Chief engineers of Mazda Miata, R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R inducted into Japan Automotive Hall of Fame

In addition to cars, the Japan Automotive Hall of Fame also honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the country’s motoring culture. For 2020 three people were inducted: Toshihiko Hirai, chief engineer of the original NA Mazda Roadster; Naganori Ito, the chief engineer of the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R; and Namiki Oka, a journalist and city planner. Here’s a little more about each of these significant figures.

Toshihiko Hirai was appointed head of the Mazda Roadster program in February 1986. As such, he oversaw the development and launch of one of the most iconic cars in modern history. While working on the Miata, he developed Mazda’s Jinba Ittai, or “horse and rider as one” philosophy, which prioritized the connection between driver and machine over traditional metrics. The first-generation MX-5 revolutionized the sports car market, would become the best selling roadster of all time, and the Jinba Ittai concept still percolates down to every Mazda built today.

Naganori Ito was born in 1937 in Takehara City, Hiroshima Prefecture. He graduated with an engineering degree from Hiroshima University in 1959 and immediately went to work for Fuji Precision Industries, the predecessor to Prince Motor Company. There, he worked on the ALSID-II Prince Skyline, as well as the S50. Ito continued to work on the Skyline under the mentorship of Shinichi Sakurai, even after Prince merged with Nissan in 1966. At Nissan, he also worked on the Laurel and Leopard, and headed development of the Prairie and original March.

In 1984, during development of the R31 Skyline, Sakurai fell ill and Ito took over as project manager. The car was pretty close to done already, and Ito simply ushered it through its final steps to production. However, the car wasn’t a success in the market, so when it came time oversee the next generation, the R32, Ito vowed to bring glory back to the Skyline name. As such, he created one of world’s greatest sports sedans, a dominant race car, and a rebirth of the legendary GT-R name.

Namiki Oka was born in 1926 and worked for many years as a journalist at Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s top newspapers. He eventually became a professor, devoting his career to solving traffic and congestion issues of large cities. Notably, he championed the development of non-step buses, in which the floors are exactly as high as a sidewalk’s curb, so passengers, especially disabled riders, can board the bus with ease. Oka authored several books on the subject of cars and their relationship to cities. He passed away in 2002.


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5 Responses to Chief engineers of Mazda Miata, R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R inducted into Japan Automotive Hall of Fame

  1. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    I am really happy to see the people & forces behind the CEO’s get their due credit. In a way, they represent us, the car enthusiast, in a world of trading, mergers, acquisitions, splits, & other examples of corporate chicanery. Thanks for the article & thanks to these gentlemen.

  2. potato says:

    you know the world is unfair when hundreds of people are putting in their hard work but only 1 person in the team gets the recognition.

    they should also give medals to key people involved in the development.

    in sports, everyone key behind the team gets a replica of the championship rings.

  3. F31roger says:

    Definitely agree with what Negishi no Keibajo and potato said.

    So many people behind a car don’t get credit.

    Personal story – The Infiniti M30 has so much questions about it. Since it isn’t a car that people pay attention too and maybe most people don’t care, I love exploring all aspects of the F31.

    One of my friends, who is an M30 Vert person, showed me something that I thing was really interesting.

    Verts were assembled in California and the rear seats in a vert is different from the coupe. So the seats might have been specifically made in the US for this car.

    When it comes to credit for the verts, we just have one general source, ASC. The ASC of today isn’t the same as ASC in the early 90s.

    So there are tons of questions surrounding ASC and the M30 convertible. But most of the seats I have flipped have had those numbers and initials.

    In a way, F31club recognizes M.M, J.S, M.C and J.C for their Vert assembly.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      I owned a 240SX Convertible built at ASC. There were many differences from the coupe, including the interior door panels. They made them resemble the coupe’s, but the materials were much cheaper. The plastic usually got brittle and fell apart after a few years, and sections came off after one too many hard door pulls.

      • F31roger says:


        Interesting comparison. I haven’t owned a 240sx vert (I had had a fastback), but it seems the M30 convertibles were made better from what I’ve seen.

        Seats seem to be in better condition. But I don’t know if all the previous owners just took better car of the verts. (just by observation, it seems original vert owners maintained the car and was garage kept).

        Once I get done with these coupes, I want to totally rebuild a vert as far as the top mechanisms go. Just by observation, most verts seem to be better condition than coupes.

        But I always look at ownership. Most younger guys get coupes and trash them. They’ve kinda left verts alone.. which is a plus for me LOL.

        On topic, I’ve personally contacted ASC and tried to find as much information as possible. Being that this was an era before the internet, makes it even harder.

        I communicated with one of the first Infiniti dealerships, Neillo Infiniti because it was near me… but nobody knew anything and they shut down last year.

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