by Ann Devor
The Z car world lost a bright light on December 8 with the passing of Ms. Johnnie K. Gable. Johnnie was the hard-working and fun-loving secretary to Yutaka Katayama, also known as Mr. K. Johnnie started working for Mr. K on May 23, 1963, during the early years of Datsun car sales in the United States. Mr. K was the Vice President of Nissan Motor Corporation, USA for the west coast. At the time, the cars that Nissan sold were branded Datsuns for the United States and were shipped to the ports at Los Angeles/Long Beach from Japan. When Johnnie was hired, she became Mr. K’s right hand and had responsibility for a multitude of tasks that led to the tremendous success of Datsun and now Nissan cars in the United States. Johnnie was Mr. K’s personal assistant and took care of his correspondence, scheduling, and orders for cars. She was always behind the scenes taking care of business.
In the meantime, the Datsun 510 had been introduced to the United States and was becoming popular on the racetrack. And then one day, Johnnie told Mr. K about Bob Bondurant’s interest in running Z cars at his driving school in Ontario, CA. Mr. K then arranged for Bondurant to get 10 cars. Johnnie also gets credit for delivering parts to Peter Brock in the early days of Brock Racing Enterprises. It was difficult to get parts without Mr. K’s support. Brock’s development of a 240Z race car led to John Morton’s SCCA National Championship wins in 1970 and following in 1971. Continuing Datsun’s racing pedigree, Steve Millen drove a Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo to the first of several championships beginning in 1992. Johnnie Gable was there for all of it. She knew everyone and she helped everyone.
In 1977 Mr. K retired from Nissan USA and returned to Japan. Before he left, he gave Johnnie his 1972 yellow G-nose 240Z. This special car was a generous gift but well-deserved for someone who was devoted to her job at Nissan and to her boss. Johnnie lived her life in the spirit of Mr. K’s motto, “Love Cars, Love People, Love Life.”
Johnnie continued to be an enthusiastic supporter of Datsun and Nissan sports cars even in her retirement years. In 2018 Johnnie was ZONC’s special guest of honor at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and enjoyed a parade lap with Pat Johnson in his red 1969 Roadster. Recently in April, Johnnie was a special guest at the unveiling of the 50th Anniversary BRE 370Z. In September, she went to ZCon in Nashville to see the unveiling of the new Nissan Z Proto. And she loved ZONC’s car shows and gatherings at the Blackhawk Museum.
Johnnie Gable was one of the sweetest and most kind people you could ever know. Besides being a historically important figure in the Z car world, she loved her family very much. She leaves behind her son, Ken Ueda, who has organized the Mr. K Runs out of southern California in recent years. Johnnie also leaves behind another son and grandchildren. Without a doubt, Johnnie will be missed deeply but her bright spirit will live on.