QotW: Who’s the Baddest President of a Japanese Car Company?

Soichiro Honda jetpack
Since Monday was Presidents’ Day here in the States, we thought it’d be a good time to find out which captains of Japanese industry you admire most. From Mitsubishi founder and real life samurai Yataro Iwasaki to current Toyota head and sports car champion Akio Toyoda, history is littered with men without whom the cars we know and love would exist. Therefore we ask:

Who’s the baddest president of a Japanese car company?

Our pick goes to Soichiro Honda, who started his motorcycle company in 1955 and within four years tossed them into the world’s most grueling two-wheeler race, the Isle of Man TT. Two years after that, he won it. However lest you think that was a fluke, Honda also won a Formula 1 race only two years of producing his company’s first real car. Add to that the fact that Honda-san built his first race car at age 16 out of a discarded aircraft engine and has been photographed wearing a muthaeffin’ jetpack, we can think of no one badder.

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining or inspiring comment by next Monday will receive a toy. Click through to see the winner from last week’s question, “What year was the peak of Japanese car design?

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Our winner is Jared Boorn, who gave us this ode to the angular Eighties:

I think I have to say it was the boxyesque/geometric 80s that is my favorite design period so far. I liked the sharp line work and the geometric prism vehicles that came as a result. The hatches were the coolest in my opinion, examples being the Honda CRX and the Toyota AE86. I have a first gen RX-7 and while I feel like the design is wonderful I don’t consider it a part of this 80s group. The wedgy FC, however, encapsulates some of that 80s design that I’m trying to get at. There is just something that is more raw and attractive to me about a design that embraces sharp edges and doesn’t try to smooth everything out and make it “sleek”. I think currently we are seeing a mixture of 80′s and 90′s design. With a combo car very geometrically shaped and smoothed/bubble-like. Overall I have always enjoyed Japanese designs. Especially, their interpretation of the sports/muscle car. Cars like the 240Z are so well done that to me they remain untouchable design wise.

Omedetou! Your prize from the JNC gashapon is a Hot Wheels Super Speeders mystery pack Mazda RX-7 to go along with yours!

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13 Responses to QotW: Who’s the Baddest President of a Japanese Car Company?

  1. dankan said:

    Personally, I would agree with you about Soichiro Honda, just because he also gave the finger to the Japanese government and their entire industrial policy. The Japanese government did not want Honda to make cars, as they already had Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Mazda doing that and doing very well thank you. Honda wanted to anyway, and did so in the face of government opposition and a lack of the support the government gave to those other companies.

    That is chutzpah, and given how well Honda has done subsequently, especially when compared to the other makers (save Toyota), he was right.

    However, you can’t win the prize by agreeing with the House, so the sword-wielding Iwasaki-san gets my vote, due to pure tchotchke greed.

  2. Ken said:

    Yutaka Katayama – Mr. K needs no introduction, father of the Z cars, believer in the Datsun/Nissan brand, is currently 103 years old and still kicking (ok maybe just limping.)

    It’s hard to imagine the thoughts of such an influential figure whose lived through OVER a century in human history, from beginning of/to present automotive world.

    In somewhat recent article about Katayama that resonated with me, was his opinion on the 370z being too bulky and heavy, as opposed to the connected driving experience of the s30 chassis, referring to a similar relationship and a bond between men and horse.

    What a badass.

    • KPGC10-001218 said:

      Yutaka Katayama doesn’t qualify, as he wasn’t the [i]President of a Japanese Car Company[/i] in the true sense. He might have been one of the Presidents of NMC USA, but NMC USA was essentially a car sales and distribution network for one territory. Katayama always had to answer to superiors in Japan and the then current President of Nissan Jidosha KK.

  3. Ken said:

    I guess so, though getting awfully picky don’t you think, ‘he had a President title but he wasn’t’

    I would still classify NMC USA as a Japanese company for the sake of this article, oh well. Just my 2 c.

    • KPGC10-001218 said:

      No, I don’t think it’s just being picky. I think it’s being accurate.

