"Debunking The German Designer Myth"

Contributed By: Carl Beck, IZCC #260
E-Mail: beck@becksystems.com

Last Up-date 13 March 2003

The German Designer Myth aka the Goertz Myth:
After reading everything I can find related to Mr. Goertz and his work in the automotive arena, I am lead to conclude several things. First is that most articles I've been able to find, written on the subject of the design and engineering of the Datsun 240-Z are filled with assumptions, reported second hand knowledge, twisted facts, and opinions but very little reporting based on verified information. Stories all to often told as if they were well researched and based on substantial evidence; when they are nothing more than conjecture.

The other common thread that ties most of them together is the mistaken assumption that the Datsun 240-Z was evolved from the previous line of sports cars sold by Nissan Motors prior to the introduction of the 240-Z.

Secondly I get the picture of a very charming, independent designer, constantly promoting himself, and managing his image with, the automotive press starting with his independent design career in New York city in the early 1950's. Nothing wrong with that, but in my opinion the reporters should have been much more critical of information received from such sources and much more careful about what they presented, intentionally or unintentionally to the readers as facts.

I also notice that Mr. Goertz is very careful with his exact words and his specific statements; while leading, or at least allowing, others to to be reckless with their restatement of his words.

I am amazed at how often in these published articles Mr. Goertz makes a statement that the authors then twist and restate in their own words, only to wind up with something that was never actually stated as fact to begin with, and which inturn is most often completely incorrect.

In short, I see a man who is a master at dropping suggestions and telling part truths, which his interviewers then take and run to the wrong conclusions with, or worse yet restate and retell as though it were factual reporting. I don't know if Mr. Goertz has intentionally mislead his interviewers or if they are just sloppy with facts and truth. Could be both.

Sad to say what I see is lots of repeating and re-repeating of earlier misinformation, with very little "reporting" in the journalistic sense of the term. Far too many statements that were fuzzy in their original form, are then at some point later persented clearly as facts (which they most clearly are not). All too many articles written, then published without independent verification of the facts, nor checking of secondary sources. All but none of the critical thinking nor factual verification one would expect of a true journalist. The most insidious part of this is that given something was published in hard copy, everyone tends to accept it as truth.

The Goertz Myth Starts Here
In the November 1978 issue of "Car and Driver Magazine" Patrick Bedard wrote the following:
......"Considering the population density of the island of Manhattan, there are maybe only a thousand people who live four blocks up and just around the corner from C/D's Park Avenue office. But as coincidence would have it, one of them just happens to be Albrecht Goertz, the man who, as a consultant to Nissan, designed the original Datsun 240-Z. Because he can be counted upon for strong opinions on automobiles - and a fair dose of personal charm besides - we couldn't resist inviting him around for coffee, opening up our file of still-secret 280-ZX photos, and asking him what he thought."

"....Albrecht Goertz, the man who, as a consultant to Nissan, designed the original Datsun 240-Z" - Indeed! Where did Mr. Bedard come up with the idea that this statement could be honestly made and supported factually? We may never know, but it seems that Mr. Bedard was the first to make it that directly and put it in print; then it seems everyone after that simply repeated it.

This "German Designer Myth" is found with one exception, to one extent or another in every book written in English, about the history of the Z Car. Every book was also published after 1978. Almost every book also starts with the history of Nissan's previous sports car line and assumes that the Z Car evolved from them. In that progression the "Myth" fits nicely into the fairy-tale. The myth is also re-reported in most articles written about the 240-Z in magazines as well. (the one book that is the exception is Dr. Ben Millspaugh's -Z CAR Enthusiasts Guide -1986

As we shall see from a review of several interviews with Mr. Goertz done over the 12 years previous to 1978 and the 25 years following; Mr. Goertz has always been careful in his wording to never make the claim that he designed the Datsun 240-Z himself. He has however made many statements that seem to have lead, or should I say mislead, others to come to that conclusion on their own. Some even quite mistakenly state that Mr. Goertz helped Porsche design the 911; this is all but laughable if it wasn't such a disservice to the readers and to Porsche.

The earliest mention of Mr. Goertz and any association with Nissan Motors that I have read, was published in "Automobile Quarterly, Volume IV, Number 3, Winter 1966, "A Designer Decries the Sameness in 66" by Mervyn Kaufman. It seems to me that the misinformation campaign starts here. (maybe you have found something earlier, if so let me know & thanks to Les Cook in New Zealand for this reference).

