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"Finding The True Story Of The Datsun 240-Z"


"How The Datsun 240-Z Came To Be; Then To Be So Successful!"


Contributed By: Carl Beck, IZCC #260


As Of 27 Jan. 2003.

A Brief Introduction:

The Datsun 240-Z hit the American Automobile Market as accurately and as effectively as any Cruise Missile launched 34 years later.

After spending 20 years in the Aerospace & Defense Industry, Engineering Design and Development environment, I had a pretty good idea where the Cruise Missiles came from. That is to say, how the technology originated, evolved, was implemented and refined over time. I understood how the designs that utilized the previous guidance systems technologies had progressed. I also had at least some idea of how the engineering design processes, methods, tools and techniques had to change in order to assimilate the ever advancing technology.

Changing any of the engineering processes, tools, methods and technologies is almost always resisted by the engineering staff. Change represents increased risk that something will be wrong or go wrong. Engineers love verified facts, proven methods and carefully controlled processes. For this reason, I know from first hand experience it is very difficult to get any specific group of experienced engineers to change their ways, change their thinking. It can be and indeed is done all the time, but it takes time. It takes years to make a real cultural change in an Engineering Department. In managing change in an Engineering environment the axiom is "if you can not change the Engineer's mind quickly enough - you change the Engineer."

After owning and driving Datsun 240-Z's for over 30 years I still did not have a clear mental image of the origins of the 240-Z. Yes, over the years I'd read most of the books written on the subject, most of the magazine articles too. None-the-less all that data, all that information just didn't seem to line up correctly - - there was always something wrong with the picture.

Most technologies, as well as most of the engineering designs that utilize them, indeed most areas of human knowledge, take seed with some basic but brilliant idea; and if they are put in fertile ground somewhere they take root and grow. As they grow they usually branch out in several directions and draw strength from several other area's. I guess that's why we refer to the "tree" of knowledge. It just seems to be human nature, but we like to know where things came from and how they progressed to where they are.

The origins of the Datsun 240-Z, as outlined in numerous books and magazine articles written in the English language over the past 33 years have always been interesting to me. They have also always left me wondering how they could in fact be complete. There was just something fundamentally wrong with the picture they left in my mind. I wasn't really sure just what it was, but something was wrong. Over the years I kept returning to the subject to see if I could find more of the answers to many of my yet unanswered questions. You know what I mean, I felt that if I could just ask the right question - I'd get the information I really needed - to make that mental image come into complete focus.

In my mind, the progression of the engineering design, the progression of the technology, the progression of the styling of the Fairlady line of sports cars, as they have been outlined in so many books and articles written over the years, just didn't end up leading to the Datsun 240-Z. It just seemed to me that all the information presented, the facts as organized, the inferences made and the conclusions drawn were constantly conflicting with the end result - - -there simply had to be something missing somewhere. They just did not all sum in my mind the way they should. The sum of the parts just didn't equal the whole.

After sifting through numerous books and articles written by as many people, personally interviewing some of the key people involved and wrestling with all this data, information and proposed knowledge I finally have a clear picture in my mind. What a relief!

Here I'll share with you my perspectives, developed with the benefit of hindsight and far more time than most professional writers would ever be allowed to take.

The following is what I believe to be a true presentation of the progression in terms of Engineering and Technology, as well as Management and Marketing, that does lead to the creation of the Datsun 240-Z. Now the whole is at last, greater than the sum of the parts!!

"What Is Wrong With This Picture?"

Blue Birds


See what I mean? Something just doesn't look right with the progression does it?

Answer: Just because I named them all "Blue Birds" it does not mean that they are in fact all Blue Birds. Following the evolution of the Bluebird might lead one to a Blue Jay, but it will not lead you to the Golden Eagle!! Even if I continue to call it a Bluebird!

Yes, yes it is easy to get misled isn't it. After-all the birds in the progression are all named Blue Birds.. they all have two legs, feathers, wings, tail feathers, beaks; they all fly and here after-all I've flocked them together... We can find lots of rationale for supporting that progression. Still we all know that something is wrong with that picture don't we? "Rationale" is not "Reality".

Lets push the "reset" button here. Forget everything you've read before. Wipe the slate clean. Let's ask the question: "Where Did That 240-Z Really Come From?"

