PETROLICIOUS / Infiniti’s Prototype 9 Is A Wonderfully Weird Reimagining Of Vintage F1

You won’t often see an Infiniti on the virtual pages of Petrolicious (this is the first time we’ve had one in fact), but their recently revealed Prototype 9 is one of the most intriguing concepts to come from any manufacturer in recent memory, let alone one as young as the fancy version of Nissan.

Though the brand’s had their name on modern F1 cars for a little while now as a commercial partner to teams like Red Bull and Renault, there is no history of Infiniti that extends back to the days of the the sport’s early absurdity. With the Prototype 9 – an anachronism of hand-formed steel and 148 horsepower’s worth of electric motors that together is half hot-rod, half-1930s/40s GP car from the future – they’ve taken an interesting approach to an era they weren’t a part of. This kind of project could have resulted in some malformed disaster of heavy-handed appropriation, but it keeps its balance between cutting edge and yesteryear without sacrificing much of either somehow.

It trades away combustion chambers for lithium battery packs (the 148hp, 236lb-ft power unit from the next generation Nissan Leaf), but it also lacks power steering, has a solid axle front end, and uses leaf springs for all four corners. It dons a statement-making Infiniti mask up front to announce its origins, yet it looks like it’s from a time long before the badge it wears was even a napkin sketch. The Prototype 9 is a lot of things at once then, and thanks to the design team’s adroit deployment of vintage and modern styling cues, it’s actually all somehow in harmony too. Of course, before the car entered the physical world it was a simple idea: what if we found a lost prototype Grand Prix car hidden away in the tangles of an overgrown barn in the Japanese countryside, what might be under the cover?

It’s not necessarily a novel concept at its core – there are plenty of “lost” artifacts – but the specific result of that early idea is an object that stands alone. Looking at the car, it seems wrong to attach the word “restraint” anywhere near it, but that’s just because you can’t really make something open-wheeled with a single-seat that doesn’t look at least a little exotic. There really is a lot of maturity and temperance in the Prototype 9; it will get you to 60mph in roughly five and a half seconds, not something ludicrous like below three; its modest power will push you to just over 100mph instead of the shiny side of 200; and its styling has just enough modern Infiniti hallmarks to place it in their design language’s dictionary instead of turning it into a lurid display of ham-fisted marketing.

I can see how people might label it as too long, too much, too awkward, too new, too late, too early even. But what I can’t come around to is any negativity toward its existence. Yes, this is more or less an art project serving the role of advertisement for a luxury sedan brand, but it’s a lot damn cooler than a TV commercial for a Q50, and at the very least we should celebrate that.

The Prototype 9 will be shown at Pebble Beach this coming weekend in Monterey, and since you’re likely not going to see one of these merging onto the highway in front of you anytime soon or ever, this may be one of your best bets on experiencing it in person. That is if you can break through the throngs of people with the same plan.


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