RAC Cars News


Top 10 Recent Retro Recreations

By raccars Published

Fiat has rolled out a new 500 city car just in time for the new 65-plate registration change this September. Dealers are taking orders for the new car now, which offers a host of features over the current model including a clever online infotainment stereo system.

Bet you’re struggling to split it from the old car though – if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, it’s the retro looks. That’s because retro sells: Fiat’s 500 is a regular top-10 best-seller in the UK and you don’t mess with such a recipe of success.

Indeed, it’s one other manufacturers have smartly cottoned on to: here we run through some other retro-look new cars you can pick up in the classifieds – and also list some cars that are naturally retro, because they’ve been around so long in their original form…

Volkswagen Beetle

The original retro recreation, Volkswagen introduced the ‘New Beetle’ back in 1999. It was the production version of the Concept One that wowed the world at motor shows in the mid-1990s and, although the production version wasn’t quite as crisp-edged, buyers still took to it.

Volkswagen later added a Cabriolet that is even more retro-look: the roof is housed tent-like outside the car when down. It lived on a long time but Volkswagen did eventually replaced with a ‘new’ Beetle – but although this 2011-on car is crisper and more amply proportioned, it’s still clearly a Beetle.


The MINI was born following the success of the retro Beetle in 2001. Bringing the long-running 1959 original bang up to date, it was a lot larger than the multi-million-selling icon, but still small compared to most other cars. Like the Beetle, parent company BMW later launched a Cabriolet complete with pram-like fabric roof – but also, when the ‘new’ (and similar-look) second-generation New MINI was launched in 2006, tried to broaden the range into other models, with less success.

In 2015, we have a third generation ‘New MINI’ that again is closely aligned to the 2001 original – the giveaway is the much bigger rear lights. The latest car is the best yet though, with a tech-packed interior that’s now finally large enough to be a genuine supermini alternative, plus the first-ever five-door MINI to rival the Ford Fiesta. A perfect example of retro evolution done well.

Abarth 500

Abarth is an Italian racing team brand that used to tune up original Fiat 500s in the 1960s. It’s a name with loads of heritage, something that Fiat capitalised on from 2008 with Abarth versions of the new 500.

Fitted with racy turbocharged engines from other models in the Fiat range, their large wheels, sports suspension, voluminous bodykits and well-detailed interiors make them great budget hot hatch alternatives to the likes of Suzuki’s Swift and, indeed, the MINI Cooper. Just don’t get carried away – the racy range of aftermarket options can see you easily spending thousands more…

Fiat 500C

We had to include the Fiat 500C here, as it’s among the best-selling open-top cars in the UK. It’s not quite a full soft-top: instead, it has a massive fold-back canvass roof that provides the next-best thing for much less expense.

Using the same eco petrol and diesel engines as the regular Fiat 500, our money’s on the 0.9-litre TwinAir. It has only two cylinders, so the engine note is unusual, but a turbocharger means it’s punchy and low emissions mean cheap tax and good economy.

Morgan 3-Wheeler

Morgan really did go back to its roots with the three-wheel 3-Wheeler. With two wheels up front and a single one at the rear, it’s totally unique and unlike any other production car.

It may look like a period machine but the design’s all new and the motorbike-sourced engine is factory-fresh. Don’t expect modern creature comforts though: the retro element extends to exposure to the elements…

Lotus Elise

There are other cars that are retro simply because of the time they’ve been on sale. Lotus would argue its Elise doesn’t really deserve to be here, but it has been on sale since 1996, so will reach its second decade next year.

There has been a facelift along the way, and Toyota engines replaced the original Rover ones, but today’s cars really are just as satisfying the brilliant, groundbreaking original. It’s a great retro buy from less than £10,000.

Caterham Seven

Another period Lotus, the Caterham Seven is directly related to the 1950s Lotus Seven – Caterham actually bought the production line from the famous brand in the early 1970s.

It’s not changed the car much at all in that time: it may not be the biggest or most comfortable of cars, but there are few machines on the road that can offer the same directness and fun-to-drive effervescence of a Caterham.

Morgan Classic range

Morgan’s classic models also date back to the 1950s – they even still use the wooden chassis design that’s made by hand at the factory in Malvern.

Driving them is an experience in itself – the design may be classic but engines and power outputs are thoroughly modern – but for the genuine classic experience, there’s nothing quite like it.

Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen

Mercedes-Benz has been building the G-Wagen since the late 70s. Today called G-Class, it’s offered in a regular diesel or bonkers AMG version, and both are extremely expensive for what’s a decades-old machine.

It’s so pricey because it’s virtually hand-built to impeccable standards, and has truly staggering off-road ability. Sporting a vast array of Merc tech despite its age, it’s a tough-looking, intriguing blend of classic and modern.

Land Rover Defender

The original and best off-roader? Jeep would have something to say about the former, but the Defender still dates back to 1948 and remains in production for another few months yet.

Don’t expect it to be like a Discovery to drive – and, thanks to all its tech, a new Range Rover is also now better than it off-road – but there are still few cars cooler than the Defender. Buy it while you can… or save money buying a used one safe in the knowledge it’s little different to the brand new ones!

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