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RETRO BY ANY OTHER NAME

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Apr 5, 2001

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

RETRO BY ANY OTHER NAME

By ROY NAKANO

Ford's Forty-Nine concept car: Is it heritage or retro?

A group of journalists have gathered to hear one of the prominent figures of automotive design voice his opinion about car design. Against the backdrop of talk about Z8s, New Beetles, and Minis, the question comes from the floor, "What are your thoughts on the retro styling movement?" The speaker politely responds by saying what design gurus have been repeating in mantra-like fashion. In effect: "When we work on a car, we really don't think about retro, we just think about heritage."

A journalist turns to me with a finger-in-mouth motion. After the presentation, he's more vocal. "If I hear one more designer say it's heritage and not retro, I'm gonna spew chunks. There is no friggin' difference between the two."

The new Mini: Heritage, not retro.

What is it about this term retro that designers find so disconcerting? Is there really a difference between retro and heritage, or is this a new form of political correctness propagated by design schools? Here's what Webster's Design Dictionary (circa 2000) states:

Retro- (ret'ro) Latin retro, backward, behind.  

Heritage (her'e-tij) n. Something other than property passed down from preceding generations; legacy; tradition.

The new Mini's 'heritage' interior

Ah, therein lies the rub. No one wants to go backward, least of all designers interested in job security. We want to move forward. The term heritage allows that to happen. With heritage, one can move forward into the future, while honoring tradition from the past. Webster's Design Dictionary (circa 2001) - Nutshell Edition:

Retro- (ret'ro) Latin retro, bad

Heritage (her'e-tij) n. good

But is heritage always good? Here is an example of a vehicle where the designers emphasized a forward-thinking sport utility vision, but which honors the heritage of body cladding and hood nostrils from the brand's past:

Okay, now we know there is good heritage and bad heritage. Is there an example of good retro? Nissan made a few cars back in the 1980s that were retro by anyone's definition. While some designers may disagree, IMHO, it would be refreshing to see some cars like the Nissan Figaro here in the USA.   So, it appears there is a difference between retro and heritage. Designers may prefer to talk about heritage over retro, but we know that going heritage does not assure a good design any more than going retro assures a bad design. In the end, only one thing counts: Is it a good design?

 The new T-bird: Don't even think about using the term 'retro'

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