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The Aesthetics of Racing: Toyota GT-One

June 25, 2012 by Matt

Toyota GT-One GT1 Red Le Mans Racer Race Car

With respect to what it set out to do—secure a 24 Hours of Le Mans victory for manufacturer Toyota—the GT-One was a miserable failure. Aesthetically, however, it’s a fascinating car, especially from a Japanese outfit.

Purpose-built to conquer Le Mans, the GT-One nestled into the then-top-tier GT1 class in ’98, and the GTP class in ’99, the shift necessitated by a regulation change that required more roadgoing examples built in order to homologate a car for the highest-level class, an effort Toyota was unwilling to put forth. Although its twin-turbo 3.6l V8 and Dallara-developed chassis gave the GT-One a competitive turn of speed, it was let down by mechanical failures, tire disintegrations and just plain bad luck (read: collisions initiated by other racers). Even with the enormous resources of the Japanese giant, the car could finish no better than 25 laps back of the winning Porsche 911 GT1 in ’98. It did manage to hold on to second place overall in ’99, but that achievement was tempered by the fact that it was running in a class by itself, the other race cars having to abide by slightly more stringent rules.

Toyota GT-One GT1 Red Le Mans Racer Race Car

In spite of its lack of success around the Circuit de la Sarthe, I’m fascinated by, if not necessarily drawn to, its looks. Perhaps the most arresting aspect of its lines are their utter organic-ness. To generalize, even when incorporating sweeping, curved shapes, Japanese-sourced styling isn’t known for being the most romantic, as it were. But on a race car, no less, where form should be fully subservient to function, the GT-One’s shape looks downright fanciful. Examine the gothic curve of the nose cone, check out the insectoid headlight clusters and the rippling expanse of bodywork aft of the cockpit, terminating in a full-width ducktail and baroque spoiler. Looking so much like an idle concept exercise, I couldn’t believe Toyota had actually raced one “in anger” when I first beheld it (admittedly, in the video game Gran Turismo 2). They deserve recognition for creating a car so distinctive, if not successful.

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series examining the aesthetic merits of cars designed almost wholly with function in mind. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Aesthetics, Aesthetics of Racing, Racing, Toyota


  1. Hi there Matt,
    Interesting observations about the aesthetics of the Toyota. I was involved with the team in Cologne in the look of the car. In charge of the project was Andre de Cortanze who designed the fabulous Peugeot 905 Le Mans car. Andre has a great sense of style and was very particular about all the elements of the car being aesthetically pleasing. My principle task was to look after the road version which you show in your picture, the interior, which is rarely shown in images was a good piece of work, something I was very pleased with.

    Peter Stevens

    • Matt says:

      Hi Peter,

      Appreciate the comment! Fascinating to hear how concerned the designer of a car intended primarily for racing was about its aesthetic appeal. He did a great job. I featured images of the road version in my post as the all-red paint scheme displays the GT-One’s lines to better advantage when compared with the red-and-white livery of the racer. It helps, too, that the car’s shape changed so little between the circuit and the road; I’m impressed you decided not to do a GT40 Mk III-style complete reinterpretation for the version sold to the general public.

      I’ll look up the interior. Come to think of it, you’ve given me an idea for a new series of posts: Supercar Interiors.


  2. areopagitica says:

    How about a comment or two on the Consulier, probably the AZTEK of racing GTs?

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