Category: 1990’s

When Did the Nineties Retro Era End? Did It Ever? – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


All eras come to an end, right? The highs and lows of one era might go on to help shape successive eras, but if we can sort out the tangles and messes of history to put a definitive start date on a certain time period, we should be able to mark its conclusion as well.

If so, then just try to pin down the end of the automotive retro design era that started way back in the Nineties.

Pinning down the start of that trend, though not exactly clear cut, is rather simple. While the Concept One/New Beetle gets credit for opening the floodgates, we can trace the beginnings back to the production Miata and the concept Viper in 1989 and, before that, to the 1987 Nissan Be-1 and its pike program brethren. Then, from the late Nineties until the mid-Oughts, it was one heritage-inspired nameplate or body shape or design ethos or concept car after another. You couldn’t swing an automaker executive by his necktie at a car show without him crashing into some sort of retro paint and graphics liveries, retro wheels, retro logos, retro special editions, retro headlamp and taillamp designs, or an actual vintage car trotted out to support the relaunch of its name after 40-something years.

Whatever the retro stuff did for the automakers’ bottom lines, it seemed to have universal appeal. Carmakers around the globe launched their own retro designs and kept mining their back catalogs for material suitable to bring forward a few decades. It became evident that they’d ride the wave as long as they could, despite a chorus of critics growing weary of the trend and wondering if all this retro was just a cover for a bankruptcy of fresh design ideas.

The LX Charger Daytona with a 1969 Daytona at the former’s introduction. Stellantis Media image.

Logically, it would have to come to an end at some point, right? Not all the old designs were icons and trendsetters, so modern designers ultimately had a finite pool of material to draw from. And even if they really committed to replicating older vehicles’ design graduations – as Dodge did with the Charger, for instance – they’d eventually circle back around to the modern designs they had just abandoned.

More than that, the steady march of improving safety standards and increasing fuel mileage requirements made it ever more difficult to incorporate designs from eras in which neither safety nor mileage were much of a concern. Note that dagmars, sparrow strainers, sky-high tailfins, and chrome bumpers never appeared during the retro era; similarly, note that the big round headlamps that pretty much defined any car mimicking its predecessors’ sealed-beams eventually gave way to today’s squinty angry headlamps with far less frontal surface area.

2013 Chevrolet Camaro RS. GM Media photo

So with logic and legislation poised against the permanence of retro design, exactly what was its sell-by date? That all depends on how we characterize the end of an era. Did it come with introduction of the last retro vehicle? If so, then it’d be sometime in the late Oughts when the Chevrolet HHR (2006), Fiat 500 (2007), Dodge Challenger (2008), and the fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro (2010) all debuted.

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The Fox-body Ford Mustang is the best blank canvas pony car | Buyer’s Guide – @Hagerty


Hagerty’s Editor-at-Large Sam Smith takes a look at the Fox-body Ford Mustang and offers a general overview of the highly affordable but highly variable third-generation pony car. With an easy-to-modify structure, Sam not only covers the pluses and minuses of the Mustang’s massive aftermarket, but also the nuances of owning, buying, and maintaining this iconic classic.

Episode chapters:

Why are ’90s American sports cars still so affordable? – Andrew Newton @Hagerty


Whether you call them “modern classics,” “youngtimers,” “Radwood cars” or something else, enthusiast automobiles from the late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s are having a moment right now. Over the last few years, most enthusiast cars from that era have made that all-important transition from “used” to truly “collectible.” Of course, how one defines collectible is up for debate. All cars are collectible to some degree, but what we keep an eye out for is when a car stops depreciating and prices start moving up, spurred on by either a large auction sale, demographic shifts in the hobby, changes in the economy, or some other combination of factors.

Clinton-era cars are definitely hot right now, and that makes sense when you look at the market conditions. The folks who took their driving test in the mid-1990s are now in their 40s. The cars themselves are 20-30 years old, and the cruel forces of attrition (rust, wrecks, neglect, etc.) have taken their toll. But most of the headlines and heat in the ’90s car market focus on imports: think six-figure Supras, E30 M3 BMWs, and super low-mile Hondas. Meanwhile, two of the biggest names in the business—Mustang and Corvette, to be specific—plod along at middling prices while their peers from Japan and Germany soar. In the 1990s, both of these home-grown automotive heroes offered big and (relatively) powerful V-8 engines, rear-wheel drive, and the conveniences of modern cars. So why are they still cheap even as Honda Civics sell for $50,000 on Bring a Trailer?

Nothing puts this predicament into high relief quite like values for the #2 (Excellent) condition 1995 Miata ($18,300), which is now worth more than a 1995 Corvette coupe, a car with more than double the horsepower and triple the torque. A Mustang coupe in the same condition costs $11,100, on average. Why has appreciation for nearly every performance car from the ’90s outpaced both America’s sports car and America’s pony car? The answer is a mix of subjective preference and hard production numbers.

