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 single-seat 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.
The project began, said Infiniti senior vice president of global design Alfonso Albaisa, 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 hand-hammered 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 rear-wheel-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 only good for 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 one-seat, EV race car in the near future."