Retro cars versus classics - can you have the best of both worlds?

By DPA | 9 March 2021

FRANKFURT: Cars can be compared to vinyl records and analogue cameras: the more tangible the future becomes, the more tightly some people cling to the past.

Just as vinyl is once again very popular with music lovers and some amateur photographers are junking memory cards in favour of film, young and classic cars are also enjoying growing popularity. Thanks retro-styled cars, you don't need a genuine classic vehicle in order to conjure up nostalgic feelings.

Old cars will always retain their charm, said Hans-Georg Marmit from the KUeS car expert association. And if they are actually registered as classics, owners can sometimes save on vehicle tax and insurance and also avoid paying to enter city congestion zones. There are however some disadvantages when it comes to everyday use.

"Not only is the level of comfort and convenience much lower than in modern cars, but there are also big sacrifices in terms of safety," said Marmit.

Airbags are a rarity in classic cars, and electronic assistance systems are completely absent. Not to mention the increased maintenance and more frequent repairs required by older cars. "Only a few classics are genuine daily drivers," said Marmit.

A compromise are so-called retro models by manufacturers who seek to capture the spirit of the good old days with the design and philosophy of a new model.

"There are a lot of examples of this," said Frank Wilke of classic car price assessment portal Classic Analytics, "but only a few have managed to pull it off."

In many cases, retro-styled cars have little more in common with their cherished predecessors than the model name but are usually much cheaper to buy. Even some bread-and-butter cars from yesteryear have become classics and command high prices.

The space-saving, Microlino electric city runabout is one of the more successful retro creations. The four-wheeled Microlino is a new version of the microcars which were once common in Europe until the 1960s.

The two-seater bears more than a passing resemblance to the Italian-designed Iso Isetta “bubble car” once manufactured by BMW long before it became a major automotive player. The two-tone blue and white Karo Artega is equally vintage-inspired.

"Of course there are technical parallels and the combustion engine has been replaced by an electric motor but engine, but just like back then it is all about minimalist mobility and offering a lot of room in a small space," said Wilke. "These cars are also designed to be a lot of fun to own."

The comparisons stop when it comes to the price. The originals were budget cars for those could afford no better, but are now sought-after. Ironically, a good cherished Isetta can fetch €20,000 (RM98,000) whereas prices for the Artega start at €14,000 (RM69,000) an the Microlino costs a few thousand euros less. Both are due to go on sale this year.

Wilke is less enthusiastic about the current MINI generation even though rally legend Rauno Aaltonen, who once won the Monte Carlo event in the original, has praised the newer car’s agility and go-kart-like cornering. The current MINI is a world apart from the famous Alec Issigonis-designed original.

"If you want that genuine Mini feeling you have to buy a real Mini," said the expert.

Wilke also remains unconvinced by the Honda E, the amazingly cute, tech-crammed first electric car from the Japanese maker. Some liken it to the very first VW Golf but Wilke thinks the body design is nothing like as genial and it does not come cheaply either.

Ford has managed to retain the character of the Mustang which is still a muscle car in an age when such masculine concepts might be considered out of date. "Of course the Mustang has come a long way and it benefits from improved technology, enhanced build-quality and better handling," said Wilke.

At the same time, it offers the same down-to-earth combination of power and affordability. A new one costs €49,300 (RM241,000) compared to around €44,000 (RM215,000) for a clean, classic Mustang GT from 1965.

The BMW Z4 and Morgan Plus 6 roadsters show just how far apart two cars based in the same drivetrain can be.

The Morgan is hand-built and whereas BMW is proud of having transported the roadster die into the 21st century, Morgan head Steve Morris is well aware of his conservative clients.

The Morgan is an as old-fashioned as the rules will allow.

"A lot of people think a fourth wheel on our cars is a new-fangled feature," said Morris in a tongue-in-cheek reference to Morgan’s iconic three-wheeler which was introduced in 1909. Production stopped in 1936.

Those who cannot make up their minds whether to opt for old or new can choose from a wide range of ”born-again” cars, often completely refurbished classic such as Jaguar E-Types and Aston Martins sports cars. These have been updated with modern equipment such as xenon headlamps, driver assistance systems and even airbags.

A company near the German city of Ingolstadt specialises in sprucing up the VW Beetle, Mechatronik from Pleidelsheim breathes new life into old Mercedes-Benz models and David Brown focuses on remastering the classic Mini.

A Mini remastered by David Brown is handcrafted and costs a small fortune to buy. The combination of authenticity and high-tech costs from £75,000 (RM425,000).