Earlier in the week, Infiniti teased its Prototype 9 retro racer that is set to bow at Pebble Beach. Nissan’s luxury unit has now released more images and details, and the more colloquially inclined among us breathed quiet exclamations to the effect of: “Dag, bro. That’s a mo’ flippin’ machine.”
Underneath its front-engined Grand Prix racer skin, the 9 carries what Infiniti terms a “prototype electric motor and battery from Nissan Corporation’s Advanced Powertrain Department,” apparently based on the next-generation Leaf powertrain. The motor makes 148 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, allowing the low-slung silver machine to hit 60 in 5.5 seconds and top out at nearly 106 mph. And while the powertrain may make it the most relevant aspect of the car to modern buyers, it’s hardly the point of the thing. Experiencing it is the point. It’s a distillation of late 1930s cues and configurations, most of which lasted into the late 1950s, until Cooper’s lightweight, mid-engined machines changed the way European racing machines in the top rank were constructed.
While some of the Axis powers dove straightaway back into motorsport once the post-conflict chaos of World War II began to clear, with Enzo Ferrari’s first cars appearing in 1947 and Mercedes reentering the fray in the early 1950s, it wasn’t until the 1960s that Japan began to compete in global motorsport, Honda’s exploratory foray at the 1959 Isle of Man TT notwithstanding. Thus, the Prototype 9 really is a “what if” machine. What if Japan had leapt back onto its feet with the same speed as the industrialized West? What if Infiniti had existed 40 years before Nissan ginned it up to compete with Honda’s Acura and Toyota’s Lexus in the race to take on the established European luxury marques? What if history wasn’t history?
The result is a blazing success. The Prototype 9 expertly covers the spread between classic and modern, its body creases the result of modern machine technology and old-fashioned panel beating.
The 9 was originally an after-hours project, a dalliance based on a brief handed to Nissan senior vice president of global design Alfonso Albaisa. As more divisions of Nissan saw what was taking shape, the labor of love snowballed into an actual concept-car program. Sometimes hype and navel gazing can overwhelm a concept machine, and more and more often, what’s hailed as a concept is merely a thinly disguised preview of an upcoming vehicle. In the Prototype 9, Infiniti has taken on a captivating flight of fancy, the sort of thing that was de rigueur during the eras celebrated on the Monterey Peninsula every August. It’s a shot across the bow of complacency as well as a fine, fine piece of eye candy. We can’t wait to bask in its presence.