Seven Classics Reissued for Today

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
seven classics reissued for today

For the third time, a dramatic oil price spike has thrown the auto industry a curve ball. And once again, after years of supersizing, manufacturers are lacking the right-sized, economical products for which the market is desperate. Instead of spending three to five years developing new cars from scratch, it’s time to dust off the best from the past and put them back into production. An air bag here and some updated engines and technology there, and these seven classics are ready to save the day in each of the major categories:

SUV/CUV: Gen1 xB. When a “compact” CUV weighs 4200lbs (Saturn Vue) a radical gastric bypass is the only solution for this whole bloated category. The classic xB equals or exceeds the front and rear leg/headroom of the Tahoe, weighs half as much, and gets almost three times the mileage. It will happily carry four oversized Americans on their rounds. Towing? The ski boat got repossessed (along with the Tahoe and the house), and it cost too much to run anyway. Throw in the 128hp 1.8-liter engine from the xD, and freeway ramps won’t seem quite so intimidating, especially when the occupants haven’t had their bypasses yet.

Pickup Truck: Toyota T-100. In this new era, pickups will be for serious but economical work only. The original T-100 long-bed with the torquey 2.7-liter four and five-speed stick is still in great demand with professionals who make an honest living with their trucks: landscapers, carpenters, farmers, and other sober folks who never bought into the Mega-truck fad. It can haul a load of gravel, and hit 25mpg. It’s the spiritual successor to the rugged, simple six-cylinder pickups of yore.

Sporty two-seater: Honda CRX-Insight. The CRX was a category buster. It created its own new genre of fast, economical and cheap fun. The Insight was Honda’s not-so hot too-small hybrid. But it was absurdly light (1850lbs) with extensive use of aluminum and magnesium and had super aerodynamics. Drop in a Civic Si engine with 197hp, and you’re looking at a wicked power-to-weight ratio, better than an STI. And mid-40mpg fuel economy to boot, if you can stay away from that 8,000rpm redline. The prototype has already been built.

Upscale Sedan: W-124 Mercedes. The 300E/W-124 from 1985 through 1995 was the last Mercedes to be “over-engineered.” The streets are still full of them, the last standard bearers of Mercedes’ one-hundred year tradition of ultra-solid, reliable and economical transportation. It has the potential to restore MB’s tarnished image. And with a little updating under the hood, it can be leading-edge economical too. Drop in MB’s latest 1.8-liter direct-injection Kompressor gasoline four, and combined with the W-124’s almost Prius-like aero cD of .28, mileage in the mid to upper thirties is unvermeidbar.

4 X 4: Suzuki Samurai. The Suzuki LJ and SJ series were/are the Jeep Wrangler for the rest of the world, where gas was never that cheap. The little Suzukis gained a cult following with their serious off-road capability, reliability and efficiency. A Samurai holds the Guinness world record for highest elevation (21,942 feet). In the US, the Samurai was vilified by Consumer Reports for its tippy tendencies through the slalom. Slap on ESC (with an off switch), an updated 1.6-liter engine, and it’s ready take on the Rubicon at twice the mileage of that pig Wrangler.

Minivan: Chevrolet Lumina (aka “dustbuster”). OK, you can get up off the floor now. Seriously, the Lumina was just a decade behind, or ahead of the times, depending on your perspective. It was aerodynamic, low, light, and its looks were…controversial. Just like the Prius. And therein is its redemption: the first hybrid aerodynamic van. Drop in the two-mode hybrid transmission from the upcoming Saturn Vue, team it up with the 1.4-liter turbo Eco-Tec, and the future is… on GM’s shelves, waiting to be assembled (lovingly, we can hope). Bob Lutz, this is your last chance to “leave our well-thought-of Asian competitors in the dust(buster)”

RWD Ponycar: Mustang SVO. GM may be dropping hints about a forced-induction four in the new Camaro, but Ford has already plowed that field. After the 1981 oil shock, Ford set out to create a new paradigm for the traditional V8 ponycar. Starting with a light-weight (3,000 lbs.) Fox-body Mustang shell, it bestowed the SVO with state of the art components: ventilated four-wheel discs, Koni adjustable suspension, 16” wheels, and an intercooled turbo four that cranked out 200hp. It was ahead of the times, yet behind too. By the time it saw the light of day in 1984, gas was cheap again, and so was the 5.0-liter liter V8 Mustang GT. Drop in a twin-turbo 330hp four, and say goodbye to turbo lag and hello to the perfect drifter, with a near perfect 50/50 weight distribution.

