Infiniti designed a heritage-inspired Grand Prix racer to show off at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance this year. However, it’s not technically a part of Infiniti’s heritage, as the concept vehicle’s 1940s-era styling predates the automaker’s existence by over four decades and Nissan’s own serious entry into motorsport by nearly the same margin. It also uses technologies unlikely to be found in a mid-century race car, like an electric motor — instead of an internal combustion one.
Although, the updated internals don’t amount to some impossibly fast track monster. The open-wheeled racer, dubbed Prototype 9, makes an alleged 148 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. While not terrible for a sub 2,000 pound weight class, it would still loose plenty of ground to any pre-war Silver Arrow on a straightaway. It also tops out at 105.6 mph and is capable of around 20 minutes of track-use before needing to be recharged.
Prototype 9 is definitely an example of glorious form over function; it represents Infiniti getting into the spirit of Pebble Beach more than anything else. But celebrating craftsmanship for its own sake is something we could all get behind.
Beyond the electric engine, the rest of the car is about as retro and artisanal as one could imagine. The bodywork was even designed in clay and the steel panels hand-beaten into their desired form. Everything else observable on the exterior is period-correct, too — exposed wheels, narrow tires with plenty of rubber, wire spokes, leaf springs, short overhangs, tapered tail, and a very long nose.
“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, senior vice president of Infiniti’s global design, in a statement. “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.”
Frankly, the end result is absolutely gorgeous. But it is a strange choice for Infiniti to have made, since vintage Grand Prix racing has as much to do with the automaker as tricorne hats do with Levi Strauss. Still, it would be interesting to see them take a stab at it.
“What started as an after-hours idea grew into a fully fledged prototype; our designers and engineers were excited by the notion of creating a past vision, a nod to our origins,” said Roland Krueger, company chairman and global president. “They volunteered their own time; more and more staff became involved.”
Despite the heritage disparity and the unnecessary use of a next-generation electric powerplant, there’s nothing here to deride. Infiniti suddenly found itself in a position to build a gorgeous vehicle and ran with it. It doesn’t really matter that the carmaker only dates back to 1989, they’re not fooling anyone at Pebble Beach — they’re just giving them something exceptionally handsome to muse over.