A number of legendary Nissan cars have carried the name “Fairlady” over the years.
This particular name has generally been used in the Japanese domestic market, but has also found its way into the popular lexicon in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world where Nissan sports cars have developed a loyal following.
For example, the Nissan 350z as it is known in the United States (check out our buyer’s guide here) is also known as the Fairlady Z (Z33) In Japan:
The earlier Nissan 300zx is also called the Fairlady Z in Japan, specifically the Z32 Fairlady Z.
You can read our buyer’s guide of the Nissan 300ZX here for more information.
In this edition of Car Facts we take a look at the origin and meaning of the “Fairlady” name as it relates to Nissan cars.
How is it that these cars have come to have a different name in Japan, when compared to the rest of the world?
Table of Contents
Where Does The Fairlady Name Come From?
The origins of Nissan’s Fairlady name are actually rather interesting.
In the late 1950s, Nissan boss Katsuji Kawamata traveled to the United States. During a trip, he watched the Broadway musical My Fair Lady, which was in the middle of a successful run at the time. Kawamata was moved by the performance.
A couple of years later, Nissan was looking to launch its first line of sports cars (this is prior to the “Z” car, which we will come to later).
Kawamata had been so impressed by My Fair Lady that he thought the Japanese public would associate the name of the car with the splendour of the musical (from our research, this type of naming convention was apparently fairly common practice in Japan, and much more accepted there than in other markets).
The Fairlady name was first used on the Nissan SP212/213 (Sports 1200/1300)
What Does Fairlady Mean?
So we know where the name comes from, but what specifically does Fairlady mean?
As we alluded to above, the Fairlady name doesn’t have a completely specific meaning.
Instead, the name (as it was applied to the earliest Fairlady cars) was always intended to invoke the sense of beauty and occasion that Katsuji Kawamata felt when he first saw the musical My Fair Lady on a trip to the United States in 1958.
Why Isn’t The Name Used In The United States?
Perhaps the biggest question that remains is why the Fairlady name isn’t used on export Nissans, for example those sold in the United States.
Take the Nissan 350z (read our buyer’s guide here for the 350z if you haven’t done so already).
Why is it called the 350Z in America and the Fairlady Z (Z33) in Japan?
Basically, this all harks back to the original Nissan Fairlady sports car:
Yutaka Katayama, who was the head of Nissan Motors USA at the time, believed that the Fairlady name would not be popular or acceptable with American buyers.
Instead, advertising and promotional material focused on the use of model numbers.
For example, the SP311 was sold as the Fairlady 1600 in Japan, but the “Datsun 1600” in export markets such as the United States (long story short, Datsun was the “export arm” of Nissan at the time – we are working on a Car Facts article about the differences between Nissan and Datsun, and the story of the two).
Fairlady Z Era
The Nissan Fairlady Z was introduced to the United States in 1970 as the “Datsun 240Z’.
There had been some earlier iterations of the Fairlady Z in Japan (it originally launched with a 2 litre engine) but the 240Z really did establish the Fairlady Z as being a hard-hitting name in the world of performance motoring.
This started a trend of Datsun/Nissan Z cars in export markets being named after the engine displacement (for example the 350Z, which has a 3.5 V6, or the 300ZX, which as has a 3.0 V6)
In New Zealand – where we are based – you can buy both NZ-new 350zs as well as Japanese import “Fairladys”, for example.
What Does Z Mean?
One final point remains; what does “Z” mean anyway? We’ve established the Fairlady part, but if we look at a Fairlady Z what is the meaning of that final letter?
Long story short, the Z refers to the vehicle being a Nissan Z-Car, which is effectively a single sports car that has been manufactured over six (soon to be seven) successive generations since 1969.
Teiichi Hara (in charge of design of the original Z car at Nissan’s design department) had given the car plans the file designation “Type Z”, as most of the other letters of the Roman alphabet had been used by this stage for previous projects. Basically, “Type Z” or “Z Car” was the ‘working name’ of the project, and the name stuck around.
Conclusion – The Meaning Of The Fairlady Name
To recap, the Nissan Fairlady name has its origins in the Broadway production My Fair Lady.
The boss of Nissan at the time – Katsuji Kawamata – believed that the name of the musical would inspire an image of beauty in the car-buying public.
As such, the Fairlady name was born and was originally applied to the Nissan SP212/213.
However, it was the use of the Fairlady name in Japan with the “Z” line of cars that made the name most famous globally.
Starting with the Z30 (better known as the Datsun 240z in the United States) through to the current 370z, these models have all borne the “Fairlady Z” badge in Japan.
Nissan announced in 2020 that the next generation of the Z Car/Fairlady Z is coming in 2022.
The Nissan 400Z looks like it will be the first generation of Z car to break with convention with regards to naming. The 400Z will apparently not feature a 4 litre engine, but instead will have 400hp on tap, from a twin turbo V6.
This will be the 7th generation of the Fairlady Z name, stretching back to 1969!
We hope you found this article interesting on the history and meaning of Nissan’s Fairlady name. Feel free to leave a comment below with any questions, criticisms or queries.