As host of the Japanese Automotive Invitational, Infiniti took the opportunity to showcase, well, itself. 2019 happens to mark 30 years of Nissan’s luxury brand, and it threw a big birthday party complete with classics, concepts, and some special edition models (and invited all the other Japanese automakers).
The car that started it all was the Infiniti Q45. We’ve driven this exact car from Nissan USA’s collection when it had a scant 3,700 miles on the odometer, and there probably isn’t a finer example on Earth. With its trend-bucking styling and sporty driving feel when the industry was expecting luxury, it was a fantastic stake in the ground for Infiniti’s brand. Some might say there hasn’t been an equal within the brand since.
However, in the lineup leading up to the Infiniti pavilion, the lead car was a BLRA-3 Prince Skyline Sport. With only about 60 built, the grand Michelotti-penned coupe was one of the most expensive domestic cars you could buy in Japan when it debuted in April 1962.
Prince was considered a luxury car builder, but 1966 merged with Nissan. By placing the Skyline Sport at the head of the column, Infiniti appears to be saying (here, figuratively but also literally) at the fact that Prince was a predecessor for Infiniti. Of course, that would be a major retcon, but it tells a good story.
Next up in the path leading up to the pavilion was an Infiniti FX, which designer Ken Lee believes will become a classic someday (and we agree!). The sports luxury crossover was unique among Japanese cars of its class for being RWD, and its styling theme, which Nissan called “bionic cheetah,” still stands up today.
We often think of crossovers as sideshows while the sedans remain the flagships of the brand. In today’s crossover-dominated car-scape, though, the FX makes for a pretty good halo vehicle to show that Infiniti was ahead of the times with a sport offering that wasn’t just a mainstream sedan lifted and dressed in leather.
The line of Infiniti heritage vehicles eventually fanned out into a row of Edition 30 models. These anniversary edition models of the Q50, Q60, QX50, QX60, and QX80 come exclusively in white with dark chrome finish on the grilles and rear garnishes, darker wheels than the standard models, and black side mirrors. They also come with the ProAssist suite that includes features like the Around View Monitor that Infiniti pioneered. Oh, and there are Edition 30 badges on the cars.
The pavilion itself was a sleek showcase of Infiniti’s future. Three concepts, including the grand Q Inspiration sedan and the hard-to-tell-apart QX Inspiration and Qs Inspiration, outlined the direction Infiniti wants to go. That direction appears to be “going electric” starting in 2021. Perhaps that Q45’s grille-less design was ahead of its time after all.
Lots of artistic things were displayed inside, including artist Makoto Endo’s beautiful art, which he was creating on the spot. We first encountered Endo’s paintings, which he creates using nothing but chopsticks, at Nissan’s big celebration of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Z and GT-R in New York, and were properly blown away.
Mixed in elsewhere among the Japanese classics were other iconic Infiniti cars. The distinctive J30 was a rare “t” model (for Touring), and was another car that didn’t get the credit it deserved when new. Infiniti really pushed styling trends, and the J30 was like nothing else on the road when it debuted in 1994. Infiniti now says that the car foreshadowed the “four-door coupe” trend of today. If this is true, it’s a pity they didn’t push it more. As with the original Q45 which later grew a ridiculous and unnecessary grille, Infiniti seemed to do a lot of, “Hey, we’re going to do something completely bold. Oh, wait, you don’t like it? Forget it, then.”
A 2004 G35 Coupe and 1991 M30 rounded out the rest of the Infiniti cars. The G35 gave Infiniti an enthusiast renaissance when it debuted, but its success has given it somewhat of a negative association with hoon-happy hoodlums. The most surprising thing about this display, though, was that Infiniti couldn’t find a better example of a G35 to display at a Pebble Beach-adjacent event.
The M30 and J30 were in far better condition despite being over a decade older, and they weren’t cars that Infiniti kept stored away since new (they were purchased in recent years). Though the Q45 was the flagship, the M30, which today has a cult following, was there right from the beginning at the marque’s debut in 1989. In 30 years as a marque Infiniti has had many ups and downs, great successes and narrow misses of the chopping block, but the cars have generally been quite good, if underrated. Here’s hoping for 30 more years.