Japanese design lion Yoshihiko Matsuo, creator of the first Nissan Z sports car in 1969, eyes his young visitor warily. And Randy Rodriguez, North American creator of the most recent Nissan Z exterior in 2009, returns the old man's stare like a young terrier guarding his turf.
The two find themselves standing face to face one Saturday in July in a hot field outside Nissan North America's headquarters in Franklin, Tenn. Hundreds of Z fans and owners of Z's past and present have gathered here for the annual Z Car Club Association convention. In the crowd of car buffs and parked Z's, the two designers encounter each other for the first time.
Matsuo, 75, in sensible brown shoes and a sun hat, has come to sign autographs and the occasional restored 240Z dashboard with a Sharpie. Rodriguez, 32, dark-haired, in sunglasses and a beaded bracelet with his shirttail out, is making his first visit to Nissan's Tennessee sales and marketing offices.
They stand coldly looking at each other in the summer heat, like images of themselves 40 years apart.
Then they smile, shake hands and launch into an overlapping tale of an iconic sports car that spanned four decades and an almost unrecognizable shared corporate history.
"Here," the elder Z designer says, running his hand along the beltline of Rodriguez's 2010 370Z rear body like a design teacher. "You made it much wider. You made it very muscular." Matsuo bends his arms like a weightlifter to communicate big muscles. "I don't think this was necessary."
Unoffended, Rodriguez gives the grandfatherly Matsuo a handsome West Coast smile.
That muscular-shoulder look on the 370Z's rear wheels and panels has won Rodriguez steady acclaim from car buffs and the sports car press. Working at Nissan's San Diego design studio, Rodriguez brought 21st century sex appeal to the Z, proving it is still a viable model for a global automaker that is scrutinizing the business case of every product.