Few automobiles are as elegantly beautiful as the open-wheel grand prix cars of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. The simple, slender shapes of these cars bear no extravagant flourishes or adornments. The purposeful design is what gave these cars their beauty, and it’s these classic machines that inspired the new Infiniti Prototype 9. Teased earlier this week, this concept blends old and new, with classic lines hiding a modern all-electric powertrain. The Prototype 9 will make its full debut next week at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Infiniti says the car was built around a simple idea: what would a 1940s Infiniti grand prix car look like? While the silver paint may be more German than Japanese, the design could easily be mistaken for an actual ’40s grand prix car. Only the Infiniti-styled grille gives it away. Everything about it, from the thin bias-ply tires wrapped over center-locking wire wheels to the bulging screws around the driver’s seat, is pitch perfect.
Underneath that achingly long hood rests a prototype electric motor and battery from Nissan’s Advanced Powertrain Department. The combo sends 148 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque straight to the rear wheels. That’s good enough to send the svelte 1,962 lb car to 62 mph in just 5.5 seconds. Top speed is right at 106 mph. While speed may die off towards the top end, all that torque and a 43/57 front to rear weight distribution should make the Prototype 9 a riot on a small, tight circuit. There’s only enough juice in the battery for about 20 minutes of flat-out racing.
The handmade steel body rests on a steel ladder-frame chassis. The front suspension uses a leading-arm rigid axle with transverse leaf spring while the rear uses a De Dion axle, also with a transverse leaf spring. The Prototype 9 also uses old-school hydraulic rotary type dampers. There’s no power steering and no brake booster for the four-wheel disc brakes.
The car was designed and built by a number of different departments within Infiniti and Nissan. A simple sketch expanded as more and more designers and engineers wanted to have a hand in the project. The steel body panels were all shaped and hammered by hand. The bare cockpit is only adorned with a thin seat, three gauges, a few switches, a gear selector and the steering wheel. The gauges are set into a fixed aluminum hub in the center of the steering wheel.
This may not preview any new production cars for Infiniti or Nissan, but the Prototype 9 seems like the perfect fit for Pebble Beach and Monterey Car Week. Now we just need to see it run a few laps of Laguna Seca.