Infiniti has only been around since 1989 and has enjoyed plenty of success in North America. More recently, Nissan’s answer to Lexus has looked to expand its reach into European and other global markets. Just like any other maturing 20-something year old, Infiniti moved out of home and set up a global headquarters in modern and cosmopolitan Hong Kong to give it more autonomy. Because even car companies need to get away from their folks when they grow up. However with a product range that is distinctly aimed at American tastes, Infiniti has very much lived in the shadow of the European car makers. Competitors with decades of history and credibility forged in motorsport success.
Nissan itself has a wonderful and rich history in motorsport however very little to none of that rubs off on Infiniti. Even though they’ve ‘won’ 4 Formula 1 world championships with the Infiniti logo on the side of Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull, the engine in that car came from sister brand Renault – to whom the credit goes. Even to this day, the Infiniti logo adorns the side of the Renault Formula 1 car as sponsorship, they’re not racing in their own right.
So what do you do when you have little to no history of your own? You make some up, of course. Like all of the best concept car projects, the quizzically named ‘Prototype 9’ – one must also ask where Prototypes 1 – 8 are – started out as an after hours project. A sketch by Design VP Alfonso Albaisa initially only shared with just a couple of close colleagues spread among the design team and gained momentum – each person who saw it demanded that it receive more attention. The ensuing discussion developed an idea – if you were to make a ‘barn find’ discovery of a 1940s Infiniti race car in country Japan, what would it look like?
The result? They’ve totally pulled it off. The Prototype 9 hits all the right notes. The design is a wonderful take on the era. Modern details like the dramatically forward stance or the curve and shadow on the front flanks contrast yet meld seamlessly with 1940s/50s design cues such as the axle fairings and rounded yet elongated rear ‘fuel tank’ tail. I place ‘fuel tank’ in inverted commas because as is the fad with concept cars, the sleek Prototype 9 hides an electric drive train. Probably not too dissimilar to the one in the next-gen Nissan LEAF. It’s not perfect, the Infiniti corporate grille on the front looks like a bit of a tacked on afterthought. It doesn’t sit quite as well on the rest of the body as it could and the chrome grille bars would look more at home on a Las Vegas hot-rod than a Suzuka speedster.
Concept cars like this are priceless hand-built pieces of art and are closely guarded and protected. Even more so in this case, with the steel body having been laser cut and hand-formed. In a way, it’s a shame because even with that electric drive train the Project 9 only weighs 890kg. With period correct suspension and those skinny tyres, it’d be a hoot to drive.
So now when everyone else rolls up at this week’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance with their classic cars, Infiniti can join them with one of their own.