Inserting Infiniti’s money into a re-imaginative idea
Car companies create concept cars to show-off their design directions for models to come, reports motoring journalist Iain Robertson, but very rarely does a styling exercise assume a direction from which it never originated…just think about it.
Concepts and styling exercises have fluctuated over the decades between extreme vanity projects and genuine precepts of styling nuances that would be reflected in a range of future models from all manner of car manufacturers. Back in the 1950s, a peep into advanced motoring trends was a guaranteed public attention generator at Motor Shows around the world. They gave motoring journalists a chance to explore their most creative wordiness, while testing a market’s response to some of the scarier styling aspects that would simply never make series production and might add credibility to a Fritz Lang movie.
The American carmakers, known for excess on many of their road cars of the 1950s and 1960s, pursued a ‘Dan Dare’, space-rocket style for much of that period. The clichés were a portent of the space race being led by the US government and aeronautical references were the stock-in trade. Naturally, the German and northern European manufacturers were somewhat more pragmatic in their approaches and safety became a keen subject matter during the early-1970s, with larger bumpers and rounded edges taking precedence in the concepts produced by Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, among others.
During its period of early ownership by Ford Motor Company, Jaguar Cars was not averse to spending £1m on its one-off concept models, gold-plating and wood panelling cars that would never see production but that were intended to grab international headlines. Yet, it was unusual for conservative British car designers and stylists to stretch themselves beyond what was likely to become productionised and they would leave the Japanese and South Korean brands to create some of the more outlandish styling test-beds of the pre- and post-Millennial periods.
Yet, while Audi got very close with its polished aluminium, cab-forward, W12 mid-engined, Avus supercar concept of 1991, with the show car being fitted with a wooden and plastic replica engine, because the W12 unit was only in early development stages, no manufacturer has ever created a concept that was strictly retrospective…until now.
Infiniti was created as a brand as recently as 1989, when the luxury arm of Nissan decided to compete head-on with Lexus (Toyota’s equivalent) in the important North American car scene. As with its rival, unique products were a rarity and both Nissan and Toyota models were little more than badge-engineered into their classier detailing. Yet, the impact of Infiniti on the UK car scene is nowhere near that of Lexus, in total contrast with its US successes.It is fortunate that the UK new car market receives ‘unique’ products, other than those ‘grey-imported’, from both brands, as confusion would reign. However, in a competitive car market, doing stuff differently has to be a positive means to an end, as churning out even an occasional concept could be little more than counter-productive. Therefore, I personally applaud Infiniti, a brand that does manufacture its Q30 line-up of compact models at Sunderland (Nissan plant), thereby contributing (albeit only slightly) to the financial well-being of UKplc, and which seeks to draw annual focus on British engineering expertise at grassroots level, with its commercial link to Renault F1, for its retrospective re-imagination of what might have been, had Infiniti existed in the 1940s.
Prototype 9 has been unveiled at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, a place that is the normal preserve of the super wealthy and their prized classic cars, yet which has been hijacked in recent years by modern carmakers seeking another marketing platform to display their combined artistry and craftsmanship. It is a representation of a car that might-have-been, had Infiniti indulged in Grand Prix racing in the 1940s, utilising time-honoured manufacturing techniques.
For reference, you can contemplate the GP Mercedes, Auto Unions and Maseratis of that period. Yet, as a cheeky little jape, the Infiniti benefits from almost eighty years of engineering advancement since that era, which ensures that its unique project bridges successfully old with new elements and manages to look as svelte as any newcomer, despite skinny, period spoked wheels. Its powerplant features a prototype electric motor and Lithium-ion battery pack from Nissan’s Advanced Powertrain department.
Created as a ‘secret’, after-hours project, a large number of Nissan’s personnel became involved in Prototype 9 (incidentally, the numerical reference arises from the Japanese pronunciation of number 9, which is ‘kyuu’ and is close enough to Infiniti’s ‘Q’ model designation). It started as a drawing that soon transmogrified into a fully-built prototype that carries cleverly several, current Infiniti design signatures on its hand-hammered, aero-inspired panels that are stretched over a ladder frame. The open, black leather and polished alloy cockpit and 19-inch spoked wheels, clad in period racing tyres, are redolent of classic racing cars.
Its power unit develops a modest 145bhp, which is enough to whisk the 890kgs Prototype 9 to a top speed of 105mph, despatching the benchmark 0-60mph in just over 5.0 seconds. On a full-charge, the car could deliver 20 minutes of maximum performance on a racetrack…even though that is not what it is about.
As a key exponent of the Quality Assurance industry, Birmingham-based ISQA is a company well-versed in exercising time-honoured methods of advancing quality control for its manufacturing clients. Naturally, ISQA achieves high quality for all of its growing client base on a daily basis. A project such as Prototype 9 exhibits the highest quality standards at major events for Infiniti, it embraces our automotive heritage, while adopting the engineering advances of the modern era. We recognise, understand and applaud its enterprise and inventiveness.
‘Make Quality Count!’