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Open Diff: What vehicles would you like to see reborn?

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Chevrolet’s LUV compact pickup, sold here from 1972-’82. Photo courtesy Worldwide Auctions.

Judging from the interest in the upcoming Ford Bronco, the Dearborn automaker is onto something. Early Broncos, in both stock and restomod form, are on fire at the moment, and Ford is poised to capitalize on this when the model is reborn in spring 2020 (assuming, of course, the final product lives up to the hype).

Borrowing from the back catalog is hardly a new idea, but as automakers have learned, recapturing lightning in a bottle is a tricky thing to do. The reborn 2002 Ford Thunderbird, for example, ticked all the right nostalgia boxes, but offered up little else to buyers. It wasn’t powerful or nimble enough to be a sports car, it wasn’t practical enough to be a daily driver, and parts bin pilferage kept the car from feeling particularly special or upscale. Ford’s last Thunderbird experiment ended in 2005, after just four model years.

Toyota tried the same thing with its FJ Cruiser SUV, a nod to the storied FJ series Land Cruisers. Like its namesake predecessor, the FJ Cruiser featured retro boxy styling and a rectangular grille with round headlamps, along with a spartan (and easy-to-clean) interior. Also like the FJ Land Cruiser, the modern remake had serious off-road chops, but for mainstream buyers the harsh ride and lack of amenities (coupled, perhaps, with marginal outward visibility, courtesy of a massive B-pillar) limited its appeal. Sales peaked in 2006, the FJ Cruiser’s first year on the market, and after a nine-year run, Toyota pulled the plug on North American sales of the model after 2014.

Living in Vermont, we’d love to see more affordable, performance-oriented all-wheel drive hatchbacks and sedans, along the lines of the first-gen Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX/ Eagle Talon TSi or Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, which offered a unique blend of performance, comfort, and practicality. We’ve got nothing against the Subaru WRX, but we’d love it if the model were broader in focus and didn’t have a monopoly on the segment.

And then there are trucks to consider. The new midsize Ford Ranger is a step in the right direction, but we’d prefer a pickup that’s even smaller, simpler and cheaper. Remember the old Isuzu 4x4s, which sold new in stripped form for around $10k in the mid-’90s? Something like that (which, ironically, was proposed by India’s Mahindra a few years back, before it failed to obtain EPA certification on its engines) would be ideal, especially if it came in rear-drive too. How about a new Chevy LUV/Ford Courier, with a hybrid drivetrain to boost capability (and appeal to a broader audience)?

While we’re at it, we say bring back a car like the Volkswagen Beetle, too. Something with a modular platform that can easily accept multiple body styles, perhaps renewing a long-dead segment of the aftermarket. Something affordable, with strong third-party support for personalization and increased performance. A car that’s reliable, but easy to repair when something does break. One that teaches the merits of carrying momentum into a corner, and shows that driving – and turning wrenches – can be an enjoyable way to spend time.

What vehicles would you like to see make a comeback, and why?