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Yutaka Katayama

The man who took a soulless corporation and turned it into an enthusiast’s hallmark

Yutaka Katayama
Image Credit: Supplied picture
“Mr K really cemented his status as a legend due to his vision of an affordable sportscar for the masses.”

In the late Twenties, there was no Nissan. There was Nippon Sangyo, trading in car parts and running steel foundries. It was in the Thirties that the Nissan name first came about, as simply an abbreviation of the corporation’s official tag, and in 1934, Nissan Motor Company, somewhat reluctantly in the face of differing opinions from the board members who most certainly weren’t car enthusiasts, started churning out vehicles.

It was just another corporation, spreading the branches of its money tree further and further. Trucks, buses and aeroplanes were where that money was, so that’s what Nissan did. But in 1935, a young man named Yutaka Katayama graduated from university and immediately landed a job with the large firm.

Mr K, as the 103-year-old man is affectionately known today, would go on to change Nissan forever, and against heavy opposition from the sternly-faced grey suits in the boardroom, he would influence the company’s sporting and racing successes all the way though its lustrous history.

Mr K was in marketing, and after a couple of decades with the company, he got bored of the econoboxes being churned out of the corporation’s factory. He travelled to the US for market research, and managed to convince the joy-killing board that America was the future and required a special kind of car for a nation of car buyers who were by now hooked on performance vehicles.

The Datsun 510 was the result — a sporty, rear-wheel drive affordable saloon with a 1.6-litre engine, which was large-displacement for Nissan… The 510 became a huge hit, even winning races across the country and taking US national championships along the way in the face of stronger 2.0-litre competition. The 510 is revered today as a classic.

But Mr K really cemented his status as a legend due to his vision of an affordable sportscar for the masses, a vision that became the legendary Z car. He introduced the Datsun 240Z in 1970 and flipped the sportscar world upside down, with this sleek, fast machine that was cheap out of the showroom, started up first time even on cold mornings, with predictable handling and smooth straight-six power. Needless to say, the Z lit up the race tracks too, and started a lineage that lives on today with the 370Z.