For all the bashing the Volkswagen New Beetle, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevrolet HHR, and other retro cars get, it's important to note that retro is a pretty new force in car design. Sure, vehicles have long paid homage to old nameplates and styling cues, but deliberately clothing a new vehicle in a throwback form was formerly the business model of neo-classic conversion companies.
When big manufacturers waded into the genre with the help of their design studios, engineers, test facilities, and modern technology, what we got as "retro" in return is almost exactly what you'd expect from a retro-styled fridge: modern convenience and throwback looks.
I'm a fan. I drive a retro-styled car. The Fiat 500 Abarth may have Bluetooth and a warranty and look like a fat version of its tiny ancestor, but it also reminds me of some retro cars that were shown and never put into production, like the Renault Fiftie.
If you think about how the automotive industry has changed since this concept was first shown in 1996, you'll quickly note that the Fiftie probably would have been successful. Unveiled two years after the Volkswagen Concept 1, which would morph into the New Beetle, the Fiftie was designed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the start of 4CV production.
Under Patrick Le Quément's leadership, designer Benoit Jacob penned what we now refer to as a premium small city car. Packed with expensive detailing, a beautiful interior, and roll-back top, the Fiftie concept would have been a halo car of sorts for the company's passenger car range.
As it turns out, Jacob would later move to BMW and be responsible for the i3 electric car's looks.
A working prototype, Fiftie is weirdly (and interestingly) based on the chassis of the Renault Sport Spider to ape the earlier 4CV's rear-engine layout. Powered by a 1.2-litre 4-cylinder engine with 60 horsepower that would eventually make its way into the Twingo city car, it's not exactly built for speed but would have been an ideal city car for drivers in the New Millenium.
Inside, a novel moving dashboard and pedals to make up for the lack of seat adjustment, aluminum trim, and retro styling cues—yes, even linen and rattan!—were used to trim its interior. Other show car details included a multifunction screen and telephone.
Many have pointed out that the original 4CV had four doors and the Fiftie only two, and how the aluminum-intensive Renault Sport Spider chassis would have been extremely expensive to use for a city car.
But hey—isn't the new Renault Twingo now rear-engined and come with four doors? Renault, if you're looking to go retro, this isn't a bad place to start…