The passage of time is not always enough
Sometimes, ideas for DTW contributions can come out of nowhere. While looking up some comparison data for a totally unrelated (automotive) subject, one of the brochures I consulted was of the 1993 Lincoln Continental. 1993 happens to be the year that I visited the USA for the first time – a car brochure exchange partner that I had been sending parcels back and forth with for years had invited me, and the fact that I was welcome to stay at his place in Indianapolis markedly softened the financial impact of the relatively expensive flight.
I would return the favour a few years later; being the same age and sharing at least one major interest, this was often repeated, and we never failed to have a good time. In more ways than one, the USA was a new experience for me. As far as the brochure collecting hobby was concerned, I was especially impressed by the fact that most dealerships were open seven days a week (at least the showrooms were, which was the only thing that mattered to us) and did not close their doors until 9PM. But I digress.
As I leafed through that 1993 Continental brochure, a beautiful two-page spread that caught my eye at the time depicted the then current Continental together with a model of 1963 vintage. Then as now, that 1963 Continental was deservedly a bona-fide design classic. A question arose in my mind however: the Engel Continental was a classic in 1993 and remains so in 2022. But would (I know this is technically a moot point as the Continental was discontinued in 2020) a current Lincoln Continental brochure portray a 2023 car alongside a 1993 Continental?
That seems unlikely. I’d venture there’s a far greater chance the 1963 car would be called up for model duty once again. Nevertheless, another thought went through my mind was the perception of what makes a car a classic design – whether it is related to the age of the vehicle itself and its intrinsic styling merit but also to that of the person viewing it?
Would someone thirty years my junior consider the 1993 Continental a classic, yet its sixties predecessor simply too old (hat)? If you know the sixties’ Continental only from static displays in museums and look-but-don’t-touch classic car gatherings but have vivid memories of its nineties’ brethren wafting along – possibly even as a passenger or driver – I can see how the lack of any tangible, real world connection could result in a different opinion.
Expanding on this, let’s examine whether the same applies to a selection of other cars, using similar 1963-1993-2023 hardpoints as a template. Scouring the automotive spectrum has resulted in twenty-five trios. A few of these are, like the Lincoln example that sparked this idea, technically moot since the model, or in some cases even the brand itself, does not exist anymore.
There are four possible verdicts for each set: (1) Still works, (2) Will work for some, (3) Not bad but hardly in the same league, and (4) Does not work. I realise it may in some cases be difficult to choose between (2) and (3); if this is the case simply choose (2/3). To recap, the question posed is this: in each of these examples, the 1963 specimen absolutely possesses the star quality required for a suitable backdrop to the 1993 model. But would that same successor still cut the mustard for a joint appearance with its 2023 equivalent?
I’m sure – and frankly expect as much – there will be virtually unanimous agreement on some candidates, but vehement disagreement with others. Whatever the results may be, they should hopefully provide some insight in what works for whom and why. Revealing your age when commenting may also show if the generation you are part of is a factor; I was born in 1965.
Please bear in mind that the following reflects my personal opinion and only serves to invite comments – be they agreements, corrections or rebuttals. As they say in automotive terms: YMMV.
To the ones that would still work very well indeed first. To be honest, I do not expect too many disagreements on these. Experienced sportscar manufacturers Porsche and Ferrari enjoy the luxury of a mostly well stocked back catalogue of appealing ancestors, while BMW’s disciplined adherence to certain sacrosanct styling elements ensured that the E34 5 series was also an absolutely worthy candidate. Finally, Renault demonstrates that a car does not need to be expensive or exclusive to qualify – the original Twingo makes a statement as compelling as that of the classic Quatrelle.
Teetering on the brink between 1 and 2 are two very dissimilar vehicles. Personally, I’d like to classify the Citroën XM as a (1) but logic (or is it sanity?) prevents me from doing so. It works for me, but I also know it just never was quite the car it should and could have been. Of course, it’s hard to match up to a car as seminal as the DS, if only the CX were still in production in 1993.
For me, the Bentley Continental R falls between the two stools of classic olde world handmade luxury, and the equally beautifully crafted but too often rather vulgar middle and far East oriented recent models. Just because of that, one might say it’s a perfect (1) but I’m not so sure, hence my (1/2) verdict.
For diehard Chevrolet Corvette aficionados, any historical Corvette (apart perhaps from the limp-wristed California only 305 cubic inch version of 1980) will do for an old versus new photoshoot. In this case it would have to be a C4 Corvette, which is a respectable representative of the breed although not with quite the historical clout the split window Sting Ray still possesses.
