By on August 8, 2012

In the 80’s, I took a sabbatical from marketing and propaganda, and managed a record distribution company in the U.S. My warehouse manager was Rick, a redheaded bear of a guy who also could have been Master at Arms of the local Hells Angels chapter. Come to think of it, he managed the parts department of a motorcycle store before I hired him. The love of his life were a motor cycle and his Z Car. Rick would have suffered a heart attack, would he have known that his manly Z was a ladyboy. At home in Japan, the Z had a girlie name : The Fairlady.

The first Fairlady was the Datsun SPL212. Only a few hundred were built of the 47 hp roadster from 1960 through 1962. The car received its fairy moniker from the hit musical My Fair Lady. The car was made for the export market only, and in the U.S., the Fairlady name was ignored.

The Fairlady had sisters in rapid succession. In 1962, a more serious sports car followed in form of the Fairlady 1500, a roadster with 85 horses, and a transistor radio as standard equipment. On the way to the U.S., the lady had a sex change, and went to market as the Datsun 1500.

The Fairlady 1600 underwent the same transformation from 1965 through 1070: Lady in Japan, 1600 elsewhere.

The Fairlady 2000, or its more manly pendent, the Datsun 2000, was a more serious matter. With the competition package, the 2 liter engine could produce 150 hp, and the car hit 140 mph on a good day or on the SCCA racetrack.

The car rose to worldwide stardom when the Nissan Fairlady Z was launched in 1969. Again, there was a metamorphosis on the way to the U.S., and instead of a Fairlady, a Z Car rolled off the boat. The car was made in several versions and with several engines. With over 2 million cars sold, it holds the record as the best-selling sports car of all times. It also maintained an important tradition: Fairlady at home, no lady elsewhere.

Likewise little known is the fact that the metrosexual car spawned another revolution: The female product specialist. Tokyo started to buzz when it was selected for the 1964 Summer Olympics. Japan’s post-war economic miracle went into high gear.

At the Ginza in downtown Tokyo, a tower went up, and in the tower was the Nissan gallery.

Nissan’s tower, left. Volkswagen’s tower, right

The gallery concept influenced flagship showrooms the world over. The tower idea found its way to Germany. When Volkswagen opened its Autostadt in 2000, it had two towers.

To attract visitors, Nissan used a tried and true technique: Beautiful women. Except this time, the ladies had to do more than just stand around and be beautiful. The ladies received product training.

A competition was held, and after several rounds of interviews, five candidates were chosen as the first class of Nissan Miss Fairladys. Were the ladies named after the car, or the car after the ladies? We’ll never know.

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21 Comments on “A Pictorial History: The World’s First Metrosexual Car. Fair Lady At Home, Mister Z When Away...”

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    I believe it’s because one of the Nissan execs was a fan of a particular Rex Harrison/Audrey Hepburn film..

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Gordon

      “I believe it’s because one of the Nissan execs was a fan of a particular Rex Harrison/Audrey Hepburn film.”

      Unlikely considering that the Datsun Fairlady was released some four years before the film.

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe it’s from the play, not the movie?

        Anyway, the first Fairlady certainly do look like the kind of car Eliza Doolittle should drive…

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        It may well have been from the play, but then again the name of the play was taken from a line in the the song ‘London Bridge [is falling down]’.

        Then again ascribing feminine qualities and nomenclature to powerful or sporty machines is hardly uncommon, for instance with large machines, aeroplanes and even Land-Speed record cars (Bluebird, Babs etc..) nor is it seen particularly as a reflection of the owner being particularly effete.

        Funny that Bertel mentions a hirsute biker type in his commentary though. The name of his car is far less a reflection on his sexuality than dressing up in leather chaps and hanging round in venues patronised by other similarly attired individuals of the same sex. Heck, Bertel even calls him a bear.

      • 0 avatar

        @ Robert Gordon:

        If you are trying to insinuate that I am gay, then I have to disappoint you.
        At a young age, my (10 years older than I) girlfriend was the den mother of the local chapter of the My Fairy Lady Society. At her afternoon teas, the gentlemen – in between telling sob stories of their friends cheating on them in sundry dark rooms – occasionally cast a hopeful eye at the young teenager. Whereupon my GF (complete with butch blonde haircut and deep voice) groveled: “Don’t even look at him, guys. He’s so effing hetero.”

