If it weren’t for the way a split second unfolded on the morning of August 6, 1945, some of the world’s greatest cars, like the Cosmo Sport, RX-7 and Miata, may have never existed. That was the day Mazda Motor Corporation’s founder, Jujiro Matsuda, narrowly escaped being vaporized by an atomic bomb.
Jujiro Matsuda was already a successful businessman when he was asked to take over Toyo Kyogo Cork Company in 1921. Matsuda revamped the struggling cork manufacturer and turned it into a producer of industrial tooling, which led to the carmaker we know and love today.
Of course, Mazda is to this day located in Hiroshima, a city synonymous with the nuclear bomb. As it happens, August 6, 1945, the day of the bombing, was also Matsuda-san’s 70th birthday. Automotive News tells the story thusly:
The day of the attack just happened to be the birthday of Mazda founder Jujiro Matsuda. And in keeping with Japanese tradition, he ventured downtown for a customary birthday haircut bright and early, as the Enola Gay B-29 bomber buzzed toward its target.
Matsuda’s barber opened at 7:30am and Jujiro, being the busy businessman that he was, wanted to get in first. However, as he approached the shop door another customer apparently had the same idea. In what we can only imagine was a scenario straight out of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Matsuda sped up and got his foot in the door just before the other guy.
A 30-minute haircut later, Matsuda was in his car headed towards Mazda HQ, just 3.5 miles away. He was only halfway to his destination at 8:15am when the Little Boy A-bomb detonated, with ground zero, according to the story, just 50 yards from the barbershop. Everything within a one mile radius was obliterated instantly, but damage and fires extended to 4.4 miles.
An estimated 135,000 people, or about 30 percent of the city’s population, were killed by the blast and subsequent radiation poisoning. Matsuda’s car, just outside the zone of immediate annihilation, was flipped by the blast. He and his chauffeur were thrown from the car but survived.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, Mazda’s headquarters was one of the few buildings in Hiroshima still standing, and served as a makeshift city hall, hospital, and whatever other public service imaginable.
Matsuda went on to turn Mazda into a flourishing car company that bore a westernized adaptation of his name. He retired in December 1951 and saw his son Tsuneji succeed him as president. Jujiro Matsuda died three months later at the age of 76.
They say racing is a game of milliseconds. Perhaps no company knows this better than Mazda, who constantly boasts about being the most-raced marque in America. Apparently, it’s something its founder knew all too well.