I remember the 850 as the first Volvo sedan of which I found the styling palatable. In hindsight it’s an interesting stylistic bridge between the resolutely square, bulky 1980s cars and the more organic designs that broke cover in the decade thereafter. Therefore, it works for me, but some may deem it not significant enough, and prefer to replace it with the classic 240 which is also eligible, since it was in its final year of production in 1993.
When the Ford Sierra was introduced, it was a daring aesthetic shock compared to the conservative Cortina/Taunus. By 1993 however, the Sierra’s best days were behind it and was copied and bettered by competitors in several aspects, so was it still a plausible candidate for a photoshoot at that point in its life?
Thoroughly engineered, impressive cars they may have been, but both Mercedes-Benz entrants – the W140 S600 and R129 SL – cannot in my opinion hold a candle to their grandparents of three decades before, although having said that, today I’d prefer either a W140 or R129 to any of the current Stuttgart fare.
Moving on to Browns Lane. A charming car it will always be, but the greying-at-the-temples late XJS falls slightly short on several fronts when parked next to a Series One E-Type – itself not perfect either but saved by those virtually unanimously loved lines.
It’s a pity that production of the series III Jaguar V12 ended in November 1992. If it had continued that would have been an easy (1) for me, but we must make do with the XJ40 instead. As with the XJS, it’s certainly a likeable car, but it’s just too compromised and clumsy in too many areas (not least of which some design and styling solutions) to score better than a (3).
Instead of the MK X, an S Type or MKII could also have been shown and although the deficiencies of these cars notwithstanding, this wouldn’t have influenced my opinion.
Fiat is a bit of an unusual case. I can envision the current 500 and its immediate predecessor figuring in some far away publicity effort, but the nineties Cinquecento has a much lower cuddlyness factor, let alone the original nuova 500.
It had all the trimmings expected of it, but to my eyes the 1980-1997 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit represents a somewhat flaccid period in terms of styling and image of the marque. The old Silver Cloud certainly wasn’t flat in any way, and neither is the current Phantom – which is not to say I’m a fan of either car.
Lotus endured, or rather had to endure, a period where it was not in charge of its own destiny in terms of design and engineering choices which resulted in the stubby Isuzu engined, FWD Elan of the nineties. Considering the limitations under which it was conceived it was a good effort, but it has not made for a classic Lotus in my opinion.
Even the best slip up sometimes, and the third generation Volkswagen Golf is a good example. Slightly flabby styling, an unconvincing quality impression compared to previous (and later) generations and a disappointingly lukewarm GTI – although the VR6 would partly make up for that. Volkswagen would likely rather showcase the Golf IV in any old and new comparison publicity.
Moving on to the new Maserati GranTurismo / Folgore. That the 1963 Mistral deserves its spot on many a list of marque highlights is something I trust most will agree with, and it would not look out of place in a joint photoshoot with the latest model but move the clock forward three decades and the AM336 Ghibli appears before your viewfinder. In this author’s opinion, that Gandini-updated Biturbo is just not a satisfying car by Tridente standards and thus not worthy of a booking for the photographer’s studio in 2023.
Finally, we arrive at the category that for some will re-ignite feelings of sadness and possibly even disgust at their ultimate destiny: the moot examples.
Wouldn’t the last of the original SAAB 900s, had its maker survived, have made an excellent companion for a joint photoshoot with its 2023 successor? Alas, it was not meant to be. Volvo on the other hand is still very much alive courtesy of its Chinese owner Geely, although the attractive C30 has been dropped. Were there still a C30, its Dutch-designed and built 480 forebear would have been a suitable companion in the publicity effort.
Neither Lancia and Alfa Romeo are currently in the best of health, and in hindsight the rot may have already set in thirty years ago. That might explain why neither the Lancia Thema nor the Alfa Romeo type 916 Spider possess anywhere near the star quality of their 1963 equivalents and why there are no current successors to either.
The Lincoln Continental has already been dealt with, but its GM compatriot, the Buick Riviera comes off just as underwhelmingly when jumping from 1963 to 1993. It’s a clear (4) for both, I’m afraid.
Last but not least, Rover. Fresh on the roads in 1963 the modern, advanced P6 2000 was one of the late carmaker’s great cars. The 800, co-developed with Honda, could have been but was not – and the later facelifted versions lost the crisp, linear styling of the original for good measure.
I will be most interested to read your opinions.
 Your Mileage May Vary.
 Well, at least up to a few years ago.