‘Her­itage-in­spired’ pro­to­type

Ja­panese au­tomaker In­finiti reimag­ines a car that would have raced in the 1940s.

Los Angeles Times - - HIGHWAY 1 - By Charles Flem­ing charles.flem­ing @la­times.com

In what may be an au­to­mo­tive first, the Ja­panese car com­pany In­finiti has built a “her­itage-in­spired” pro­to­type of a race car that never ex­isted.

The Pro­to­type 9, to get its of­fi­cial un­veil­ing at the up­com­ing Peb­ble Beach Con­cours D’El­e­gance, is a sin­gle­seat elec­tric “retro-road­ster” de­signed and built by Nis­san-owned In­finiti in Ja­pan.

Its cre­ators are call­ing it a “reimag­in­ing of a 1940s race car,” like a ve­hi­cle Nis­san would have raced against Bu­gat­tis and Maser­atis … if Nis­san had been rac­ing dur­ing the golden era of th­ese open-wheeled cars.

Nis­san be­gan build­ing cars in the 1930s, but did not be­gin rac­ing in earnest until sev­eral decades later.

Al­fonso Al­baisa, In­finiti’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of global de­sign, said the project be­gan when then-mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive Allyson Wither­spoon asked him to imag­ine com­ing across a “barn find” ve­hi­cle deep in the Ja­panese coun­try­side, and then to imag­ine it was an In­finiti race car from long ago.

“What if we had built a car back in the early days of road rac­ing? What would it look like?” Al­baisa said. “The Pro­to­type 9 is from our imag­i­na­tion of that car.”

The Pro­to­type 9 fea­tures steel body pan­els hand­ham­mered onto a steel frame. The body de­sign in­cludes pe­riod-cor­rect open, wire-spoke wheels, a long bon­net and short over­hangs.

On the track, the Pro­to­type 9 might have been com­pet­i­tive dur­ing the 1940s, but it would have trou­ble de­feat­ing race cars of today. The car’s elec­tric mo­tor makes the equiv­a­lent of 148 horse­power and 236 pound-feet of torque, though the ve­hi­cle weighs only 1,962 pounds.

Nis­san said the rear­wheel-drive car can ac­cel­er­ate from zero to 60 mph in un­der 5.5 sec­onds, on its way to a top speed of 105.6 mph.

But not for long. The com­pany said the car’s lithium-ion bat­tery is good for only about 20 min­utes of high-speed driv­ing.

And what’s that driv­ing like? “It’s al­most like be­ing strapped in­side of a bul­let,” Al­baisa said.

And is In­finiti likely to of­fer a new car based in part on the Pro­to­type 9?

“I can’t talk about fu­ture prod­ucts,” Al­baisa said. “But I can say that we prob­a­bly won’t be of­fer­ing a one­seat, EV race car in the near fu­ture.”

In­finiti

IN­FINITI says its Pro­to­type 9 is like a ve­hi­cle Nis­san would have raced against Bu­gat­tis and Maser­atis in the 1940s — if Nis­san had been rac­ing back then.

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