In the referenced article the author writes:
"He (referring to Goertz..ed) began his design career twenty-six years ago building HotRods in California. Since then he has worked for Raymond Loewy, among others for Porsche, BMW and is presently under contract to the Nissan company in Japan. The Trim but elegant Datsun 1600 coupe he designed for Nissan was an instantaneous hit upon introduction at the 1964 Tokyo Motor Show. From his own experience and because of his own success Goertz is in strong sympathy with the role that is played - or that could be played - by an independent designer, the man who works outside the company."

Very flowery indeed. What is not mentioned is that Mr. Loewy told Mr. Goertz that he would never make it as a designer and that he should marry a rich wife. Mr. Goertz said that he worked for Porsche in 1957 or 1958 (he has written both). At which time he worked on a design of a four passenger car. The design was rejected and the car was never produced.

While the Datsun 1600 coupe (the Silvia) went over well in Tokyo - it was a complete flop in its intended market, that being the USA. It was shown only at the 1965 New York Auto Show then removed from the show car circuit and sent back to Japan according to Mr. K. Little wonder the New York Auto Show wasn't mentioned. The Silvia (aka the Datsun 1600 coupe) also received the thumbs down from the Datsun Dealers that inspected it (Bob Sharp for one).

In that same article the author writes; "Recalling his experience at Porsche, he told us; "the company had the option of using all or part of the work I submitted - or none of it, for that matter. The car I designed for Porsche was never built. They said in effect, "Thank you very much. It's a beautiful car, but not a Porsche."

In Mr. Goertz's own words, he refers over the following years to his "stint at Porsche", he suggests or infers that "he was there" when or just ahead of the time that the 911 was designed. In associating himself with the Porsche 911 he infers later in this same article that his ideas "could have been used at least in part by Porsche" on the 911 project. He implys many things without actually saying them, then leaves it to others to restate implications as facts, which they all to often do. I can find nothing in any written history of Porsche that even mentions his name. (if you can please let me know). However in most of the referenced books and articles the authors "repeat".. "Goertz worked for Porsche on the 911 Project".. or something to that effect - which is completely incorrect. (this is only one example there are several).

Now let's jump forward in time to that 1978 article in Car & Driver again. Not many weeks after that article appeared in Car & Driver, In 1980, Mr. Hiroshi Takahashi, then Executive Vice-President of Nissan Motor Company (Japan), sent a letter to AutoWeek Magazine. The letter said in part: "It is absolutely unthinkable that he (Goertz) had a hand in designing the 240-Z". The letter also said that Goertz "...should never be associated with the Z". (see Feburary 4, 1980 edition of AutoWeek Magazine)"

This then lead to the now famous "Goertz Lawsuit" against Nissan Motors (which never happened). How many places have we read "Goertz sued Nissan", or "Goertz took Nissan to court"? How many times have we read the now broadly reported acknowledgement by Nissan that Mr. Goertz did indeed originate that design (which was never stated by Nissan either). A little later in this article we'll give this entire episode a more critical review. Suffice to say at this point that there was only a "threatened" legal action. No legal action and no Court appearence. Nissan Motors NEVER retracted that statement issued by it's Executive VP either ( a very important point and never mentioned in the automotive journals nor magazines...wonder why?).

The next major piece written about the Datsun 240-Z's Origins was done in 1986 by Automobile Quarterly, The Origin of the Species, by: Terry Greenfield.
Mr. Greenfield writes about Mr. Goertz; ....."He returned briefly to his native land to work on the 911 project for Porsche."..... and later in the same article he restates..."After BMW Goertz worked for Porsche, where he helped develop the styling for what would become the 911"...

Yeiks! - - Here we see yet another author stating, then restating, what he thinks he heard Mr. Goertz say, or what the author concludes from reading what others have written in the past. Mr. Goertz most certainly did NOT work for Porsche on the 911 Project (actually the Project was the 901) -to paraphrase Mr. Goertz's own words, he submitted a design for a car to Porsche in 1957 or 58, which they rejected.

Still later in that same article Mr. Greenfield writes...."They settled out of court, issuing a letter to Goertz, recognizing his contributions to Nissan's Design Staff. They maintained, however that the 240-Z was their own product. Then Quoting Goertz.."that I didn't design it, but taught them how to do it" Here again we see Mr. Goertz putting words in other peoples mouths... Nissan never said "he taught them how".. words that will be later reported as fact by another author in a later Z Car Book. As I mentioned earlier in this article, we'll look closely at what Nissan did say and more critically at what it meant, not just repeat what Mr. Goertz tells us it meant to him. See the hyper-links below.

The Complete Statement From Nissan
The Goertz Design vs The Nissan Design
The True Story of The 240-Z
The Speech Mr. Goertz Gave In 1995
Book List and Reference Materials