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Buyer’s Guide: The plentiful, affordable, 5.0-powered 1987-93 Ford Mustang – Mike McNessor @Hemmings


A new Mustang GT hit the ground galloping in 1982 and Ford shouted its return with the slogan: “The Boss is Back!” Hitching the Boss legend to this new pony made good marketing sense, but the Fox was no retro-themed throwback. It would go on to inspire a new generation of enthusiasts and launch dedicated magazines and websites, as well as become a darling of the aftermarket.

Old-school, American rear-drive performance mounted a comeback in the 1980s, ushered in by cars like the Buick Grand National, the Chevrolet Monte Carlos SS, and the Camaro IROC-Z. But, when new, these vehicles were priced out of reach of many young people on entry-level salaries. Also, the GM contingent offered manual transmissions only as exceptions rather than the rule.

Not so the 5.0. Ford priced the Mustang GT affordably and, beginning in 1983, offered a real-deal Borg-Warner T-5 fives-peed manual transmission. For ’86, Ford dumped the Holley carburetor and made multiport fuel injection plus a roller camshaft standard—exotic parts for a low-dollar production car back then.

While Chevrolet charged a premium for all the good stuff, Ford lowered the price by offering the el-cheapo LX with a 5.0 powertrain. Not only was it less expensive, but the notch-window body style, exclusive to the LX line, was lighter than the hatchback/convertible GT.

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Exploring Chevy’s 1988-’98 pickups as affordable projects – Terry McGean @Hemmings


As the humble pickup truck’s place in American culture steadily evolved from simple-but-valued tool to modern fashion statement, it gained a huge fan base. While admiration grew and trucks aged, restorers began returning some of them to showroom shape.

Meanwhile, hot-rodders and customizers crafted their own interpretations of the classic pickup.

The years rolled on and certain models emerged as favorites, spawning a vast aftermarket blooming with reproduction and upgrade parts and kits. So widespread is this enthusiasm for classic pickups today that values of the most popular models have swelled substantially during the past decade or so. It’s good news if you already have one, but not so great for anyone on the hunt for a budget-friendly alternative to pony cars or muscle machines.

Consider the 1967-’72 Chevrolet trucks, popular from new and long adored by enthusiasts. Today, they’re nearly as sought after as the muscle cars of the same era, and values have followed suit, making them less accessible to the younger builders trying to get into a vintage project.

More recently, the following generation of Chevy trucks— the 1973-’87 “square-body” era—has been following the same trajectory, with values escalating rapidly.So, where does that leave the aspiring young builder on a budget? Or even the seasoned tinkerer looking to start a new project with a casual cash commitment? Fortunately, GM kept right on building pickups, and its next generation proved to be a winner.

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The History of the Jeep Grand Wagoneer – Benjamin Hunting @Motortrend


How the 1984–1991 Grand Wagoneer cast the luxury SUV mould for today’s model.

Although luxury trucks are a key profit center for modern automotive manufacturers, there was a time when only a single brand on the American market was brave enough to make the leap from ski station to valet station. It was the early ’80s when AMC decided to go all-in on an aging platform by transforming its already decades-old Wagoneer into the Grand Wagoneer and open up an entirely new segment for U.S. buyers. The Jeep Grand Wagoneer beat the (still Spartan but nevertheless high-priced) Range Rover to the American market by a handful of years, and while Land Rover was able to outlast its underfunded rival in the long run, as contemporaries there was no question who was first, and in the minds of many sport-utility fans, who also did it better.

Ancient Roots

A bit of backstory first. The original Wagoneer, internally known as the Full-Size Jeep, FSJ, or SJ, debuted in 1963, and would soldier on for decades with only minor mechanical tweaks. The first hints that the truck had the potential to woo an upscale clientele came with the Super Wagoneer, which then Jeep owner Kaiser released in 1966. Packed with luxury gear completely foreign to anything trucklike at the time (power brakes, a high-end radio, tilt steering, power steering), it wasn’t long before the model was commanding nearly three times the average transaction price of an entry-level automobile.

Once AMC purchased Jeep in 1970, the product line coalesced around the more basic Cherokee and its more family-friendly Wagoneer variant. Despite repeated urging from AMC dealers to increase the price point on the latter—due to the surprisingly high household incomes of buyers attracted to the truck’s blend of on-pavement comfort and rugged go-anywhere image—each truck would stay in its lane for the next several year

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Former GM Heritage Center Corvette Donated to Museum

In the late 80s, Chevrolet was not-so-secretly developing what some dubbed a ‘Super Vette.’ But at the 1989 New York Auto Show, it was the debut of the Dodge Viper RT/10, complete with a 488-cid V-10 engine that sent GM engineers on a new path to develop a ‘Viper-Killer.’ Dodge credited the ’65 Shelby 427 Cobra as the inspiration for the Viper, but the model wouldn’t be available until 1992.

