Almost everyone has fond memories of their first cars, or the cars of their childhood. Usually, these hulks are remembered as being better than they really were. If memory serves you right, they were faster, better built, or more beautiful than anything on the road today. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and nobody knows that better than car companies, who are constantly looking for new ways to sell that feeling to customers. It’s one of the reasons why the Mazda Miata is so successful. Ditto with the Volkswagen New Beetle in the 1990s, and the Ford Mustangs of the last decade or so.
But catching lightning in a bottle like this is incredibly rare, and there’s never been a proven formula for it. Many automakers (especially about a decade ago) tried their hand at retro-styled cars, and most have failed, sometimes with spectacular results – just look at the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevy HHR.
But it’s especially dangerous when automakers attempt to revive some of their most iconic designs and nameplates for new these new models. Not only will a sales flop look bad for the company, but it has the potential to tarnish the legacy of a classic model too. With that in mind, here are six recent classic revivals that if they’re remembered at all, it probably won’t be with nostalgia.
1. 2002-2005 Ford Thunderbird
The 1955-’57 Thunderbird roadster was a considered one of the most gorgeous cars of its day, and has gone on become an icon of American of mid-century design. After growing into a four-seat coupe for ’58, and soldiering on until 1997, Ford tried a retro-styled reboot of the T-Bird roadster for 2002. After strong sales in its first year, interest dropped off after buyers realized that its high price and sluggish performance didn’t do it many favors, and its polarizing styling failed to win over many buyers who weren’t die-hard Ford fans. The 21st century T-Bird was discontinued after just three model years, and it hasn’t exactly aged well in the decade since.
2. 2003-2006 Chevrolet SSR
When Chevy’s Advance Design trucks debuted in 1947, they were one of the most modern trucks in the world. By the time they were replaced in 1955, their upright grille and raked windshield had become automotive icons. In 2003, Chevy wanted to cash in on the retro car craze and update the Advance Design styling language, but instead of applying it to their trucks, they built a pickup with a small covered bed, and a retractable hardtop on a TrailBlazer SUV platform. It may have had the 390 horsepower V8 from the C6 Corvette, but the only thing this awkwardly styled and expensive (prices started at $42,000) truck did well was keep buyers away. The SSR disappeared after the 2006 model year, but it remains one of the strangest cars to come from pre-bankruptcy era GM.
3. 2008-present Ferrari California T
Built from 1953 to 1964, The Ferrari 250 GT is universally thought of as one of the most beautiful cars ever built. In 1957, designer Scaglietti designed a gorgeous version for the American market known as the California Spyder, which is best known today for its role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In 2008, Ferrari resurrected the iconic name for a comfortable $200,000 daily driver designed to attract new buyers to the brand. The current California is by no means a bad car, but it’s not exactly the jaw-dropping beauty with race-tested underpinnings its namesake was. This year, an unrestored 1961 California Spyder sold for a staggering $18.5 million at auction. Don’t expect the 21st century California to command that kind of money for a long, long time.
4. 1997-present Chevrolet Malibu
Introduced in 1964, the original Chevy Malibu was a midsize family sedan that served as a base for everything from the iconic Chevelle SS to the El Camino. It was a bona-fide muscle-car in the ’60s, a NASCAR champion in the ’70s, a slab-sided drag car of choice in the ’80s, and… one of the worst cars ever since. Since its reintroduction in 1997, the Malibu has become the stand-in for the generic American sedan, something that is dirt cheap to buy and maintain, but is characterless and absolutely dreadful to drive. Its 2009 redesign was a rare bright spot before it was subjected in 2013 to one of the most bungled facelifts of the decade. An all-new 2016 model is on the way; let’s hope it isn’t doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past two decades.
5. 2000-2002 Qvale Mangusta
In 1967, the DeTomaso Mangusta was a mid-engined Ford V8-powered Italian supercar that captivated the automotive press and became the daily driver of GM Vice President Bill Mitchell – who promptly had the Ford engine replaced with a small block Chevy. By the late ’90s, a new Mangusta was in the works to be built with Ford mechanicals, but the project was beset with a number of woes, the biggest being DeTomaso pulling out of the project, leaving investors in the lurch. The Mangusta ended up seeing production, albeit as a Qvale, an American-backed company that was founded by a family of auto importers. Unfortunately, its bizarre styling, unusual name, and confusing backstory sealed the next-generation Mangusta’s fate, and it disappeared out after just 284 cars were built.
6. 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO
Most of the cars on this list failed by overdoing it on the retro styling, but the 2004-’06 GTO failed because it completely ignored the rich history of Pontiac’s most iconic nameplate. With its available 6.0 liter 400 horsepower V8, it was plenty fast, but its dumpy styling was almost identical to the Australian Holden Monaro it was based on. Few buyers could justify spending over $35,000 on a boring looking car that could be easily mistaken for a Pontiac Grand Prix, and the next-gen GTO was history by 2006. Pontiac followed suit and disappeared after the 2010 model year.