Concept cars often seem to be composed of extravagant lines and shapes. But how does one transfer these qualities to a performance car with different requirements, such as speed, different tire sizes and the dark art of aerodynamics?
We spoke to Alfonso Albaisa: Senior Vice President for Global Design for Nissan Motor company on how he tackles this challenge
When designing a performance car like the GT-R50, how do you make sure that the car is both attractive and powerful: after all it has to put 700 horsepower on the road?
Well the GTR50 was a particularly complex process as we wanted to stay truthful to the history and heritage of the Nissan GTR. In essence the GT-R is a brick. It’s a big car with its own unique style. It’s not a thing a of beauty, dare I say, and certain aspects of it teeter on the edge of being ugly.
Additionally, we deal with the fact that this car will have a 700+ horsepower engine, which will make the rear end of the car lift at 200kph and can send you into a wall. So, it will need downforce. When designing a performance car, we do have some tricks up our sleeves.
For instance, we wanted to reduce the aerodynamic resistance in the front of the original car. That is why it’s much more open. It allows air to travel through the front of the car and exit at the side vents. We lowered the roofline by 45mm because it reduces the forward drag. In order to keep its bottom down, the car needed a wing. This is a design element that I really wanted to add because it goes so well with the Nismo DNA and Japanese design and pop culture. It reminds me of these Gundam robots: slightly intimidating in size, upright and separated from the car’s bodywork.
When developing the GT-R50, Nissan collaborated with Italdesign. How was this partnership formed?
They came to me. They loved the brand and our story, and they wanted to make a car together. At our first meeting they showed me a series of proposals and cars such as the Zero-uno, which they were building at the time. I though it looked great, but a two-million-dollar car and Nissan do not seem to be a natural match. However, they kept sending me ideas and designs and eventually it occurred to me that it might be interesting to get them involved in the design of the GT-R50. I asked them if they would be able to make fifty cars instead of three and they agreed. So that’s when it all started.
How do you go about turning a road car design to a race car?
When designing these new race cars such as the Leaf RC and the Formula-E car, I want it to be a Japanese design: serious, but with a bit of a funny edge. When I brief my design team, I emphasize that we are developing the next DNA of Nismo and that we have an impact on where it’s headed. With that in mind, they come up with dozens of sketches and we move on from there.
You have a love for classic sports car design. Do you try to integrate that in your design?
Yes, if there is a place for it. For Infiniti I made an open wheel prototype that was inspired by a Formula one racer of the 1930’s. In fact, the first Japanese Grand Prix was won by a Nissan, which entered the race as a one-off car and ended up beating the Silver Arrows. The story behind it is that an engineer at Prince, an aircraft manufacturer, was very unhappy watching all the Silver Arrows tear up the racetrack and win. So, for the next Japanese GP, he developed a race car that incorporated a lot of airplane styling cues. It ended up overtaking the legendary purpose-built sports cars and history was made. That’s the story about the car and how we came up with the design.
IG: Alfonso Albaiasa