Inspired by Vintage Speedsters of the ’60s, Infiniti’s Stunning Show Car Signals Its Design Future

Prototype 10 showcases elements of what shapes and performance cues we might expect as the brand moves into its next phase.

Invoking “the spirit of early Californian speedsters,” the Infiniti Prototype 10 is Karim Habib’s first project as Executive Design Director of the brand. From ideation to a fully-realized car, Prototype 10 took mere months of cross-continent execution, from Infiniti’s design center in Japan to the brand’s UK-based digital designers and to final hand-crafting in San Diego, California. Less a concept that presages a road car than a philosophical representation of Infiniti’s design future, Prototype 10 showcases elements of what shapes and performance cues we might expect as the brand moves into its next phase, bringing to fruition its plans to feature electric drivetrains across its entire range by 2021.

Habib walked me around the car at last weekend’s Monterey Car Week, where he explained his team’s inspiration for the show car. “We took these grassroots ’60s cars that run in circuits around [Southern California] — guys tinker on them during the week and get them ready for the weekends — and make [that] relevant for the future. Infiniti has always been able to [provide] compelling driving options and also even unusual concepts like the first FX.”

In terms of evolving the brand’s look while incorporating influences from the past, the mission of Prototype 10, Habib told me, “was to create more of a composed form-language. A bit more reduced, a bit more minimalist. Also, in a Japanese way, we tried to illustrate that sense of composure. If you look at Japanese architecture, it [features] such great angles. Super clean and pure. But at the same time, and I still have to figure out how it’s done — to me, it has a lot to do with materials — but it has a lot of warmth to it.” Habib then pointed to the hard vertical line on the side of Prototype 10. “This 90-degree angle (points to the car) is the kind of thing you usually don’t do [on a car]. But that, combined with these super sensual, human, organic shapes is the biggest thing for me. And also the kind of thing I would like us to communicate and keep for the future.”

Infiniti points out that, like in iconic vintage speedsters, the passenger seat is completely covered, allowing space for cooling vents where a passenger’s headrest would normally sit. “The radiator things we’re playing with are inspired by … retro cooling fins,” Habib said. “We wanted to play with that. You can cool batteries with it, like in a computer.” Standing behind the car, he said, “More and more this is one of my favorite views of the car. There’s really nothing. Just this triangle kind of contrasting with these haunches.”

It really is a stunner in person, Prototype 10. Since this is an electric car whose design relies on spartan minimalism, the single person cockpit features nothing but an extremely low, sculpted driver’s seat, two pedals and a tiny, skeletal steering “wheel.” Due to Infiniti’s steer-by-wire technology, which does away with a need for traditional steering columns, that wheel can be tiny and unobtrusive. When I mention that my favorite design element is the point that rises from a hard internal crease in the passenger side of the car and surfaces into a smooth, flowing surface, Habib said, “That was in one of the first sketches of this car. The kind of asymmetry. The design did the [Nissan] GT-R50. He was in London at the time and he had this sketch that was his way of interpreting the tonneau cover.”

There are other elements that draw the eye too; specifically, the recessed and quasi-embossed iterations of “Infiniti” throughout the bodywork. Could that hint at a future design, where the brand’s name is inside the sheet metal and not adhered to it, like all vehicles today? Habib laughs: “Putting that into production is going to be tough. They don’t want to carve each one out.”

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