Firstly, thank you to the boys at Retro and Classic Cars for letting me scribble down my thoughts. As 2011 draws to a close (well, at least for cars as most are back in hiding) there is only one thing I can think of; are we seeing the end of Retro designed cars?
Let me explain – take Ford for example, not so long ago we were introduced to the Focus RS500 which features “a muscular 350PS 2.5-litre 5-cylinder engine with 460Nm of torque… and results in truly exhilarating road and track performance.” This is what the first two lines of the brochure read! It spoke nothing of the overall design features and driving experience, instead just an impressive set of numbers cobbled together to woo those willy-waving twenty-something’s that thrash them though the council developments.
I agree that the RS500 is technologically advanced, but when did we become so concerned with the performance. In essence, the design of the RS500 is no more different than that of a standard Focus (apart from the ‘Stealth Black’ paint which I always thought looked out-dated). ‘Back in the day’ the RS models had boxed arches and huge spoilers which differentiated it from the standard model so much you could hardly tell what they were based on.
We as consumers are so obsessed about performance that we forget about design and the overall driving experience. Manufacturers strive for increasingly efficient engines, which has led to a more muted driving experience. No longer do we have an option for a manual gearbox in the majority of high-end cars (namely the Ferrari 458, new M5…), fundamentally because the computer is more efficient than the blob in the driver’s seat for which there does not seem to be a purpose for anymore. And unless you are Klaas Zwart, you may only get to exploit the full performance of your car once a blue moon – and even then you are playing Russian roulette with your licence.
An uncommon sight in today’s metal
In comparison to the manual-gate cars of yesteryear, they are just so much more interesting and thrilling to drive. Their performance or lack of, seems to be forgotten when you shuffle through the gears in total control of your revs. You have more than enough power in a classic E30 BMW or the like, for most roads without the need for almost 600 BHP which seems to the trend for super-saloons of today. Quite recently, I had the opportunity to experience the new M5, I was amazed at the amount of options available; now two M-Sport buttons and even different settings for the steering (Comfort, Sport and Sport +) which none seem to master the uncompromised feeling of getting into something a little traditional, not necessarily a ‘classic’ so to speak.
Ironically ‘Joy is future-proof’
What are we getting ourselves into? Today’s drivers have it all too easy, more power is only ever a push of a pedal away – and drivers are arguably no-more skilful or knowledgeable of car control, as they remain do dependant on the trickery of the computer systems which limit human control. It was not so long ago when a Zonda had 400 BHP – now we can easily see or exceed that amount in any performance saloon. Another example worth spending some time mulling over is, back in 1986 a Ford Sierra Cosworth – a car considered to be lethal for young’uns only had 200 BHP, the hatchbacks which my college chums seemed to be driving as first cars were a lot more powerful.
Original Zonda C12, with all the charm and charisma of a future classic
What we need is for more people like you, interested in classic and retro cars and rather than having a constant desire for more power, just enjoy a truly exhilarating drive. There is something very romantic about getting into a classic on a Sunday morning and going for a blast through the countryside, replicating the opening scene of the Italian Job; there is a reason why Retro and Classic cars has such a cult following.