From Nissan Hardbody to Hyundai Ioniq to Toyota Land Cruiser: The Next Generation of Retro is Here
Beginning in the late 1990s, the retro movement took a large grip over the auto industry and in some ways, it's never really stopped.
It started with the Volkswagen New Beetle. Then came cars like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, the Chevy SSR the S197 Ford Mustang, the Fiat 500 and so many more.
For the most part, these retro designs were inspired by cars from the '50s and '60s, right in the wheelhouse for the baby boomer generation that grew up around the original versions of these cars.
And now as the years have gone, an entirely new generation of retro-inspired vehicles has emerged, this time influenced by the vehicles of the '80s and '90s.
You can see it both in current production vehicles, upcoming new models, as well as concept cars that may be coming. The '80s and '90s are hot.
Concepts and Beyond
In its most basic form, you have heritage versions of existing models, like the "Hardbody Edition" of the Nissan Frontier pickup, inspired by the Nissan Hardbody pickup of the '80s.
More than just some stickers and branding, Nissan even went as far as to design a modern-sized wheel that's a splitting image of the alloys used on the original Hardbody.
Sticking with the 4x4 theme, we also have the brand new Toyota Land Cruiser, which has taken a step away from the more bulbous 200 series and embraced a boxy, throwback look.
And while it's not quite as retro as the old Toyota FJ Cruiser, the new Land Cruiser has borrowed a lot of influence from the LCs of the '80s—even bringing back round headlights on certain models.
New Eras, New Ideas
You'll even find hints of the '80s and '90s nostalgia in cars that aren't specifically retro-styled. For example, the new 2024 Ford Mustang has the option to configure its digital instrument display in the style of the Fox Body 5.0 Mustang from the '80s and '90s.
Another thing that's allowed automakers to better to tap into the nostalgia is the rising prominence of electric vehicles. These platforms typically offer designers more freedom, and that can be seen in designs like the Hyundai Ioniq5.
While the Ioniq5 is not styled after a specific older Hyundai model, it has a distinct, squared-off 1980s shape, with a lot of influence from vehicles like the Lancia Delta.
And Hyundai might be taking things even further. Last year they showed off a concept hydrogen sports car called the N Vision 74, which is like all your favorite 1980s sports cars brought back to life.
With an ambitious concept car like this, designers could have gone any way they liked, and the fact that they looked back to the 1980s is a clear sign of where things stand. And really, we shouldn't be surprised.
The Cycle Continues
If you look at trends not just of the auto industry but also in areas like fashion and music, it's not at all surprising that what's old is new again. And we expect the nostalgia to begin to spread into newer eras as the years go on.
And as a child of the '80s and '90s myself, I'm very much the target market for this sort of thing. You'll hear no complaining from me.
Now, the only thing left to wonder is whether we'll full circle with "double retro." Will we someday see a new Volkswagen model inspired by the "old" New Beetle from the late '90s or a Chrysler PT Cruiser EV?
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- By the way, we still think the Chevy SSR is one of the coolest and most underrated American vehicles of the 2000s.