History of the Z Car Documentary


Here’s a great documentary on the birth of the Z car. It’s a 1995 documentary, and has very much a US-centric focus, but since the US demand was largely responsible for the success of the 240Z, this is hardly a criticism (although I can almost feel the incandescent rage that diehard Z fans will feel about Count Albrecht Goertz getting yet another undeserved credit for styling the car) 🙂

It covers the early history of Datsun in the USA market, and the conditions that led to the introduction of the 240Z in 1969. It also contains great racing footage of the BRE 240Z and later IMSA 280ZX race cars too. It’s rather imaginitively recorded, but well worth the 30mins!

This post is filed under: nissan.

10 Responses to History of the Z Car Documentary

  1. KPGC10-001218 said:

    Sorry to be a voice if dissent Kev, but I don’t agree.

    I think this ‘History Channel’ production is full of mistakes, skewed ‘facts’ and also the odd lie here and there. Even the first line of commentary from the clips posted is incorrect!

    It just adds to the amount of bad information about the S30-series Z range, and makes it harder to get people to appreciate some of the most basic truths of the story. Poor show all round, I’d say.

  2. Kev said:

    I agree it’s a fairly skewed account of the truth, but to be fair, I reckon it’s no worse than countless coffee-table books and car magazine retrospectives on the same subject. Unless you’re a real student of Z history, I think this is the version that most researchers will end up with since it’s the most prevalent version out there (ie the Goertz/Katayama version).

    And it’s certainly no worse than the popularly accepted version of Mazda MX5 design history, in which very little credit is given to the Japanese design team!

    Ahh well anyway, we can enjoy the footage 🙂

  3. Burabuda said:

    i really like this vid. of course, i’m not a z guy nor am i a stickler for the “facts.” really, it’s a joy just to see mr. k. we yanks have sanctified him, but he remains underappreciated by the rest of the world

  4. KPGC10-001218 said:

    Well, I must have a completely different philosophy to everyone who happily accepts this kind of production being presented as “History”.

    I accept that history is going to be written differently according to the point of view of the writer, but there are SO many untruths in this production that they completely outweigh any other benefit it might have. I’m quite sure that 99.9% of people who view the clips ( let alone the whole show ) will believe that what it presents is TRUTH – when actually almost every line of dialogue is factually incorrect. As I mentioned before, even the first line of dialogue from the clips is a lie……! I have seen NOBODY question the date quoted.

    Kev, you say that this is “No worse than countless coffee-table books and car magazine retrospectives on the same subject” – but I reckon that this History Channel show is as bad as it is BECAUSE so many of those coffee-table books and car mag articles have set the ( bad ) precedent for it. WE would probably find that the History Channel researchers and/or the people that advised them used all that stuff as reference material for their show. Lies beget lies. And so it goes on…….

    Burabuda, you might well believe that Katayama remains “underappreciated by the rest of the world” – but personally speaking I believe he has been consistently overcredited in situations where he was simply a bit part player or less, and has self-promoted to an almost shameful degree. All of which – to my mind – dulls the shine on his REAL achievements ( which are many and great ) and indicates that he was a player in a TEAM saying “I” when he should have been saying “we”. This is one of the very reasons that caused him to be supreseded, to cries of “unfair” from all of those who didn’t realise just how much he was rocking the boat.

    All this Katayama-worshipping just casts a bigger shadow over many of the people who were doing the REAL work, and who indeed CREATED these companies and machines that we spend so much time appreciating. Nissan should not need a Ronald Macdonald, Colonel Sanders or Pilsbury Doughboy type figure blocking out the light that should fall on a cast of thousands.

  5. Kev said:

    Ok, fair enough 🙂

    Well you know, we can rectify the situation in a small way….there’s plenty of Hakosuka info on GrandJDM but not quite so much on the Zed.

    I’d be more than happy to author an article (or even a series of them) on the beginnings of the Zed with your help. Tell the Japanese side of the story for a change.

  6. Burabuda said:

    that’s a great idea, kev.

    i’m surprised to hear there’s such outrage over “katayama-worship.” again, i’m neither a z guy nor a stickler for the facts. all i know is that mr. k bridges the gap between nissan japan and nissan usa. so i don’t think that’s a negative. people will always need their heroes, and while it’s true that heroes don’t stand alone, they usually get all the credit. in that sense, such sour grapes against mr. k sounds like it comes from an embittered ex-nissan employee. if you would like to clarify what mr. k should or should not be credited with, that’s fine, but nothing you do or say will impinge his cult status.

  7. Kev said:

    Burabuda, I think it’s a western cultural thing. If you look at the history of cars, there are always cases where one or two ppl are named as the “designer” or the “father” of that model. Think Alec Issogonis, Butzi Porsche, Sir William Lyons, Sergio Pininfarina etc. They seem to get all the credit even though we all know that they have teams of hundreds of ppl behind them who are equally creditworthy.

    When it comes to say the 240Z, all you tend to read is a suggestion that Goertz designed it and Mr K made it all happen. While those men did influence the project, we don’t know who the japanese cheif engineers were for the suspension, the drivetrain, the body, etc. Those guys would have a lot to say that would be VERY interesting in an interview.

