Classic cars are big business these days, but aside from the costs associated with buying and maintaining them, they are impractical and unsafe to be used as daily drivers. That means that most expensive classics end up being stored in garages and being carefully rolled out on sunny days for a quick wash and polish before heading back inside waiting for their values to go up.
Motorcar manufacturers didn’t take long to see the potential benefits of bringing out modern cars with design traits that echoed famous earlier models. Activating that nostalgia gland would surely have customers queuing up at the dealerships, right?
Well, yes and no. There have been some truly inspiring retro revivals and a few rather poor ones. We take a look at some of the very best and worst as well as the aftermarket specialists who are taking classic car modifying to the next level.
Retro revivals: the radical, the revolutionary and the revolting
Beetle - 1938
The original Beetle started off life as the dream of the worst dictator in modern history, but it became a symbol of peace and freedom around the world and gave a cheap transport solution to millions of people.
The actual design was initially developed by Ferdinand Porsche, so the similarities to the Porsche 356 are no coincidence. With over 21-million Beetles made over 65-years, it still holds the distinction of being the most manufactured car on a single platform.
New Beetle – 1997
The new generation Beetle arrived 5-years before the original finally ended manufacture. Being based on the contemporary Golf chassis, it had all the latest mechanical and technological advantages of a modern car, but the extruded body shell looked all wrong and it was far from a budget entry-level mode of transport.
As a result, it has not been quite the sales success that Volkswagen were hoping for, a second-generation model arrived in 2011 but it too has not managed to recapture the originals global appeal.
Ford Thunderbird - 1955
The Thunderbird was not the sort of car that would have done well in a depressed post-war Britain but it sure was just the thing for a booming ‘50s US market.
Beautiful, ostentatious and comfortable, the Ford Thunderbird was more than a match in sales figures to the competition.
It may only have been in production for three short years, but it has been immortalized both in song and on the classic car market where surviving examples are highly treasured.
Ford Thunderbird - 2002
The Thunderbird nameplate was used in many subsequent models, watered down each time until, by the tenth-generation, it was nothing more than a generic American coupe.
But the worst was yet to come, in the shape of the eleventh-generation model. This retro-styled convertible tried to recapture that stylish original shape but ended up looking more like a smoothed off bar of soap.
Sales tapered off sharply after the first year and the Thunderbird name was finally put out to pasture in 2005.
Mini - 1959
The original Mini, or Mini Minor as it was initially called, brought with it some ground-breaking innovation such as a hydrolastic suspension and a transverse engine/front-wheel-drive layout that maximized the interior space.
A range of body styles, low running costs and sporty variants such as the 1275GT kept the Mini popular until production finally ended in 2000.
Mini - 2000
Parent company BMW decided to revive the Mini name in their new small city car and released a new model the same year that the old car stopped production.
Staying true to the original’s fun driving character, the new Mini was a more upmarket offering, yet it proved to be just what the buying public were looking for. Now in its third-generation, the modern Mini is the perfect example of how to get a retro-revival just right.
It may be bigger, faster and offer a whole lot more customization than the original, but it retains that go-kart-like handling feel and meets the needs of the current generation of drivers.
Fiat 500 - 1957
The original Fiat 500 was Italy’s Mini. It was even smaller and had the engine in the rear to free up space inside.
Equipment levels were down to the bare minimum and the cheap pricing and low-running costs endeared them to almost 4-million buyers all over Europe over the long 18-year production run.
Fiat 500 – 2007
The ‘Nuova’ 500 arrived 50-years after the original was introduced and while it was not quite as minimalist as its predecessor, the new 500 interpreted the cute looks perfectly.
Pricing too is at the lower end of the market but customers can now spec a number of customizations to add some flair to their 500s.
This new car has become a very successful model in its own right over the years and just like the original, there are sporty Abarth versions on offer which punch well above their weight category.
BMW 507 - 1956
The 507 was BMW’s answer to the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz 300SL but aside from its beautiful lines, it was not quite up to the task.
The 150bhp 3.2-litre V8 was over 50bhp down on the Merc but it was the exorbitant asking price that kept most people away.
Only 252 cars were eventually sold, which made it a huge financial flop for BMW, and, in the years to come, a very valuable classic for everybody else.
BMW Z8 – 2000
The Z8 evoked the memory of the 507 in its looks but this time it also backed up the beautiful design with performance to match.
BMW had become a very successful car manufacture since those difficult years in the ‘50s and their engine technology was more than a match for Mercedes this time. The 400bhp 5.0-litre V8 taken from the contemporary M5 was a masterpiece and 5,700 Z8s were built over three-years.
There were also 555 Alpina models which oddly offered less power and an automatic transmission but proved popular nonetheless.
Mercedes-Benz 300SL - 1954
The 300SL was a revolutionary sportscar for its time, featuring fuel-injection, gullwing doors and a very powerful 3.0-litre inline-six engine, it was way ahead of the competition.
A roadster variant was also introduced a few years into production, it had conventionally hinged doors but the upgraded rear suspension made it far more controllable at higher speeds. 3,258 of both variants were built and you will need a second or even third mortgage on your house to afford one today.
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG - 2010
The SLS AMG was in some ways a successor to the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren supercar but it was also considered to be the true spiritual successor to the original 300SL.
It too had gullwing doors and a silhouette that echoed the originals curvaceous lines. Under the bonnet however, was a 6.2-litre V8 which in final Black Series spec put out an impressive 622bhp.
Performance levels were superb and the SLS also marked the end of the naturally-aspirated performance Mercedes era, the latest AMG GT models have all moved to turbocharging since.
Ford GT40 – 1964
The GT40 was named so because it was 40-inches off the ground, in actual fact it was closer to 41.5-inches but GT41.5 didn’t quite have the same ring to it.
The story of the Henry Ford/Enzo Ferrari buyout deal is well-known, so are the racing successes of the GT40, which toppled the mighty Ferrari’s at Le Mans three years running.
It did take untold amounts of cash and a lot of failed attempts but the end result was a place amongst the most revered classics of all time for the original GT40.
Ford GT - 2004
40-years after the first Le Mans victory, Ford decided to release a retro-inspired GT40 as a tribute. This time though, it dropped the 40 altogether thanks to some naming rights issues.
Despite the truncated name, the GT was a superb supercar. Combining a supercharged 550bhp V8 with some stout running gear, it was more hammer than scalpel, but it could outperform most contemporary supercars anyway.
The limited production run saw just over 4,000 cars being built, today they are worth many times their original asking price.
Porsche 911 - 1963
The original 911 was a big step up from the VW Beetle-based 356 but drive one today and it feels very much like the 55-year-old design that it is.
Successive generations ironed out some of the rough edges and the 911 became on e of the most accomplished and successful sportscars ever built.
Fans of the brand still hanker after the earlier air-cooled analogue variants and a number of specialists have taken advantage of this fact.
Porsche 911 Recreations
Each successive generation of the 911 carries over some of the previous models’ characteristics, both good and bad.
The need to meet emissions and safety regulations has resulted in the dropping of some key traits that used to be an integral part of the driving experience so while the latest water-cooled and turbocharged 911s are impressive performers the raw driving experience is a thing of the past.
Companies like Singer and Rennsport have taken to incorporating modern internals into classic air-cooled 911s and have created what some believe to be the best mix of what a modern tech and classic style have to offer.