QOTD: What's Left for Retro?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd whats left for retro

There’s no debating the fact that I draw far more inspiration from older, classic designs than futuristic ones. Hardly progressive of me, I know. While some want nothing more than to gaze upon an autonomous egg and envision a life where the act of driving gives way to the act of commuting, face buried in smartphone, to me that sounds like a vision of Hell.

That’s why last week’s Peugeot e-Legend concept — an unabashed nod to an attainable French coupe of the 1970s — grabbed my attention. It absolutely looked the part, yet incorporated all of the things we’re supposed to lust after in 2018: autonomy, electric propulsion, etc. Compare the e-Legend to Mercedes-Benz’s Vision URBANETIC. Two takes on the future; one desireable, the other terrifying.

What Peugeot and its “Unboring the future” tagline attempted to do was show we needn’t abandon our emotional connection to a car just because it doesn’t burn gas. Just because it drives itself some of the time. But can anyone trust this rosy vision?

It’s too good to be true. Retro design and technology and two doors? There’s two things wrong with this vision of our electric, autonomous future, and it’s not the one in the middle. Maybe there’s a niche to be filled by small, personal sport/luxury coupes in the future, but most of our driving — autonomous or not — will take place in rolling people movers. Think of a Dodge Journey in Minority Report.

And in this era, like today, we’ll most likely be presented with two-and three-row crossovers, perhaps a bit more pod-like, that eschew classic or (tasteful) retro design in favor of bland, inoffensive exteriors designed to please as many people as possible. With the exception of the still-unseen Ford Bronco and the Jeep Wrangler, what contemporary utility vehicle pulls off a retro look? What vehicle even attempts it? When coupes and sedans vacate the room, it’s hard to transfer those styling sensibilities to a two-box vehicle.

That’s not to say retro should be applied in a broad, haphazard fashion. Far from it. It’s a dangerous tool capable of backfiring on the user. I don’t know anyone who longs for the return of the PT Cruiser or HHR, though, to be fair, people shouldn’t malign the latter vehicle to the same degree as the former.

Maybe the future of retro is just made up of small nods, here and there, to the past. One flourish, one cue, one tiny Easter egg. The pony car trio will soldier on until their respective OEMs can’t justify the nuisance of keeping them in production, while luxury sedans — which seem more likely to adopt heritage styling cues — dwindle in number. Small sports coupes and roadsters? These vehicles like showing off their DNA, but the market’s shrinking for that crowd, too.

Let’s close with this question: In your vision of the future — say, a period 10 to 20 years from now — do you see any embracing of the past in the automotive realm, or is it a landscape filled with cold, sterile people pods?

[Image: PSA Group]

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3 of 55 comments
  • WallMeerkat WallMeerkat on Sep 26, 2018

    The problem is that a lot of retro designs were designed for a big engine up front, whereas our realistic future lies in small engined hybrids, or pure EVs. Jaguar iPace is the future, but the stubby bonnet wouldn't suit a remade XJ or E-type. Jaguar's retro dabbling with the S- and X-types didn't go down well, it was the modern XF and the styling direction thereafter that saved them. Cars like the Beetle that didn't rely on a big engine up front could actually turn out quite well as a retro remake.

    • Vulpine Vulpine on Sep 26, 2018

      You can go retro without trying to make an exact duplicate; the idea is to adopt the general look and downsize it to modern proportions. That custom '57/8/9 Chevy is a terrible example of how to do the hood but the body side and tail actually work. ''57 hood, '58 side and '59 tail, which is the only part of it I really like. It would have been SOOO easy to put the '58 or '59 nose on it instead, and the '59 nose was MUCH lower than the 58's. But then you couldn't put that big V8 under that former-Camaro's nose if you did. The idea is to bring back the general style, not copy the original inch for inch. It takes an artist, not an engineer, to do it right.

  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Oct 04, 2018

    My guess? 10 years from now the big retro thing will be throwback digital dashes that use chunky LED fonts.

  • Poltergeist Make sure you order the optional Dungdai fire suppression system.
  • Prabirmehta I charge my EV at home 100% of the time. The EV is used for in-town driving and the gas guzzling SUV is used for out of town trips. This results in a huge cost saving and rare trips to the gas station.
  • Conundrum Three cylinder Ford Escapes, Chevy whatever it is that competes, and now the Rogue. Great, ain't it? Toyota'll be next with a de-tuned GR Corolla/Yaris powerplant. It's your life getting better and better, yes indeed. A piston costs money, you know.The Rogue and Altima used to have the zero graviy foam front seats. Comfy, but the new Rogue dumps that advance. Costs money. And that color-co-ordinated gray interior, my, ain't it luvverly? Ten years after they perfected it in the first Versa to appeal to the terminally depressed, it graduates to the Rogue.There's nothing decent to buy on the market for normal money. Not a damn thing interests me at all.
  • Inside Looking Out It looks good and is popular in SF Bay Area.
  • Inside Looking Out Ford F150 IMHO. It is a true sports car on our freeways.