Most English-language automotive histories will tell you that the four-door hardtop became extinct in the late seventies, a victim of American safety regulations. That may have been true in the U.S., but Japan’s love affair with hardtops continued well into the nineties, including some models you probably didn’t know you knew. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we present a brief survey of the Japanese four-door hardtop.
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.