By 1990, then Corvette Development Manager, John Heinricy, had three projects for his engineering team to tackle, which would affect future Corvettes:

1) Response to the Viper: The newest Corvette adversary would soon arrive, a car that was light weight, utilized simple technology, but wielded brutal power. Heinricy wanted to study ways to lighten their ZR-1, should Chevrolet need to “skin the snake.”

2) Drop the Pounds: New safety regulations added more weight to the Corvette, which in turn decreased fuel economy. With the gas-guzzler tax looming, GM faced reduced performance to make up the difference, and they couldn’t afford that either. Lightning the weight of the car would improve the speed and efficiency.

3) Ideas and Innovation: A new product would bring the team together and inspire new ideas from the development engineers.

With a common theme flowing between these ideas, it made sense to use the same car for development. A white non-saleable 1989 ZR-1, which had been used in Chevrolet’s 1990 model year media preview, was hand-picked (VIN 00081). It was one of only 84 production ZR-1s built in Bowling Green for evaluation, testing, media preview and photography. No 1989 ZR-1s were released for public sale initially, but several have since found their way into private hands.

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Did the series of Ford Probe concept cars go on to influence the production Ford Probe? – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


They both arose from the same economic factors and in the same general time period. They had some styling similarities, emblematic of that time period. They both relied on collaborations with Ford-adjacent companies. And, of course, they shared the same name. But the series of Ford Probe concept cars came about in pursuit of a far broader objective than just to produce the Ford Probe production car.
By the late Seventies, Don Kopka, an executive stylist at Ford who had designed the 1967 Mustang and (before joining Ford) the 1958 De Soto and who had risen to the executive directorship of Ford’s Advanced and International Design Studio, had taken up Alex Tremulis’ charge and started to focus on making Ford’s products more aerodynamic. His initial efforts at making minor surface changes to the company’s production vehicles resulted in a 1.5-mile-per-gallon boost to the company’s corporate average fuel economy. As he later told Popular Mechanics, traditional engineering tactics would have cost roughly $3 billion to get that sort of result; his approach cost just $10 million.
With that success under his belt, Kopka started to envision a Ford passenger car designed from scratch with aerodynamics as a priority rather than an afterthought. The 1979 energy crisis no doubt helped Kopka get the ear of his colleagues and supervisors, but he also had to prove that an aerodynamically designed car wouldn’t be a mere jellybean and that a fuel-efficient car would have the amenities that a full-size car buyer expected.
Kopka’s Probe I, which debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September of that year, aimed to counter those concerns. Built, essentially, on a Fox-body Mustang platform, it had a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder under the sharply sloped hood. The main attraction, of course, was the sleek body designed and built in collaboration with Ghia that achieved a coefficient of drag of 0.25. The fully finished interior featured an electronic entertainment center and an ignition system ostensibly activated by credit card. Ford claimed the Probe I would’ve been good for 39 miles per gallon, better than what some modern hybrids get.

Impala Production Ends After 62 Years


So after 62 years the celebrated Impala badge will no longer grace the highway, this is another sad example of the change in the mode of transport away from the traditional sedan.

“Just as the Impala evolved over the years, the market has shifted dramatically and demand for sedans has declined and we adjusted to meet customer needs,” Steve Majoros, vice president of Chevrolet marketing, told The Detroit News.

The Impala first debuted in 1958 and ran until 1985 before being reintroduced briefly in the 1990’s then fully returning in 2000.

There is an excellent feature on the Impala over at the GM Heritage Center Website called  “Chevrolet Impala – Something For Everyone” you can find the article here


Ford Taurus SHO: What’s in a Name? – George Kennedy


The Ford Taurus SHO is our kind of car. Plain and simple. Take an otherwise unassuming family sedan, throw a high-revving Yamaha V6 under the hood, mate it to a Mazda-sourced 6-speed manual transmission, and you have the kind of strange that gives us warm fuzzies. But what inspired such a strange decision? The Big Three aren’t always the big risk takers on fun cars, and the performance-sedan game wasn’t really a consideration outside of the M5 and E55 AMG. So what gives? It turns out those glorious-looking engines were never intended for mom’s grocery-getter; they were meant for a mid-engine sports car that never came to be. Well…that’s one take. See, there are conflicting stories as to how this car came about and the true original intention of that sweet Yamaha V6. Before we play whodunit with a cult classic, let us first take a look at the vehicle that actually came to fruition, and what makes it such a beloved car.

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