The true origins of the Datsun 240-Z are not found by following the evolution of the previous sports cars from Nissan with the name Fairlady. That picture is just as wrong as the picture of our "Blue Birds" - - because the 240-Z didn't come from the previous Fairladys at all. It came after them in time, but none of its origins are really there.

Where then do we look for the origins of the datsun 240Z? What Evolutionary Pathway Should We Be Following When We Research And Then Write Its History?

The evolutionary path that leads to the creation of the Datsun 240-Z starts with the Engineering Design and Technology that created it. Following that path back in time leads to the creation of the Datsun 510. (yes, it was called "Bluebird" too, but don't let that confuse you;-).

That is correct, most of the roots of the Datsun 510 are not really found in the previous line of Bluebird Models from Nissan either, although there were still several surface runners there.

None of the roots of the 240-Z are to be found in the previous Fairlady Sports Car line from Nissan Motors. Rather, the 240-Z took root in the basic concepts that fundamentally changed the direction of the Nissan Motor Company in the 1960's and in turn drove the final design of the Datsun 510; then to an even greater extent drove the creation of the Datsun 240-Z.

Stated in the simplest form; "The origins of the Datsun 240-Z are to be found in the Customer Requirements for a Sports/GT, that are uniquely American." The Datsun 240-Z was not a continuation of the Japanese sports cars exported from Japan to the US Market. Rather the Datsun 240-Z was the first American Sports/GT that happened to be designed and built in Japan. The 240-Z was not the product of evolution, it was created out of what amounted to a corporate cultural revolution. (the "Big Bang" in Japanese Industrial Growth!).

The concept of "a Sports/GT defined by specific Customer Requirements" was conceived, implemented and nourished by four "Major Change Agents" at work at Nissan Motors Ltd. of Japan in the early 1960's

The four "Major Change Agents" that helped revolutionize Nissan Motors in the 1960's:

1) Nissan's acceptance and application of the W. Edward Deming philosophy of "Quality Management" as applied to their Automotive Marketing, Design and Engineering processes.(they had already done this in the 50's for Production and Manufacturing - See Deming Prize for 1959/60)

2) Mr. Yutaka Katayama lobbying Nissan Motors Ltd of Japan, to design products specifically for the needs of his American Customers.

3) The Nissan Automotive Design and Engineering Department's growth and evolution from 1960 to 1968.

4) The rapid integration of Prince Motor Company's automotive design, engineering capabilities and technologies into Nissan Motors Ltd. of Japan in 1966

All four of these Change Agents need further discussion if you are not already familiar with them, so I'll add hyper-links at the end of this article - and we'll take them one at a time in side discussions.

Here Is What I Believe The Picture Of The Creation Of The Datsun 240-Z Really Looks Like. . Click On The Image For A Larger Version


This is a picture of Revolution not Evolution. This is a picture showing an all but complete break with the past methods, processes and technologies related to Nissan automotive product development, design, and engineering. This is a picture of Integration the blending of the four major Change Agents into a corporate culture with a resulting synergistic outcome. This is a picture of Progression, from a solid foundation based on Production and Manufacturing capabilities built in the 50's and early 60's, to solid channels of transportation and distribution extensively reworked in the early to mid 60's. This is a picture of "Deming Quality Management" focused on delivering Customer Defined Products with Customer Defined Quality.

Eureka! - It Was Sent To Me!!

It was in November of 2001 that a good friend sent me a copy of the first book he had written about the Z Car. Unlike all the others, he had devoted only one page in total, to the History of Nissan and the Fairlady Line of sports cars. He had written; "THROUGHOUT THE 60's, Datsun was at work surveying the American marketplace. Automotive journalists have often said that America "shaped" the 240-Z since the automobile was aimed primarily at the U.S. buyer. From this survey came the information that determined the size, performance and general design of the Z Car. Once the basic design was set in motion, it was up to the engineers and stylists to produce the final product."

After many years, it finally dawned on me.... da... the part of the picture in my mind, that was most troublesome as outlined in all the other books and articles written about the 240-Z; was the part that made the quantum leap between the A550X and the 240-Z. Quantum leaps usually aren't seen and things just don't work that way in the Design Engineering world. Yes - yes I know, they both have two legs, feathers, wings and beaks not to mention the same name "sports car project" - but it would take something like a quantum leap to get from the results of the A550X project to the Datsun 240-Z. My friend had sent me the key that unlocked my thinking, I was finally out of the box drawn by everyone else! Thank-you Ben Millspaugh!

