GRR

Infiniti imagines a history in F1 with Prototype 9

11th August 2017
Bob Murray

Motorsport heritage has never been more valuable to a car company than today. But what if there are no old cars in your back catalogue? Simple: you make one up…

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Meet the first “retro” concept car. It’s the Infiniti Prototype 9, a car which predates Infiniti (born: 1989 in the US, 2008 in Europe) by imagining what an Infiniti grand prix car might have been like in the 1940s.

This is Infiniti: the prequel.

“It started as a simple thought – what if we found a car, down at the southern tip of Japan, buried deep in a barn, hidden from all eyes for 70 years,” fantasises Infiniti design chief Alfonso Albaisa.

“What if in this car we found the seed of passion planted during our first Japanese Grand Prix and the power and artistry of Infiniti today? What would this discovery look like?”

Well, now we know. This is what it would look like. And, fantasy or no, you have to say Infiniti’s race car of the 1940s is a bit of a stunner. 

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The single-seat open-wheeler is typical of the era in lots of ways with a very front engine/rear drive look and a nod at aerodynamics with that tapered tail. It’s a bit boxy up front but what about that grille? A little Silver Arrows perhaps but equally a believable precursor for the Infiniti grilles of today. There are other design cues – side gills, body crease lines – that are said to reflect Infiniti styling of today.

The company says Prototype 9, which started as a designer’s lunchtime doodle and was built as an after-hours project, is inspired by aeronautical design and motor sport of the 1940s. It’s a slightly curious decade to choose – half of it being taken up with other things – but we can surmise that Prototype 9 might have battled the Alfa Romeo Alfetta 158 of Nino Farina in the inaugural F1 race of 1950.

The body is hand-beaten steel over a steel ladder frame chassis. Not aluminium? That surely would have been more in-period, as well as more aeronautical and lighter: as it stands Prototype 9 weighs in at 890kg. In the small open cockpit with its little bucket seat there is an equally period feel with plenty of turned aluminium and black leather with red stitching. 

In that fantasy 1950 Grand Prix the Japanese contender wouldn’t have stood much chance against the Alfa’s straight-eight supercharged engine. Prototype 9 is powered by a 161bhp electric motor with a 30 kWh battery – yes this ‘40s motor sport vision is all-electric.

It is also a fully driveable concept car, clocking up 105mph flat out and sprinting to 62mph from zero in 5.5secs. The brakes are discs but as the pictures show, those wheels are certainly period: 19-inch spoked centre-lock jobs shod with skinny cross-ply competition tyres.

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Since Prototype 9 is a joint project by Infiniti and Nissan, and the motor is said to be a secret new one, it is likely this drivetrain is highly significant. Nissan unveils its all-new Leaf electric saloon in just a few weeks… 

Prototype 9 – it makes you wonder if Prototypes 1-8 are yet to be unveiled – is set to be one of the concept stars at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California next weekend (18-19 August). 

There is no question that one of the things that has held Infiniti back is its lack of heritage compared to its premium rivals – there’s simply no Gullwing, Silver Arrows or Lightweight E-Type in its past. Making up such a sporting hero is a fantasy – but when it looks like this, why not?

As Alfonso Albaisa says: “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.” 

There’s just one thing missing. Like all good “historic” racing cars it needs to run up the hill at Goodwood!

  • infiniti

  • Prototype 9

  • grand prix

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