As most of you know, Nissan USA’s headquarters is located in Nashville, Tennessee. This past Sunday the local Cars & Coffee event, held near the main offices, was a tribute to a man pivotal in building Nissan’s American presence, Yutaka Katayama, the former president of Nissan USA who passed away earlier this year at the age of 105.
As part of the tribute, Nissan USA planned to bring several Z-Cars from their Heritage Collection. I was asked to drive one of the cars, and as it turns out I had the honor of driving the earliest one of the bunch. My chariot for the morning: Nissan’s beautifully restored silver Datsun 240Z. It was already idling and warming up when I arrived, a nice little burble echoing off the block wall.
Before heading over to the Cars & Coffee event, located across the street from Nissan’s corporate offices, we lined up for a shot of the Z parade, starting with the 240Z.
This yellow 260Z 2+2 was Mr K’s last company car before he retired in 1977. Like the 240Z he owned, it was yellow, his favorite color.
Also included in the procession were a Stillen Z32 twin-turbo, a Black Gold 10th Anniversary 280ZX, a 40th Anniversary Edition 370Z and a new 2015 Nissan Murano.
Some Nissan employees arrived with their own 240Zs. After a quick mile-and-a-half drive, we arrived at the Nashville Cars & Coffee parking area.
Under sakura blossoms, the Middle Tennessee Z Club had set up a booth. Mr K was there in spirit… and in cardboard.
There were Zs of all generations lined up already, from S30s to Z31s to Z33s. I counted a few dozen in total.
Professional racer, Datsun mechanic, and hometown hero Clark Crawford brought out his personal 240Z.
The Z-Car’s lasting legacy could be felt, as evidenced by the way so many generations have have made the Z-Car their own. And we’re not even talking about the cars — you can tell how influential the original S30 is still today just by looking at how many styles of customization it spawned.
In the early 1970s, before the internet and long before the term “JDM” had been used by enthusiasts, many of the Zs were modified in styles carried over from the muscle car crowd: slot mag wheels, racing stripes, and integrated flares. Even today, the modern muscle “resto mod” theme, with large wheels and blacked out trim, can be seen.
In the 80s, it was common to see sleeker fiberglass body kits, spoilers, and 280ZX wheels.
Once the floodgates to Japan were opened, styles from the motherland began to take hold in the US, from Hayashi Street-style wheels to bolt-on flares.
Of course, there’s always appreciation for a bone stock 240Z. The owner even had a reproduction window sticker made (original MSRP: $4,181 out the door) autographed by Mr K.
There was nothing Mr K loved more than attending car shows to meet with Nissan and Datsun owners. The only thing that stopped him from coming to US events was his health. His motto was always “Love Cars! Love People! Love Life!” Surely he would not have asked for anything more than a gathering of cars and enthusiasts as way to commemorate his life.
I’m really upset about this. I would have flown up to have been there… But Nissan corp told me through 3-4 emails that they weren’t doing anything for him!!!! No tribute, no car show, no nothing! At first they didn’t even know who I was talking about or why I cared.
Way to go corp!
There’s a group of die-hard Nissan/Datsun enthusiasts at corporate, but you have to find them. This seemed to be an informal event but it still sucks that whomever you communicated with gave you the wrong info.
Wow just imagine the Mr. K celebration if NISSAN NA had not mistakenly abandoned it’s historic Gardena HQ!
Looked like it was a great event.
Such a great tribute by Chris Nicholson! Middle Tennessee Z Club member Tom Lesieur asked if the club (MTZC) or Nissan planned a tribute to honor Mr. Katayama and we quickly agreed that some love and respect must be shown. To that end, club members posted the planned gathering on Z websites and forums and to area Z clubs. Those who came (some from Alabama and Georgia) autographed a tribute photo book which is being mailed to Masako Katayama. We wanted her to see how important her husband was to the Z community. We knew early on that Nissan Corporate was planning to bring Mr. K’s yellow Z and were appreciative that they brought several examples of special Z cars as mentioned in Chris’ story. Thanks to the 58 Z owners who shared the love. Enjoy the Ride!
Robert, it was great to see so many Z’s out that fine morning. Great job on getting the word out to the clubs! It was good to see you again as well, although we didn’t get to talk very long.
The tribute turned out better than I could have expected. I was thinking the whole time we’d just get a handful of Z’s together at C&C to pay some respect in some small way. I hate that someone at corporate looks to have got their wires crossed, but they did participate in a big way. After all, Mr K is not only responsible for the Z, but it’s not a stretch to say he was instrumental in that big glass building in Franklin being there, and the plant in Smyrna, where this die hard Z fan works. Thanks for this great writeup, thanks to Bob for making the event what it was, and THANKS MR K!
“After all, Mr K is not only responsible for the Z…”
In what way was Yutaka Katayama “responsible for the Z”? Many of the corporate and personal tributes to Yutaka Katayama have credited him with the actual creation of cars, and the 510 and ‘240Z’ in particular, but it simply isn’t true in any measurable sense. Katayama had not an engineer or even a stylist, and had no such remit at Nissan.
Many of the things that Katayama was pushing for were inevitably going to be coming anyway. Does anybody really think that Nissan would be stuck with 1950s type products into the late 1960s? Does anybody believe that the SP/SR roadsters would not be superseded by a next-step sports car that complied with new (global!) safety legislation? Does anybody really believe that the needs of Nissan’s most important single market (yes, Japan…) didn’t figure in their global strategy, let alone the requirements of emerging and (for Nissan) very important markets other than north America? If you only look at Nissan’s history and product through the prism of one market and one or two variants of its product then you are never going to understand the whole.
