NEWS: Infiniti Prototype 9 envisions a retro racer from the 1940s

Infiniti has revealed the Prototype 9, a true dream car project. Built from authentic old school construction methods and designed with parameters limited only by human imagination, it fantasizes a “what if” scenario that saw Infiniti competing in the so-called Golden Age of Grand Prix racing. 

The Prototype 9 began as all great projects do — with a barn find. “We discussed the idea of ‘chancing’ upon an unrecognized race car, hidden away for decades in a barn, deep in the Japanese countryside, said Alfonso Albaisa, senior vice president of design. “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.”

As groups within Nissan caught wind of the Prototype 9, it became an after-hours passion project. “They volunteered their own time; more and more staff became involved,” explained Infiniti chairman Roland Krueger.

Designers at the Atsugi studio in Japan conceptualized materials, details and shapes in a full-size clay model. Engineers at the Oppama Nissan Research Center devised its drivetrain and old school ladder-frame architecture. The specialty production team at Autech then constructed it discreetly.

Of course, Infiniti as a marque only came into being in 1989. However, parent company Nissan has been around for 84 years. Japan was, um, busy with other activities during the time the Prototype 9 would have raced, and Nissan was building mostly utilitarian road cars and rugged trucks.

Still, Nissan has a rich history of motorsport dating back to the 1930s, when Datsun race cars competed at Tamagawa Speedway, Asias first circuit. In the 50s Nissan took on rallying with the Datsun 210, racers based on production cars like the 1962 Datsun Fairlady Roadster and Prince Skyline began competing in Japan’s Grand Prix contests in the early 1960s, and by mid-decade purpose-built racers like the Prince R380 had emerged.

One parallel with early Nissan tech is the Prototype 9 is its drivetrain, which is all-electric and is taken from the next-gen Nissan Leaf. Back in 1947, the extended Nissan family was producing electric cars too, like the Tama E4S-47-1. Tama eventually became Prince Motor Company, which merged with Nissan, resulting in some of the most storied cars in the firm’s history, including the above-mentioned R380 and Skyline GT-R.

Weighing only 1,962 pounds, the Prototype 9 is propelled by its 148-horsepower, 236 pound-foot electric motor from 0-62 mph in just 5.5 seconds and has a top speed of 105.6 mph.

Despite the modern drivetrain, the Prototype 9 was constructed with old school methods. Craftsmen hammered out the body panels by hand, draping it over a ladder frame suspended on leaf springs. Each open wheel is a massive, classically spoked, center-locking 19-inch wheel cloaked in cross-ply race tires of the era.

“I was a little surprised,” Albaisa told Motor Trend, “but it turns out they still train people in all the traditional car-building arts. They thought this was the perfect project, and they decided — on their own — to follow the design story as if [it were] real.”

The body incorporates modern Infiniti design cues, what the company calls the double arch grille, single-crease hood, and shark gills aft of the front wheels. The cockpit is finished in black leather with red stitching. Infiniti says subtle Japanese flags are stitched into the headrest, but it’s not visible from the photos issued thus far.

The fuselage’s design was also inspired by aeronautic construction of the era, a nod to the prevailing design inspirations of the day but also the Tachikawa Aircraft Company that Tama spun off of. The bare sheetmetal look, which also inspired Mercedes’ Silver Arrow racers, was a common weight-saving trick on aircraft as well.

The most prominent trait of the single-seat cabin is a a fixed instrument pod around which the steering wheel rotates. Its hub face wears brushed aluminum circles, achieved by the old school technique of hand-turning aluminum shavings into the surface by cork. Naturally, all the switches are modeled after cockpit controls of the day.

“So if this is Prototype 9, where are prototypes one through eight?” you might ask. They don’t exist. Instead, the name comes from a play on words. In Japanese, 9 is pronounced kyuu, or “Q”, the letter Infiniti uses to denote all its models.

The Prototype 9 is one of those rare flights of fancy that carmakers rarely engage in nowadays. The car “represents a combination of artistry, craftsmanship and commitment to a romantic notion of our heritage,” says Albaisa. “It inspired our people to work on Prototype 9 in their own time – as they were completely invested in the project and the details and features originated with them. Prototype 9 has been a labor of love for many of us.” Even if it doesn’t lead to any production vehicles, we’re glad to see a car that ignites the passions of those within Nissan.

The Infiniti Prototype 9 will make its public debut at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance next week.

Images courtesy of Infiniti.

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21 Responses to NEWS: Infiniti Prototype 9 envisions a retro racer from the 1940s

  1. 88TSI_Rob said:

    Not quite as practical as some of the recent extracurricular projects from Ford (GT) and Dodge (Demon), but I’m sure Infiniti needs all the plublicity it can get right now with a rather forgettable lineup. I imagine it’ll flogged up Lord March’s driveway at some point.

  2. Cesariojpn said:

    Cue the rich folks wanting to buy one and Nissan making a limited run at it.

  3. SHC said:

    I respect the expertise in metal work and fabrication, but the motor choice and the front end let’s the automobile down. Looks too much like a Chrysler Prowler-Infiniti offspring from the front. In their defense sometimes the hardest thing is making a new car look like it’s a vintage car.

