Infiniti Prototype 9 – Takumi Master Artisans Bring Designer’s Retro EV Dream Racer to Life

By Steve & Tamami Laser

Nissan’s wild Blade Glider that we first saw at the 43rd Tokyo Motor Show was a vision of a futuristic Electric Vehicle. Now, Nissan and Infiniti, the automaker’s premium brand, have taken “What if?” design to another level with a new open-wheeled electric retro-roadster concept called “Prototype 9.” The gorgeous single-seater reimagines a “1940s” race car with hand-built production techniques to craft its retro design.

Infiniti says Prototype 9 is emblematic of the company’s entrepreneurial spirit and passion for stunning design. From simple beginnings as a sketch, to the amazing car set to debut at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance this month, Prototype 9 was crafted by a passionate team of employees from across Nissan Motor Corp.

The concept is powered by a prototype electric motor and battery from Nissan’s Advanced Powertrain Department. The futuristic powertrain beneath the skin contrasts with the traditional materials and techniques used for Prototype 9’s build, including hand-formed panels shaped by a team of Takumi, Nissan’s master artisans.

“Prototype 9 celebrates the tradition of ingenuity, craftsmanship and passion of our forebears at Nissan Motor Corporation, on whose shoulders we stand today,” said Alfonso Albaisa (above), Senior Vice President, Global Design. “It started as a discussion: ‘What if Infiniti had created a race car in the 1940s?’ If one were to imagine an open-wheeled Infiniti racer on the famous circuits of the era, such as Japan’s Tamagawa Speedway, what would that look like? The sketches were stunning and the idea so compelling that we had to produce a prototype. As other departments became aware of this, they volunteered their time to create a working vehicle.”

We discussed the idea of ‘chancing’ upon an unrecognized race car, hidden away for decades in a barn, deep in the Japanese countryside,” said Albaisa. “We wanted to explore what this looked like, what it would have been made of. 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.”

As the story goes, Albaisa sketched the car with sleek lines and aeronautically-inspired bodywork crafted in bare sheet metal. Initially shared only with close colleagues, the sketch triggered a domino effect: each person who saw it felt it deserved more attention, and soon there was a burgeoning desire within Infiniti to take it beyond the drawing board.

More designers at the Infiniti Design Studio in Atsugi, Japan, began making their own detail contributions: the shape, design and materials that could feature in the cockpit, for example. Chasing a passion for beautiful vehicle design, the team moved to bring the sketch to life.

Prototype 9’s skin is made from steel body panels wrapped around a steel ladder frame. The panels, hammered into shape by Takumi, feature some of Infiniti’s signature design elements, such as the double-arch grille, “shark gills” behind the front wheels, a single-crease hood, and sharp lines from front to rear.

What does the “Prototype 9” name signify? Infiniti’s model lineup employs the company’s “Q” and “QX” nomenclature. The number “9” is pronounced “kyuu” in Japanese, similar to the English pronunciation of the letter “Q.” It also sounds more intriguing than simply calling it “Prototype Q,” for example.

Infiniti showed the iconic Prince R380 race car earlier this year at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, in the Japanese Prototype class, the first public appearance of this historically significant vehicle in the Americas. (video: Infiniti USA)

Infiniti says Prototype 9 was inspired by an emerging era of Japanese motorsport. The custom-built Prince R380, which also will be shown during “Monterey Car Week at The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering,” broke several land speed records in 1965 before taking overall victory at the 1966 Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway. Prince Motor Company (that merged with Nissan in 1966) is considered to be Japan’s original builder of premium automobiles. The R380 to be shown at The Quail is the actual Japanese Grand Prix-winning car, believed to be the only surviving R380.

Infiniti says Prototype 9’s cockpit is the result of two Japanese approaches to craftsmanship: “mitate” (pronounced “mee-ta-teh”) and “shitate” (“shee-ta-teh”). The former relates to the practice of curating and bringing together the best possible selection of materials. While the latter is the desire to tailor the chosen combination of materials, bringing out their best characteristics.

Prototype 9 is also significant because it’s the first Infiniti with a newly designed EV powertrain. A 30 kWh high-voltage battery is paired with a new prototype electric motor, producing 120 kW (148 hp) and 320 Nm (236 lb-ft) of torque, driving the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission.

Infiniti says Prototype 9 has a top speed of 170 kph (105.6 mph), and sprints from 0-to-100 kph (0-to-62 mph) in 5.5 seconds, with a maximum EV range of 20 minutes under “heavy track use.”

News source and photos courtesy Infiniti Motor Company Ltd. and Infiniti North America, Inc.

Story © 2017 CarNichiWa.com

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