Modern retro racer uses steel for style
Infiniti’s steel-built electric racer combines old-school looks with modern power to create a striking showcase for motorsport’s potential future.
Every year car manufacturers around the world strive to create concept models that capture their future design style, test the market or simply prove their design and manufacturing teams are capable of producing bold and beautiful automotive creations. Nissan luxury brand Infiniti is no stranger to concept cars, but in a novel turn of events for this manufacturer they have turned to history – rather than the future – for their design inspiration.
Influenced by 1930s Silver Arrows-style racers combined with a good dose of Howard Hughes speed-record H-1 airplane and topped with a pinch of American hotrod, more recent materials were shunned when building Infiniti’s single-seat Prototype 9 racer. Nowhere will you find popular contemporary options like carbon-fibre composites, aluminium or 3D printing. Instead, Infinity’s team turned to hand-crafted steel body panels mounted on a steel ladder frame – and the result is staggeringly striking.
“Prototype 9 celebrates the tradition of ingenuity, craftsmanship and passion of our forebears at Nissan Motor Corporation, on whose shoulders we stand today,” explains Alfonso Albaisa, 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.”
“Steel was the obvious choice because the skills to work it are well-known, well-practiced and relevant to the steel we work with today.”
After the sketches had appeared and others from within the business became involved, news began to spread. Then there were rumours. Before long the team at Nissan’s main Oppama plant had heard about it and said “we can build this”. This brought the project out of the shadows and in a back workshop in the plant work began.
Steel for strength and style
From the slatted grille to the pointed tail, the exterior of Prototype 9 is manufactured exclusively from bare sheet steel, which was hand-crafted by Nissan artisans. Called “Takumi”, these highly skilled workers are most famous for building GT-R race cars, but while creating Prototype 9 they rediscovered the ancient art of moulding, bending and hammering steel into shape by hand to create a design of exquisite fluidity.
“We wanted to recreate, as we have in some of our other concept cars, the sense of carrozzerie, to see the fingerprint of the craftspeople in the details throughout the car. Steel allows that on a project like this,” explains Albaisa, referring to the traditional art of coachwork.
“We wanted to have the car look and feel right, like it was from the hand-built era. But we also wanted it to be futuristic,” Albaisa continues. “Steel was the obvious starting point; the era of the car was such that hand building seemed like the very best approach. Steel was the obvious choice because the skills to work it are well-known, well-practiced and relevant to the steel we work with today.”
Infiniti still trains some of its teams on working with steel in a traditional way. Rolling, hammering and building forms for the steel to be measured on. The company believes this helps their workers understand what they are working with and rather than just feeding rolls of steel into huge presses, they have an understanding of what can be asked of the material and what it can mean for future opportunities for the design of their cars.
Nostalgic it may be in styling, but as for power its eyes are firmly set on the future. Don’t expect to find an old-school, gas guzzling engine underneath the long, elegant hood of Prototype 9. Thanks to a high-voltage 30kWh battery coupled with a next generation all-electric motor from Nissan Motor Corporation’s Advanced Powertrain Department it is the first Infiniti to be powered by a new single-speed EV powertrain.
Sadly there are no plans for a mainstream version of Prototype 9 to show up in your local Infiniti showroom anytime soon, and it most likely will remain a flight of creativity and design. But according to the company, they will be drawing on their experience with Prototype 9 for future models, and we can look forward to seeing steel used in imaginative ways. This includes a world-first “third-generation” steel that has been developed to meet targets for weight in the company’s mid-size crossover.