There are plenty of prestige automakers with long and illustrious histories leading to iconic motorsports and design triumphs along the way, but what if you’re a new luxury brand, like Infiniti - what can you do to sway customers that resonate with the far-reaching historical achievements of European brands?
At this year’s Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance Infiniti has revealed Prototype 9, a concept designed to bluff unsuspecting punters into thinking the Japanese luxury division’s past stretches back much further than its actual 1989 inception.
Although the streamliner-era grand prix racing body and skinny wire wheels might make the Prototype 9 look like a 1920s or 30s original, Infiniti is at least a little more forthcoming in identifying its latest concept as an all-2017 production.
Beneath the sleek steel bodywork (the rear is hand-beaten over a laser cut steel frame, the front was formed by two seven-axis robots) the 890kg Prototype 9 racer features a fairly modest 120kW/320Nm rear-mounted electric motor with charge fed from a 30kW/h battery pack believed to be borrowed from the next-generation Nissan Leaf.
Because of its lack of weight Prototype 9 can rocket from 0-100 km/h in a brisk, if not breathtaking 5.5 seconds, with top speed limited to 170 km/h. Thanks to the undersized battery that gives around 20 minutes of track time.
While the motor may be as as modern as they come, Infiniti has kept things more traditional in the handling department with a leading arm solid front axle and De Dion rear axle riding on transverse leaf springs. Steering is via an unassisted recirculating ball setup for a more period correct feel.
The giant finned drum brakes mounted inside each wheel aren’t what they seem, hiding a more modern disc brake setup inside a stylised cover, but there’s no trickery in the narrow 19-inch wire wheels and skinny cross-ply tyres.
According to Alfonso Albaisa, Infiniti’s senior vice president of global design, Prototype 9 began in response to a request from Infiniti USA’s marketing director Allyson Witherspoon to design a historic type of car.
"It started as a simple thought: What if we found a car, down at the southern tip of Japan, buried deep in the barn, hidden from all eyes for 70 years?” Albaisa explained.
“What if in this car we found the seed of passion planted during our first Japanese Grand Prix and the power and artistry of Infiniti today? What would this discovery look like?"
The need to connect with Infiniti's current production car range has obviously led to some deviations from the 1930s construction methods used through most of the vehicle. The near complete absence of body riveting seems out of place for the era the Prototype 9 claim to pay homage to, as to the vinyl decal on the body sides.
Perhaps most controversial is the application of Infiniti’s double arch grille, which no doubt would have taken on a simpler form for a dedicated racing machine, along with the free-standing Infiniti bonnet ornament - something that even Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows race cars of the era (which obviously influenced the design direction of the Prototype 9 concept) went without.
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