Farewell to a legend, and one of the fathers of the Z-car.
Today we bid farewell to a man who changed the face of modern Japanese car design forever. Yoshihiko Matsuo, who led the design team behind the classic Nissan 240Z, the precursor to cars such as the Nissan 370Z and the forthcoming Nissan 400Z, has died. The car he designed was a revolution in Japan and was a major success both in Japan and the rest of the world thanks to its low cost, stunning looks, and agile performance. Importantly, it was the beginning of the Z-car lineage, a sports car that was built to conquer America. Matsuo passed away on July 11, and as is the custom in Japan, his death was announced a few days after.
Yoshihiko Matsuo started out life in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture where he was born on July 10, 1934. According to Japanese Nostalgic Car, Matsuo started sketching from an early age, and in a time where there were considerably fewer cars on the road.
While at school, Matsuo came up with the idea for a small three-wheeled truck, and soon after, while attending college at the Nihon University College of Art, he used his talents to assist in designing the legendary Daihatsu Midget, which was the fledgling company's first major success. After graduating from college, he accepted a job offer from Nissan where his first project would be the Nissan Baby. After that, he was transferred to the Nissan Bluebird 410 team. To help increase sales, Matsuo and his team created 411 Nissan Bluebird SSS cars, which are now sought after retro performance cars that served as inspiration for the Nissan IDx Nismo concept.
In 1966 Matsuo was trusted with the design of the first Z concept car. Matsuo was placed at the head of project planning and led the team to the realization that modern highway driving would require a fixed-top sports car, and for the Z-car to remain profitable, he advised that production be brought up to a larger scale.
Minute details such as the strength of the seatbacks and the location of hidden air conditioner parts were dealt with by Matsuo and his team. Matsuo then designed the legendary shape of the 240Z. Its elegant trunk opening, swooping hood, and sugar scoop headlights were all his ideas. Matsuo had plans for an open-top, T-top, and even a shooting brake version of the 240Z, but sales of the regular car were so good that these plans were scrapped. Nissan was producing 300 per month, and by the height of its sales, Nissan was selling 7,500 Z-cars per month.
The Z-car changed the way the world perceived Japanese cars in general, and the Z would go on to become a legend and motorsport success. Matsuo left Nissan in 1973, but remained loyal to the Z brand, and was a member of numerous Z clubs over the years. He died at the age of 86.