Any other nominations (four cylinders or less)?

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2 of 91 comments
  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on Jul 03, 2008

    JM, But you just did attack a whole class of drivers. You pretty much said all suv drivers are stupid. Let me tell you something. My Landcruiser cost me less per year to own than your xB. That statement was true until last year, but the reason it changed was not the price of gas. Gas is still cheap. The reason is because maintenance and depreciation were much less. (I bought it well used). A new xB has little maintenance, but lots of depreciation. An older xB I suspect has about the same maintenance costs, though likely breaks more often. The only thing that ruined the sweet deal I was getting has been the sudden depreciation caused by everyone now deciding that SUV's are stupid. I suspect, that they will come around. However, failure to factor a complete change in the used car market place five years ago does not make me stupid. And though it should not be true, picking up a client in an xB and then trying to have a serious conversation on why he should take my advice on a six or seven figure deal just isn't a good idea. It's a shame, but that's the way it goes. I have been able to enjoy the comfort of the car, the ability to carry LOTS of stuff (no rentals), the security of knowing I could get myself out of a lot of snow, use as a virtual snow plow for my neighbors, as well as a vehicle that we all counted on in case of an emergency. All that for about three hundred and fifty dollars a year in maintenance, and a fuel bill an extra five hundred a year higher. Why would I worry about another five hundred a year of gas when buying a new compact would result in an extra couple thousand in depreciation? No one makes a compact that looks and operates so well after 125k miles as my Landcruiser, or I might buy one. Nope. Your xB only looks like a good buy when gas is going up a buck a year. A change could make that go the other way quickly. Perhaps you might want to stop making fun, and calling people stupid. Especially since you might end up stuck in the middle of nowhere one day wishing for higher clearance and four wheel drive. It can happen.

  • JuniorMint JuniorMint on Jul 06, 2008

    I'm always mystified when people talk about the bust in the SUV bubble like there was no way to see it coming. We're on, what, like, our third oil crisis here? We're at war with the place the oil comes from. Maybe it's because the cost of gas has tripled since I learned to drive. Still, I wouldn't say you're STUPID, just... overprepared. If we're honest with ourselves, the idea that our wife might go into labor at the exact moment we are receiving 15 inches of snow is a pretty remote one. About as remote, I might add, as the possibility that gas prices might go back down at some point. I imagine the Brits have something to say about that. Admittedly, there was a lot less pressure to consider these things a few years ago...and it sure would be ludicrous for you to sell it at this point, when it'll probably get you to 300,000. And it's still your God-given right to put your priorities in whatever order you feel like. xB's, however, have defied depreciation - and there's every indication that this engine will last just as long as yours. This is not true for most vehicles, but I hope you're starting to see why this car made the list. The cheapest one is $13K. I paid $15.5 for mine, new. Low-mileage examples routinely go for more than than they sold new. You do have me on the luggage thing, however. Though you might want to keep an eye on the "green" fad - I agree that picking up your clients in a Land Cruiser says something about your advice, but perhaps it is not what you think it is. It scares me that the 'in' car is becoming the Prius - it's getting ludicrous out there.

  • CoastieLenn They absolutely should.
  • Arthur Dailey Thanks for the clarification.@JeffS has nicely summarized most of my original comment.I greatly dislike the 'touring' light treatment. It seems like we all do. This generation of Mark is too short to pull off the continental hump and fake engine vents. With them the proportions look odd.As Corey so nicely put it 'disco was dead and so was its car'. Successive generations generally reject the vehicles that their parents drove (or drove them around in). And as the children of Boomers grew, the Boomers gave up their PLC's and rather than turning to station wagons to transport their growing brood turned to the newly available minivan.And the generation behind them, rather than aspiring to a PLC, instead leased 'German driving machines'.
  • SCE to AUX "Toyota has dropped a pic of the next Tacoma on Instagram."This is why the splashy auto show reveals are dead.
  • Sckid213 I feel like the Camry in Japan is what oddballs like the Kia K9 and Hyundai Eqqus felt here. Obviously those were higher-end vehicles than Camry, but they felt like they were in the wrong dimension here in the U.S.
  • FreedMike The Falcon was fast and temperamental. Is Ford sure this is what it wants to advertise?