WHAT do you do if you’re a relatively young brand in the automotive world and you don’t have much legacy? In Infiniti’s case, you just make it up.
The luxury arm of Japanese car maker Nissan has just unveiled what it calls the Prototype 9, an alien, open-wheeled electric “retro roadster prototype” crafted by Nissan workers as an after-hours labour of love.
Made for the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Nissan says the Prototype 9 “is a celebration of Nissan and Infiniti’s ingenuity, artistry and craftsmanship”, blending 1940s styling with a modernised version of what is, let’s face it, an early 20th Century drivetrain.
“We discussed the idea of ‘chancing’ upon an unrecognised race car, hidden away for decades in a barn, deep in the Japanese countryside,” global design senior vice-president Alfonso Albasia said.
“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,” he said.
The backward-looking future concept was unveiled alongside a fully restored 1960s-era Prince R380, a low-slung, Ford GT40-style coupe – believed to be the only one remaining – built to compete in the Japanese Grand Prix, which it won. Prince merged with Nissan in 1966, with Nissan quick to make the connection between the premium car maker it swallowed and the Infiniti brand.
Powering the Prototype 9 is a new-generation 120kW/320Nm electric motor borrowed from Nissan’s Advanced Powertrain Unit, its output well down on the 390kW of a late 1930s-era Auto Union Type C streamliner. Up front the modern-day retro racer uses an inverted leaf spring suspension, while down the rear it uses an era-appropriate de Dion suspension.
The electric motor drives the rear wheels via single-speed transmission. The Prototype 9 has a top speed of 170km/h, and sprints from 0-to-100km/h in 5.5 seconds, with a maximum EV range of 20 minutes under heavy track use.
Unlike cars of the era that used lightweight materials, the Prototype 9 is built around a ladder frame and panels that use steel, tipping the scales at around 800kg.
Finishing it all off is that wide Infiniti grille. It’s best to end things here.