HomeCar CultureDesigner of the Z car passes at age 87

Designer of the Z car passes at age 87

His iconic Fairlady Z changed the face of sports cars forever


Yoshihiko Matsuo, who headed the group that designed the Datsun 240Z, passed away on July 11, according to family. The custom in Japan is to wait several days before announcing a family member’s passing.

Matuso changed the way in which the world envisioned the sports car when his team designed the Nissan S30 Fairlady Z for the 1970 model year. In the United States, the car was marketed as the Datsun 240Z, and it has become a highly sought-after collector car in recent years.

Matuso in the Nissan Design Studio | Nissan photo

Matsuo was born in the Japanese city of Himeji on July 10, 1934. As a child, despite few cars on the road in Japan, he began sketching automobiles. The life-long passion landed him at the Nihon University College of Art, specializing in automotive design. In his first major design, while still in school, he penned the Daihatsu Midget, which could easily have inspired the Nissan Cube. It was a very hot seller for the Japanese brand.

Right out of school, Matuso went to work for Nissan and was responsible for the Nissan Baby design and work on the Nissan 411 Bluebird. He essentially designed and conceptualized an SSS – Super Sports Sedan model – which raised the profile of the fledgling car and landed him in a new Nissan design studio, where he would begin his landmark work on the now-iconic Fairlady Z.

 “Matsuo kept the Z true to its purpose,” according to Japanese Nostalgic Car. “Matsuo knew the Z would be popular, but even he couldn’t predict how much of a runaway success it would become upon debut. Matsuo had planned other variants, including an open top, T-top, and shooting brake. Some were never green-lit, but sales of the primary coupe body style were so good that plans for others had to be scrapped.

“Prior to the Z, Nissan was producing about 300 Fairlady roadsters per month. Matsuo predicted the S30 Z would sell 3,000 per month. At its height, sales totaled 7,500 a month for a generational total of 540,000.”

The famed designer left his job at Nissan in 1973, but he was active in Z clubs and events internationally well into his 80s. He passed away the day after his 87th birthday.

Tom Stahler
Tom Stahler
Tom Stahler is the Managing Editor of the ClassicCars.com Journal. Tom has a lifelong love of cars and motor racing – beginning with the 1968 USRRC race at Road America, in a stroller, at eight months of age. His words, photos and broadcasts can can be found on a myriad of media. He has won the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor Award and a Gold Medal in the International Automotive Media Awards.


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