Cray-2, America's Role in the production of the Z32 300ZX
The year is 1985, Americans are at the movies watching Back to the Future, listening to Madonna and the coolest car on the streets is the Z28 IROC Z. Meanwhile in Japan, Nissan is thinking of creating a world beating sports car.
The times were changing in the auto industry and it was clear that high powered computers would be essential in designing and producing new vehicles. In 1985 Japan was no stranger when it came to computer technology. However, when it came to supercomputers the world leader was the American made Cray-2 produced by Cray Research in Minneapolis, Minnesota . When it came time to pick which computer they planned to use they decided to break from the mold and choose the American model.
In 2019's global economy a purchase such as this would go unnoticed, but in 85' this was big news. The day after the purchase The New York Times said " The transaction has been closely monitored by United States trade officials as an indicator of Japan's intentions concerning the purchase of American-made high-technology products". Nissan's purchase made this the 5th Cray-2 sold to a Japanese company. Japanese government officials were concerned that Japanese companies were not buying domestic. Some U.S. officials even speculated that Japanese officials might find a way to derail the purchase. It is likely that this domestic pressure is the reason why Nissan's chief Rival Toyota announced on the same day as Nissan's that they instead were sticking to Japanese technology by purchasing a supercomputer from Fujitsu.
In the same month as the purchase of the Cray-2, Nissan began its competition to design the next generation 300ZX. By October a Japanese team of designers won the completion, the now famous Toshio Yamashita and Isao Sono .
With the design now in hand Nissan began to put the Cray to good use. They used this computer to help them get the car into production in a turbocharged timeline of only 30 months. The first Z32 rolled off the production line at the Nissan's Shatai plant in Kunagawa Prefecture in March 1989.
The Z32 was the first production car to be completely designed in computer aided drafting (CAD). Every aspect of this car was designed with the Cray-2. Every beautiful body line that we love and every impossible to reach knuckle busting area we hate were all drawn on a computer made by some nerds in a factory in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
Below are some pictures from a sales brochure from Cray Research in 1985. Pay special attention to the large cooling towers full of the computer coolant Fluroinert.