Magazine article Management Today

Dragging Up Nostalgia

Magazine article Management Today

Dragging Up Nostalgia

Article excerpt

When do civilisations begin to ape themselves? In ancient Greece it was two centuries after the peak when Hellenistic sculptors did mannered derivatives of austerely beautiful classical statuary. Now the loop is shorter: about 50 or 60 years. It's clear that, as manufacturers search for a point of difference in a tired and over-supplied global market, a significant trend in car design is the selfconscious revival of the past.

First there was Volkswagen's Beetle. The man responsible for that phenomenon, J Mays, is now vice-president of design at Ford. Soon we will be able to buy a Thunderbird that evokes the original (fun fun fun) T'bird of 1955. BMW will soon be selling a Mini whose commercial credibility depends on the public's affection for a car first manufactured in Birmingham in 1959. And so it goes on: Nissan made a big hit at the recent US auto show in Los Angeles by promising to reincarnate its classic '60s sportscar, the two forty zee. Right now, you can buy a Chrysler PT Cruiser, a more-or-less conscious take on Carl Breer's glorious Airflow of 1935.

Hmmmm. There's a big question mark over the PT ('Personal Transport'). I am not sure how much cuteness the customer can take. In my case, not much. The PT threatens to cover the standing quarter mile between 'Gosh! Isn't that brave and interesting' to 'Eek! How toecurlingly embarrassing!' in very short order. I drove one of the first on the roads, and it turned heads even in sophisticated Chelsea. The novelty value was enjoyable, but when you feel the need to explain that it's not my own car, it's on loan honest', Detroit. we have a problem. Nothing dates like novelty.

The PT is brassy or, rather, chromy. That huge openwork grille, the explicit mudguards, the stance that derives some of its apparent nose-down attitude from the rites of drag-racing or hot-rodding down California strips: these are all powerful motifs, but, handled with less finesse than the exquisitely judged Volkswagen second coming, the effect is to clamour for attention rather than excite historical reference. People will get bored with the look of the PT.

It is in other ways not a bad car. The '30s architecture provides an enormous cabin, so driver and passengers enjoy an unusual sit-up-and-beg attitude: up front there are real armchairs and it is spacious and comfortable. …

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