In a world where European and American car manufacturers seem desperate to hang onto past successes are they on the right lines with their current crop of Retro Cars?
OK first admission we own a 2009 BMW Mini Cooper, fundamentally a brilliant (not so little as it once was) car that has had many of its design details obsessively extracted from the original. Picture a Doctor Who alien aggressor sucking the very life blood out of Issigonis little gem leaving countless dehydrated body (shells) lying flat and crumpled on the floor somewhere. Fiat has done similar with the 500 and both now well on the path of producing oversized versions completely divulged from the original concept. In addition and most notably there is VW with the Beetle and latterly Ford and Chevrolet with Mustang and Camaro muscle cars.
Initially no one took offense, you either bought into the concept or you didn’t. Now volumes are increasing and it seems desire to wring out every last drop of blood from model names to interior trim or exterior paint schemes stronger than ever. Where it will end, who knows? The question is; are manufacturers on the right lines? Clearly there is a market, but is it one for genuine enthusiasts or simply people not normally that bothered about what they drive who have been drawn in by the hype and sales patter harking back to better times.
The primary reason for bringing this up is that the current crop of retro cars are all fundamentally flawed by the same issue, weight. Even before introducing bloated models the newer cars are far heavier than the originals ever were for many reasons not least of course safety; the regulations today are far more stringent after all. Then there is emissions, no 50s or 60s power-plant or anything air-cooled is going to stand a hope in hell of getting through emissions today and so in their defence if you are going to build new cars you have to comply with the rules. This is something most people get but are they good enough reasons to stop producing genuine retro cars.
For instance we love our BMW Mini but are left in no doubt that it is not an original. We would also love to own an Austin or Morris Cooper S but have you seen the price recently, they’ve sky rocketed. If we did own one, we wouldn’t consider it a daily driver to travel high mileages in we would instead use it for local journeys and on the weekend, as many other classics are enjoyed today. In our view this is exactly how retro cars should be enjoyed. What is happening is that manufacturers are making them their mainstream models, diluting any remaining character in the process, increasing their size and in some cases (sadly) also unwittingly eroding the value of the original brand.
Worth noting of course that when manufacturers developed these cars back in the day they tended to do similar things then or if not with the models that superseded them, presumably to maintain competitiveness across a broader share of the market or to comply with increasingly stringent legislation. Also because the necessity for commercial success is always going to be strong and the subsequent marketing equally as powerful it is easy to see how people get drawn in. The current retro car approach is a bit like watching a slow crash in progress, you know it is a crash, but as it is so gradual there is almost an acceptance. A bit like a frog in a pan being slowly brought to the boil, we are not reacting or leaping out because we haven’t noticed the water is getting rather warm.
We think if you really want to drive a Mini you want an original, same for the Fiat, Beetle and American muscle car. The problem is affordability; most people cannot afford to buy them anymore or if shopping in the project end of the market run the risk of landing a rusty unreliable heap. After all the cost of refurbishing older cars, usually completed on a case by case basis by specialists is relatively high, where-as the cost originally when the same cars were mass produced much less so.
Therefore instead of making retro cars as their mainstream models diluting the brand over time, what if manufacturers offered programs to refurbish originals in volume before selling them back to us at reasonable cost as approved used through their existing dealer network? That way the current rules effecting weight and emissions would not apply and a relatively high throughput help keep costs down. If we were being practical about things, VW aside which of course has to be air-cooled to count, manufacturers could be left with a degree of freedom on whether to use new or original engines and transmissions. Just as long as a decent exhaust was fitted providing a nice aural soundtrack.
If this approach is a bit late for cars such as the original Mini or Fiat 500 then what about modern day classics such as the Peugeot 205GTi. How would you feel for instance about a manufacturer refurbished 205Gti with a modern day power-plant and gearbox offered at reasonable cost and complete with 12 months warranty plus approved used main dealer backing. More importantly for the manufacturer perspective how would you feel about in this case Peugeot as a company if they were brave enough to take the programme on? Would you perhaps feel more inclined to buy a daily driver from them as well as a consequence?
This might well be a long shot but if adopted could ensure genuine retro cars that appeal to real enthusiasts remain available and in circulation whilst current mainstream cars are set free to be designed within the current era and not continuously trying to hark back to the past.
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