Volkswagen 1600 1973

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Why they don't make them like they used to

While sales of modern retro cars have hit reverse, a growing number of younger buyers are snapping up original classics

Sales of new vehicles with “retro” looks have hit the brakes – but millennials are driving a resurgence in original classic cars from the 1960s.

Demand for the new generation Ford Mustang, the modern Mini range, and the diminutive Fiat 500 have fallen by more than 30 per cent over the past three years.

The modern version of the iconic Volkswagen Beetle was discontinued in Australia in 2016 after just three years on sale and there is no plan for a replacement.

However, a new generation of buyers are snapping up original classic cars from the 1960s and ’70s.

Kat Hawke, 27, from Sydney’s northern beaches, bought a 1973 VW Beetle last year and shares the car with her boyfriend.

“I think it’s the nostalgia factor,” says Ms Hawke. “We’ve grown up watching our parents show us photos of these things and talking about the 1960s and ’70s … and the carefree lifestyle.”

“Life’s a bit too chaotic now,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what’s going on at work, you can go back to basics, cruise, and be happy. It’s impossible to be unhappy in a Beetle.”

Her bright green bug lacks power steering, air-conditioning and Bluetooth – and there’s only AM radio.

It also lacks modern safety equipment.

“The closest thing you’ll get to an airbag is a paper bag blown up and zip-tied to the dash,” says Ms Hawke. “But the only time I feel unsafe is when people remind me how much safety has improved in modern cars.”

Ms Hawke says she’s too busy threading the Beetle through traffic rather than worry about its flaws.

“People in modern cars tend to forget how to drive around old cars,” she says. “They’re a bit like trucks. You’ve got to give them a bit more braking room, they don’t turn on a dime.”

As for reliability, she says: “Look, they’re old and things go wrong with them, you do have to keep up the maintenance.”

Andrew Macarthur is part of a family business that has run a new-car dealership in the Blue Mountains for 25 years.

But three years ago he and his brother started selling classic cars out of a nearby warehouse in Katoomba and called it 'Sunday Motors' after noticing a shift in the market.

Macarthur says while demand for cars like the new Ford Mustang was driven by baby boomers, a growing number of younger buyers want the original classics.

“There are really two types of buyers, but they’re both looking for the same thing,” says Macarthur. “Some people want a classic vehicle as a second car, to drive on weekends. But we’re also finding that a lot of young people now don’t need a car during the week, they catch public transport, but they want a classic car for the weekend.”

Retiree Joseph Buttigieg, 70, owns both a classic VW Beetle from 1973 and a modern version made in 2016 – and can’t understand why the new version wasn’t more popular.

“I’m a little bit surprised with the young folk because they want everything automatic … and these cars are not quick and they’re always in a hurry,” says Mr Buttigieg. “And you really have to concentrate when driving. You have to use all your senses.”

Mr Buttigieg says he prefers the new Beetle for long trips but he tries to drive the old model every day, depending on the weather.

“If it’s a nice day I will take it up to the shops, but if it’s raining, it stays in the garage. It doesn’t see the rain,” says Mr Buttigieg, while pointing out the washer jets for the windscreen wipers rely on pressure from the air in the spare tyre under the bonnet.

As for the modern Beetle, Mr Buttigieg says he’s sad Volkswagen has decided to end production.

“I think more people would have bought the new Beetle if it wasn’t so expensive,” says Mr Buttigieg. “Volkswagen charged $36,000 for a car with the same equipment as a $25,000 Golf, so you’re paying for the design. And I think people figured that out.”

Modern retro cars out of vogue

Ford Mustang: sales down 30 per cent over two years (2017-2018)
Mini range: sales down 31.8 per cent over three years (2016-2018)
Fiat 500: sales down 34.6 per cent over three years (2016-2018)
VW Beetle: discontinued locally in late 2016

Source: Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries

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