Are Retro Cars Here to Stay?

... The first modern successful retro automobile is most definitely the soon-to-be-replaced Volkswagen New Beetle. There were many other retro cars prior to it, but none were as successful. Designed by a team conducted by now-famed designers J Mays, Freeman Thomas and Kia's savior – Peter Schreyer, the New Beetle first appeared as "Concept One" at the 1994 North American Auto Show.

Originally envisioned just as almost any other concept car - to test the waters - a surprisingly strong public reaction convinced Volkswagen's big guns to give the go-ahead for developing a production-ready version of the car. The New Beetle, as it became known, was launched four years after the "Concept 1". compared to the original Beetle, the new car has absolutely nothing in common from a technical point of view.

The New Beetle doesn't have real wheel drive, an air-cooled Boxer engine, luggage compartment in the front, nor does it cost even remotely similar to the original one, inflation adjusted. What it does have in common are the bug-eye headlights, the overall "Beetle-look" and the faux running boards.

I guess it's a bit "Captain Obvious" of me to say that besides that retro look there hasn't been anything to support the New Beetle's success. It was strictly based on the emotional impact coming from the car's design. In other words, way to go, marketing!

The New Beetle was just the first one though. Since 1998, a lot of other car makers have started jumping on the "retro is cool" bandwagon, hoping to achieve a similar if not even bigger success. Despite using the exact formula as the New Beetle, only a few of them have survived until now. Which brings a rather interesting of discussion. Two of them, actually.

The first one is a question about what works and what doesn't when it comes to retro-themed cars. Does the car in question has to have been a cult-car in the period in which the original is coming from? For example, as most of you know, the new Fiat 500's design is based on the original Nuova 500, which was a real hero of a car in 1950s Italy and Europe. The new one respects the entire formula of the New Beetle.

It's based on a proven platform from a cheaper model and it doesn't have anything in common with the original except for the overall design. So we now know for sure what works when making a retro cars. Or do we?

Having a look at another modern retro, the new Mini - or MINI, as owners from BMW like to put it – which almost totally disrespects the New Beetle's and/or New 500's formula. With the first generation launched in 2001, the new Mini was built on an entirely new platform, without sharing almost any of its private parts with any other car. Sure, there were BMW bits in the suspension, while the engine was bought from Chrysler, but overall it wasn't based on any other existing car platform.

Why did it work then? Obviously, in the new Mini's case, it wasn't just about reinventing an old-school design theme, but also giving the car a similar driving character as the original one. Even though the Alec Issigonis-designed Mini had a great handling only as a by-product of its practical design solutions, it was one of its main features, so the new one marched on this aspect of its character. Way to go, marketing and engineers this time!

The second topic of discussion is, naturally, what comes next? The BMW Mini is now at its second generation and it still looks like a modern derivative of the BMC Mini from 1959. The Ford Mustang as well, it's the second time when it's trying to look like a modern derivative of the first generation fastback Mustang.

The whole "retro-futurism" – as J Mays likes to call it – design thingy is begging for another question though. What comes next? How many times will the Mini, the Fiat 500, the Ford Mustang, the VW Beetle or any other upcoming retro-styled cars be reiterated? Are two generations enough? Three, maybe? Have they entered a never-ending loop, like Porsche did with the 911?

I'm currently thinking no to the last question, since many other car makers have proved to be able to launch competitive or even cult cars which look like nothing else before them. On top of that, retro doesn't necessarily have to mean that a car has to resemble its first generation only. For example, in twenty or thirty years, a blasphemous battery-powered Mustang might even be retro-styled after the dreaded third generation pony car. What do you think, is retro-styling in cars here to stay?
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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