Infiniti as a brand turned 30 this year and amongst their usual line up of SUVs and crossovers, the company has shown a concept car that reveals that their engineers are very much in tune with their inner car nut – the Prototype 9.
You see, Infiniti may have come into existence within Nissan just thirty years ago, but it is nonetheless part of the same lineage. A lineage which does not have a long standing racing history but definitely a drive for performance. And when you have a good idea supported by passionate people, it is almost guaranteed to deliver remarkable results. That’s kind of what the Prototype 9 is, a passion project that found enough interest within the company to see itself become a reality.
The key man responsible for this 1940s inspired electric racecar is Infiniti’s design director Alfonso Albaisa (pictured below). When the project was first discussed to design a barn-find kind of car, the timing coincided with the 80th anniversary of the first Japanese Grand Prix, all the way back in 1936.
Albaisa explained how the ‘what if’ came about, “We discussed the idea of ‘chancing’ upon an unrecognized race car, hidden away for decades in a barn, deep in the Japanese countryside. We wanted to explore what this looked like, what it would have been made of. Open-wheeled racers of the age were beautiful machines, elegant and powerful and with a wonderful purity of purpose. It’s an automotive fantasy, but the notion captured our imaginations enough to put pencil to paper.”
“It started as a discussion – what if INFINITI had created a race car in the 1940s? If one were to imagine an open-wheeled INFINITI racer on the famous circuits of the era, such as Japan’s Tamagawa Speedway, what would that look like?” said Alfonso when the Prototype 9 was shown to the world at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. “The sketches were stunning and the idea so compelling that we had to produce a prototype. As other departments became aware of this, they volunteered their time to create a working vehicle” he added.
We can see exactly why even the busiest would find time to be part of something like this and the final result speaks for itself. Those lines and curves were imagined and sketched at the Infinity Design Studio in Atsugi and then the model was moved to a secluded section of Nissan’s research centre in Oppama where it would be constructed. There, a team of Takumi – Nissan’s master craftspeople – was assembled to build the Prototype 9, that bare sheet-metal skin finish taking countless hours of traditional crafting methods.
“The creation of the real world INFINITI Prototype 9 was entirely and coincidentally organic. As we started work on a physical model, word spread beyond the core design team, and other departments started checking in and offering assistance. Eventually, the production team became aware of the project – and brought with them the desire and skills to build it” expalined Alfonso.
The bodywork is made from steel body panels wrapped around a steel ladder frame, the panels hammered into their stunningly smooth shapes by the Takumi. Those 19-inch wire-spoke wheels at each corner even come wrapped in cross-ply competition tyres of that era. There are some trademark Infiniti elements beaten in there as well, like the double-arch grille.
Infiniti also credits the inspiration for the design of the Prototype 9 to a custom-built Prince R380 which took overall victory at the 1966 Japanese GP at Fuji Speedway. The Prince Motor Company, the ones responsible for the original Skyline, were taken in by Nissan and its legacy continues in the Infiniti Motor Company. Alfonso commented on this association too, saying “We like to think that INFINITI, with its stunning design, high performance capability and forward-looking technology, shares some DNA with the Prince Motor Company, which became part of Nissan Motors. Prototype 9 is a celebration of the artistry and ingenuity inherent in our company.”
Prototype 9’s open cockpit continues the blend of retro with modern, a result of two Japanese craft techniques – ‘mitate’ and ‘shitate’. The two relate to bringing together the best possible selection of materials and to tailor the chosen combination in a way to bring out their best characteristics. The cockpit is wrapped in black leather with contrast red stitching, the steering wheel rotates around a fixed central hub which is finished in turned aluminium. The cabin has minimal switchgear, some modelled on cockpit switches, highlighting the concept car’s single-minded focus on driving.
Remember that this retro racer is electric, and uses a prototype motor from Nissan’s advanced powertrain dept. Why? Chairman and Global President Roland Krueger explained, “While the essence of the INFINITI Prototype 9 is rooted in the past, it runs on a next-generation EV powertrain which looks squarely to the future. It is an excellent example of the ingenuity, craftsmanship and entrepreneurism that characterizes the teams across our company.”
The motor in question produces a max output of 161bhp and 320Nm of torque, all of it to the rear-wheels through a single-speed transmission. Infiniti claims a 0-100kph time of 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 170kph, but unrestricted it should be able to do over 225kph. Its 30kWh battery offers a max range of 20 minutes under ‘heavy track use’.
As of now, there is only one working version of the Prototype 9. There has been significant interest from people who’d like to own one but it is yet to be seen what will Infiniti do with it next. But man, what a beautiful car it is. Share your thoughts in the comments section.
Take a better look at the Infinity Prototype 9 in the gallery below: