Car design is in an ever-evolving state as designers look to find the next trends that will capture the minds and wallets of customers across the world. Though this results in new and often improved machines as time goes on, some creations are often fondly remembered to the point that their crafters will revisit them for new models — bringing a fresh twist on classic designs.
The ‘new’ Mini is one of the best-known (and best-selling) retro-inspired cars you can buy. Introduced in 2001, it was soon after BMW had taken ownership of the brand, and focused on that retro flair to appeal to buyers.
Though the car didn’t have the practicality or utilitarianism of the classic model, it did have charm in spades – plus a fun driving experience, superb interior and loads of personalisation. The new Mini is now in its third generation, and though it’s become more mature, it’s still as retro and quirky as it ever was.
Keeping in line with the Italian image of style, the original Fiat 500 was a hit. The dinky city car was a revolution — fast becoming a must-have fashion accessory.
Today, things remain pretty much the same — only in a much bigger, but also much safer, car. The latest Fiat 500 is sought after by fashionistas across the globe, and it’s easy to see why — retaining the cute and chic visuals the original car had in a market full of pretty average looking machines.
Toyota’s ‘AE86’ Corolla is one of the legends of the Japanese car scene. The humble coupe gained a name in the ‘80s for its impressive driving dynamics, created by low weight, near 50/50 weight balance and a tasty but not overly powerful four-cylinder engine.
Fast forward to today, and it offers a car inspired directly by the AE86 — the GT86. It takes the same formula of low-weight and balance above all but brings a modern level of performance with it. It’s a formula very rarely seen in new cars today, but one we’re grateful is around.
Abarth 124 Spider
Take the Mazda MX-5, and re-wrap it in an edgy, Italian design and what do you have? That’d be the Abarth 124 Spider. In fairness, the Scorpion-badged two-seater does benefit from a turbocharged engine (compared to the MX-5 naturally aspirated one), as well as an exhaust that’ll have people noticing two postcodes away.
Its retro credentials come from the inspiration for its design – the original Fiat 124 Spider. That car was one of the prettiest ever made, and though this new version is larger, wider and heavier, it’s still quite the looker too.
Ferrari Monza SP1
Rewind to the middle of the last century and to the heydays of GT racing, when Ferrari was one of the kings of the class. Its speedsters of the day, such as the 166 M, 750 Monza and 250 Testa Rossa, were dominant on the racetrack while holding a prestige among the wealthy as a result of their stunning looks and exclusivity.
Ferrari has revived some of that spirit with the modern-day SP1 Monza, and it’s sibling the SP2. Loosely based on the 812 Superfast, these incredibly rare machines bring back the classic look of a speedster but add in brutal modern-day performance.
The Volkswagen Camper is an iconic image of freedom, and early models based on the T1 and T2 Microbus are hugely desirable today. The original California name, though, was first applied to a T3 model — built by specialists Westfalia and cementing the brand’s appeal for campervan enthusiasts.
The contemporary T6 model may do without the air-cooled, rear-engined layout of the original, but Volkswagen knows how to appeal to retro enthusiasts. It’s possible to spec your sleek, stylish California in a variety of vintage two-tone colour schemes, and even apply polished alloy wheels that ape the originals. These charming nods back only add to the California’s desirability.
Whereas the previous-generation Suzuki Jimny moved things on when it came to styling, the latest incarnation certainly makes the most of its heritage and is the spitting image of the original Suzuki Samurai. Dinky proportions and perfectly circular headlights give the Jimny a cutesy appearance – one which almost everyone notices out on the road.
Though it may be larger than that original Samurai, the new Jimny still looks tiny on the road, where it puts grins on anyone it passes.
These days, when thinking of the G-Class, it can be easy to think of flashy, chrome-festooned AMG models roaming the wilds of Kensington high street, as cracks, pops and warbles emit from an exhaust the size of your fist.
However, the original G-Class was the epitome of off-road worthiness – no frills inside and out, with its iconic boxy design and go-anywhere capability. That ability never went anywhere, even as the G became better associated with glitz and glamour, largely because beneath the skin very little had changed since it was introduced in 1979…
Finally, in 2018, Mercedes-Benz brought out a second-generation model, which retained the legendary shape but with substantial technical modifications such as independent front suspension and vast swathes of driver assistance systems. The interior also got Mercedes’ new dual-screen LCD set-up inside. Updating an icon is tough, but the German manufacturer nailed the G’s overhaul.
French brand Alpine isn’t the best-known around, having a small portfolio of quirky, sporty yet ultimately ill-fated cars. The A110, though, is a real return to form, and one of the best small coupes on sale for keen drivers.
Its success is in the way it borrows the formula of its predecessor, also named the A110. A low kerb weight, a peppy four-cylinder, mid-mounted engine and not too much in the way of technology ensures this little car is an absolute riot to drive. Alpine nailed it with the styling, too, hitting all the retro design cues without becoming a pastiche. Watch out, Porsche Cayman – this retro-styled masterpiece is coming for your turf.
The original Jeep Gladiator was a pickup truck based on the Wagoneer, built from the early 60s until the mid-80s. From then, it appeared that the Gladiator name wouldn’t appear again until a concept appeared in 2007.
It’s taken up until now for that concept to be realised in production form. It appears to be worth the wait – there are few cars that we’ve seen with as much presence. We’ll wait with baited breath to see whether or not it’s destined for UK roads, and not just American ones.
That concludes our retro-inspired cars on sale today, although some of the above aren't available for us in the UK yet, we can still hope!