The fact they ‘no longer make them like they used to’ is undoubtedly a good thing. I’ve spent an unexpected amount of time in old cars recently and while they were charming and oozing with nostalgia, I walked away reassured that modern machinery is immeasurably better.
A recent feature in the magazine about the best New v Used deals also got me thinking. Usually when I debate these things with friends in bars, I’ll argue fiercely that the used option is the smarter pick as you’ll often get more car (and typically a more interesting one) for your money.
But when it came to pulling together the story and I had all of the facts (and costs) in front of me, I found myself leaning towards the new options. It boiled down to a simple logic: like for like, anything built today is better than something built yesterday.
Peter Robinson, the world’s greatest motoring journalist, would also pick the new car every time. Peter is an unabashed modernist, which is surprising given he’s driven the likes of the Ferrari F40, Porsche GT1 and the McLaren F1, but he doesn’t so much resent rose tinted glasses as he does crush them under his heel.
He once wrote “old cars are rubbish” on this very site and when we asked him to name his Top 10 Ferraris, the top three were all from the modern era: F12, 458 and LaFerrari.
The F40 rated ninth.
And yet … as I drove home in my modern car with its fancy infotainment system and its unwavering reliability, something was niggling away in the background. Having just spent much of the day in a VC Brock Commodore, and the week before that driving a Citroen 2CV, I realised I was starting to feel a little hemmed in.
Why is the vision out of modern machinery so poor compared to cars from yesteryear? And why doesn’t the steering chatter in the same way? And why aren’t the seats as comfortable? And why could I suddenly feel every bump and expansion joint instead of wafting along with a relaxed gait?
I know why, of course, but instead of finding comfort in my modern crash rating, I felt irrationally upset that we don’t have pop-up headlights anymore.
The more I thought about it the more I realised that while we’ve gained a lot with modern cars, we’ve also lost something along the way.
Today’s cars might be safer, faster, more connected and more powerful, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily better to drive.
They certainly aren’t as nice to look at. Modern safety regulations are mostly to blame here, but there’s no denying much of today’s metal is larger, heavier, and fundamentally uglier. Don’t believe me? Compare BMW’s current line-up with its range from the ’80s and ’90s…
So what’s the solution? Well, obviously, you could buy a resto-mod like a Singer 911 or an Alfaholics GTA-R. There are many companies that will fit old cars with modern parts, which is a bit like buying a 400-year-old house with plumbing that actually works.
I realise, of course, that this isn’t actually an option. Resto-mods are hideously expensive.
So here’s an idea. Instead of only gazing forward, what if today’s manufacturers paused for a moment to look back. Instead of an old car with modern bits, imagine a modern car with old bits. It’d be a reverse resto-mod.
This sounds dreadful at first but think it through. Imagine ticking a ‘classic pack’ on a Toyota Corolla that added smaller wheels with chubby sidewalls, cushy suspension, and pillow-top seats.
And what if you could convince BMW or Ferrari to fit its current models with landmark engines of yore? Imagine sliding into an F8 Tributo and finding the glistening gated shifter from a 355 in the centre? Or firing up an M2 Competition and hearing the evocative rasp of an E46 M3 CSL’s S54 straight-six?
All of these cars would be slower, have worse body control and would lose out objectively to harder, sharper and faster rivals. But in my eyes, they’d also be better. Often the pursuit of progress blinds us to the realisation that in certain areas, we’d pretty much nailed it already.