Back to the Future: 10 Cars the World Is Finally Ready For (Again)

Buick Riviera

The auto industry is a quickly moving enterprise, and as automakers move to fill market demand, some cars get left behind in the shift. Some casualties are more welcomed than others. But have you ever looked at some of these old cars and thought, “Wow, I really wish they would bring THAT back”? Automakers do what they can to meet market demand as best they can, but market demand shifts unpredictably, and cars that lost their place in the market may now again be relevant. Certain parts of today’s market have been mostly ignored by some automakers. Why not bring back some of these dead-and-buried models to address these new holes?

Times have changed. People need cars for different reasons now than in the past. This is a list of cars we think deserve a second chance, a chance to reclaim their former glory and fulfill consumer’s needs much like they did years ago. This list will partially be an evaluation of where there are currently holes in the market. It’s part history lesson, part wish-list. Yes, this may be some nostalgia getting the best of us, but there are some really solid cases to be made for bringing these vehicles back.

1972_datsun_510-pic-42843

10. If you’re interested in a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (FR) family car today, your options are limited. Cars like the BMW 3 and 5 Series sedans or the Cadillac ATS/CTS duo certainly fit the bill, but luxury brands like those are expensive, even used. The Datsun 510, available from 1968 to 1973, was a true driver’s car with an engine in the front powering the wheels in the rear. Sports-oriented in all trims, the 510 could be had as a 2- or 4-door sedan, a 2-door coupe, or even a 5-door station wagon; the only vehicle we’ve recently seen that offers that kind of lineup is the Cadillac CTS – a big, powerful and expensive option. Mazda, Toyota, and Subaru are notable makers with great FR platforms. We’d love to see Mazda slap a lightweight sedan on the Miata’s underpinnings, or have Toyota build a family sport sedan atop the Scion FR-S chassis. The Datsun 510 was easily modified and remains a track favorite for vintage racing. Done right, it’s not hard to see a car like this returning to popularity today.

Buick Riviera

9. Muscle-car mania has certainly returned to America, and with gas prices low, automakers now produce retro-styled updates to classic cars with enough power to smoke tires all day long that they can’t keep on dealer lots. But the classic, oh-so-cool Buick Riviera hasn’t returned. Having arrived in 1963 as a separate model, rather than the high-end trim it had previously been, Buick wanted the Riviera to compete with Ford’s Thunderbird (which got revived in 2002-‘05). The first generation’s forward-leaning front grille looks much more aggressive than a swept-back one, particularly when flanked by the clamshell headlight covers that arrived in ’65. The third generation’s boat-tail rear also looked fantastic, but we don’t need to see much of anything from later in the Riviera’s first life, styling-wise. We’re glad the Regal’s still available, but we’d be even happier to see new Rivieras tearing up American roads.

1973 Volvo 1800ES

8. Many Americans don’t like hatchbacks. That’s understandable if you look at examples like the Toyota Tercel wagon, the AMC Pacer, or the Chevy Chevette. But the MGB GT, designed by Pininfarina (!), looks great and offered lots more practicality than its roadster siblings. Of course, it was also built by MG, so those cars didn’t endure terribly well, and keeping one running well would require lots of patience and a small fortune. The Volvo P1800, which has no problem whatsoever with longevity, was available as a hatchback, the 1800ES, in its last two years of production (1972-’73). The 1800ES doesn’t look quite as flowing and Ferrari-ish as the MGB GT, but it does have a very distinctive profile with some similarities to a number of recent “shooting brakes,” like the Ferrari FF and a Calloway design study for a Corvette wagon. The rear hatch in particular looks great and influenced other designs over the years, getting a beautiful revisit in Volvo’s sadly out-of-production C30. We’d love to see a new hatchback that reflects the long, low-slung, classic look of the 1800ES more than the short-and-squarish look of the Volkswagen Golf or Honda Fit, and we think that approach might help get more Americans over the hatchback hump.

2001 Honda Prelude

7. You know what the automobile market really needs more of? Front-wheel-drive Japanese sports coupes. We miss the days when the market was saturated by the likes of the Toyota Celica, Acura RSX, and the Honda Prelude. All of these cars have vanished; they were the victims of a shrinking sports coupe market shaken by the 1997 Asian financial crisis and Japanese asset price bubble. These models and more were quickly discontinued, but Scion, Subaru, and Nissan have since introduced sports coupes to fill in that market gap with the FR-S, BRZ, and 370Z respectively. Honda has yet to reenter this market. Honda can’t rely on the laurels of the Civic and Accord Coupes forever, and it needs something to reclaim the space it once dominated. The new Civic Coupe Concept, revealed at the 2015 New York International Auto Show, seems to be a step in the right direction, but it’s still just the same space the Civic Coupe occupied before. Honda needs to bring back the Prelude in order to reclaim some of that lost ground.

1989 FIAT x1/9

6. They’ve got a questionable history of success on this side of the Atlantic, to say the least, but the return of Fiat and Alfa Romeo offers the opportunity of some incredibly exciting cars returning to the United States. Sold in the United States in three separate stints culminating in 1987, the Fiat X1/9 was a midengine, rear-wheel-drive sports car with a removable top and beautiful styling. We’ve talked in the past about the great Toyota MR2, but a new Fiat X1/9 would blow that out of the water. Sure, it may be a bit hopeful to expect the Alfa Romeo 4C‘s 1.75-liter turbo 4-cylinder, but even the Fiat 1.4-liter Fire TurboJet 4-cylinder would be more exciting than the Corolla-sourced 4-cylinder used in Toyota’s MR2. Add to that a dose of Italian styling, and a new X1/9 could be a can’t-miss sports car for the States.

