- not every automotive designer gets to work on a classic, but matsuo's work from when he was in his 30s easily holds up today.
- the 240z is his legacy; it and the other z cars that followed made new fans for the upstart japanese brand and changed nissan's fortunes in the u.s.
- the z-car spirit matsuo started lives on in today's 370z, which nissan says offers up "50 years of exhilaration.”
people like to argue about cars, but when the subject is the datsun 240z, those arguments often revolve around whether the design is timeless or iconic or just plain beautiful. whichever side of that divide you end up on, it’s thanks to yoshihiko matsuo that you’re talking about it at all.
matsuo passed away july 11. he was 86.
as road & track reported today, matsuo was first placed in charge of the company's modeling team after he received attention for helping redesign the bluebird 410 sedan. matsuo later became the design lead for the original 240z, known as the nissan fairlady z in japan, and he and his team managed to combine solid (for the time) performance and low cost to make a statement. the 240z used a 2.4-liter inline-six-cylinder engine that produced 150 horsepower at 6000 rpm and had a 7000-rpm redline. all this for around $3500 ($23,000 in today’s dollars). these specs meant it lived up to the company’s mission of taking on european sports cars with an affordable and reliable alternative.
for the 240z project, matsuo and his design team were responsible for how the car looked, but they also had to design it with production in mind. this meant thinking through how things were put together and what materials made up the parts with the right balance between performance and cost. japanese nostalgic car, in its obituary of the designer this week, said he made "countless individual decisions that built the z bit by bit. he even did some test driving."
when the 240z arrived in the u.s. in october 1969, americans discovered that matsuo's decisions had been correct. the little car that could changed nissan's fortunes here and helped turn "made in japan" from an epithet into something more positive.
the sleek sportster was an instant success, selling around 150,000 units in the u.s. through 1973. even today, an enthusiast community for the nissan z vehicles (which include the 260z and the 280z that shared the 240z's look but had more powerful engines) gathers for an annual zcca international z car convention.
today, the z-car spirit lives on in the nissan 370z, which nissan promotes as containing "50 years of exhilaration." cars bore the datsun name from the early 20th century until nissan, which had purchased the brand in 1933 when it was still the jidoshi seizo company, retired the name in 1981. it was revived in 2012 but then shuttered again in 2019. some things, though, like love for the 240z, cannot be canceled that easily. on its facebook page, club nissan datsun laguna says, "the whole automotive community—in particular the nissan z enthusiast community—will be mourning matsuo-san's passing in the weeks, months, and years to come. it goes without saying that we’ll do our best to remember our friend, matsuo-san, at zcon nashville."