Retro Futurism

We are always interested to see the cars unveiled at Pebble Beach by the big car brands. It’s a singular show in many ways – a celebration of motoring’s past glories that is now the preferred place to showcase its possible futures.

This year, many brands have been re-examining and re-imagining their past. Porsche, presumably tired of seeing Singer rocking on their Pfennig, has decided if you can’t beat them, join them, and launched Project Gold, which, disappointingly, is not a 911 inspired by the greatest hits of ABBA but a one-off 993 resto-mod, with sumptuous black and gold detailing. Jaguar announced it was giving the green light to a production version of Concept Zero, the electric Jaguar E-Type, made by the JLR Classics division, motto: ‘We future history’, a succinct slogan boldly defiant of the need for verbs in English.

Infiniti, a brand that is only 29 years old, used the show last year as an occasion to display a retro-styled concept – Prototype 9 – that was based on an imagined 1940s Grand Prix racer from their past. It is a thought-provoking act when typically premium brands derive much of their value from their history The suggestion is, that if you like what you see, it doesn’t matter when it was created or the route travelled to get there. Prototype 10, shown this year, was more contemporary in feel, although still with a nod to classic single-seat sports cars from the 50s and 60s, it felt a comfortable blend of classicism and modernism.

It’s an interesting change of approach from car companies. Whilst they have always leant heavily on past glories, it is only in last 20 years or so that many have begun to re-imagine their classic designs. Design chief J Mays was at the forefront this trend of whilst at VW and Ford. The Concept One ‘New Beetle’ and Ford’s Thunderbird, Mustang and GT were described at the time as ‘retrofuturism’ due to the way they mixed clean, modern surfacing with lines that drew their inspiration quite clearly from cars of an older, more romantic (or is that more romanticised?) era.

Perhaps this is the key to these cars. They look back to a simpler time, when the driver’s role at the wheel wasn’t under threat and didn’t require multiple electronic guardian angels to keep him or her safe. Re-examining this can help car companies find that human element again. That quirk that lends character and makes a car – and all the experiences that go with it -unique.