    That said…take the example of the Porsche 911. Ok, we know that Butzi Porsche styled it. But who designed the strut/semi-trailing arm suspension? Who designed the new six cylinder motor? Google it and I dare say you will find the answers but most ppl will just think that Butzi designed the whole thing.

    So I guess that was the point I was making above, that the popular version of 240Z history is not really any worse than for most cars…but Alan is right, and I think there would be a much more interesting version of the 240Z genesis if we profiled its Japanese fathers instead. The Goertz/Katayama version has been well covered already.

  8. DJLotus said:

    Fav quote: “Other features included: a suspension”

  9. KPGC10-001218 said:

    But Kev, we DO know the names of the people who designed and engineered the ‘240Z’! Their names are common knowledge amongst the people who care to look into such things a little more deeply than the History Channel show makers.

    Yoshihiko Matsuo was Chief Designer on the project. Talking to this man is a real education, and having him walk around an early S30-series Z whilst he describes it is a revelation.
    Hiroo Miyate and Akio Yoshida were two of the main designers of the exterior and Yoshida had some input on the interior too. Itsuki Chiba had great responsibility for the final interior designs, and Hitoshi Uemura was chief of engineering, working with Tsuneo Benitani and Hidemi Kamahara. Of course, there was a cast of hundreds involved in the S30-series design project and its componentry overall, but the names above are just some of the key hands-on players.
    To see Yutaka Katyama lauded as the “Father” of the Z car ( a rather grand but somewhat nebulous title ) whilst the names of those key players are not even brought up is in my opinion shameful. I have even seen Katayama say “I designed it” ( meaning the ‘240Z’ ) which is at the very least, and cutting him plenty of slack, a poor choice of words. Katayama actually came into the story of what would become the S30-series Z when the story had already started, and – as Matsuo relates – encouraged the team greatly. Katayama was a great salesman, and knew he could sell the ‘right’ kind of cars like hot cakes in the USA market if they were also priced right. His actual design / engineering input on the cars was so little as to be unmeasureable, and people put far too much emphasis on talking about the car as being “designed for the USA” whilst completely ignoring that the design teams were working on cars that they believed were aimed at WORLD export markets as well as their own domestic market. There was just as much design concession in the USA market S30-series Z as there was in both the domestic and RHD export versions – but people refuse to see it! They designed a RANGE of models ( not JUST the ‘240Z’ – a model tag which can signify quite different specs depending on the market ) for launch at the same time, and it is incorrect to label the USA market model as any kind of ‘King’ or primary design in the model range. The USA sales flannel of course would have you believe otherwise ( “we designed this car FOR YOU!” ) but that does not reflect what was really going on in the studio. OF COURSE they knew that the USA was going to be the potential prime market in terms of quantities – but so did the designers of many other cars ( including the Porsche 356 & 911, the E-type Jaguar, the MGA and MGB, the Triumph TR range etc etc ) and it does not automatically follow that the USA spec and layout took precedent over all others in the overall design and engineering of the car. In fact, the drivetrain of the car dictated much of its layout, and the plain fact that Japan was an RHD-oriented country had more consequences for the final designs as any other factor. Forget about sales figures whilst we talk about DESIGN AND ENGINEERING, and understand that the team designed a RANGE of possibilities in both RHD and LHD layouts, and in varying spec details. They did this all at the same time, and they did it well.

    The History Channel show implies that Katayama set up NMC USA on his own, and that he was some kind of Columbus-like figure who set sail and discovered new territories to conquer. In actual fact his colleague Soichi Kawazoe ( yes – the ‘other’ Mr K….. ) had arrived well before him and started a lot of the work that Katayama gets the credit for. Now Katayama is a great man ( he’s one of my heroes as a matter of fact ) but this re-writing of history to elevate him to Saint status is a gross distortion of the truth and does nobody any good whatsoever in the long-term.

    Everybody knows that the ‘240Z’ model sold very well in the USA market, but shows like this History Channel production fail to mention that many of the other models being sold beside them were doing arguably better. For example, in 1971 ( a year after launch, and well into high production ) the ‘240Z’ was outsold in the USA market by the 1200 Sunny ( double the 240Z’s sales ), the 510 ( triple the 240Z’s sales ) and the Datsun pickups ( nearly triple the 240Z’s sales ). The ‘240Z’ gets talked about so much because it has that glamour factor that people like to associate with heroes. Would the ‘Mr K.’ story be quite as glamorous and History Channel show-worthy if they concentrated on pickup sales? Well, by rights it should be…….

    Forget about Goertz, by the way. The man had absolutely NO input on the S30-series Z range whatsoever, and consistently lied and exagerrated about his work with Nissan. He’s a nobody in this story. I don’t like to see his name anywhere near that of Katayama either, as there’s no real connection between the two of them and no comparison either.

  10. Gavin Doolan said:

    I was going to ask where I can get a copy of this video, since I really want to see some early Z racing footage or just general JDM car’s racing, such as early Rotaries and Skylines, Zeds, 510’s etc..

    But…I just read all the comments and no feel somewhat guilty asking for a copy of such a video :).

    Alan can you suggest somewhere I could obtain footage or a documentary that is more accurate?

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