By Alan Paradise
As an avid automotive enthusiast, I watch with much interest the current trends in new car design and technology. This observance of the marketplace has revealed two major trends: luxury SUVs and retro-styled cars. Since 1996, both of these categories have accelerated in models offered and units sold.
The SUV market is utilitarian (another word for boring). The retro phenomenon is quite another story. The fad-turned-trend started in 1989 when Mazda introduced the Miata, a reincarnated combination of the MGB and Lotus Elan. The positive response led to rumors that MG would return to the U.S. market. The Miata also spawned a number of European and Japanese rivals.
Over the past few years, auto enthusiasts have been courted with the Plymouth Prowler, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Thunderbird, and Mini Cooper. What I read from this retro activity is that the auto industry is desperately trying to add heart and soul to an otherwise appliance-based lineup.
The inspiration for this marketing quest is purely British. What has been discovered is that the heart and soul of an MG, Triumph, Austin, or Lotus can be easily advertised, but is much harder to deliver. A personal example of this was presented to me this past summer. While photographing a pair of sports cars for an article on convertible trends for an associated publication (a vintage MG and a new Honda S2000), the differences between the two cars were night and day. The Honda was quicker, handled better, more comfortable, more reliable, had power-up windows, a sound system, climate controls, and many features. It was, for all practical purposes, a far superior car—with one exception: emotion. Don’t get me wrong—the Honda is an excellent sports car. However, when asked which of the two cars I would like to have in my collection, I would opt for the MG without hesitation or second thoughts.
The MG has a character and personality not found in the Honda. It has a soul that was installed by assembly completed by actual people, not robotics. It was carefully drafted with lead and paper rather than computer-generated and digitally analyzed. The car was constructed for the joy of driving, not necessarily the comfort of commuting.
The inner spirit of the old MG carries through to the final MGB imported to the U.S. The same holds true for the Triumph and Austin-Healey lines. An abundance of heart and soul in each car.
Modern sports cars have generated renewed interest in affordable British cars. At a number of recent events, the number of MGBs, Midgets, Spitfires, TR4s, TR6s, and Bugeyes had increased over previous years. The once-common cars of the British automotive scene have gained tremendous favor.
However, there is one fly in the ointment that needs to be addressed: youth involvement. The British car market has gotten to be a gray-haired interest. This is not a bad thing, mind you (as I have a bit of snow on my mane). It does, however, create a mounting problem. Without the next generation of enthusiasts to follow us, the interest and value of our beloved cars will begin to erode. Therefore, it is vital we become British motorcar mentors. If you are a member of a local or regional club, coordinate with the auto shop class of a nearby high school and take a few sessions to discuss the heritage of British automobiles with the students. Get out and participate in non-British car events. Be an ambassador for the cause.
Developing younger enthusiasts will help ensure the longevity of our sport. Plus, it’s a great way to influence both current and future automotive trends.