to reduce tire scrub. Instead of the tire rolling over its side when turning, as in a normal passenger car, the JP6’s tires spun in place. This movement put more strain on the steering, but it enabled the car to maintain a larger contact patch from the tires to the road. As a result, the JP6 gained much-needed stability during braking and cornering.
A secondary feature was a pair of air compressors mounted to the front suspension assemblies. These were linked to the brake pedal and served to keep the car stable under braking. Whenever the driver braked, the compressors would pump up the front suspension and cancel out the car’s natural tendency to dive forward.
With design work going smoothly despite the absence of the eagerly awaited Toyota V8, Pete Brock was feeling rather positive about his latest venture. Toyota was a much bigger company than Hino had ever been, and it looked like he would finally be able to see a car produced by his own firm take to the track.
The delay from Toyota’s engine department was worrying him however, as the 150 horsepower 2000GT engine was nowhere near powerful enough to test the JP6-chassis to its limits.
As his team was reaching the final stages of the first fully functional prototype’s development, Pete Brock received some devastating news from his bosses. Toyota was to give the 2000GT SCCA program to someone else. When Brock heard who exactly, his stomach turned.
None other than his former boss, Carroll Shelby, had somehow convinced Toyota to entrust the 2000GT to his Shelby American organization instead. Shelby had met with Toyota president Eiji Toyoda in person, and enticed him with a Goodyear tire deal, of which the Texan was a distributor. Goodyear’s rubber was too good to resist for Toyoda, and BRE was unceremoniously kicked to the cur
Not stopping there, Toyota seized control of “Project 400S“, and ordered BRE to relinquish all assets related tot the sportscar program. As a result the one and only semi-completed JP6 was taken away to Japan to be completed by Yamaha.
The surprise takeover struck fear into the heart of Pete Brock, as he was immediately conscious of the fact neither Toyota nor Yamaha’s engineers had even the slightest understanding of the ground-breaking concepts he and Trevor Harris had been working on. Naturally, this meant the car’s new owners hadn’t the faintest idea on how to properly complete and develop it.
Pete Brock’s fears were confirmed in early 1969. Due to haphazard work by the clueless Yamaha engineers, the car was obliterated in a massive crash during its very first test session. Yamaha’s staff had failed to understand the relation between the aerodynamic and chassis qualities of the advanced racer, which had caused mortally dangerous stability problems.
By this time however, Brock had taken his business straight to rival company Nissan shortly after learning of Toyota’s decision to entrust the 2000GT to Shelby. With his help, Nissan scored an SCCA title with the Datsun Fairlady 2000 in 1969, before moving on to more success with the new 240Z and 510. Meanwhile, the Shelby-prepared Toyota 2000GT proved to be a total failure.
Not content on letting his terrific design go to waste, Pete Brock presented an updated form of the JP6 to the press in 1970, renamed as the Project No 6. This time though, the project was not meant for the track, but rather the streets of Monaco or St Tropez. With the P-6, Brock wanted to produce America’s first true supercar.
Brock proposed the electronically fuel-injected 4-rotor Wankel-engine then in development at his former employer General Motors as a viable replacement for the old Toyota block. The revolutionary engine would supposedly provide as much as 400 horsepower, which saw the car consigned to a 4-speed automatic transmission.
Sadly, budget for the ambitious project never materialized, and the P-6 sunk back down into obscurity after exactly zero chassis were ever built. The mold for the car’s body was later sold to a kit car manufacturer, and BRE would never attempt to make a car of its own design ever again.
The BRE Toyota JP6 represented a second chance for one of automotive history’s most prolific designers. Coming fresh off of a dismal failure with Hino, Pete Brock reckoned himself lucky after Japanese industrial titan Toyota took him up on a very similar offer.
Together with his team, he produced one of the most innovative designs the world had ever seen. Unbeknownst to him however, his old employer had sneakily courted Toyota, and ruined his chances of seeing such an ambitious project to the end.
Toyota grabbed a hold of the futuristic JP6 and gave it to Yamaha, but nobody really knew what to do with it. It was destroyed as a result, leaving Pete Brock with another tragically unfulfilled dream. He would get his revenge by beating Toyota after defecting to Nissan, but he and his immeasurable talent would never be given the freedom of another massive carte blanche sportscar project ever again.