It's not surprising that a mid-engined concept stole the 2012 Detroit auto show, but the Acura NSX's appeal was much stronger than the usual draw of a sexy, unattainable exotic. The NSX concept reminds enthusiasts of better days for the troubled Japanese brand. Its low, sleek lines and sophisticated powertrain take us back to the fourteen-year period when the original aluminum-bodied NSX epitomized Acura's (and Honda's) innovative spirit and engineering prowess. Even with the production car three years off, the NSX has already changed how we think of Acura.
Inspired by the NSX's revival, Automobile Magazine editors compiled a list of ten worthy cars that are primed for a comeback. This isn't about nostalgia. These niche vehicles are modern halo cars, capable of casting a glow to elevate the entire brand. They ooze passion by delivering design, performance, capability, or purity of character outside of the mainstream. These are the ten cars we want back.
A Real Lincoln ContinentalGONE SINCE: 1965
WHY IT'S TIME: The Lincoln MKZ concept from this year's Detroit auto show is a sleek, elegant, modern, and well-executed sedan. Whether it's a Lincoln is debatable, because there is little about it that is distinctly and unequivocally American. We've got sleek, elegant, modern, and well-executed sedans from all corners of the globe these days. What Lincoln needs is a Continental with the same sort of presence and unmistakable Americanness that the 1961 suicide-door sedan and four-door convertible possessed. A big, unabashedly bold, rear-wheel-drive flagship sedan that resurrects the Continental badge would announce that Ford's luxury division is prepared to follow its own road rather than chase the Germans, a task best left to Cadillac.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Give us a Lincoln that's sexy and substantial and that from a hundred yards cannot be mistaken for anything other than a Continental.
Volvo 1800GONE SINCE: 1973
WHY IT'S TIME: Recently freed from corporate guardianship, Volvo is clearly feeling its way through a transition phase. The latest concept cars propose a flagship sedan influenced by the clumsy PV444/PV544 of the 1950s and '60s, but there's a far more beautiful Swede from the same era that should inspire Volvo's reinvention.
A sports car in the vein of the 1800 coupe could deliver the same halo that Volvo sought in 1961. Since the design of that car had been farmed out to Italian firm Frua, there was no visual similarity between the 1800 and the family-car mainstays. Rather, Volvo wanted to convince shoppers that the engines in other models were spry enough to power a sports car. That same technique -- shared DNA to elevate the awareness and significance of lesser models -- still works today. With 40,000 sales in twelve years, Volvo's sport coupe was a moderate sales success, but the real measure of the 1800's influence is its legacy that lasts to this day.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A flagship is a fine way to attract the attention of retired hedge-fund managers, but everybody loves a beautiful, swift sports car.
An old-school Ford BroncoGONE SINCE: 1978
WHY IT'S TIME: Of the dozens of SUVs that fill dealer showrooms, none are much like the original Ford Bronco, a small, versatile, utilitarian off-roader that was there at the origin of the species. Launched in 1965, the Bronco was a compact two-door available in three body styles: four-seat "wagon" with a lift-off hard top, two-seat pickup with an open bed, and two- or four-seat "roadster" with an optional soft top. Four-wheel drive was standard, and a straight six supplied the -- modest -- power (a small-block V-8 quickly joined the options list). The Bronco stuck around for more than a decade before it was supplanted by the much larger, O. J. Simpson version. The original, however, remained a favorite of off-road enthusiasts, and today, unmodified examples are snapped up by collectors, who appreciate their rugged simplicity and now-classic style. Now that the Explorer has gone crossover, Ford lacks a true off-roader, opening up an opportunity to bring back the Bronco. Ford obviously has been thinking along the same lines, as it showed a Bronco concept in 2004, which struck us as a skillful reinterpretation of the original; it was even equipped with a four-cylinder turbo-diesel, which would provide decent fuel economy.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With a trail-friendly size and true off-road capability, a new Bronco would ooze authenticity.
Honda PreludeGONE SINCE: 2002
WHY IT'S TIME: A sporty, good-looking two-plus-two-seat coupe at an appealing price, the Prelude was a popular offering from Honda for more than twenty years. Despite its attainability, it also was an effective halo car for Honda, helping to give the brand a fun-to-drive image. Now, after years of turning out highly competent but increasingly uninspiring vehicles, Honda once again could use the image boost of a sporty offering, and the econo-miser CR-Z isn't it. Whether based, like the previous Prelude, on the Accord or on the Civic, a modern Prelude would need to be sporty yet still somewhat practical. The styling would have to be more aggressive than any of Honda's current coupes, but the back seats would need to be sufficient for at least occasional use. Due to its longevity and relatively high profile, Prelude is a name that still resonates, and a modern version could help power Honda out of its doldrums.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Honda lineup could use a dose of sportiness.
Volkswagen MicrobusGONE SINCE: 1980
WHY IT'S TIME: The VW Microbus was a beguiling vehicle. With a top speed of 50 mph, no torque, and no climbing ability when loaded, it nevertheless was capable of serving as both transport and sleeping quarters for cross-county road trips. Most people who've experienced them have very fond memories of the Microbus. VW needs to bring back the Microbus's funky looks and its zillion windows, add 140 hp and four disc brakes, and watch another whole generation have real fun with a car that can't do 200 mph but can get 60 mpg. Today, there's digital electronic media; back then, the Microbus was even more effective as a social connector, and it is unmatched by any car since.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The world needs a smaller eight-seat, non-SUV mobile box.