Making a new classic

I’m currently reading Wally Olin’s ‘On Brand’ book (kindly leant to me by Tom Cornfoot – you’ll get it back soon Tom, promise) and as a car and brand geek I have thoroughly enjoyed the chapter on the origins of Volkswagen. Olin explains that over time, the Beetle went from a utilitarian vehicle to a very desirable brand – almost without the effort of a marketing department – in fact, it was to their dismay that it was nicknamed the Beetle! Over the decades, the original shaped Beetle was reinvented from the Flower Power 60’s to Herbie Rides Again and today has become not only a design classic, but also a valuable brand.

As is often the case with valuable brands, they are reinvented to keep sales up. This could be a mild facelift or technical upgrade a-la iPhone, but the most extreme form is when the original shape and attributes are changed completely, resulting in products such as the New Beetle and the New BMW Mini. In fact, this week Land Rover announced a new Defender, replacing a 75 year old classic design in the process. It’s already been criticised by ‘Land Rover World’ via the Independent but it’s too soon to tell if it will be a high seller or not. Rather than critique it, I thought I’d share some classic automotive model brands that have been remade below. In almost all cases, I’d love to own the original, but I know it isn’t feasible and therefore would quite happily buy into the new one for the brand I’d be seen carrying.

Think about it, if someone offered you a new MINI or an old MINI, which one would you take? Me personally, I’d love to take the classic for a spin, but I wouldn’t be comfortable on motorways, fully loaded, trundling around country lanes on such a short wheelbase. The new one has nice comfortable seats, airbags and will probably pass an MOT more easily.

And that’s why reinventions are so great when they are executed well. Rather than try to remake the original, the key is in identifying the brand attributes and creating something contemporary that embodies those. VW’s new Beetle was seen as a flop by many, but the quirky looks and the flower on the dashboard was true to the ‘Beetle’ brand – a bit different, a bit ugly (subjective) but very cute. The new Mini is stylish like the original brand and has the same layout and many of the original features (the bonnet stripes, the grill foglights), but this time it rates higher in the NCAP scoring.

Time will tell if the new Land Rover Defender is a successful recreation. If it’s true to the original brand values of solid, reliable and rugid then it will do well. If it’s not, then it won’t. It’s got a lot to live up to with that badge on the back – sadly it doesn’t matter if it’s a good car in its own merit or not.

The Beetle – relaunched in 1998

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The Mini – relaunched in 2001

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Fiat 500 – relaunched in 2007

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