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Old 03-02-2007   #1
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Retro Appeal - 2/12/06

Retro Appeal

by: Mike Alleman

It seems as if more and more car companies are looking into and starting to build retro design vehicles to bring back some of their heritage. But is just a marketing ploy the increase sales? Let's face it; it's for the sales. That's all it's ever about in big business, the "numbers". And maybe they are just running out of new design ideas.

Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth changed the way car manufacturers looked at current design trends. It seemed to start with the Plymouth Prowler. Its long slender body with that open wheel look was something to catch the eye and keep us looking. Long, low and wide is always a great look for a streetcar. Just look at the Viper for a great example of that. Oddly enough, Dodge claimed the Viper was built to bring back the stripped down performance and feel of the Shelby Cobra from the sixties, but it sure does remind me more of a seventies model Corvette. Then they launched the PT Cruiser, which brings back the look of the Anglia meets the "woody surfer crowd" appeal, which is selling well. Chevrolet is building the SSR and the new HHR, which follow the same trends. And Ford launched the new "old" Thunderbird with elements of the '50s era.

So now we have Dodge talking about bringing back the Challenger which looks pretty damn good and are currently building the new Charger. Ford is producing the new Mustang, which has definite design elements of the '69 'Stang. Chevrolet has designed the new Camaro to look like the '67-69 era bodies. And the list keeps growing. Looks like the "muscle car" era starting over again.

But are they missing the understanding of what made the originals such a success, massive power potential and performance numbers? Or was it just style? Or was it both? I say it takes both. Those cars had attitude. But they also possessed the performance to back it up. The Prowler's looks definitely got the blood pumping, too bad the performance didn't. All that hood length, wide stance, street pounding attitude meant very little in the real power department. A "V-6". Why? Was it to keep cost down? Was it due to insurance cost to the consumer? At that price tag, I don't think it was to save the consumer money. Was it because they couldn't put together a driveline to handle more power? Who knows? There is room for a v-8 because it's been done in the aftermarket. But what we do know is that it was not a rocket ship. If you are going to build something like that, do it right. Was the V-6 the killer for the Prowler? Only in application. It would have been much easier to swallow if it was a "ground breaking" application of a V-6 from Plymouth. Can you say "turbo charged or super charged with MPFI sitting on top of hemi design heads"? We know the Mopar camp has plenty of access to turbo chargers and performance parts. As an example, the Buick team did their part to make sure their performance V-6 kicked ass in the GNX.

Another problem is that the "proto-type concept" cars we drool over at SEMA and the Detroit Auto Shows never really seem to get built. We get some "rounded-off" makeshift "committee car" version of it. The SSR had a lot of people going gaga at the car shows. Big V-8, lots of performance, etc. But the showroom version was lacking. Low on power, no 6-speed (was only available with an automatic trans), missing trim elements, etc. Just recently GM got their game together and added the bigger V-8 and 6-speed. Hopefully it's not too late for the SSR. The Dodge "hemi" trucks are all the "rave" right now, but even they don't live up to the "promise". Dodge claims their hemi engine produces xxx number of hp & torque. Maybe on a Dodge dyno they do, but in the vehicles we don't see it due to electronic torque control holding it back. Go to any Dodge hemi truck forum and there are plenty of owners/tuners who will tell you the same thing. So are we really getting what is advertised? Will this same concept fall into the new hemi Challenger? I hope not.

There are rumors the new Camaro will be built on the Corvette chassis. This might be possible if they are going to be built on the same assembly line. And this is a good thing. Maybe we will get some real power and handling to back up the heritage of the Camaro. I'm sure it won't get the same power or the same performance level as the 'Vette (on purpose of course), but maybe it will be close. Maybe close enough to make us want to spend our hard earned money on it.

The new Mustang really seems to be just a dressed-up version of the last generation of Mustang. No real performance improvement to match it's new looks. Will we ever get another hard core Mustang from Ford? Probably not.

Maybe we are the problem. Maybe we just get too caught up in the "power" contest. There were plenty of plain, low performance Camaros, Mustangs, and Challengers sold with small engines, small wheels, etc. in the late sixties & early seventies. Probably more than the high horsepower versions. So should we really be complaining if they are spoon feeding us the same thing all over again while "dangling the carrot" of all out performance in a retro muscle car shell?
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