Retro cars – style and substance?

Robert Donaldson

10 Apr 2018, Blog Post

As the nineties were drawing to a close, car design had become a little plain and rather functional, many would say at the cost of some individual styling. The industry needed to pep things up and looked to fashion trends of the day for answers, and in the late 90s retro was cool.

Some manufacturers realised they had iconic cars in their back catalogue, that with a tweak here and there plus many upgrades to meet new legislation could perhaps prod the memory and recapture the imagination of the public.

But 20 years on from concept, how much longevity do they possess and how well do they compare to their market segments today as measured by residual value strength. We are going to look at three icons that were re-born that are still available new today. The Volkswagen Beetle, the BMW Mini and Fiat 500.

The VW Beetle

The first of these to make its way was the Volkswagen Beetle. It first appeared as a concept in 1994 and strong public reaction convinced VW to put it into production. It was introduced in 1997 and it was easy to recognise the original beetle, with its bubble like styling and similar round front and rear lights together with bold front and rear arches. Mechanically, compared to the old Beetle it was chalk and cheese. The new model, which was based on the Golf platform had the engine in the front, was water cooled and front wheel drive.  In 2003 the Cabriolet version was introduced and was an instant success. There were plenty of engines, trims and special editions which kept production running until 2010. From 2011 the next generation became available, it lost some of its “cutesy” style by having a lower roofline to appeal more widely. Again a cabriolet version is available along with plenty stylised editions like the retro 50s, 60s 70s models.

Volkswagen Beetle RV% of Cost New

The chart above shows better RV% across all years. The newer generation performs better as it is not sold in large numbers and has some more stylish models than the previous generation.

BMW Mini

The second car we will look at is the BMW Mini, which was available in showrooms in 2001 but the initial designs were drawn up a couple of years earlier. Again the design showed many styling cues from the old favourite but was bigger and much more well-appointed. This was because BMW were aiming at the prestige end of the market. Slick and trendy marketing campaigns pushed the Mini to success right away with its cute cool look, which could be customised with different colour roofs, wheels and decals. In 2005 along came the convertible and a clubman estate followed in 2008. And now there seems to be a mini for every occasion with the advent of the Countryman, Paceman etc.

BMW Mini RV% of Cost New

Again consistently strong RV% for the MINI where continual updates and trendy persona keep it ahead of the rest of sector.

Fiat 500

Our final car is the Fiat 500. The first concept was in 2004 called the Fiat Trepiùno which translates to 3+1 because of its unusual seat layout, though by the time of production in 2007 the more traditional 2+2 layout was adopted. Again no mistaking its original roots in the styling both inside and out. Fiat also wanted this to be available to anyone, so aimed it at the entry level budget conscious, as well as plenty of expensive trim levels and performance in the rebirth of the Abarth brand. Over 2 million had been sold by 2017. The 500C convertible was launched 2009.

Fiat 500 RV% of Cost New

The 500 continues the pattern of outperforming its sector but has a widening gap as the car gets older due to strong demand in the younger driver looking for a first car, plus the 2008 original looks very similar to current models.

In summary

So in summary, demand is very strong in the used market for the three retro style cars and each outperforms their respective sector.  They were fashion leaders when launched and still perform like supermodels on the residual value catwalk today.

About the author

Robert Donaldson

Robert DonaldsonUK Car Editor

Born in Acton, London, Robert worked for a number of blue chip organisations including Compaq, British Airways and 3M. Of interest, Robert also owned a repair garage with his brother in the 90s with whom he restored older cars, before joining Glass’s in 2006.