The mysterious A550X was the prototype for a joint venture between Yamaha and Nissan in which Albrecht Graf von Goertz was involved as a consultant. And the A550X resembles the Datsun Z. But was von Goertz really the ancestor to the Z as the myth suggests?

No. At least not if the answer to that question has to be either a clear yes or a clear no. In reality the matter is a little more complex than that,  and we will have a further look into that now. Also, much of the answer depends on what you put into the term “ancestor”. The projects are related and even have a connection to the Toyota 2000GT, but to view Goertz as a primary force behind the Datsun Z as we know it today is plain wrong.

In the fifties Goertz sketched out the lines of the 507 and BMW took the bait…

Goertz had worked for BMW in the fifties and by the early sixties he wanted to expand his New York-based business horizon towards Japan. He took contact to various large Japanese companies, not solely in the car industry but also with the aim of landing other jobs in the field of industrial design. This offensive made perfect sense as Japanese companies were keen to export to America and as a designer based in America Goertz was one of the first to recognize this possibility.

…and asked him for a fourseater as well – which became the 503.

In 1962 he did indeed land a contract with Nissan and with a job title of design consultant he was to cooperate with Nissan’s own designers. At this time Japanese cars were not renowned for their design qualities and generally the Japanese cars catered for the lowest ranks in the automotive hierachy. But Nissan did have the sporty 1600 Roadster and Goertz joined a project with the task of transforming the open car into a coupé – which became the Silvia 1600 Sports Coupé.

Goertz’ Silvia from 1964 is almost as rare a the Toyoyota 2000 GT: Around 500 were built. I really like its clean lines – sort of a Japanese Fiat 124 Sport, only earlier.

Nissan had recognized that time was running out for the traditional arch-sportscar – open, impractical and roughedged. They sensed that especially the Americans wanted something more usable and felt that the inclusion of a sports car would boost the image of the Nissan programme as a whole. As it turned out the little Silvia could not quite lift the task, though: It debuted in Tokyo in 1964 and a few cars were flown to New York for the Motor Show of 1965 as well. The reception was not enthusiastic. Even Nissan’s own dealers estimated very slim chances for the elegant little coupé and it turned out that it would never be exported out of Japan at all. Goertz did keep one of the exhibition cars to use as his own personal transport i New York – even though his contract with Nissan was finished by 1964.

In parrallel with the Silvia Nissan had begun work on a more modern GT – still on the basis of the 1600 Roadster and therefore a rather small car. This project was done in cooperation with Yamaha who would supply the engines as well as build the prototypes. The task of designing the car was handed to four of Nissan’s own designers and Goertz was assigned to them as a consultant. His primary role here was the design process itself, however – most notably the use of modern visualization techniques and the use of full scale clay models to show the designer’s ideas.

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Half a century after the team work that became the A550X-prototype it is very unclear how large a role Goertz had concerning the actual design: His primary task in the team was not design as such – but they were a team. Which ideas went where and by whom they were aired first is impossible to distinguish. Anyway, the Yamaha prototype was rejected and the project in the end shelved by Nissan.

Entrez Toyota, which had also seen the possibilities in America and in parallel with Nissan were working on a very similar concept: A two-litre sports/GT-car to elevate the marque in the market. The Toyota project had begun early in 1964, and with Nissan now out Yamaha was free to change partner regarding the sports car project – and they did want to make automobile engines. So Yamaha suggested Toyota they build them an engine. The two entered a contract in January 1965 and by the final agreement the cooperation was not just about developing and building an engine but also on finalizing the development towards productionready prototypes.

This sketch is from 1964 and as all other proposals for the 2000GT it stems from Saturo Nozaki, Toyotas own designer…

Just as the Nissan the Toyota was sketched out by a team within the company and as this design was finished in 1965 it is quite clear that Goertz did not have any influence on it at all. It is also very doubtful whether there was any other input (i.e. technical) from the A550X since this was based on the Nissan 1600 Roadster – at least at the start of the project. Also note that the first A550X had glassfibre bodywork while the 2000GT always was metal. However they are clearly very similar and Yamaha did build the prototypes of both. And as we know Yamaha ended up building the production-2000GT as well.

So, in the light of all the above: Can the A550X be considered the ancestor to the 2000GT? No, not really, can it?

…while this 1:5 model was made in December 1964 and already resembles the final 2000GT more than the shelved A550X.

