As our print readers might know, I’ve drawn a lot of parallels between 1974 and 2023. Some of the trends have cycled back, and they aren’t just being reflected in fashion. Two automotive parallels came to mind today.
In 1974, Jaguar was getting ready to bid farewell to its E-type, one of its most iconic models. With fuel prices ballooning, and high inflation, the V12-powered sports car found fewer takers. Volkswagen, meanwhile, was also considering the fate of its Käfer, or Beetle, which had served the company well since the factory was revived by Maj Ivan Hirst and the British Army after World War II. The Käfer would go on to sell a total of 21·5 million examples, and was the brand’s most iconic vehicle.
Fast forward to 2023. Jaguar is getting ready to bid farewell to its F-type, the car that truly succeeded the E-type, having announced its final model year update, as well as 75 years of sports cars. The company is contemplating its electric future and there’s no room for the F-type, which might have rocked the world and given confidence in the Jaguar brand when it was launched in 2012, but, as usual, it just didn’t get renewed as quickly as its rivals. In fact, Jaguar might even be contemplating a brand-less future, if some reports are to be believed. That didn’t go too well at British Leyland in the 1970s (with the Maxi and Princess) but the British seemed obsessed with trying it.
Volkswagen, meanwhile, says the current Golf VIII will be the last incarnation of its most iconic model since the Käfer. The original Golf had defined the segment: there are people who refer to the C-segment as the ‘Golf class’. So many scrambled to follow the path the car blazed: Opel with its Kadett D, Ford with the Mk III Escort, and others.
The difference with 2023 is that neither company has a direct replacement. Back in 1974, Jaguar had its XJ-S waiting in the wings—a car that was originally thought of internally as the F-type. What emerged in those dark days of ’75 was a grand tourer and not a car that was a direct successor to the E-type, and its ultimate appellation said as much.
Little is known about the new Jaguar, but we fear it’ll come out and be met with resistance, because the market will have changed again. The long-predicted backlash against the crossover and SUV surely must be reaching critical mass, and Jaguar won’t have a beautiful, fast car to offer. Even BMW thought it wise to launch its ugly iX, and surely that signals the end of the cycle? We think sleek has to come back in style. The SUVs of today are akin to the land yachts of the malaise era.
In 1974, Volkswagen had its original Golf, which cast off the increasingly dated and anachronistic format of the Käfer, a car that had been developed at the behest of the Nazis. It was a welcome, modernist design that looked forward to a future which would, or so we thought, be more rational and efficient.
There is nothing that supplants the Golf VIII in Volkswagen’s current line-up. You might point to the ID.3, the electric car whose number signals the company’s third coming (Käfer, Golf, ID.3), but it hasn’t caught the imagination as the earlier two cars. The Tiguan crossover outsells the Golf these days, but it breaks no new ground.
You get the feeling that something revolutionary has to break cover, a miracle mode of transportation that predicts a positive path out of global boiling. Or somehow we make mass transit fashionable.
But if it is a new model, there are two things that weren’t on the radar much in 1974: Korea and China. Might Hyundai or Kia come out with a stylistic world-beating wedge? Will China’s MG Mulan (MG 4) make small tyres and a more compact package fashionable again? Trends might recycle, but nothing is ever completely the same.
Jack Yan is founder and publisher of Lucire.