Everything old is new again. This is most certainly the case for car manufacturers who have realised the value of embracing the past. In these fanciful days of automotive electrification and autonomy, the classic car has become something of an antidote to the over-insulated products of the modern age: a sweet throwback to a time when the motor vehicle was more than just an expensive extension of our smartphones.
The interest in older cars seems to stem from our ever-increasing appetite for nostalgia. Like watching an episode of Stranger Things, driving a classic car feeds our unexplained wistfulness for eras that— sometimes ironically — we may have never even fully experienced or lived through. Long-throw manual gearboxes, a lack of driver aids, and engines that voice their intent without the help of artificial sound symposers: these are just some of the many lo-fi features that make owning a classic car so appealing.
And this appeal is why manufacturers like Porsche have set up dedicated business divisions to better cater to the desires of vintage enthusiasts. Porsche Classic has become an aftermarket force to be reckoned with, thanks to its ever-growing catalogue of parts — currently 52,000 listed— designed to renew and revive older models still in use today (interesting fact: over 70% of all Porsches ever made are still on the road).
Whether you drive a 356, 924 or an evergreen 911, you can find almost anything you need to fix or flatter your beloved ride. Porsche also offers specialised servicing tailored specifically towards older vehicles. Certain Porsche Centres have a Porsche Classic Partner wing attached to them. This means mechanics are equipped with the know-how and tools to perform anything from a minor service to overhauling a 1970s air-conditioning system fitted to an air-cooled 911.
Although not yet operating on the same scale as Porsche (at least not in SA), Mercedes-Benz also has an impressive classic division that offers similar parts availability. With 50,000 currently listed in its inventory (and more being added regularly), owning a vintage Mercedes-Benz model comes with comparable peace of mind. The company is also using advanced technologies such as 3D printing to help remake parts for which the original factory tooling no longer exists or has been misplaced.
Even things like seat upholstery are catered for — Mercedes-Benz recently announced that the distinctive checquered seat fabric for the iconic 300 SL Gullwing sports car will be reproduced by the original supplier,according to its original specification. Quite a thing when you consider that, on the other side of the spectrum, this famed Stuttgart marque is busy fettling the Mercedes-AMG ONE all-electric hypercar.
Back on our shores, BMW has been busy rebuilding and preserving some of its uniquely South African models: cars built and only made available in our market. A few years ago, the Rosslyn-based plant restored to working condition a 333i (basically a homegrown alternative to the first M3) and the 325is — iconic machines among local motoring enthusiasts. Its latest restoration project is an ultra-rare 530 MLE: a limited edition “homologation” racing special that achieved enviable success in our then-premier Modified Production Car series between 1976 and 1985.
Currently being assembled by those who worked on the original race cars back in the day, the restored model is set to be unveiled later this year. Along with other classic BMWs, you can expect to see this once-proud race-winner displayed at select motoring events soon. Indeed, forging a new future is important but so is preserving the past. Especially when it comes to these beautiful, steely boxes of nostalgia that will hopefully keep delivering dreams for generations to come.