What’s the Deal with Retro ‘Vettes?

There is a famous expression that “everything old is new again.” It seems like there are plenty of examples in today’s world of new things designed to look, feel, or sound like old things. Let me give you some examples.

Many digital cameras and mobile phones will play a pre-recorded “shutter click” sound when you take a picture, even though the device does not have a mechanical shutter. If you’ve been to a casino in the last decade, you may have noticed that the slot machines play a sound of coins dropping into a tray, even though the payouts are electronic.

Have you noticed that virtually every bottle of maple syrup sold today has a tiny, useless “handle?” It’s purely a decoration, a throwback to the days when syrup actually came in jugs. Its purpose is the same principle as people who attach non-functional shutters to the outside of their house, or compact fluorescent/LED light bulbs shaped like incandescent bulbs. From Instagram photos to simulated woodgrain, our lives are full of “new” things trying to emulate the look and feel of something old.

There is a name for these things: they are called skeuomorphs. Like everything else, the automotive world is not immune to the skeuomorph. I have noticed that for some reason, people just love to take new Corvettes and make them look like old Corvettes. I just don’t understand this practice.Take a look at this car. At first glance it looks like a 1958 Corvette. But look closer at the door handle, the side mirror, and the wheels and you can see that this car isn’t what it appears to be. In fact, it is a C5 Corvette that’s been re-bodied to look like an older model.

There are a lot of companies out there doing these conversions. One of them is Classic Reflection Coachworks out of Lakewood, Washington. I saw a couple of their cars out at the Scottsdale Pavilions car show back in October 2006. All of their cars are based on C5 convertibles.

Another builder of these retro ‘Vettes is Advanced Automotive Technologies of Rochester Hills, MI. I crossed paths with their replica of a 1953 Corvette at the Scottsdale Pavilions back in January of 2008. This same exact car sold for $72,600 at Barrett-Jackson 2013.

Here’s another example of a retro ‘Vette from an unknown builder. From the outside, it appears to be a C2 Corvette Convertible (1963-1967), but the interior tells the whole truth: it’s really a C5 Convertible.

Finally, we have the king of the retro ‘Vette scene: this 1963 Corvette split window replica by Karl Kustom Corvettes of Des Moines, Iowa. Built on the C6 chassis, my fellow editors and I discovered this flawless red coupe parked at Barrett-Jackson 2013.

I am a huge Corvette fan, but I’m just not into any of these retro-themed rides. I can completely understand taking an older car and swapping in a newer motor. The benefits of a more powerful, more reliable, and more efficient modern engine are not lost on me. But rebodying a new car to make it look older is just plain silly.

Look, from the very beginning, the Corvette was always a highly advanced car. It showcased the latest technologies from its fiberglass body to its fuel-injected engine. With each successive generation, the Corvette has retained its heritage while becoming more technically advanced. The latest C7 makes extensive use of carbon fiber and aluminum, and it features a brand new direct-injected engine.

Imagine if the designers of the very first Corvette had attempted to make a car that was inspired by the look of cars from 50 years ago¬†back then – it would have been a disaster! So why do people think that in today’s times, it’s a good idea to make new cars “inspired” by designs from 50 years ago? To do so defies the high-tech, forward-looking nature of the Corvette.