      Too many people talk up Katayama’s role in matters that he actually had comparatively little to do with ( like that “Father Of The Z” thing ) and make him sound like some kind of Renaissance man tyro designer / engineer / empire builder / man-of-the-people. All that whilst largely ignoring what he WAS actually good at, and what he was NOT very good at. It’s all too much Cult Of Personality, and lacks objectivity. Katayama was – still is – a great man and a seminal figure in Nissan’s history, but he has always cast a very long and dark shadow over a great number of arguably just as influential figures.
      I believe it’s no exaggeration to say that Katayama’s greatest and most enduring success was selling “Mr K.”, a benign and lovably identifiable USA-based face for a Japanese corporation that would otherwise be faceless and unloved there. He’s a Colonel Sanders for the auto industry.

      • Ken said:

        Your rant above sounds like a case being made for why you don’t think he could be a Winner for the question at hand, “Who’s the Baddest President of a Japanese Car Company?” – which is completely acceptable.

        Your previous post (the only one I was referring to) basically stated he shouldn’t be considered at all, despite having had a ‘President’ occupation title.

        Those are two different arguments, and considering your biased overtone, I get a feeling this isn’t worth going on about any longer.

        • KPGC10-001218 said:

          “Rant”…?

          Look, it’s simple. Katayama was never the PRESIDENT of Nissan. He was the President of an offshore subsidiary company that was tasked with selling the wares of NISSAN. He can’t be compared to a figure such as Soichiro Honda on a like-for-like basis.

          You’re quite welcome to keep calling Katayama a “badass”, but you’re really only proving my point that the ‘Mr K.’ thing is overhyped nonsense.

  4. Jared Boorn said:

    I know that this is slightly off topic but I searched for a little bit and I couldn’t find/didn’t know if the prize thing is for real or how I would go about claiming it… Sorry, I’m a newbie here so any help/info would be appreciated. Thank you!

    P.S. That picture of Mr. Honda with a jet pack strapped to his back is simply brilliant!

  5. G. Duncan said:

    (I was a sales rep for the motorcycle division of American Honda for 40 years, starting in 1970. Based on that experience, I also cast my vote for Mr. Honda. Here is an amusing recollection I have about him)

    “Leroy and Mr. Honda”

    As a Honda rep, I always enjoyed calling on Mr. Leroy Winters dealership, in Ft. Smith, Arkansas: In about 1965, Leroy rode a step-thru 50 (I think a C100) from his store in Ft. Smith, AR to Houston, TX. That is a distance of about 500 miles, one-way. He either did this as a publicity stunt, or it was just Leroy being Leroy.

    As I recall, he overheard some customer on his showroom floor, make a disparaging remark about Hondas not being “real motorcycles”…only Japanese toys. So he decided to pick the smallest bike in our lineup to make his point. That would have been about 40 hours in the saddle, round-trip. Like I said in previous posts, he was little, but he was tough.

    In some ways this reminds me of Mr. Honda getting furious when he heard the chairman of GM making this dismissive remark about the CVCC engine (after both Ford and Chrysler had bought the rights to it in the summer of 1973): “Well, I have looked at this design, and while it might work on some little toy motorcycle engine…I see no potential for it on one of our GM car engines.”

    When Mr. Honda heard this, he bought a 1973 V8 Impala, air-freighted it to Japan, designed and cast a set of CVCC heads for the Chevy engine, tested it in our own emission labs, then flew the car back to the EPA’s facility in Ann Arbor, and had it tested by them…where it passed the stringent 1975 emissions requirements. You didn’t mess with the old man…

  6. G. Duncan said:

    (Another Mr. Honda story)

    “Fly me to the Moon”

    In 1972, during one of Mr. Honda’s trips to the U.S., he asked to tour Cape Canaveral and see the Apollo moon program, first hand. During this tour, he met and became friends with Gene Cernan, who was a member of the Apollo 17 crew, and was the last man to walk on the moon. Cernan made arrangements for Mr. Honda to get VIP seating for one of the Apollo launches…apparently so close to the launch pad it almost burned his eyebrows. I’m sure this is just what Mr. Honda wanted…being the ultimate gearhead, he was blown away by seeing the Saturn V go off from this close range.

