In 2002, right around the very peak of Mini revival mania, I walked into a suburban Chicago Mini dealership. It was more out of curiosity than anything else; I hadn't seen the new Mini up close, and I suppose I had some idle curiosity in just how difficult it would be to get one. Theoretically, of course. No plan to actually spend any money. Truly, I swear.
I ended up buying one on the spot.
The salesman didn't have any unsold cars out on the lot, and his order backlog was several months out. But as luck would have it, someone had abandoned their deposit earlier in the week on the only car in the showroom, a yellow Cooper S with black racing stripes and a six-speed. Clearly, it was meant to be.
I've owned some great cars over the years, but at no point before or since that Mini have I felt like I was riding the very crest of a wave of hype. That car was a freaking phenomenon. It was impossible to drive it without being honked at by smiling, waving travelers. At gas stations, my little bumblebee was practically a one-car auto show.
We're drawn to the idea of the resurrection of old automotive icons
The first "new" Mini came out at the peak of the auto industry's retro craze, a couple years after Volkswagen's pivotal New Beetle and a few years before the reimagined Fiat 500. (In between, we also had products like the Toyota FJ Cruiser, the Ford Thunderbird, the rebirth of American muscle, and the BMW Z8, a throwback to the iconic 507 roadster.) Like a movie remake or the inexplicable return of Crystal Pepsi, we're drawn to the idea of the resurrection of old automotive icons. We can't help ourselves. Why should we? If a car was revered before, it can be even better with the benefit of state-of-the-art technology, materials, and manufacturing processes.
In practice, this logic pays off with mixed results. My Mini, for instance, was beset with electric gremlins — like a turn signal that would only engage when it was in the mood. And then there are uninspired messes like the 2002 Thunderbird, which Ford wanted to happen so badly that it had tasked it to J Mays, the lead designer on the Volkswagen Concept One project a decade prior that heralded the New Beetle.
Basically no one bought the new Thunderbird, and it was discontinued after just four model years. Contrast that with the rip-roading success of the new Mini, which is now in its third generation and enjoys an ever-expanding lineup, or the modern Beetle, which has been rolling off Volkswagen's assembly lines for nearly 20 years.
But now, Autoline reports that the Beetle will ride off into the sunset for a second time in 2018, thanks to a focus on the extremely popular crossover segment. (It also probably has to do with the extraordinary expenses Volkswagen will incur over Dieselgate, if I had to guess.)
I think that's okay. In fact, I think it's exactly what the Beetle needs.
Me doing dumb things in my Mini Cooper S, circa January 2004.
Like any good thing, I think we only truly appreciate a great car when it's gone. It's why every retro revival is met with a swirl of hype. It's also why I couldn't drive that Mini back in '03 without being swarmed, and it's why no one really cares about the Beetle today. It's not new anymore. It's still an icon, of course — it's a Beetle, it always will be — but it's essentially the same icon you've been seeing on the road en masse for a couple decades.
We should be more liberal about letting our favorite cars die, so that they may be reborn
We should be more liberal about letting our favorite cars die, so that they may be reborn. If you're reveling in the two-year buildup to the launch of the new Ford GT, there's a reason: it's because we haven't seen a Ford supercar since the last GT, a decade ago, which was in turn a remake of the iconic GT40 of the 1960s. That absence made our heart grow fonder. If the GT had spent the last 10 years in Ford dealerships, evolving, gradually getting better over time, we wouldn't care about it.
Okay, yes, we'd care about it. But not on this level. Nowhere close.
Let's kill the Beetle, and let's joyfully revisit it in 2028. Maybe there will come a time when the Camaro has to go on extended vacation again, too — it sure worked wonders last time! And the Dodge Challenger, the Fiat 500, the half-dozen flavors of the Mini, the list goes on. Kill 'em all. They'll be back some day, better than ever.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go catch up on some VW Microbus rumors.