        Has not changed. Except today, my wife (20 years younger) would disapprove.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        “If you are trying to insinuate that I am gay, then I have to disappoint you.”

        Reminds me of this;

        Legend has it that upon release in Australia way back in the early ’60s, a motoring journalist asked one of the Datsun (Nissan) execs at the release “Why have you named this car after a poofter?”

        Datsun exec: “What is this “poofter”?

        Journo: “You know, um, a homosexual”

        Datsun exec: “Ahhh so. You have many homosexual in Australia?”

        Journo: “Yeah, the bloody place is full of ‘em”

        Datsun exec: “Ahhh good – we sell many Cedric then!”

    • 0 avatar

      Wouldn’t the play have been “Pygmalion” not “My Fair Lady?”

  • avatar

    Curious that “Nissan’s tower” has Mitsubishi’s three diamonds logo on it…

  • avatar

    I distinctly remember a friend’s off-white very early 90’s 300ZX having a Fairlady badge on it precisely because of what you wrote of. He was a big dude and loved that car and would adhemently defend the ‘Fairlady’ against the girly stygma.

  • avatar

    Without having read this yet, it occurred to me, at what point did being gangster go out of style in the NBA and was replaced with the metro sexual look?

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      That would be around the time that Allen Iverson retired, and took his Thug Life tatts with him….

    • 0 avatar

      Allen Iverson was a part of it, but especially after the brawl at The Palace of Auburn Hills, the NBA’s image needed some fixing. So, David Stern created some new dress codes for players around 2005 at NBA-related events that didn’t involve wearing a uniform. Injured player on the bench, press conferences, etc.

      Players can get fined if they aren’t dressed “conservatively.” This went from expensive Italian suits to fake glasses and “geek chic.”

      Some reporter asked Shawn Marion a few years back why he was wearing fake black rimmed glasses after a game and Marion’s response was, “I’m going to the club tonight, I want to look smart.” Gotta figure a 6’7″ small forward with giant biceps doesn’t need any extra help looking tough.

      To keep it car related, NBA players typically drive expensive cars. This is a fact.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Wow, never realized how much the Datsun SPL212 was a design knockoff of the late-’50’s ‘Vette, until now when I looked at that picture….

    • 0 avatar

      I think Austin Healey is more like it. In the early days, Japanese car companies looked to Britain for inspiration. The Toyota 2000GT, under the skin, pretty much is a copy of the Lotus Elan.

      • 0 avatar
        juicy sushi

        Allbeit with a much better motor under the hood and to a build quality well beyond anything Colin Chapman ever achieved.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know that engine in the 2000GT was “much better” than the Lotus Twin Cam. To begin with, the Ford Kent block was well designed and stayed in production for a long time. The Twin Cam head was designed by Harry Mundy who also designed the BRM V16, the Coventry Climax FWA and the Jaguar V12. The Lotus Twin Cam had a pretty good racing record and the Cosworth BDA owes its heritage to the Twin Cam. I haven’t been able to find any good photos or drawings of the 2000GT head, but from the outside, it looks like Yamaha, who designed it, may have been lookin over Mundy’s shoulder. With the Weber-looking sidedraft Solexes, the 2000GT engine looks like a 6 cylinder Twin Cam.

  • avatar

    Did the “Fair Lady” branding actually parallel a women-centric marketing effort? Or were the buyers mostly men in Japan?

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    That Nissan/Mitsubishi tower is pretty iconic of the Ginza in particular and Tokyo in general.
    The hallways appear to be quite narrow, though…I guess you could not show a Hummer there…

    • 0 avatar

      Absolutely correct – the cylindrical building is a Ginza landmark and I believe it was/is called the San-Ai Building. It’s not surprising that Nissan (and probably other Japanese corporations) would choose the Ginza to be its showcase, due to its high visibility.

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