An Impossibly Possible Past?
Almost 30 years ago, Nissan’s Infiniti brand debuted in America. But imagine if the Japanese automaker’s luxury brand had existed back in the 1940s, in the heyday of wartime and postwar America. Highly unlikely, considering the course of history for the Axis powers — but if it had, there might have been an Infiniti race car such as this sleek Prototype 9 concept that made its debut during the days leading up to the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
How It All Began
Alfonso Albaisa, senior vice president of global design at Infiniti, describes how the Prototype 9 concept car came to be. “It started as a discussion among designers: “What if Infiniti had created a race car in the 1940s? If one were to imagine an open-wheel Infiniti racer on the famous circuits of the era, such as Japan’s Tamagawa Speedway, what would that look like? 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.”
Traditional Build Methods
The Prototype 9 was built with traditional methods in mind — steel body panels that wrap around a steel frame were hammered into shape by hand. Even the 19-inch wheels are fitted with period-appropriate cross-ply competition tires. Infiniti signature design elements can still be found on the Prototype 9, including the double-arch grille and “shark gills” behind the front wheels.
Inside the cockpit, Infiniti designers kept things simple, as would have been the case in a 1940s race car. In a modern twist, the gauges are located in a fixed central hub made of turned aluminum. This hub is in the center of the steering wheel, which puts everything directly in front of the driver. The cockpit itself is replete in black leather with contrasting red stitching. Japanese flags are stitched into the integrated headrest of the single bucket seat.
The Prototype 9’s overall proportions are clearly of a race car, with a long hood, short overhangs, open wheels and an exposed cockpit. Although the Prototype 9 has the look of a vintage race car, under that long hood is a thoroughly advanced electric powertrain.
The Prototype 9 is the first Infiniti to feature an electric powertrain. A 30-kWh onboard battery powers an electric motor that produces 148 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, sending power to the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission. Top speed is just over 105 mph, and the sprint to 60 takes 5.5 seconds. Infiniti claims the battery is good for about 20 minutes of heavy track use.
Look to the Future
“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. Prototype 9 comes to life as a dynamic, drivable prototype vehicle at Pebble Beach,” said Roland Krueger, chairman and global president at Infiniti.
Not Coming Soon
Although we don’t expect a production model based on the Prototype 9 debuting soon, the electric powertrain could certainly appear in some fashion in a future Infiniti. Meanwhile, we’ll simply enjoy this stunning vintage-style racer masquerading with its futuristic powertrain.