A birthday look at a groundbreaking sports car from Japan

Amid the auto anniversaries this year, the one we’re about to note is very significant. The Z-car was never Nissan’s biggest-selling vehicle, and was never intended to be, but its reception by eager buyers was strong enough to vindicate Nissan’s decision to build it. The origin’s of the Z-car date to 1961, when Nissan – then Datsun – undertook a redesign of the sporting Fairlady, which the Z-car was always dubbed in its home market. The unshakable hero of this story is Yutaka Katayama, known in the Nissan world simply as Mr. K, the first president of Nissan’s operations in the United States. He was determined to create a halo car that would allow onlookers to overlook its Japanese origins, which were viewed less than charitably in those years. The original Datsun 240Z of 1970 completely transformed the public’s understanding of what an affordable sports car could be, and also what the Japanese auto industry was capable of creating. In that sense, it absolutely qualifies as a landmark car. It fully deserves the 50th anniversary review of its history that’s just been published.

Nissan Z: 50 Years of Exhilarating Performance fully compiles the story of this legend from Japan in words and photographs. Authored by Pete Ewanow, a professor at Cal State-Fullerton who once worked in Nissan’s engine program for the then-Indy Racing League, has compiled a 176-page hardcover narrative on the gestation and evolution of the Z-car, from the days when it was simply known internally as the Nissan S30. The text covers the full story, including Nissan’s early years in the U.S. market, and follows it straight through to the current Z34, which we know here as the Nissan 370Z. It’s a comprehensive-but-readable story that incorporates all of the engineering and design changes in the Z-car’s lifespan. We especially liked that it intimately spotlights not only the career of Mr. K, but also three racers who were both instrumental in establishing the original Z’s bona fides as a true sports car, Bob Sharp, John Morton and the late P.L. Newman. If you respect this important sports car, you’ll want to read the book, which is published by Quarto.

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