Let’s look at some retro-design cars

Retro design will never die. Some cars wear it well, while others should probably evolve. Right now we have a new Land Rover Defender, an upcoming Ford Bronco, and a handful of other machines that hang on to past glory for better or for worse. But let’s step back and look at a few machines that were retro when new, even though they’re no longer fresh… well, one of them is actually in surprisingly great shape with very low miles. And I bet you wouldn’t guess which one from the picture above.

YouTube channel Retro Cars Forever rounded up ten vehicles.

  • Fiat 500 Abarth
  • Dodge Viper
  • Mazda Miata
  • VW New Beetle
  • Chrysler PT Cruiser
  • Jaguar S-Type
  • Plymouth Prowler
  • Ford Thunderbird
  • Honda S2000
  • Nissan Figaro

That’s certainly a unique list with a wide range of engine types, power figures, and driving experiences. But they certainly have retro inspiration in common. The video does a good job walking quickly through each model and allows the owners to talk about the how and why of their specific ownership.

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17 responses to “Let’s look at some retro-design cars”

  1. William Byrd Avatar

    Interesting. I feel like half of the list is objectively bad. I guess retro design is 50/50. haha

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      Some retro is so commonplace that it no longer is noticed. See, for example, the 1994 Dodge Ram (and its separated-at-birth twin, the 1997 F150). That styling was groundbreaking 27 years ago, but lives on in every Ram since then.

      Jeep fanatics went crazy when the YJ was introduced–“WTF rectangular headlights?” So then the TJ (and every Wrangler since then) got round headlights. If a soldier got frozen during WWII and reanimated today, and someone with a Gladiator told him to “go wait for me next to my Jeep”, do you think he would be able to pick out the only Jeep in the parking lot, even if the badges were removed?

  2. 0A5599 Avatar

    I don’t know that I would consider the Miata or the Viper to be retro design, as much as they are 1990’s interpretations of retro formulas. It’s particularly pronounced with those cars because, unlike the old/new Beetle, Thunderbird, Abarth, and Jag, they do not spring from the original brand–the Viper was inspired by the Cobra and the Miata was a reimagining of the Lotus Elan.

    I would have left out the Viper and included a Challenger (particularly one from before the grille and taillights changed). An M100 could have been used instead of the Miata, but honestly, its design is more like the Miata than the original Elan. Maybe skip that entirely and include a Chevy HHR.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      The Figaro doesn’t really hark back to anything Nissan either or even any one car – I can see hints of Vespa 400, Goggomobile, Fiat 500 and Austin A35 but it’s definitely retro.

    2. outback_ute Avatar

      The one I would point out is the S2000 which takes no inspiration from the S600/S800 (or anything else) that I can see other than being a sportscar

      1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

        To misappropriate a quote by Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it”, and I don’t see it in the Viper or S2000.

        The Miata arguably does a pretty good job evoking its Elan inspiration, but at the time it was a step forward in design, not a step back. The Alfa Spider was still in production when the Miata came to be. The Miata was not generally considered “retro” at the time of its introduction.

    1. juergenZwo Avatar

      That’s not retro, that’s heritage.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        That is pure retro, reimagining and restating the original from the past. The MINI is the most successful of any retro design automobile which is why I find it’s omission from the group surprising. MINIs are more common than all of the other cars.

        1. crank_case Avatar

          Yep, it totally fits into the 00s retro phase by evoking nostalgia for an older design while being more upmarket, style focused, and less practicality oriented than its predecessor – just like the new Fiat 500, Beetle and to a lesser extend the Citroen Pluriel riffing on the 2CV. If you were to make an actual Mini successor, keeping to the brief Issignosis intended, you’d end up with something like a Suzuki Wagon R, but that niche is already catered to and a low profit one, much more money selling nostalgia at a premium.

    2. hove102 Avatar

      Speaking for the event organizer (I’m also the guy in the DWA shirt with the 500 Abarth), he just couldn’t find one for the video. He was pulling from a limited pool of people and no one with an R50/53 stepped forward.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Despite my carping, I think you did very well getting the cars you did. Paos and BE-1s are vanishingly rare, as are S-Cargos, and Prowlers for that matter. Well done.

  3. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    A Figaro but no Pao or S-Cargo, or the first retro design of them all the BE 1?

    All of Nissan’s Pike Cars should be there, since they invented the genre.

    1. Fuhrman16 Avatar

      I imagine just the one was all they could find at the time of the video.

    2. crank_case Avatar

      The S-Cargo pays clear homage to the 2CV Van / Fourgonette, the Pao is Renault 4 tribute band, but it’s less clear what the first Pike car, the Be-1s’ inspiration is. Maybe a bit of mini, but only in the cuteseyness of its rounded shape. Despite being pitched as “retro”, it actually looks more modern than the K10 Micra it’s based on. You could perhaps say that about the others too, it’s just that their retro-ness is more obvious. If Nissan didn’t say the Be-1 was a retro, would we have described it as such?


      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        The BE-1 came out in 1987 and was so wildly successful that they had a lottery to choose buyers, you had to win a prize to be able to just BUY one. It was so ahead of it’s time in referencing the past, no-one had even coined the word, ‘retro’. It was described at the time as ‘post-modernist’ in the architectural sense, since that was the closest people could get to the idea.

        In contrast the new MINI came out 14 years later, in 2001, the new Beetle, in 1997, the new Thunderbird in 2002 the Prowler in 1997,(10 YEARS later) and the PT Cruiser in 2000. The BE 1 was two years ahead of the S-Cargo, the next car from Pikes.

        Being at least TEN YEARS in advance of a trend is almost un-heard of in car design.

        If the world was a fair place, the name of Naoki Sakai would be far better known than that of those notorious self-promotors J. Mays and Frank Stephenson.