At the moment I am researching a 1995 car, a model still around in considerable numbers today. It doesn’t seem all that antique to me. But does it seem ancient to others?

1995 Nissan Primera:
1995 Nissan Primera:

Here is another 1995 car, the Nissan Primera (above). This object still looks fresh and not especially antediluvian. Yet it’s 20 years old now which is a fair amount of time by anyone’s standards. In 1995, in contrast, a 1975 car (below), the few still around, looked extremely old and, moreover, tired. I am curious to know if readers have the same impression: that a 1995 car today doesn’t seem old but in 1995 a 1975 car did. Very much so.

1975 Renault 20 TL:
1975 Renault 20 TL:

While we are on the subject of shutlines this month, you can look objectively at the Nissan and note the various features which date it. The shutlines are very neat and dominate the graphics: the way the car had to be put together organised the way the graphics are handled, specifically the horizontal junction from bumper to body. The rake angles are steeper than is acceptable today. And of course, the sculpting of the car is very plain (admittedly this was an exceptionally plain car in its time).

That said, the car isn’t screaming that it’s as current as typewriters and landlines. The 1986 Opel Senator I tested felt clearly different from the cars I am driving now. However, the 1995 car I get to drive often and which I will be writing about feels as fresh as a daisy and is very robust.

One answer to this question is that it depends on your age. If you ask this question to a 20 year old I expect they will say the Nissan will look mysteriously aged as it is a product of a time before they can remember much. This was perhaps the case for the Renault I might have viewed in 1995. Or was it? Is it that cars from the 1990s were sufficiently well made and refined that they aged less quickly than cars from two decades before that? Seventies cars didn’t hold up that well and any survivor in the 1990s was an interesting fluke.

I’d be interested to hear from readers how old they think a car has to be to look ancient. And how old do they think a car has to be before others are sure to think it is ancient. Are these numbers the same? I am not talking here about a car that is viewed as being out of date because it’s seven years old and discontinued. Some people are quite fascist about cars’ ages and insist that anything older than three is an embarrassment. Rather, it’s about the perception of antiquity, of otherness, that a 1950s car certainly has and which a vehicle like a CX, 604 and Mercedes 230E has. The 1995 cars are old but do they seem old enough to make you feel they are classics?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

7 thoughts on “Perceptions”

  1. Back in 1995, that Nissan already looked old to me. I guess one could call it timeless for that reason?
    Whereas in 1983, that R20 still looked fresh and modern to my 10yr old eyes, more so than what e.g. Peugeot was offering at the time.

    1. Hmm. That´s an interesting counter example. The Renault´s I saw were physically aged and seemed to have a dated design. The Primeras around might not seem “modern” but then again they look quite unweathered and not markedly passe.

  2. I don’t know if it has to do with age when we perceive 20 year old cars as “quite new” today. Another reason could be that many of them already had painted plastic bumpers (or at least somewhat integrated ones, if they were still black or grey). A 20 year old car in 1995 had chrome all over the place, separated shiny bumpers, probably naked sheet metal on the inside, etc.

    It’s interesting how my CXs were perceived when I drove them. The first one was a series 1 with stainless steel bumpers, quite basic equipment and several scratches and dents on its dull paint. It was clearly perceived as an old car. The second one I had was not much younger (15–20 years), but its age was often under-estimated, I think seven years was the lowest quote. This one was in much better shape, and it had all the equimpents available at the time, many of which were only just becoming widespread in the time I drove it.

  3. There’s an appreciation of Geoff Matthews on Citroenet.

    It praises him for ‘improving’ the CX with the Series 2. Robert Opron (unsurprisingly) takes a very different view, as he has every right to.

    I (typically) agree with both points of view. The Series 2 does spoil the purity of the original concept. However it was a competent and pragmatic response to deal with a car that had remained in production too long and whose detailing, fairly or unfairly, was being viewed as old fashioned.

  4. Not bloody Citroën AGAIN! OK, this time it’s my fault…

    So, I’d like to bring in another, brand neutral aspect.
    When thinking about this topic, it struck me that the general design tendency in the last 20 years went away from clear, simple “modern” shapes to a more adorned “baroque” style. In the 20 years before, it was rather the other way round. Might this be the reason why the 1990s shapes are generally more timeless and age better? Coincidentally, the better aging applies also to the technical side, as the rust problems and ill-dimensioned components of the 70s were overcome, but planned obsolescence and abundant electronics were not that commonplace yet. So, a 20 year old car is probably still so common on the road that it certainly doesn’t convey the message of “rare = old”. Only once in a while I look at such a mid-90s example and think: “man, does it have large windows! It must be really old now! What about me?”

  5. It varies. Some cars seem evergreen, then suddenly age. I remember catching sight of a Porsche 928 a few years back and, although much of its design still seemed timeless, the proportion of wheelbase to overhang suddenly seemed very old-fashioned.

    I also remember 6 or 7 years ago recommending a friend to buy a Citroen CX I had seen for sale (talk about vicarious purchasing). She seemed quite enthusiastic until she asked her teenage son’s opinion. It wasn’t flattering.

    Disregarding the obvious giveaways (wheel size, roof gutters, etc) consider a factor of how old a car is, to how old you think it is (or if you know a lot about cars, how old you think you might think it was if you didn’t actually know.

    Based on that, can I suggest an orange NSU Ro80?

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