The man widely regarded as the father of the Z car, Yutaka Katayama—"Mr. K" to his fans—has died at age 105. The former Nissan exec passed away Thursday of heart failure in Tokyo, according to the Associated Press.
Even though Katayama is no longer with us, he will always be remembered as the man behind the Z's success here in the U.S. and around the world. If it weren't for his efforts, the Datsun 240Z may not have made it here to America in the first place. Katayama, who served as Nissan's president of U.S. operations from 1965-1975, fought to ensure that the 240Z would be a two-seat, fixed-roof sports car, not the convertible grand tourer Nissan's management in Japan initially wanted. Katayma was convinced the company's new sports car design would be a hit in the U.S., and when the car finally arrived in 1969, his predictions were correct. The car was an immediate success, and dealers found themselves with a backlog of orders.
That's because the 240Z, which is still known as the Fairlady in its home market, was the first reasonably priced Japanese sports car, combining Corvette-like performance with the newfound Japanese reliability. Katayama described it as "an exotic, high-performance car exclusively for America."
The 240Z won American consumers over with its natural good looks, with its long nose and fastback profile, and relatively good performance thanks to a 2.4-liter I-6 producing 151 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque, sport suspension, and four-speed manual transmission. In our 40th Anniversary issue, we said the 240Z was perfectly suited for its time, offering Jaguar E-Type-derived styling and genuine sports car performance at a fraction of the price.
Excerpts from our original Datsun 240Z Road Test in March 1971 demonstrate just how fond we were of the little sports car. "Next to comfort, the 240Z's forte is straightline performance, and it has plenty of that. Despite recording excellent acceleration times for a sports car (quarter mile of 16.45 at 83.7 mph), the 240Z still showed good fuel economy by registering an astounding average of 20.2 mpg," said former Motor Trend associate editor, Chuck Koch.
"Datsun has created a real sports GT, which, with very few exceptions, combines good performance with the maximum of comfort," he said.
Sales continued to climb in 1979 with the introduction of the second-gen 280ZX, which was named Motor Trend Import Car of the Year.
It's no wonder then that Katayama's son told the Associated Press that his father was "happily zooming around in the Z in heaven, no longer worried about gas, police or traffic tickets.”
Mr. Katayama is survived by his wife, Masako, two sons and two daughters, 11 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
Source: The Associated Press
Photos: Brian Vance and The Manufacturer