Following the demise of the Volkswagen Beetle, Rory looks at retro hits and misses of the automotive industry.
It’s old news by now, but I’m sure you have all heard that the Volkswagen Beetle goes out of production this year. The Beetle is one of the last remnants in the auto industry of a craze for “retro” cars, cars that imitated the styling of an older product by that automaker. There are some retro cars still coming out today, but the trend is not nearly what it was. Still, I thought I would take a look at some of the retro hits and misses of the industry.
Hit: New Mini Cooper
Based on: Austin Mini
When BMW acquired the British firm MG-Rover back in the late ‘90s, things did not go well. By 2005, MG-Rover was dead, with Mini as its only surviving brand. And there is a good reason for that: The Mini was brilliant. It was small, fast, huge fun, and surprisingly spacious. Even the basic Mini Cooper was closer in philosophy to a purpose-built sports coupe like a Porsche 911 than to rival subcompact cars, and in the hardcore John Cooper Works GP form, it was a proper supercar killer..
Miss: Every Other Mini
Based on: Austin Mini
Sadly, “was” is the operative word here. The bloated third-generation BMW Mini, the one currently in production, totally lost the plot, becoming big, fat, and ugly. (They just called it Mini because “Big, fat and ugly” wouldn’t fit on the trunk.) In addition, Mini started expanding its range around the launch of the second-generation Cooper, and while the convertible and the stretched Clubman model were reasonable additions, the hideous and not-at-all-Mini Countryman SUV and the equally revolting two-seat Coupe and Roadster were a step too far, and when they released the Paceman (a coupe version of the Countryman), they had well and truly jumped the shark
Hit: Volkswagen Scirocco
It was based on a Golf, so it was apparently good to drive. It was priced exactly the same as a Golf. But it was so much better looking. If only we had gotten this one in the US.
Miss: Volkswagen Beetle
The first generation, called the New Beetle, was a cutesy, shameless, retro car crash. The second, called simply the Beetle, was exactly like a Golf underneath, except worse in every way. After they stopped being trendy, people realized they were garbage and stopped buying them.
Hit: Alpine A110
I am apoplectic with rage that we do not get the Alpine A110 in the US. It is my favorite car of the year: a beautiful, lightweight sports car focused more on purity and driving pleasure than speed and lap times.
Hit: Fiat 500
For those who dislike the bloated new Mini, the Fiat 500 is a great alternative. It is good looking, fun to drive, and affordable. The performance-oriented Abarth version is one of the most entertaining cars on the planet: like a rambunctious puppy in car form.
Hit: Ford GT
Based on: Ford GT40
Not the current GT, which is a fabulous car but not at all retro. I am talking about the Mk2 GT, made from 2004 to 2006. The Mk2 took one of the most timeless automotive shapes of all time and attached it to a 550 horsepower supercar thrill ride that, like the original, was sure to give Ferrari some real headaches
Miss: Fiat 124 Spider
I am sure the 124 is a very good car, as it is basically a Miata underneath. But the retro-inspired styling does not work for me at all; it looks like a bad Dodge Viper kit car and is not even close to the gorgeous original.
Miss: Chrysler PT Cruiser
Based on: Chrysler Airflow
I feel confident saying this is the worst retro car ever made. It was inspired by the 1930s Chrysler Airflow, a truly groundbreaking and underappreciated car, but it did not pull off the look at all, especially with the tacky fake wood decals. It was also based on the awful Dodge Neon, which was just the repulsive icing on a truly horrible cake.
Miss: Ford Thunderbird
Just look at that grille. From the rear it looks OK, but the front is a mess. It was also underpowered, and had an automatic gearbox that is slower than George W. Bush. I’ll have a Corvette, thanks. Or a car crusher.
Miss: Plymouth Prowler
Miss: Chevy SSR
Hit: Dodge Charger/Challenger
Hit: Chevy Camaro
Hit: Ford Mustang (Mk5 and 6 only)
Miss: Jaguar S-Type
I did not include the Porsche 911, Mercedes G-Wagon, or Jeep Wrangler, simply because they were not part of the retro boom and have always looked pretty much the same. I also did not include old nameplates attached to a completely unrelated new car (like the new Chevy Blazer, which is nothing like its predecessor), and I have stuck strictly to production cars.
Rory Cahill is a highly sarcastic teenage car enthusiast and amateur automotive journalist, who is especially interested in 80s/90s cars, classic off-roaders, and anything weird. He owns a 1984 Mercedes-Benz 300D Turbodiesel. He is also very interested in rock music and politics, and wrote this whole bio in the third person because he is a filthy, filthy snob