Thursday 19th February 2015
Yutaka Katayama, the father of the Datsun Z, died at age 105 after a career that covered parts of eight decades. “Mr. K,” as he was known to his legions of fans across the globe, wasn’t a designer or engineer, but it was his understanding of both the American market and the synergy between driver and sports car that laid the groundwork for the Z’s success, and ultimately helped to establish Nissan as a significant player in the United States market. In 1965, Nissan began working on a sports car to counter Toyota’s 2000GT. Starting with a rendering penned by Albrecht Goertz, Nissan’s design team explored several different directions before settling on a final shape. Stressing that the relationship between car and driver was very much like the relationship between horse and rider (a concept that Mazda would later embrace with its Miata), Mr. K, then back in Japan, envisioned a sports car that was lightweight, with reasonable power and superior handling, yet affordable even by those with modest incomes. When the first cars were delivered to the United States, however, they carried “Fairlady” badging. Realizing that such a model name would hardly attract U.S. buyers, it was Mr. K that swapped the badging for a 240Z label, using the car’s internal designation.