    • Mark Newton-John said:

      No, this is a close reproduction of ’30s-era Grand Prix cars. Doesn’t look like those hot rod-type cars such as the Prowler.

  4. Mark Newton-John said:

    Hmph… You’d think they would be forward thinking and made it mid-engined like the Auto Union (Audi) cars. Instead, it comes off as a Mercedes-Benz knockoff. Silver? No, that was Germany’s color. Not sure if Japan had a national racing color, but it would’ve been white, like the Honda F1 cars of the 1960s.

    • Ben Hsu said:

      Yes it was white with a red roundel. The car is technically metal, not silver. I know Mercedes was too, but they were also inspired by bare metal aircraft

      • Mark Newton-John said:

        I think Honda put the hinomaru on their car to tell everyone it was a Japanese car, since at the time, cars were painted by country of origin: Italy-Redlands, Great Britain-green, France-blue, Belgium-yellow, etc. I think white was an unassigned color, but it made sense for Honda to use it, and throw on the hinomaru.

  5. BlitzPig said:

    Nope, not feeling the love here.

    Like most modern Japanese cars, the front was obviously designed by a totally different person than the rear of the car was.

    Has no one in Japan seen a Ferrari 250 GTO, or a Henri Chapron bodied Delahaye 145?
    Have the Toyota 2000 GT or the Fairlady 240Z been totally forgotten?

  6. Jim Simspson said:

    Sorry guys I do not agree with your assessment of the “9” I think they have hit the mark on so many levels including the stylistic grill… This is a flight of fancy and a throw back idea of a time that Infinity was never involved… a modern Historic retrospective if you will… Kudos for spending the time and money to build this in a world where we really do not need another Super Car, it is a nice nod at history… Betting many of you would not complain if they built a Mach 5 even though Speed Racer never existed… except in a fantasy cartoon.

    • Ant said:

      Agreed. It’s taken me a few days but I’ve really fallen for the styling, even including the grille – it’s a divisive look for sure, but has the slightly brutal look of some of the other racers from that period.

      I’m less sure about the drivetrain. Not that it’s electric – it wouldn’t have been at the time, but ultimately the entire car is a flight of fancy anyway so why not the drivetrain? – but the outputs.

      Given this thing has no need for practicality or no real tie to any production vehicle, why not ramp up the power a bit rather than the slightly disappointing real-world Leaf-and-a-bit power and torque outputs? 1930s Grand Prix cars were absolute monsters; electric or not, this concept should be too.

  7. Mike said:

    I’m with Jim. I’m very happy to see the skills needed to create this beauty still exist in Japan. The design is quite beautiful if one can set aside one’s preconceived notions of how open-wheelers of this era are “supposed” to look. It is as distinctive as one would expect a car from Japan would be back then. Too bad the leadership of Japan was too busy building a war machine back in the 30s to spend time creating world-class sporting machinery like this. Who knows?

    BTW, Jim. Given enough cash, I suspect you could buy yourself this running Mach 5.
    https://www.therealmach5.com/gallery

  8. Negishi no Keibajo said:

    Wonderful crastmanship. The idea I like. The nose?… Not so much. It’s an about-face from the rest of the streamline-moderne car. The craftsmanship is something they should be very proud of. It’s a staement to the “digital age”; the ain’t no app for this. Just some very skilled hands & eyes (and great tools). It reminds me of the competitions they have in where machinists compete to insane tolerances… by hand. The best part of these photos to me are the gentlemen carefully crafting the body parts. I am in absolute awe of these craftsmen.

  9. BlitzPig said:

    Well, I’m old enough to think that Speed Racer was a really poorly animated cartoon, and the Mach 5 was just plain hideous, if that has any bearing on my thoughts on this creation.

    I am only commenting on the way it looks, not Nissan’s reasons for doing it.

    The current crop of gaping maw front ends on some Japanese cars are all quite awful.

  10. MikeRL411 said:

    Looking for the Japanese flags? Look where the headrest meets the sheet metal, a tiny Hino Maru flag is visible there. See the tenth photo for example.

  11. Randy said:

    I actually like it – even the grille.

    Howzabout that as a starting point for an Infiniti sports car? Something bigger than a Miata, maybe a touch bigger than a BRZ…

    Of course, I’m talking about a full-bodied car, with front-engine/rear-drive.

    Obviously, shorten the hood to a more contemporary length.

    Do the slit-type LED headlights, like on the Alfa 6C concept, and matching slit tail lights on the rear fender, leading to a lesser vertical “sail(?)”.

    Keep the chrome “swoosh” thing, but not connected to the grille.

  12. Punto8 said:

    The craftsmen that built this absolutely nailed it. I am a Toyota guy for life but this car is exquisite from every angle and each subtle detail. I wouldn’t touch a modern Nissan but I could love this car forever!

  13. Mark Newton-John said:

    Note that those are huge drum brakes on the car.

  14. Gary said:

    Yeah I like it! No I love it – just love that they have had a ‘fair dinkum’ go (as we say here in Australia).

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