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 82 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.