Ten Cars We Want Back

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 Continental

GONE 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 1800

GONE 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 Bronco

GONE 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 Prelude

GONE 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 Microbus

GONE 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.

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RickJamesMemphis
YES!! Bring the Prelude back!!
WaterBuffaloBill
You hit the nail on the head with the Riviera Redux - but picked the wrong year. while Bill Mitchell's Sixties design was cool for its time, my 1995 Riv is much more contemporary and still looks good today. The 95-98 cars are a designing masterpiece in my eyes. It's also surprisingly good handling for such a large car (ask the guy in the 5 eries BMW on the exit ramp that was riding my tail until the turns came a few days ago). It still gets 29 MPG on the highway too! The only thing it lacks is a 6 speed manual and RWD to make it perfect. Stick with a 3/4 scale version with a supercharged V6 on the Camaro platform, and you'd have a real winner. I'd love to see an AMC AMX revival too by the way. Maybe give it to the JEEP division (hey, JEEP was part of AMC, right?).
USARMP
Well Chrysler needs to first release AMC so that we can get the last of the great muscle cars back...The AMC Javelin. Not to mention that it is a good time for the United States to have a brand which sells (nearly) all all-wheel drive cars such as the late Eagle SX4 and Spirit (With AMX models available of course). Another for GM to bring back would be the Fiero...A Mid engined car with a lot of potential, the old SE model could become a hybrid, great for young business people commuting, then the GT could come back for the more performance oriented.GM should also bring the Astra back to American shores, as GM needs a good hatchback to compete against the Ford Focus and VW GTI.Finally, all companies need to have manual transmissions available on all trim levels.I hope I'm not being too unrealistic in my desires.
JUSTWINGINGIT
I'd have to say that a close modern day reiteration of the 1987 Buick Grand National or GNX would be fantastic! Just saw one rolling down the road the other day and i have to say that considering it's age it's still easy on the eyes and how great would Buick's six cylinder be today both showroom version and of course the inevitable super tuner versions. I also have to agree with the earlier comments regarding the honda CRX,Honda really should have offered a hybrid only model and the peppier CRX model not the all in one combo they tried to pass off as the best of both worlds.
ssco00
The Probe GT may not be on this list, but a dark metallic red 1994 model is in my garage. It still goes around intersections like a slot car. That said, by far the best driving car I have ever owed was the 1986 Merkur XR4Ti. It is the only car I have ever had that actually communicated with you and let you know just what it was doing. It also had an endearing feature I have experienced only on a couple other German cars. At a higher speed, 85mph for the Merkur, it hunkered down to the road and became super stable, even in a gusting cross wind, going just where it was pointed.I am sure no American manufacturer will ever make such as product. The best we can hope for is for one to import a car as Ford did with the Merkur. The problem is that Americans do not appreciate such vehicles and don't buy them when available. Most of the cars people speak of so longingly were really terrible vehicles.
abutcher
Buick Riviera has been gone since 1999, not 1974. The 4th generation 1974 model was built until 1976.
slideman12
I really want my '64 Pontiac Tempest back. It was a special ordered four door, with bucket seats (unheard of in those days), a four speed hurst stick on the floor, and a 326 V8. Fantastic ride. Would love to have it back, new today.
racerpgt
There must be some mistake. The Ford Probe GT isn't on this list.
JohnAshman
I suggest two others aside from the Microbus for VW.1. A new Karmann Ghia. Call it a "G2" since Ford owns the name. 2. A new Thing or "T2". Jeep needs some competition and there's just something super cool about that design. Another car, more boring, would be the Dodge Colt/Mitsubish whatever it was. A tiny minivan well ahead of its time. And imagine a new Microbus as a hybrid with a small engine in back, just like the original and the whole bread box design, mainly as a city commuter or even taxi. Not as safe as having a big engine in front of you, but for city use, it's cool.
johnweythek
My prelude is STILL exhilerating at 20 years and 240k miles. ALL revs and old school, kick in the pants, VTEC! 200hp and a limited slip give you fun for miles at 25mpg even with its age and my aggressive driving. It's all fun then it's a little understeer to tell you to back off the fun pedal a bit. Beautifully balanced. When it was introduced it beat all other new production cars of that year in the slalom. It's city driving at its sportiest and most practical.I also agree with Daye about the CRX, i was SURE my next car would be a CRZ until they said it was a hybrid. so sad.
JohnSmithNot1882
Chevrolet Cobalt SS Turbo Charged Model.260 HP/ 260 lb-ft with an incredible suspension for only $25,0000 when equipped. When tested by Car and Driver, it out performed cars costing more than $10,000 more.
Daye
Honda needs to bring back the CRX even more than it needs to bring back the Prelude. Honda should never have killed it off. It was and still is an icon. An unmistakable, funky, and fun little car that could bring a smile to your face.
American_n_Proud
Lincoln really does need a real Continental and while they are at Lincoln could use a new (style aware) Mark VII.

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