Has Retro Design Run its Course?

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Retro design may have been hot for a while. But as CarBuzz editor-in-chief Noah Joseph points out, they may soon become a thing of the past...just like the cars they were designed to emulate in the first place.

Not long ago it seemed the entire industry was going retro. Volkswagen had brought back the Beetle. BMW had brought back the Mini. Jaguar's XJ and S-Type were thoroughly retro designs. Chrysler was building the PT Cruiser and Plymouth Prowler, as Chevy was the HHR and SSR. Ford took a retro approach with the Thunderbird, and perhaps most relevant of all, the throwback-style Mustang. The theme had some merit, but as we flip the calendar to another new year, we here at CarBuzz can't help but wonder if the retro design phase is behind us.

The hypothesis rests principally on the Mustang. After decades of Fox-body and jellybean-shaped pony cars, Ford reached back into its archives for the design of the fifth-generation Mustang in 2005. And with some revisions here and there, that design is still evident today. But as has been widely reported, Ford is going a decidedly anti-retro route, previewed by the avant-garde Evos concept, with the sixth-generation Mustang that's due to launch in a couple of years from now. The question is whether the Mustang is a harbinger of things to come across the entire industry, or whether the competition will continue down the retro path even after the Mustang has galloped in the opposite direction.

One indicator could be found in Jaguar. Although its products in the 90s took on retro styling elements, the British automaker has since abandoned that design philosophy altogether. One look at the current XJ and XF and you'll immediately see how decidedly modern they look compared to the models they replaced. But Jaguar is not the only one. While BMW has done some retro concepts recently, its production cars are decidedly modern. Lamborghini similarly toyed with a retro Miura concept in 2006, but went a very different direction with the Aventador. In reviving the Alpine, Renault may have taken an old nameplate, but the design is thoroughly modern.

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Though Ferrari has brought back old nameplates like California and GTO, it resisted the urge to give them retro designs as well. That, in the end, may be why the nixed the program to base a new Lancia Stratos on its platform. Even some of the retro pioneers, if you can call them that, have been getting away from entirely retro designs. Mini is adopting the reshaped headlamps of the Countryman across its entire range. Volkswagen has toned down the retro cues on its latest Beetle. And Aston Martin, whose entire range was designed to look like Astons of old, has been steadily mixing in elements from the modernistic One-77 in place of retro cues.

Of course some cars still hold fast to the retro theme. Toyota's FJ Cruiser and Mercedes' AMG, different as they are, both draw their styling from their forbearers. And Fiat, building on the success of the 500, has been expanding on the theme with new retro models. While Ford takes the Mustang in a new direction, the Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro still take their cues from their classic namesakes. But with both these models due for replacement in coming years, we wonder if Chrysler and GM will still go the retro route or follow Ford's lead along a new path. (Look for a new editorial from Noah Joseph on the first Wednesday of every month.)


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