Which Cars Still Look Great After Decades on the Road?

1985 ferrari testarossa-pic-40441

The Ferrari Testarossa: Still a good-looking car!

If your family is anything like mine, going on a road trip generates plenty of interesting conversation. In many families, those conversations often end with intense bickering, due to heated opinions.

I’m lucky because our conversations tend to revolve around cars, but that doesn’t mean they’re not heated.

When the topic of cars that still look great after a couple decades came up, there were two distinct opinions .

The conversation began when a late model Ferrari California drove by while we shopped in the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

Our daughter thought the Ferrari was a Porsche and pointed it out first. Thus began the Great Debate of 2015.

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Porsche’s Profitable Problem

2015 Porsche 911 pic-5239915476691723324

Porsche has a problem.

It’s a problem no other automaker has but all of them would want. Most automakers build cars that live comfortable lives, sell pretty well for a while, and eventually evolve into something else or end production when they are no longer popular. If they’re lucky, perhaps they’ll spawn a fan club or two.

The cars that have managed to stay relevant for decades (Ford Mustang, Toyota Camry) are nothing like their former selves.

The Porsche 911 is different. This is one of those cars that’s been in existence for most of the last 50 years and has slowly and gracefully aged. With each passing model year the 911 gets only slight changes while retaining its trademark shape. One could argue that the design no longer belongs to Porsche, but to the legions of 911 owners and fans who have become part of the car’s epic history. The 911 isn’t just a car anymore, it’s become part of our culture.

So how does Porsche go about introducing a “new” 911 when it’s bound to keep the classic shape?

That’s the problem facing Porsche.

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Do Too Many Cars Look Alike?

The Porsche 924 looks just like a...

The Porsche 924 looks just like a…

Some people have an uncanny ability to spot a car and instantly recognize what other brand of car it resembles.

Look-alike cars have been around since the Model T, and each era since has had vehicles that seem like they were created by a single group of traveling designers.

The car that sparked this conversation in my household was the old rusted 1977 Porsche 924 that pulled up beside us and looked, to my wife, nearly identical to a 1970s Datsun hatchback. I can’t argue with her. Even the shape of the window behind the B-pillar is nearly identical.

Her next comparison was even more ridiculous… but right on.

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The EV That Won’t Look Like an EV

nissan-leaf-2017

If you want your “green” car to stand out, it should resemble something green. That’s why designers of the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric vehicle, designed it to look like a lizard.

Well, that’s the only explanation I can come up with to justify the Leaf’s bulging eyeballs and arched back.

Don’t get me wrong here, I love the Leaf. My in-laws own one and have traversed over 30,000 gas-free miles in it, while getting stranded away from home only a handful of times.

The Leaf is the world’s top-selling electric car because it’s the EV most similar to its juice-drinking cousins.

That design, though, just has to go.

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Cars That Look Like Other Cars

2006 Chevrolet HHR And 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser, Front View

There is no better compliment than imitation.

If that’s the case, the automotive industry is full of flattery. That’s as true in the U.S. as it is within the unimaginative shores of China, where car designs are stolen like glances at a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Part of the reason for automotive parallels in the Western world is the simple fact that there are only so many car designers to go around. Once a successful design has been penned and millions of cars sold, the designer is lured to another company to create the same look with a different brand.

Who’s the next copycat on deck?

It appears that Mercedes-Benz will get that honor, as it just grabbed the leader of another German automaker’s design studio.

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Happy or Angry: How Should a Car Look?

2013 Jaguar XF AWD

There’s a lot of anger in car design these days.

Back in my formative years, vehicles just looked like vehicles. Maybe a face could be perceived somewhere between the tungsten halogen headlamps and steel grilles, but generally car “faces” were nothing more than utilitarian methods of shining light and sucking air. I liked that.

Today’s cars are different, mostly because advancements in headlamp technology have allowed designers to get more creative and not only give their cars a face, but create an entire personality.

Typically the personality chosen is an angry one, intended to give the car a sinister look of intimidation.

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Jaguar E-Type Still Captivates, Unlike Most Cars Today

1965 Jaguar E-Type

What has happened to car design in modern times?

I’ve been flipping through images of the cars from the Shanghai Motor Show over the weekend, and I have to say, I’m left mostly unimpressed. Where are the cars that drop jaws, increase heart rates and draw humans to them like moths to a flame? Where are the cars that create an obsession at first glance?

Granted, it’s Shanghai, a show known for a certain amount of epic weirdness. Among the cars no one outside of China will ever see outside of gallery pictures on a blog, a few stood out as well-designed vehicles that can be described as sleek, snarling and sexy.

But what about seductive? What about all-out awe inspiring? For that, I had to simply walk through the valet section of a hometown hotel.

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The Best-Looking Car Ever

Isuzu VehiCROSS

An Isuzu VehiCROSS, not the best-looking car ever

There aren’t many hotter topics in the auto world than arguing about the best-looking car ever produced.

A convincing case could be made for any number of exceptionally designed vehicles. Heck, someone out there could probably make the argument for the Isuzu VehiCROSS, because some people are just that messed up.

For the record, my choice is something a bit sleeker than the unfinished look of the doomed Isuzu. In fact, I don’t see how anyone could even argue that my choice is wrong. It’s simply the best-looking car… in the world.

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Horrendous Design at Detroit

First off, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder; it’s in the eye of the buyer. And in the U.S. one can never underestimate the taste of automobile buyers.

In the past, they have bought cars like the AMC Pacer in large numbers—and probably thought they were beautiful.

Who is going to buy anything like the Chevrolet Tru 130R concept shown above? Here’s a retro muscle car with 150 hp and matte gold 20-inch wheels. The bulging hood hides a mighty 1.4-liter turbo four.

It’s much easier to produce an ugly car than a beautiful one, and the Detroit show demonstrates that principle in spades. High-end brands can occasionally produce amazing, if not beautiful, concepts like BMW’s i8 (which may be going to production), but mass-market cars are a different story.

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