This week we learned of the sad news about the passing of Yoshihiko Matsuo, the forward-thinking chief designer responsible for the sleek Datsun 240Z. Not only would that vehicle go on to initiate a highly celebrated Z-car bloodline, but it made a bold statement to the world that Nissan and, more importantly, the country of Japan, was poised on bringing a whole new era of affordable, user-friendly, fun-spirited sports cars to a global scale.
As the story goes, the head honchos at Nissan tasked designers to come up with a roadster design to rival that of the wildly popular, sporty convertibles that seemed to be taking young America by storm from the likes MGB and Triumph. Not an easy task considering the Japanese automaker had been producing gas miserly, A to B type vehicles that were ultra-efficient, but not exactly thrill rides. While they were asking for a revolutionary offering, they still wanted a conservative approach. Like we said, not an easy task.
After multiple topless designs were put forth by Matsuo and his team, U.S. safety regulations became stricter, and necessitated a more rigid chassis. Fortunately, the Z-concept wasn't thrown off track and a hardtop version easily substituted, offering a more stout chassis to withstand the increased crash safety standards.
A dream team of sorts, Matsuo and his engineering squad created a sultry silhouette that later went on to become an undeniable automotive icon, but also packed commendable performance and handling on par with vehicles that settled at a much larger price point. At around $3,500 at its introduction, the 240Z was a runaway hit with Americans, bringing sales numbers up from about 1,000 units annually, to a staggering 4,000 vehicles per month.
Although the Z's success was certainly a company team effort, Yoshihiko Matsuo rightfully lays claim to the most critical part of the equation, and for decades has been heralded for his outside the box design approach. He was 87 years old at his time of passing and leaves behind countless Z-car fans, enthusiasts and aspiring designers. Rest easy to a one-of-a-kind pioneer.