Ah yes, it’s a new year. It’s time to make yourself promises and break them when you remember that the rest of your life isn’t as loosely scheduled as your Christmas vacation. But you’re not the only one making resolutions. The world’s automakers are doing the same, and they’re more likely to keep them. There’s no better place to do this than Detroit, because the Motor City hosts the year’s first auto show.
The Detroit Auto Show is something of a moderate. It lacks the flash and wishful thinking of concept-laden Geneva, but provides slightly more adrenaline than the frumpy, financial business suit that is New York. This year is no exception, but several automakers will share a resolution: sell nostalgia. Here are a few examples that will show up in Detroit:
What it was: A legend. The Acura NSX (or Honda NSX, for those of you in less touchy nations) was Honda Corp’s first and only foray into the supercar market. It had but two seats, and the engine was right where it was needed most- in the middle. Ayrton Senna himself helped tune the suspension, and though it only produced around 290 hp at best, it weighed less than a ton and a half, making it extremely agile, a true track-day, RWD sports car from the people who avoid rear drivers like rabid mongoose.
What it is: Though rumors have been circulating about a new Honda supercar since 2007, we got our first glimpse of what an updated NSX might look like when someone snapped a photo of Robert Downey Jr, aka Tony Stark, aka Iron Man driving one on the set of The Avengers. At first, Honda feigned it a prop, then agreed that they were producing a spiritual successor to the NSX, and finally confirmed that it would carry the NSX moniker. It will pack a 3.5-liter V6 (not a far cry from the original’s mill), capable of 400 hp.
Why the nostalgia’s all wrong: All of the above sounds awesome, of course. Iron Man driving a 400 hp Honda supercar? What could be more perfect? But then you read on to discover that many of those 400 horses will gallop out of a pair of electric motors. Yes, it’s a hybrid. Also, it’s all-wheel-drive and has a dual-clutch automatic. It may be a nifty car, and will surely be very fast, but an NSX it isn’t.
What it was: Most of us experience “growing pains” in our younger years. The Dart went through “shrinking pains,” starting as a full-size sedan, then moving to a mid-size the very next year, before settling down as a compact for the following year, 1963. But despite the diminutive size, or perhaps because of it, the Dart became a favorite among weekend racers and modders, who made a hobby of defying engine compartment confines. Classic Darts are still often used in drag racing today.
What it is: A replacement for the Dodge Caliber, which is in its final year of production. The suits at Chrysler/Fiat say it will get three engine options: a 1.4 liter with a turbo, a 2 liter, and a 2.4 liter. And you’ll even be able to find it with a manual transmission, though most will likely get the automatic, which spins in nine (yes, nine) speeds.
Why the nostalgia’s all wrong: This new Dodge Dart isn’t a Dodge at all. It’s built on the platform designed for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, and that 1.4 liter comes from a Fiat 500 Abarth. That’s what happens when the Italians buy your car company. Now, this still sounds like a cool car, an efficient, buzzy little FWD compact with a turbo with a stick. But the Dart title carries imagery of tire smoke and massive engines. They should have called this new Dart something more appropriate for its layout, like “Neon.”
Lexus LF-LC Concept
What it was: Toyota isn’t all beige. Even if we’re not talking about the new GT 86, they still produce RWD cars all over the world. Except here. The last RWD Lexus coupe we got here in America (and “we” are the people who can’t drop a half mil on an LF-A) was the SC 430. But its soft styling and automatic-only gearbox made it a favorite among middle-aged professional women, even despite its more than adequate 288 hp V8, and now
nobody wants one. The generation before it, however, the SC 400, came with a manual option, and remains the preference of tuners everywhere.
What it is: Unfortunately, it promises to be another hybrid, though power train details are
scarce at the moment. What we do know is that it’s long, it’s low, and it’s a 2+2 hardtop, just like the SC 400. Styling cues hearken to the LF-A and the new IS series. And if it does reach production, it will likely be more accessible than the bonkers LF-A.
Why the nostalgia isn’t wrong: In fact, Lexus isn’t name-dropping with the LF-LC. Though it is reminiscent of the SC 400, all present comparisons with that 90’s era rear-driver have been drawn by fans. It’s not a “spiritual successor” or a “reimagining.” It’s a new car with a new name that happens to be evocative of something we once loved.
This is nostalgia done right. It reminds us of nice things about its predecessor without giving us any reason to fire off side-by-side comparisons. It should be mentioned that
Toyota does have the GT 86, which drops a name as an homage to the AE86 of yore, but it’s a fairly close comparison. No complicated hybrid systems, no all-wheel-drive, and certainly no nine-speed automatics.
Perhaps if the world’s car companies want to sell nostalgia this year, they should look to Toyota, who are swiftly shedding their beige wallpaper to reveal the rich red paint beneath.