1968 Ferrari 275 GTB

5. When Lamborghini was building cars before the turn of the century, you could argue that it was as much an art-focused company as it was an automaker. The Countach, Diablo, and especially the Miura were style icons. Sure, they were powerful and fast, but more than anything, they were designed to be beautiful, rolling works of art. After its takeover by Volkswagen AG, Lamborghini has become a much more focused car company. To be sure, the Aventador and Huracan are incredible (and beautiful) machines, but with the help of Audi’s technology, they are now cars first, art second. The Ferrari 275 GTB represents the epitome of cars as art. Made between 1964 and 1968, the 275 GTB was a 2-seat GT car with sports-car dynamics. Designed by Pininfarina and powered by an equally beautiful V12 engine, it provided a visceral driving experience unavailable in today’s Ferraris (which are renowned for their abilities on the track as much as the incredible technology under their hoods). Most notably, however, this was a car that backed up its incredible performance with its unequaled good looks. It’s time to bring back the nameplate and build the beautiful machine the world deserves.

Geo Tracker

4. We think it’s safe to say the Jeep Wrangler is one of the most popular cars available right now (we sure talk about it a lot). So, why doesn’t it have any direct competition? Why can’t the Geo Tracker be a huge success? FCA has big plans for the Jeep marque in the coming years, and the Wrangler is undoubtedly a large part of that. So why hasn’t any other automaker targeted the super-rugged, utilitarian (with just a splash of comfort and convenience) 2-door convertible SUV now that Chrysler has proven the formula to have huge potential success? There have been a handful of convertible mini-SUVs in the past, many of which came from Japanese automaker Suzuki. Now that Suzuki sells only motorcycles in the U.S., a more poignant competitor for Jeep’s compact SUV would be GM’s now defunct brand Geo. A new Geo Tracker is definitely what the market needs right now. It’s compact, utilitarian, and quite adorable in an ugly sort of way. Millennials would absolutely love it, and GM surely can reap some of the hype the Wrangler receives nowadays.

1966 Ford Bronco

3. As we just noted, Jeep’s Wrangler has been a huge success for years now, and we can’t get enough of it. We love it so much, in fact, that even if the Geo Tracker got re-released, we’d also want to see the original Ford Bronco return to availability. The first-generation Bronco (1966-’77) took an approach that wouldn’t work in today’s automotive market, which is probably one of the reasons we like it so much. The Bronco’s body, frame, and suspension were unique to it and not shared with any other vehicle. Given how simple and flat the Bronco’s body was, we’re not sure too many other cars were jealous of its styling, but we love the look, the capabilities, and the attitude of the early Broncos, and we know at least one company on the West Coast has produced a new version of the ’71 Bronco that Jay Leno loves. A new Bronco would offer plenty of off-road chops, enough power to be plenty of fun on the road, and a very traditional American truck look and feel. Driving a 2-door vehicle that lets you sit up high while passing other cars and that can safely get you into and back out of the woods—isn’t that a crucial part of the American dream?

1990_volkswagen_vanagon

2. America has made the recreational vehicle into an art form. Companies like Winnebago, Fleetwood, and Airstream are famous for their luxurious and comfortable homes away from home. But these are enormous, expensive, gas-guzzling monsters of machines. They’re tricky to operate and downright dangerous for inexperienced drivers. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if there was some kind of vehicle – maybe a van – that could be retrofitted for a camping lifestyle, carried a reasonable miles-per-gallon rating, and didn’t require a degree in mechanical engineering to operate? Luckily, Volkswagen has plenty of experience building just that. The Volkswagen Vanagon still isn’t an uncommon sight, despite ceasing production almost 25 years ago. It looks like this dream may soon become a reality in Europe, but we think this is a vehicle that could thrive with some modern updates. Known as the Type 2 (T3) outside of North and South America, the original Vanagon included a wide range of camper options, such as stoves, beds, and a pop-top roof. However, Vanagons from the ’80s and ’90s were plagued by an anemic (albeit rear-mounted) engine and heavy build quality (their transmissions included parts made of cast iron). A modern-day Vanagon could use lighter materials and Volkswagen’s clean diesel engines to offer a great get-out-of-town car for any adventurous enthusiast.

1987_chevrolet_el_camino

1. Crossovers are among the most popular flavor of automobile, because people like their feigned look of practicality, even though crossovers don’t provide that much more in terms of practical space to use. So why not have the Chevrolet El Camino jump on the impractically practical stowage bandwagon. It would offer more cargo space and practical utility than a modern crossover, without the falsified look of an SUV. And a 2-passenger flatbed without the power hungriness of a pickup powertrain will certainly find a place in a stowage market dominated by unnecessarily large pickups and SUVs. It can offer a tempered amount of storage, which may be just enough for most people. The El Camino has potential carrying capacity while still maintaining a sleek, small, and efficient look. People would buy on nostalgia alone, but there is some serious market capacity the El Camino could be primed to swallow up. Just look at this 2016 El Camino SS concept rendering from a few months ago, based around the 2016 Chevy Camaro’s Alpha platform. A modern El Camino would fit right in today. It would bring that old redneck feel into the modern car world and would certainly find its place in today’s market.

What car do you want to see revived for the future?

-John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran

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Used Datsun 510
Used Buick Riviera
Used Volvo P1800
Used Honda Prelude
Used FIAT X1/9
Used Ferrari 275 GTB
Used Geo Tracker
Used Ford Bronco
Used Volkswagen Vanagon
Used Chevrolet El Camino

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