In 1965, the words “Japanese sports car” would have elicited unsympathetic laughter from most America consumers. Five years later, many of those same scoffers were lining up to buy a racy little GT car wearing a Datsun badge. The Datsun Z car soon became one of the most popular two-seat sports cars of all time, inspiring many generations of sporty Japanese coupes. However, for all its eventual popularity, the Z was a car for which its own manufacturer never had much enthusiasm and the fact that the car was built at all — let alone that it became such a success — is a testimony to the dedication of Yutaka Katayama, the head of Nissan’s U.S. operation, who fought a long and bitter battle to show the world what Japanese automakers were capable of. This week, the history of the Datsun 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z.
Today, there are quite a few American buyers who have never purchased a domestic-brand car, and who are as loyal to Toyota or Honda as a previous generation was to Ford or Chevrolet. It was not always so; Toyota began importing cars to America in 1957, Nissan in 1958, but in the early years, Japanese cars were rarer in most parts of the U.S. than Roll-Royces or Ferraris. When did the tide turn? Many point to the 1970s and the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, but a major turning point came with the 1968 debut of the Datsun 510. This is the story of the 1968-1972 Datsun 510 and of the man most responsible for its creation: Yutaka Katayama.