Send in Yamaguchi!

  • 25-Apr-2016 02:32 EDT
TedKlaus with Jack Y at Motegi 2016.jpg

Yamaguchi (right) talks NSX with Honda's Ted Klaus.

Ted Klaus is not given to hyperbole. So when the Chief Engineer of Honda’s 2017 NSX says something is “the best,” he means it. And that’s how Klaus described hearing Jack Yamaguchi’s first impressions of the all-new NSX, during a pre-production drive event last winter at the Tochigi Proving Ground.

“Jack got out of the car, looked me in the eye and said, ‘It’s still an NSX!’ Then he smiled. Coming from Jack, that was the best comment I’ve heard about this vehicle,” Klaus proudly recounted to me in early March at the NSX’s global media launch.

When Kyoichi “Jack” Yamaguchi talks, industry engineers listen because they’re hearing the “dean” of Japan’s automotive journalists. Over a career spanning 50 years, Jack has conducted hundreds of interviews with engineering leaders and experts at the OEMs and suppliers. Doors open when Jack visits, and top executives return his calls. He’s reported on new technologies and driven prototypes and production vehicles—on two wheels and four—well ahead of their public launch.

Jack filed his first English-language articles (on Mazda’s Cosmo rotary sports car and one of Honda’s 4-cylinder works Grand Prix bikes) in 1967, and went on to become the Japan correspondent for Road & Track in the U.S., Motor in the U.K., and leading motorcycle mag Cycle World. SAE International was smart to hire him in the early 1980s to be Automotive Engineering’s Asia Editor, a post he still holds today while penning monthly columns in four Japanese car magazines. And students of Mazda’s sports cars know Jack as the author of definitive history books covering development of the RX-7, RX-8, and MX-5 Miata.

How did a kid living among the devastation of post-WWII Japan, who was crazy for bikes, cars, and their technologies, get started as an internationally renowned industry journalist?

“I mostly learned English not in school but watching movies and listening to U.S. Armed Forces Radio at home,” Jack told me during the 2016 SAE World Congress. He learned the nuts-and-bolts of machines while working for Japan’s BMW and BSA motorcycle importer and going to races. He started writing about new vehicles.

Jack’s coverage of the industry in major publications soon got the attention of top management within Japan’s OEMs. “Three senior engineers became my mentors and helped me when I started in this business: Yoshio Nakamura at Honda, Jiro Kawano at Toyota, and Shinichiro Sakurai at Nissan,” Jack said. Each of the three are icons—Nakamura was Soichiro Honda’s R&D director and chief engineer of Honda’s second (RA271) Formula One car; Kawano led development of the 2000GT and Toyota’s Group 7 racecar, and Sakurai headed Nissan GTR engineering, among many other projects by each.

It was Nakamura, then president of Japan SAE, who approached Jack with a proposal: Would he be interested in writing for SAE's flagship magazine? “My first reaction was, ‘No way!’ The standards of a professional engineering publication are much higher than those for enthusiast magazines,” Jack recalled. But his mentor’s encouragement prevailed. “I told Nakamura that I would write for AE for one year...and 40 years later I’m still doing it!” Among his favorite interviews are those with Kenichi Yamamoto, Mazda’s rotary-engine “father;” former Honda CEO Nobuhiko Kawamoto, and Alex Moulton, who designed the original Mini’s suspension.

So when the grapevine told me that Honda was about to promote Yoshiyuki Matsumoto to head Honda R&D earlier this year, my immediate reaction was, “better send in Yamaguchi!” Jack, who lives in Tokyo, just happened to have a lunch scheduled with his R&D contacts at Tochigi. His request for a sit-down interview with Matsumoto-san—the first for an industry magazine—resulted in this month’s cover story. Our domo arigatou gozaimasu to Honda for making it happen—and to Jack for being the “dean.”

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