But what about the 240Z, then? Even though Nissan ditched the A550X in 1964 the sketches for the prototype were still decorating the walls of the design studio – to no avail? Well, yes and no: After Toyota had showed the 2000 GT in 1965 – to a combination of wondering and appraisal frem the press – Nissan resumed work on their own sports car. In 1966 their new design team was fully operational, and now had the advantage of being able to see how Toyotas bid was doing – which was very badly. From a commercial point of view the 2000GT was rather a disaster: It was not a bad car, on the contrary – but it was more expensive than a Porsche 911 and the Jaguar E-type and did not sell. One reason was that the focus on sport was still too pronounced.

Without doubt the lines in the rear quarterlights resembles those of the A550X – but the sketches for the Yamaha-built 2000GT pictured were done while Yamaha were still working with Nissan and Goertz.

That caused the Nissan design team to adjust their design brief late in 1966 were they decided to make the Z a little larger and more practical: It grew taller, heavier and even a hatchback and finally the team arrived at the Z we know today. In 1967 the engine size was determined: It had to have six cylinders and more than two liters of displacement in order to gain the highway superiority the American customers would expect. This meant some changes to the low line of the bonnet- which was minor work compared to later in 1967 when the biggest change occured: The width grew a couple of inches. While it  sounds quite simple to “add to inches in the middle” it meant a lot of detail work to arrive back at visual harmony and well chosen proportions.

Denne skitse er fra 1965, hvor designerne stadig slog løse linier, formentligt stadig med tanke på at basere coupéen på Roadster-teknikken.

This sketch is from 1965 and was still loosely a small coupé based on the Roadster.

The final prototype was ready in 1968 and after productionizing the car in its entity the Z was introduced in 1969 as a 1970-model where it – as we all know now – really took the world by storm. And while it does superficially resemble the A550X quite a lot the Z is in reality an entirely different car, physically as well as conceptually.

In 1966 the concept was more than that and the mechanical bits were added to the equation. Notice the sign on this fullscale claymodel: 2000 – the wellknown “four” from the Roadster.

Does that make Albrecht Graf von Goertz the ancestor to the Z? Well, it very much depends of definitions and your general outlook. Broadly speaking you culd say that the Nissan Z and the Yamaha A550X does share of lot a visual cues. On the other hand the Z is very much more than an upscaled version of a former design – it is an entirely different concept as well. On that account I conclude as in the introduction that the most correct answer is a no. Goertz did not directly contribute as much as a single brushstroke to the final Z. And regarding the spiritual contribution to the Z, whether as a concept or as a design? Well, again: Even if you do consider the A550X as a sort of predecessor to the Z you must remember that even his contribution to that design is rather unclear, as mentioned above.

Almost there: The bonnet line is too low for a sixcylinder engine and the roof is still too tall – but this prototype is now a Z.

Tracing the roots of the above becomes even more clouded by the fact that Goertz himself was very unclear in his statements about the process: As a designer he needed to have his name associated with succes – while Nissan as (an upcoming) car producer needed to be recognized for their own achievements. In 1978 Goertz was interviewed by Car&Driver magazine and in the article he was credited as the man behind the Z. That line really cought on and since then innoumerous articles and books even have repeated that statement – and that article is really the origin of the Goertz and Z-myth.

Late in 1967 the overalle width was increased by a couple of inches and from there on the rest was details.

After many repetitions of that Nissan sent a letter to Autoweek Magazine in 1980: Among other thing they wrote that it was completely unthinkable that Goertz had contributed to the design of the Z and that he should not be associated with that car. That made the lawyer of Goertz write Nissan a letter which their legal departmant answered as such:

At your request,  we have examined the relevant evidence pertaining to the development of the highly successful Datsun 240Z which was first introduced in 1969.

You were retained by Nissan during the period from 1963 to 1965 as an automotive design consultant. During that period, you consulted with Nissan on the basic methods of styling a general sports car.  You were also the sole design consultant on a two-liter sports car which Nissan was trying to develop as part of a joint venture with Yamaha. This car was not produced.

While it is our view that the design of the 240Z was the product of Nissan’s design staff, Nissan agrees that the personnel who designed that automobile were influenced by your fine work for Nissan and had the benefit of your designs.

Sincerely yours,

Signed Toshikuni Nyui
General Manager
Legal Dept.

Interesting, isn’t it? The official answer is again neither a yes or a no. In fact it is not even a “maybe”. Which makes me conlude the following on the road from Albrect to Z: Firstly that road does not travel in a straight line. Secondly there is a very lovely Japanese classic at the end of it.

The final prototype was ready in 1968 and became a tremendous succes.

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