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MARK VAUGHN

Infiniti Prototype 9 pays homage to '40s-styled racers

The Infiniti Prototype 9 features hand-hammered steel panels beaten into shape by teams of master artisans known as Takumi.
Mark Vaughn has been a journalist at Autoweek, an affiliate of Automotive News, since 1989.

Datsun/Nissan has one of the most extensive racing heritages in the world. Consider the four IMSA GTP titles lead off by Geoff Brabham; the fabulous Peter Brock/John Morton titles in Trans-Am in the Datsun 510; and Bob Sharp’s successes in Datsun Roadsters. Real fans of the marque will also list the very cool-looking Prince R380s that dominated Group 7 in the 1960s. And just this month, the No. 22 Tequila Patron Nissan won the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship round at Road America.

Nissan’s Infiniti division hasn’t been around as long as the Datsun nameplate, but that hasn’t stopped designers from wondering what it might have been, say, in the 1940s?

And what if an open-wheel single-seater had been made, and raced, under the Infiniti name and with something of the Infiniti design language? What would that look like? How about Prototype 9?

Prototype 9 "started as a discussion,” said Alfonso Albaisa, senior vice president of global design at Nissan Motor Co. “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.”

 

Nissan, under its Datsun name, did create an open-wheel single-seat race car that ran at Tamagawa in 1936, and it didn’t look anything like the sleek, modern expression of speed you see here. It was far more conventional, with a more or less typical-of-the-time bulbous, round nose and bulbous, round rear end. We found a photo on www.datsunhistory.com.

Which is not to take away from the idea expressed by the designers of the beautiful retro-new racing roadster you see here and that you can see, alongside a real Prince R380, at the Pebble Beach Concours in a few days. While this car looks to the past for design inspiration, with hand-hammered steel panels beaten into shape by teams of master artisans known as Takumi, it is powered by a futuristic electric drivetrain from Nissan’s advanced powertrain department. The prototype electric motor makes 120 kilowatts, or 148 hp, and 236 pounds-feet of torque, which can launch the 1,962-pound car to 62 mph in 5.5 seconds and to a top speed of 106 mph. The lithium ion battery is 30 kilowatt-hours, good for 20 minutes of heavy track use. It looks like it would be a blast to drive.

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