Cover

PLUMBING THE PAST FOR POPULAR DESIGNS

C.G. September 29 2003
Cover

PLUMBING THE PAST FOR POPULAR DESIGNS

C.G. September 29 2003

PLUMBING THE PAST FOR POPULAR DESIGNS

Rahoul Ghose couldn’t have felt younger if he’d been ordering from the back of a comic book. When he spotted the car he wanted in a magazine, he sent his $100 deposit on-line to BMW Canada and waited. Twelve weeks later, his package arrived: a silver-sided Mini Cooper, full of gleaming chrome and new-car smell. “My wife said I had permanent smile that day,” recalls Ghose, a 37-year-old photographer from Vancouver. “It’s a gorgeous vehicle, and I’ve never regretted buying it.”

Five years after Volkswagen’s popular reissue of the Beetle, retro-mania lives on. Automakers from Oxford, England to Dearborn, Mich., continue to plumb the past for designs, hoping for the kind of hit VW scored with the Beetle. There’s the Nissan 350Z, which irresistibly recalls its 1970 forerunner, the Datsun 240Z. And there’s the new Chevrolet $SR, which borrows its nose shape from a ’52 pickup. DaimlerChrysler is still getting mileage out of its PT Cruiser, while Ford resurrected its Thunderbird line with a sleek reprise of the 1955 T-Bird convertible.

The BMW-made Mini, though, is this year’s undisputed winner. A thoroughly modern-

ized tribute to the 1960s’ Coopers, it’s a serviceable urban runabout that appeals to the Peter Sellers in us all. Mini sales took off in Canada after the car’s release in early 2002, reaching 3,808 units this summer-good penetration for a compact priced as high as $29,000. “It has an immediate sort of charm and cool factor,” says Rachel Nelson, a 34year-old Mini owner from Vancouver. “You feel enlivened when you drive it.”

The challenge for makers of retro cars will be keeping such sentiments alive, warns Dennis Desrosiers, an automotive consultant based in Richmond Hill, Ont. “The intrinsic, paradoxical problem with retro vehicles is keeping their styling fresh,” he wrote in a recent newsletter. Ford has already announced it will discontinue the retro T-Bird convertible, which despite winning awards failed to meet sales targets. “It would be wrong to keep building it and erode its value,” Steve Lyons, a Ford executive, said at the time. “It’s a collector’s vehicle.” C.G.

NOT ALL retro cars find their niche. Ford is discontinuing the new Thunderbird convertible, which despite winning awards failed to meet sales targets.