It is hard to imagine now but Japanese cars used to be seen as cheap economical cars – good value, but not good fun.
Hino were the first Japanese sports-car makers with their Contessa 900 sprint looking very reminscent of Alfa Romeo’s and the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, although the Contessa didn’t last long as Hino was soon acquired by the Toyota Jidōsha Kabushiki-gaisha.
The first car to change people’s perceptions was the Toyota 2000GT which co-starred with Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice.
The Toyota 2000GT was a fantastic car, but priced in the Porsche cateogory of its time, so were very rare.
However, the idea was sewn in western consumers minds. By the 1969 you too could be like Sean Connery in an exotic sports car with the Datsun 240Z (in Japan it was known as the Fairlady, in a nod to a series of Japan-only sports cars reminscent of the MG and Austin-Healey British sports cars).
Where UK sportcars fell to pieces in your drive, were the warmed over remains of the parts bin, handled like a pig and were driven by pompous chaps with string back driving gloves; here was a modern sports car. As a bonus the 240Z was also reasonably priced.
If you squinted it could even look Italian, some people fitted lourve shades on the back window to ape the ventilation slats that the Lamborgini Miura had at the time like this well used model I saw in San Francisco.
Whilst Datsun cars had their fair share of problems such as body corrosion they were getting steadily better and the 240Z was at the forefront of this charge. Both Datsun and Toyota was revolutionising the way quality was built into everyday cars, but it was the Japanese sports-car that gave them the brand permission to surge ahead.