Why You Should Know Mr. K
If you are familiar with the “Z-cars” like the Datsun 260Z that defined the Japanese sports car evolution, then you are familiar with Mr. K, also known as Yutaka Katayama. This man is responsible for designing Japanese sports cars and delivering them to a hungry American audience. Without Mr. K, the world of automobiles would be very different.
Nissan and the Sad Little Cars
In the 1960s, Nissan (what was known in the US as Datsun) was making small economy cars that were not winning the hearts of American drivers. In 1965, a Nissan executive named Yoshihiko Matsuo encouraged other executives at Nissan that it was time to develop a roadster that would compete with European and American cars. The conservative Nissan executives did not want to add something so radical to their lineup and they decided to stay the course.
Mr. K Moves into the Future
While Matsuo is generally responsible for the actual design of the Z-cars, it was Mr. K’s encouragement that brought the cars to fruition. In foreign markets, like the US, Japanese cars were seen as somewhat of a joke. So, Mr. K said that the company could continue “making cheap economy cars forever, but by doing so, we would be able to move forward…” His words made sense and Matsuo’s roadster project came to life, but Mr. K made the car what it was.
Creating a Winning Design
Since this car would be released in the United States, Mr. K was aware that the US Motor Vehicle Safety Standards seemed to be changing as the committee was looking at safety standards for convertibles, like the car Matsuo had designed. Mr. K advised that a closed coupe would be the best option for the American market. It was at the same time, in 1966, that the Sugar Scoop headlights were chosen instead of flip-up headlights in order to meet more US safety standards. The rest of the story we all know, since the cars like the Datsun 260Z and the 280Z became legendary favorites in the American automotive market.
The Ironic Beginning
The best part of the story however is not the end, but the beginning. Many years before the debut of the Datsun 260Z, Mr. K was actually sent away from the Japanese headquarters to work in the US. This was Nissan’s way of getting Mr. K and his fondness for sports cars out of the way of the company’s goal to produce quality economy cars. Instead of fading into history, Mr. K created his own history and made Nissan one of the most loved foreign car brands in the US. His legacy lives on in every Z car that speeds, drifts, and glides down the roads.
If you are interested in learning more, Mr. K and Mr. Matsuo coauthored their story in a book titled: “FAIRLADY Z STORY”.