Infiniti reveals vintage-inspired ‘Prototype 9’ concept

14 August 2017 | by Michael Gooderham

In recent years there have been a number of looks into the future of Formula 1 car design – Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull Racing and recently Renault have all had a go – so to stand out as an F1 brand, who not flip this trend on its head? In an intriguing little thought experiment, Infiniti has created a one-off 1940s-style prototype racing car infused with the company's current design language and powered by a state-of-the-art electric powertrain from within the broader Nissan group.

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Initially an after-hours discussion point rather than a serious concept car, the Prototype 9 is the answer to the company’s own question: “What if Infiniti had created a race car in the 1940s?” The result warrants comparison with machines like the Mercedes-Benz W25 and W154 of the 1930s, more than anything, with an open-wheel ‘cigar’ shape comprising an exceedingly long nose behind the front axle, a one-man cockpit leaning against the rear axle, a streamlined ‘boat tail’ and unpainted metal bodywork – not to mention a grille that consumes the entire ‘face’ of the vehicle.

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But how does a 28-year-old brand justify a machine that recalls an era of motorsport from around 70 years ago? Senior VP of Global Design, Alfonso Albaisa, explains:

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.

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.”

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This imagined parallel-universe barn find has been built – electric powertrain aside – solely using the techniques and materials that were around in the 1940s, wrapping hand-beaten steel panels around a steel ladder frame. The shape that Nissan’s ‘Takumi’ master craftsmen have hammered into being, however, carries some obvious cues from the brand’s 21st-century reality, such as the waistline treatment of a strong bone line with a silky concave curvature adding definition, and the ‘shark gills’ behind the front wheels (seen recently on the Q80 Inspiration Concept, as an example) which overlap to add some subtle layering.

Most prominent of all these cues is of course the double-arch grille and its flowing chromed bars – quite literally a slight twist on the dead-straight grille bars of real mid-century Grand Prix cars.

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The minimalist cockpit features a black leather seat with red stitching, sat in amongst all the exposed metal, while the thick-rimmed steering wheel sits behind a fixed central hub containing a turned-aluminium disc that houses three dials. Smaller details extend to little Japanese-flag labels stitched into the headrest. The car has a single-speed transmission, yet features the appropriate metal-ball gear lever for the D-N-R shift pattern of many an EV drive selector. Sadly, this probably won’t feature in the next Leaf.

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For a project trying to capture a time when nascent Formula 1 cars had anywhere from 250 to over 400 horsepower, the inclusion of a 148-horsepower electric motor (allegedly a version of what we'll find in the next Nissan Leaf) is a surprising and arguably somewhat underwhelming way to keep the project relevant to Nissan Motor Corp's bigger picture.

Perhaps its modest performance of 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds and 105mph top speed help explain why the car will be revealed on the static lawns of Pebble Beach, rather than more evocative places like Brooklands or Shelsley Walsh...