Japanese craftsmanship

“The creation of the real world INFINITI Prototype 9 was entirely and coincidentally organic. As we started work on a physical model, word spread beyond the core design team, and other departments started checking in and offering assistance. Eventually, the production team became aware of the project – and brought with them the desire and skills to build it.” Alfonso Albaisa, Senior Vice President, Global Design

When INFINITI’s production team became aware of Prototype 9, they immediately offered to build it. The model was secretly moved from the INFINITI Design Studio in Atsugi to a secluded section of the Nissan Research Center, Oppama, just outside Yokohama, Japan. Here, the car could be quietly constructed. A team of Takumi – Nissan Motor Corporation’s master craftspeople – was gathered to create the motorsport- and aeronautically-inspired racer.

Finished in a bare sheet-metal skin, Prototype 9 is the result of countless hours of careful construction. The designs of the brand’s contemporary road cars are characterized by deep-stamping production methods, which enable the creation of sharply defined lines and smooth body surfaces. Far from production lines, this out-of-hours project required similarly technical yet more traditional crafting methods.

The vehicle’s stunning bodywork is made from steel body panels wrapped around a steel ladder frame. The panels were hammered into shape by the Takumi. For Prototype 9, panel beaters incorporated INFINITI’s signature design elements, such as the double-arch grille, ‘shark gills’ aft of the front wheels, a single-crease hood, and sharp lines that stretch from front to rear.

In every other respect, the car is unashamedly inspired by retro aeronautical designs. Prototype 9 is defined by its smooth, aerodynamic surfaces, long bonnet and short overhangs, an exposed cockpit, and open-wheeled layout. 19-inch center-locking wire-spoke wheels at each corner are even wrapped in period cross-ply competition tires.

As uniquely Japanese in design and craftsmanship as the bodywork, the cockpit adheres to INFINITI’s contemporary approach to interior design. Articulating the same sense of advanced human artistry of INFINITI’s production cars and near-production concepts, Prototype 9’s cabin has been handmade by the company’s interior design teams.

The intimate and focused cockpit is the result of two Japanese approaches to craftsmanship – ‘mitate’ (pronounced “mee-ta-teh”) and ‘shitate’ (“shee-ta-teh”). ‘Mitate’ relates to the practice of curating and bringing together the best possible selection of materials. ‘Shitate’ is the desire to tailor the chosen combination of materials, bringing out their best characteristics.

With this fine attention to detail and finish, the cockpit is wrapped in black leather with contrast red stitching, sewn and finished in such a way as to echo earlier single-seater racers. Subtle Japanese flags are stitched into the integrated headrests of the deep single bucket seat.

In a cabin that features no distractions from the road ahead, the steering wheel rotates around a fixed central hub, housing the driver’s instrument gauges. The hub itself finished in turned aluminum, an effect found on aircraft throughout the first half of the 20th century.Like the machines that inspired its design, the effect has been completed by hand, ‘turning’ aluminum shavings into the fascia with the end of a cork. Inspired by the project, this was a finish that the interiors team had not previously had the opportunity to explore.

With a single-minded focus on driving, the cabin features minimal switchgear, with those that remain modelled on cockpit switches.

“The beautiful execution of Prototype 9 represents a combination of artistry, craftsmanship and commitment to a romantic notion of our heritage. It inspired our people to work on Prototype 9 in their own time – as they were completely invested in the project and the details and features originated with them. Prototype 9 has been a labor of love for many of us.” Alfonso Albaisa, Senior Vice President, Global Design