The saddest thing about all the ‘Mr K’ miscredit is that it overshadows the fine work of a cast of thousands, if not tens of thousands, and casts him as a single white-hatted hero fighting in the name of good against black-hatted corporate baddies. In fact this is one of the reasons that we know relatively little about the REAL planners, stylists, engineers and blue-collars that were actually ‘responsible’ for the cars we love.
By all means we should bid a fond farewell to Yutaka Katayama, and thank him for being a good businessman and an inspiration. One of the Great Men in Japan’s 20th Century indeed, and a man of his time. But please let’s keep things in perspective and refrain from giving him the credit and kudos for things that were – at the very least – the work of many others and in many cases not much to do with Katayama at all. Thank you.
Not trying to turn this into the first ever argument on the internet, but the credit is due to his well documented lobbying for the Z to be created and brought to market based on his time spent in America and evaluating the American car market. He is single handedly responsible for being the first at Nissan, and in the Japanese automotive industry, to come to America and embrace American culture. I agree that it took the work of an entire company to deliver the 240Z, but he is universally credited with planting the seed that became that vehicle. A unique sports car that was right for America. Had Nissan not had Mr. K., we would of course have gotten new vehicles, but had Nissan stayed siloed in Japan (like the executives at the time wanted to), who knows what those new vehicles would have been. I’ll add that he personally worked to get Datsun dealerships open in America when there were hardly any in existence, and he was even instrumental in bringing the 350Z to market post-alliance with Renault. To the one man who did all of that, I have no issue with giving the credit.
The “first argument on the internet” was probably inevitable after somebody posted the first half-baked nonsense on it. Almost every single one of your points in support of Katayama is arguably incomplete or just plain wrong.
Katayama didn’t lobby for the Z to be created, and he only added his support to the project after it was already well under way. This is well documented in Japan (by the people who DID create it…) and the American version has probably taken root and grown branches because until relatively recently nobody was asking the Japanese side what the facts were. Katayama casting long dark shadows again.
Far from being “a unique sportscar that was right for America”, the ‘240Z’ (and that term itself applies to more than one variant…) was part of a family of models in the S30-series Z range. Largest single market for sales potential was north America, yes. But that was also true for any number of cars from MG, Triumph, Jaguar, Porsche, ALFA Romeo and any number of other manufacturers including Maserati, Lamborghini and Ferrari (good luck convincing an Englishman that Jaguar’s E-Type was “created for the USA”). The S30-series Z range was demonstrably not conceived, designed, styled and engineered solely for the USA market.
The “single handed” stuff about building the “USA” (I say north American) market is another case of short-sighted hero worship that may well get swallowed whole by people who want to hear it, but doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny. Katayama wasn’t the first man from Nissan to set foot in the country and Nissan had already been investigating and evaluating the market (a no-brainer) for a good two years before Katayama even arrived. You’re not giving any credit to Marubeni Corp or to Koichi IWATA in particular, you’re not acknowledging the fact that Nissan had already set up a project team and committee to study the north American market and what it would take to establish itself there (I guess you think those people were not embracing “American culture”?), you don’t mention the first independent dealers (messrs Luby, Singer, Woolverton and Lemke for example) and – perhaps most unjustly of all – you’re completely ignoring the fine work of the modest Soichi KAWAZOE (yes, the other ‘Mr K.’) who had arrived before Katayama and was his equal as VP of NMC-USA under ISHIHARA until 1965.
It’s complete nonsense to assert that Nissan Japan’s execs didn’t want to expand into the north American market (“siloed”…???) as they were doing just that before Katayama was even sent there, and with arch-rivals Toyota having established its own north American sales organisation in 1957 it was inevitable anyway. So all Katayama’s anti Japanese exec stuff (those bad guys in the black hats who were “trying to get rid of” him) really only boils down to personal prejudices and gives a glimpse of the politicking behind it all. Far from being “banished”, Katayama had actually been given a dream job at a very opportune time.
Just like most of the Katayama lore, the “single handed” stuff also completely ignores the fact that Nissan was looking at the GLOBAL market. That meant taking the Australia/NZ market seriously, the entire European and Scandinavian market seriously, the African market seriously and all points in between seriously. It also ignores the fact that Nissan’s single most important market at the time and ongoing was it’s domestic Japanese market, and that Japan itself was changing rapidly. Viewing Nissan’s history solely through the prism of the USA market and swallowing Katayama’s every word as gospel truth is no way to get a handle on the bigger story.
I raised a smile at your mention of the ‘350Z’. That and your ‘240Z’ (‘Z33’ and ‘S30’ would be better) again reveals the view through that USA prism. Having heard Katayama in person mercilessly slating the Z33 soon after its debut, and then seen him riding in one – along with Ghosn – whilst smiling and waving to the public, I personally take a lot of what he wrote and said with a large pinch of salt. And having having heard Katayama state in person “I made it” (referring to the S30-series Z) it occurred to me that Katayama would have sometimes been better advised to have said “we, we, we” instead of “I, I, I”…
Crap dude. Guess this thread is over. I’m going to go enjoy my S30 now. Which version of the S30? I guess it’s taboo to say.
Why would it be “taboo” to say which specific variant of S30-series you actually own and drive? That’s referring to a specific car, so its correct.
The point being made (in case it went over your head) is that it’s more correct – when discussing the concept, design, styling, engineering and production of the whole S30-series Z range, as seen at launch in October 1969 and beyond – to use the term ‘S30-series’.
It’s simple really, isn’t it? It’s what Nissan did in period, so we have their good example to follow…
Jesus guy. Fine, you win the Internet. Sorry you take such offense to all the things Yutaka Katayama is credited for.
Actually I don’t take offence to all the things that Yutaka Katayama is “credited for”. I only take offence at the things he is credited with, but didn’t do…
As for “winning the internet”, I think that particular prize has already been awarded to messrs Stupid, Ignorant and Short Attention Span.