"Crazy Nobe" Wakatsuki, First Datsun Importer, Dies at 81

datsun_bluebird_210_ad As we all know, Nissan officially came to the US in 1960. But you’ve probably seen a small number of Datsuns built before then lurking around in barns and collections. Where did they come from? The answer is a man known as “Crazy Nobe.”

Nobushige Wakatsuki was a young man in his late 20s working for Marubeni Corp. of Los Angeles in 1955, importing Japanese goods ranging from textiles to transistor radios. When Wakatsuki saw Toyota enter the US market in 1957, he thought he might be able to sell Datsuns as well. He went to Nissan with the proposal and was promptly laughed out the door.

They called him crazy, and the nickname “Crazy Nobe” sort of stuck. But his madness didn’t end there. Wakatsuki went behind Nissan’s back, bought three cars and shipped them here. When Nissan asked why, he flat out lied, saying they were for personal use.

Wakatsuki succeeded in getting one company, Woolverton Motors of Glendale, California, to sign on. The dealer even published the ad shown above, calling the Bluebird “The Imported American Car.”

Both Nissan and Marubeni discovered the ruse eventually and were furious at him. Wakatsuki planned to sell 500 to 1000 cars in 1958, but only managed to move 83. For three years he toiled under a cloud of humiliation until Nissan finally decided to entier the market themselves and sent Yutaka “Mr. K” Katayama to oversee the operation. The rest is history. But when asked in 2008 about Nissan’s success now, Crazy Nobe just laughed and said, They probably still despise me!”

Wakatsuki-san passed away a couple of week ago on November 13, 2009. He was 81. If you own any of the Crazy Nobe Datsuns, let us know!

[Source: Automotive News via Autoblog]

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11 Responses to "Crazy Nobe" Wakatsuki, First Datsun Importer, Dies at 81

  1. bert says:

    Is that 1200 Van you posted a “Crazy Nobe” or is that Mr.K’s effort?

  2. Oyaji Gaijin says:

    Small thorns in the sides of big companies are enough to cause giant changes. A big company will make a drastic move to stick the screws to some little guy who has them by the long hairs. I know nothing of Datsun or their entry into the US market, but I know volumes about having the screws stuck. Based on the story presented, this man is the sole reason for Datsun/Nissan formally entering the US market, as retaliation for his attempt to be the middle man between the car manufacturer and North American distribution.

  3. Oyaji Gaijin says:

    Sorry, it should read “…guy who has them by the SHORT hairs.”.

  4. Ben says:

    Bert – I don’t know! The new owner has just checked in in that post’s comments, so maybe we’ll soon find out πŸ™‚

  5. KPGC10-001218 says:

    Luckily Nissan just happened to have made a few LHD models by mistake. Oh, hang on……….

  6. KPGC10-001218 says:

    And isn’t this article a little too Pacific Coast-centric? Wakatsuki ( working for Marubeni ) was appointed importer to the Pacific Coast, whilst Marubeni’s rivals at Mitsubishi Trading were appointed importers to the Atlantic Coast area. Marubeni’s first appointed dealers were Woolverton Motors, who signed up on 15th May 1958, but Mitsubishi signed a contract with Chester Luby for East Coast dealerships on April 29th – so it was Mistubishi Trading and the Lubys who pipped Marubeni, Wakatsuki and Woolverton’s to the post.

    Not forgetting Koichi Iwata of Nissan’s Export Department, who accompanied three vehicles to attend the 1958 Los Angeles Imported Car Show, and who stayed on in the USA to attend other car shows and to report back to Japan. Also Messrs Uno and Hara, who were in the USA in 1958 for in-field vehicle testing and feedback duties. This story of Wakatsuki being rebuffed and laughed at ( “crazy”? ) is at odds with the telling of the story from the other side, where Nissan assisted and actively encouraged Marubeni in their exploration of possibilities for the north American market.

    There’s no straight jump from Wakatsuki to Yutaka “Mr K.” Katayama either. Katayama could be regarded as something of a latecomer to the story, as his colleague Soichi Kawazoe had arrived in 1959 and established Nissan’s East Coast operations. Katayama followed Masahiko Zaitsu into the West Coast operations, arriving in 1960 to work initially with Woolverton. First President of Nissan Motor Co. USA was Takashi Ishihara ( previously Export Manager of Nissan Motors Japan, Ltd. ) and Kawazoe and Katayama were joint vice-Presidents of NMC USA ( Kawazoe responsible for the East Coast, and Katayama for the West Coast ).

    Katayama was ( still is ) a larger than life character, but let’s not forget the other players in the story……

  7. Sarcasmo says:

    I think your entry qualifies as a term paper. LOL

  8. KPGC10-001218 says:

    I should get a ‘fail’ for spelling Mitsubishi as “Mistubishi”, though – eh?

    • Ben says:

      I knew we could count on Alan πŸ™‚

      Alan is the hero the Internet deserves, but not the one it needs. So we’ll hunt him because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.

  9. KPGC10-001218 says:

    That “dark knight” was on his hands and knees this evening, working by torchlight in a freezing cold and dark brick garage, scraping 37 year old tar-board sound-deader and over-enthusiastically applied Hammerite paint off the inner floors of a once-white 1972 240ZG project car. I’m sure some of that stuff has even gone down my ears…..

    I like your image more than the one I see in the mirror.

  10. Fisch says:

    I have a 1959 Datsun l210 or Datsun 1000. I find these comments really interesting, thanks for sharing!

    The story I know about mine is that it was first registered in CT in 1960, (Sat on the lot for a year?) Anyway, a year later it wound up in New Mexico where it was registered from 61 to 68. It sat in the desert from 68 until I bought it this year. So while I don’t think I have a Crazy Nobe Datsun, do to location, I am guessing it must have been brought over by Kawazoe?

    I love learning anything I can about it. Appreciate you filling in some of the history.

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