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A second attempt at getting this Pinterest photo link to work.
Meanwhile, as regards the 1930 Mercedes GP look,
did you, or can you view this:
Reimagining the past, reinventing the future
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Imagine it’s 1936 and you’re a Japanese engineer with a passion for
sleek aircraft and fast automobiles. Imagine you’ve just seen, for the
very first time, a low-slung Mercedes-Benz W25 grand prix racer, one of
the original Silver Arrows. And then imagine what you’d want to do next.
Infiniti has turned that thought experiment into reality with the
intriguing Prototype 9.
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On the surface, the Infiniti Prototype 9 seems little more than a
whimsical what if, a designer’s doodle made into metal, maybe even a
brazen attempt to build a creation legend for an automaker that didn’t
even exist until a half a century after the era that defines its form.
But like a samurai sword, the Prototype 9 is an object made up of hidden
layers, wrapped in meaning.
From certain angles the Prototype 9 looks like a simple mashup: vintage
Mercedes-Benz racer meets Infiniti design cues. All the Infiniti
identity is at the front—the double-arch grille, the shark gills aft of
the front wheels, the single crease hood, and the pronounced bone lines
running back to the cockpit— and it’s all executed in the 1930s idiom.
Improbable as that might sound, it works, though a real racer would have
eschewed the chrome trim and that Infiniti logo standing proud on the hood.
The gorgeously tapered tail, made from hand-beaten aluminum, and the
wonderful 19-inch wire wheels are generic race car forms from the ’30s
and ’40s, the sort of thing you also see on a Talbot-Lago or a Maserati.
The color is what makes the synapses snap Silver Arrow when you first
see the Prototype 9 from the side or the rear. Imagine it in traditional
Japanese F1 racing livery—painted white with red roundels—and the
Prototype 9 becomes much more its own car. (Of course, Japan wasn’t
given national racing colors until the 1960s, but, hey, this is a
The Prototype 9 project began with a message from Infiniti’s U.S.
marketing team to design chief Alfonso Albaisa. It was based on a
discussion point from an internal brand meeting held Stateside, which
went something like this: Imagine you are somewhere in the Japan
countryside and came across a car, sheltered in a barn, hidden away for
decades. Not only is it a race car, but it is also an Infiniti. What
would that car look like? Could it be connected to the Infiniti
production cars of today? “Our expectation was that Alfonso and his team
would just do a sketch for us,” says Infiniti Americas communications
director Kyle Bazemore. “Or maybe, at a stretch, a CG video. And
perhaps, if we were extremely lucky, a clay model.”
No one, least of all Albaisa, expected it to turn into a real car.
The Prototype 9 evolved into a skunkworks project as Albaisa’s fellow
designers at Infiniti’s Atsugi studio in Japan began contributing ideas.
Then, when managers at Nissan’s factory in Oppama saw a model of the
car, they decided they wanted to turn it into real thing. “I was a
little surprised,” Albaisa admits, “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.” A team of takumi—Nissan’s master
craftspeople—assembled to lead the build. Nissan’s advanced engineering
team learned about the project and volunteered to help, as did Nissan’s
specialty vehicle division, Autech. “Suddenly we had three of our
largest departments working on it,” Albaisa says.
And this is where the Prototype 9 gets interesting.
Underneath that retro skin is an electric motor powertrain closely
related to the one that will power the next-generation Nissan Leaf.
Developed and tweaked by Nissan Advanced Powertrain, the rear-mounted
motor makes 148 hp and 236 lb-ft and drives the rear wheels. That’s
grunt enough, Infiniti says, to propel the 1,962-pound Prototype 9 to 60
mph in less than 5.5 seconds. Top speed is limited to 105 mph, down from
a theoretical maximum of more than 130 mph. The 30-kW-hr battery pack
stacked ahead of the driver should, Infiniti claims, allow for about 20
minutes of hard track driving.
Those performance numbers might not sound impressive in the context of a
Tesla P100D, but look again at the Prototype 9. Look, specifically, at
the leading-arm solid front axle and De Dion rear axle, both suspended
by transverse leaf springs, and those tall, vintage-section cross-ply
tires. Now imagine what it would be like hustling this thing through a
100-mph sweeper or powering it out of a tight hairpin on that skinny
rubber. This is one electric car that promises to be anything but boring
The juxtaposition of old and new is everywhere, both in terms of the
Prototype 9’s hardware and the way in which it has been constructed.
What look like old-school drum brakes behind the wire wheels are in fact
housings around modern discs. The rotational dampers on the axles are
conceptually similar to the friction shocks used in the 1930s, but they
are electrically controlled. The steering is an unassisted recirculating
ball system. The grid over which the aluminum tail cone was hand-formed
is made of laser-cut steel. The one-piece hood was made using a process
called dieless forming, using two seven-axis robots to shape the metal
instead of two old-school metalworkers.
For Infiniti, making the Prototype 9 turned to be more than an intricate
team-building exercise. It offered a mass producer of automobiles unique
insights into the art of handcrafting one, and it has sown the seed of a
fascinating idea: As mass-market automobility becomes the preserve of
self-driving autonomous vehicles, could there be a market for what could
best be described as “passion cars,” vehicles that have absolutely
nothing to do with transportation and everything to do with the art and
fun of driving?
“That’s one of the branches of this,” Albaisa says. “The more our life
becomes easier, the more our time to dream becomes richer. Why wouldn’t
we make a hundred of them? Why wouldn’t we make a thousand?” Ironically,
an EV powertrain—simple, compact, and the bête noir of automotive
enthusiasts who believe their passion can only be powered by an internal
combustion engine—actually makes building whimsical passion cars such as
the Prototype 9 a lot more feasible.
Creating an electric-powered driver’s car with retro styling, an antique
suspension, and vintage tires might seem incongruous for a 21st-century
automaker that’s not yet 30 years old. But that’s the whole point of the
Prototype 9, Albaisa says, pointing out that technology won’t always
stir the soul when it comes to automobiles. “We always dream about the
future, but this time we dreamed about the past.”