Enjoy this addition to the LACar ExtravaganZa – an inside scoop on the launch of the 1990 Nissan 300ZX from Mark Adams, former Nissan Product Information Manager.
This time we hear from Mark Adams, former Nissan Product Information Manager, who has more stories of the Cray Days at the mother ship and a personal story that echos the nightmare of everyone who’s ever been in charge of an important printed project.
It begins with the most chilling five words in that business: “Has this gone out yet?”.
Story and Photos by Mark Adams
Featured photo: Three images of the brochure in question. A photo of the 300ZX, the technical overlay and a detail of the overlay with the mirror image of the word “NISSAN” on the engine cover. Oops!
To check out our collection of articles celebrating the Z car’s 50th anniversary, see the rest of the ExtravaganZa HERE.
I was recently asked by LACar.com to provide an insider’s view of some of the “goings on” inside the launch of the 1990 300 ZX as we celebrate its 30th anniversary. During this time at Nissan Motor Corporation U.S.A., my position was known as the Product Information Manager. My job, within Product Planning, was to assure every specification for every model was up-to-date and to control confidential dissemination of specs to a controlled set of management within Nissan Motor Corporation.
In fact, I had created the first electronic specifications database in the industry and it was distributed via floppy disks (for those of you under 30 years of age, please, Google “floppy disk”) with signatures required and a password to get into the program. Later, we modified the program to work with networks using secure passwords. In essence, I was the “Shell Answer Man” for product.
So, anything going out to employees, the press or public, such as newsletters, point-of-sale materials and customer information went past me. It was a very tedious and time-consuming job and I also had some product planning duties for sedans that I had stay current with. Although PC’s were already in use for things like letters, spreadsheets, etc., the artwork for a brochure’s graphics was still in its infancy and mostly done on Macs. In that everything was still mostly type set (again, for those of you under 30 years of age, please, Google, “type-setting”) we had to re-read and proof the whole brochure cover-to-cover every time any changes were made.
I was quite proud of myself as I had a perfect record while doing this for all Nissan models for several years (’88-’92 model years)! Additionally, this was a very special brochure, the longest and most expensive ever made at that point by Nissan, and even included a slip cover to keep it nice. It was presented like a valued gift to a client.The book was to be introduced at 300ZX reveals in major museum venues across the country and the car was exhibited as a “sculpture” to current Z owners in major markets as invitation-only events. Therefore, it was presented like a valued gift to a potential client.
But, along the way, the ’90 300 ZX reared its head. One day they gave me the final full-color proof that was one of the first couple dozen brochures to come off the press. They asked me to review it one final time just to be sure it was all correct. To print a bad brochure would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars to reprint. Also, showing a piece of standard equipment that was optional could lead to refunds and/or buybacks of vehicles and that could mean millions of dollars! No pressure here!!
I had multiple deadlines that day and did a quick read and recalled a few specifications changes and mistakes as the brochure was developed. All were perfect. One unique item in the 300 ZX brochure was a beautiful cutaway onionskin overlay of the car’s internals and illustrated the whole driveline back to the rear axle. I skimmed over it because it was a piece of art and I thought, “what could change on a piece of art?”. I approved the 2 copies that had been dropped-off to me by our design firm. Plans were to restart the press that afternoon.
A couple of hours after I “blessed” the brochure, the rep from the design house came back by my office from Nissan R & D and told me one of the engineers had found a mistake! I’m guessing I turned pale and asked her immediately if the press had restarted. To my huge relief, she said “no” and showed me the mistake. I couldn’t believe it; that piece of artwork, the one that had been “blessed” and couldn’t be changed…had the negative flipped at the printers!! The word “Nissan” on the engine cover was a mirror image.
The rep wanted both of my copies to destroy and she had already confiscated most of the other copies. I told her that I wanted to keep one copy to remind me to always be aware of the unknown. After a curt conversation, she left me with my one copy. Case closed and nobody above me found out about the close call except my immediate National Manager! We had a good laugh over it.
So… here’s a thought for all you Z enthusiasts. There’s a limited amount of very valuable “Lucky Lindy” stamps that were printed by the U.S. Post Office back in the day to celebrate Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 non-stop transoceanic flight. The first sets were sent to the post offices and sold to the public with his airplane flying upside down and each sheet is worth thousands of $$$$ today. I wonder if anyone would ever want to buy my 300 ZX brochure! As far as I know, it’s the only survivor!
On a different note but also related to LACar.com Z ExtravaganZa, I read Dan Banks’ Cray supercomputer articles and I have a couple of Cray stories for you.
We were told when I was in Product Planning that Nissan had procured 4 Crays, all linked together. Three of them did the calculations and the fourth one controlled the other three. Again, not sure how accurate the next statement is but…the Japanese told our Product Planning Managers that Nissan had more computing power than all of the Big 3 combined at the time. This was roughly 1990, give or take a year.
I distinctly remember them discussing the first virtual crash tests where the Cray crashed a virtual car and the results were extremely accurate when they compared it to a crashed prototype. However, it took nearly 24 hours of the Cray’s processing time to crunch data and provide the final results. They told us they could really fine tune a vehicle with the results. The story was that the soon-to-be ’91 Sentra SE-R failed a crash test virtually. In analyzing the results they found that moving a bolt (and probably changing the size) in the engine compartment allowed the SE-R to pass a front-end crash test.
That’s how it went into production.