Retro-themed cars don’t often echo the forwardthinking features that made the originals so great. Gordon has found one that does though
on the merits – or not – of modern-day retro car designs
When a classic brand or product is revived and relaunched there seem to be two very different approaches adopted by car manufacturers – and they’re 180 degrees from each other. The first is to take an iconic classic car, relaunch the product brand and design a modern version that has a shape and features that accurately recall the original. If done well the buying public in the first few years seem to adopt the product for nostalgic and image reasons but, eventually, the brand stands alone. No attempt is made by manufacturers to emulate the main reasons why these cars initially became iconic; their engineering, design and packaging. Two obvious examples are my favourite city cars, the Fiat 500 and the Mini.
Both have been a great success story and the marketing and strategic teams deserve a pat on the back. But neither makes even a small nod to the lightweight approach and fantastic packaging of the originals. In fact they are both significantly larger outside and smaller inside. Some of this can be attributed to current crash regulations and customer demands, but not all of it. Even if the design is driven absolutely by the styling, and the packaging is pretty average, it is still not an easy task to relaunch a classic and grow it into a modern popular car. An example that didn’t work was the new VW Beetle.
The second approach is exemplified by Alpine with the relaunch of the brand and the A110 sports car. It has approached the new A110 design much more holistically, not only incorporating styling elements but also targeting the whole ethos of the original A110.
The classic A110 was small, agile and light – the perfect recipe for great vehicle dynamics. It went on to carve out a history for itself with many motor sport successes. The new A110 follows the same principles – much effort has gone into keeping it light. It also has pure double-wishbone suspension and the size is pretty modest by today’s standards. I first saw the car at Geneva last year and was immediately impressed. At 1100kg it is the lightest in its class of sports cars that pass the everyday usability test. I came away thinking that the relaunch and design targets had great parallels with the TVR relaunch. As with the Alpine, we’ve managed to keep the new Griffith’s dimensions and weight under control, so it is the lightest and stiffest car in its class. Combined with pure double-wishbone suspension, it will deliver a proper TVR drive.
Since 2004 my Smart Roadster Coupé has been my everyday car and I have in vain looked for a small, lightweight rearengined sports car, with good visibility, a reasonable boot and a great fun factor, to replace it. Then along comes the Alpine.
So I’ve placed an order for a blue A110. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until old friend and colleague Neil Oatley dropped by. Neil, a great car designer who was instrumental in our three team World Championships, announced that he too had ordered an A110, but had gone one step further and bought a classic A110. Great minds…
The new A110 is very much in the spirit of the original. Which is why Gordon has bought one
Gordon Murray is one of the most innovative automotive designers of his generation. He designed Gp-winning F1 cars for Brabham and Mclaren and the Mclaren F1 road car.