Yutaka Katayama, former president of Nissan USA, better known as the “father of the Z,” died last week at the age of 105.

Katayama, or “Mr. K,” began his career at Nissan in 1935, working in publicity. After World War II, Mr. K pushed for the creation of a domestic auto show to help promote Japan’s car industry, and in 1954, the first Tokyo Motor Show was held.

In 1960, Mr. K was sent to California to start the difficult process of building a U.S. dealership network. He worked tirelessly, bringing the brand huge recognition stateside. In 1967, the 510 was introduced, setting the stage for the creation of the beloved 240Z.

"How can we transpose the relationship between man and horse into the one between man and car? Even after I was sent to Los Angeles in 1960 to establish Nissan Motor in the U.S., this question never really left me,” Mr. K would later recall. “Eventually I came up with the concept of the Z-car. It was a sports car with a sleek body with a long nose and a short deck, designed so that it could be built utilizing some of the parts and components that were already used in our other production cars, and it was a car that anybody could drive easily and that would give the driver that incredible feeling of jubilation that comes when car and driver are as one.”

Continue reading to learn more about the Datsun Z.

Why it matters

It’s not often that a single individual can be so closely associated with a car as widely adored as the Z. But to a lot of folks, Mr. K was the personification of his creation. His zeal to produce something fun and exhilarating, his ingenuity in constructing its success, and his overarching vision forged the Z car, a vehicle backed by personality, excitement, and above all, enthusiasm. He made cars that he wanted to drive, which is a sentiment that could go a long way in the current state of the industry.

Mr. K’s son, Mitsuo Katayama, mused that his father was now joyfully rocketing around heaven in a Z, without the worries of “gas, police, or traffic tickets.” Mr. K is survived by his wife, Masako, two sons and two daughters, 11 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. 

Datsun Z

Datsun 240Z
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Also known as the Fairlady, the Z car story starts in 1969 with the S30 240Z. Two versions hit the road that year, one for the Japanese market and another for the U.S. market, both sporting an inline-six cylinder engine mounted up front, a rear-wheel-drive drivetrain, undeniably good handling prowess, and classically beautiful exterior styling. The car was an instant hit, with American dealerships selling over 45,000 units through the ’71 model year, 50,000 units in 1972, and 40,000 units in 1973.

Five successive generations followed, with the current Nissan 370Z introduced in 2008. Lately, rumors of a seventh-generation Z car have been swirling, including talk of transplanting a four-cylinder turbocharged hybrid engine under the hood.

Source: AP

Jonathan Lopez
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