Grand prix racer or classic Indy 500 entry? You might get to wondering when you get your first look at the Infiniti Prototype 9, especially if that happens out at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance next weekend.
But despite going to the world’s most famous classic car event to reveal one-seat racer, this is not a competitor to one of the original Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows. What Infiniti is calling “a journey back in time,” is actually a completely modern take, down to its fully electric drivetrain.
“Prototype 9 celebrates the tradition of ingenuity, craftsmanship and passion of our forebears at Nissan Motor Corporation, on whose shoulders we stand today,” says Alfonso Albaisa, Infiniti’s Senior Vice President, Global Design.
The project “started as a discussion,” he explains, one exploring what it might have looked like if Infiniti were around and racing back in the 1940s on classic circuits like Japan’s Tamagawa Speedway. What was originally a thought exercise within the Infiniti design department was transformed into something tangible as other departments within the luxury brand got involved.
A comparison to classic race cars of the 1930s and ‘40s is understandable, with the narrow open wheels and cross-ply tires, leaf springs and front-mounted engine. The hand-formed aluminum body panels are clearly reminiscent of those legendary Mercedes Silver Arrows. But a closer look reveals some very current Infiniti design cues, including the brand basge, hood crease and double-arch grille.
As what was originally perceived as a sketch or 3D rendering started to evolve into sheet metal, all manner of Nissan and Infiniti engineers and craftsmen weighed in on the project.
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“What started as an after-hours idea grew into a fully fledged prototype; our designers and engineers were excited by the notion of creating a past vision, a nod to our origins. They volunteered their own time; more and more staff became involved,” says Infiniti President Roland Krueger.
Bu while the project might have been a paean to a past that never really occurred, at least some folks started to imagine an alternative, sort of the way steam punks reimagine the modern world. In this case, they asked what would happen if competent electric propulsion systems existed back then.
They started out with a version of the driveline of the new Nissan Leaf that will be revealed next month. It might not sound like much in today’s world, but making 148 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque might have made the Prototype 9 a real contender back then (at least if you could sidestep the issue of range). With the concept vehicle weighing a modest 1,962 pounds, complete with a 30 kWh battery pack, it is said to be capable of hitting 130 mph, though it currently is limited to a top speed of 105 mph, and it will crack 60 in just 5.5 seconds.
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“They made Prototype 9 a reality, a result of their ingenuity – they recognized and realized the past, powered by a future-centric electric powertrain at its heart,” said Krueger. “Prototype 9 blends modern technology and hand-crafted details paying tribute to the forebears of Infiniti,” including the Prince Motor Co., which made one of the first serious efforts at building a Japanese race car.
There are no plans to actually put the Infiniti Prototype 9 in production but it will debut during the 2017 Pebble Beach week, along with the mid-1960s Prince R380 which distinguished itself by becoming the first Japanese car to win a grand prix, the 1966 race at Fuji Speedway.
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