The Datsun 240-Z came to be; then to be so successful - because it did NOT evolve from the previous Fairlady line of Sports Cars from Nissan.

It's easy to see that if Nissan had continued to evolve the previous Fairlady line, and turned that into a Sports Coupe - they would indeed have progressed to the Silvia 1600 with Mr. Goertz at the helm. Then extending that still further they would indeed have wound up with a car very much like the results of the A550X project, as further developed by Mr. Goertz when he joined the joint Yamaha/Nissan development project already in process.

The Silvia (aka the Datsun 1600 Coupe) and the A550X were both entirely rooted in the Nissan Motors products of the late 40's and 50's. They were also entirely rooted in the engineering methods, processes, tools and techniques of that period; as well as tied directly to the manufacturing techniques previously used in the Nissan/Datsun line.

It is quite possible to extend, to evolve, the line of progression of the Fairlady roadsters using the same design approach as all previous examples used. Using the same automotive technology as all previous examples used; using the same design and engineering methods, processes, tools and techniques as all previous examples used with minor evolution along the way; yes you can wind up with the outcome that Mr. Goertz and his team at Nissan did at the end of 1963. It simply is not possible to extend all that still further and wind up with an outcome like the 240-Z. You can not evolve a Blue Bird into a Golden Eagle.

Many believed that the Goertz led A550X project provides the evolutionary "missing link" that ties the past to the future. Quite the contrary, it was the end of the evolutionary progression of the Fairlady roadsters. Not fit to survive in the competitive market place of the 1970's it became extinct.

Where then did that Datsun 240-Z come from? At last I was finally starting to ask the right questions!!

To find the answers we have to lay the books and most articles written about the Z Cars aside and broaden our field of inquiry to the more comprehensive progression of Nissan Motors itself with a focus on the period 1961 to 1967.

It took an all but complete break with the past to lay a foundation upon which a car like the 240-Z could be conceived, carried to full term and then born. Conception required bringing together the four major change agents outlined above. The ability to carry it to full term required a new Design Engineering approach to requirements definition, new design methods, new design processes, new design tools and techniques in order to utilize, to incorporate, to integrate the new Marketing concepts, Engineering processes and technology advancements found in the 240-Z. (Note: "technology advancements" as referred to here relates to the technologies utilized in the Design Engineering Processes - not the automotive technologies found in the car).

Books written about the Fairlady Model line should end with the cancellation of the joint Yamaha/Nissan development program at the end of 1964. As the Goertz design team proved - that evolutionary path was at a dead end. The result of the A550X design and the prototype that came out of it near the end of 1964 showed Nissan Management convincingly that the evolutionary path of the Roadsters could not lead to the revolutionary products they needed to capture the US market. The sad fact is that Mr. Goertz was stuck in the 50's. What Nissan really needed was the visionary leadership and resulting products that would take them into the 70's and beyond.

If anyone should be credited with showing Nissan Motors the pathway to the future - it should be Dr. W. Edward Deming. (an Electrical Engineer from General Motors brought to Japan by General Macarthur in 1948 to help reindustrialize that nation). The Visionary Leadership was supplied by Mr. Yutaka Katayama as he all but forced Nissan Motor Company Ltd. to deliver the products his US customers wanted to buy.

Nissan made a major break with the past when they canceled the Goertz designed A550X project at the end of 1964. A year later at the end of 1965 they made a major commitment to the future when they reorganized their Design and Engineering group, and started the "Nissan Sports Car Design Department". In April of 1966 Mr. K got the 1600cc engine he wanted, in the PL510 he wanted for the US market - and the Design Team working on "Design Project Z" was fully staffed.

And The Rest (As They Say) Is History Here are the hyper-links I promised earlier if you would like to learn more.

The four "Change Agents" that helped revolutionize Nissan Motors in the mid 1960's

....(see Deming Application Prize Winners 1959/1960)

  • Mr. Yutaka Katayama
  • Prince Motor Company Japan....

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