    (As an aside: I flew down to the Cape in December 1972, to watch the launch of the final Apollo mission…it was the first [and only] night launch of a Saturn V rocket, which made it just that much more spectacular. There is no way to describe what it was like to be there, it was an other-worldly experience, so I understand the powerful effect it had on Mr. Honda.)

    At the January 1973 Honda dealer convention, Mr. Honda, still very moved by this experience, incorporated a story about it into his speech to the dealers. He kept hollering: Human relations! Human relations! during the speech. The dealers and all of us reps all kind of blinked at each other, trying to decipher what he was talking about. Later we understood that he was trying to convey how moved he was at what man could accomplish (the Apollo program, and going to the moon) if they worked together as a team and had good human relations. He wanted to achieve this same teamwork and harmony throughout the whole Honda organization. I’m afraid this lofty message was lost on most of the dealers.

    Mr. Honda and Cernan remained good friends, even after the Apollo program was over. To show his appreciation for getting the front row seat for the launch in 1972, Mr. Honda decided to give Cernan a brand new 1975 Civic CVCC 5-speed (Yellow)…it was the most-desired car we built back then, and was in extreme demand. Auto sales in Gardena made arrangements for the courtesy delivery of the Civic through one of the dealers near the Cape. However, when the car arrived at the dealership, the dealer either didn’t know, or didn’t care about the courtesy delivery…he sold it immediately, before Cernan could get there to take delivery. You can only imagine what a mad scramble must have happened in auto sales to get a replacement car shipped. I never heard if Mr. Honda heard about this incident, I hope for the dealer’s sake, that he didn’t.

  7. G. Duncan said:

    (And a final Mr. Honda story)

    “Mr. Honda: My First Encounter With Him”

    As a young rep in mid-December of 1970, I was in Gardena for a National Sales and Service meeting. Considering the closeness of the Holiday season, the good folks in charge at that time decided to treat all the reps, both Sales and Service, to a nice Christmas Dinner at the Beverly Hilton.
    I was still pretty starry-eyed at that time, due to my youth, my short time with Honda, being in LA for probably only the 3rd or 4th time, and just generally still being on a high from the good fortune of having been hired by Honda. This starry-eyed factor was just about to ramp up sharply.

    There were around 80 reps in the banquet room at the Hilton that night. There was the usual good cheer that always accompanies these rep dinners…even to this day. We had just finished our first course of the meal, when suddenly the side doors burst open and in walked Mr. Honda. Apparently he was in town on other business and when he heard “his boys” were in town, he wanted to see us.

    We were all just agog at seeing him…we had no idea he was in town, and we almost were not sure if it even was him. But, we soon knew all too well that it was definitely him. He was 64 at that time, but he had the energy, demeanor and movement of a man in his late 30’s. It was evident that he was quite at home in a room full of high-spirited guys in their 20’s and early 30’s. It’s like he was drawing energy from the room, and we all were certainly drawing energy from him.

    He quickly went into what I know now was one of his favorite performances, that he loved to pull on dealers and other groups of people that he wanted to show appreciation and respect for. He took a towel from one of the waiters and put over his forearm, to mimic a waiter. Then he walked around to each table of reps, and sampled all 80 of our drinks. If he deemed that one of these drinks was not strong enough, he would summon a real waiter with the appropriate liquor, and add what he felt was the right amount, to bring the drink up to his standards. Sort of a “Beer for my horses, Whiskey for my men” gesture. As another Honda favorite, Doug Woiwod, used to like to say, Mr. Honda liked to “Whack the old throttle”…or play just as hard as he worked, and he expected the same out of his reps.

    He then gave a short speech, saying how much he appreciated the work we were doing for his company, and how important he felt the rep job was. Then, as quickly as he had appeared, he was back out those side doors, as if he had never been there. We all looked at each other, blinking, not quite believing what had just happened.

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