Fun Stuff

6 Retro-Themed Vehicles for Nostalgic Drivers

Nostalgia is a helluva drug – and an expensive one, too. Witness the avalanche of sales when Nintendo marketed the mini-NES gaming system a few years ago, causing a certain generation to rudely push aside other consoles with advanced graphics to play recreations of hopelessly pixelated games from the ’80s. This activity is fuelled by the realization that many of us now have so-called Adult Money to buy things we either owned or yearned for as youngsters.

Automakers have also grasped this concept. After all, if there is profit to be mined from an idea or segment, car companies are likely to jump on it with enthusiasm, wasting no time dreaming up a way to tap into the hearts and wallets of misty-eyed drivers. We’ve assembled a rogue’s gallery of recent examples, most of which are on sale today or recently enough to perhaps pop up as a dealer demo.

Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary Special Edition

For the 2023 model year, Toyota decided it would celebrate the 40th anniversary of its 4Runner nameplate by crafting a special graphics package evoking the expressive tape-and-stripe options from the early 1980s. Using the decently equipped SR5 trim as its building block, the 40th Anniversary Special Edition was limited to just 400 examples in Canada. Retro-inspired yellow, orange, and red stripes were layered over one of three colours, with 17-inch wheels dipped in an appropriate shade of bronze. The graphics carried over to its grille, tailgate badging, and various interior trim pieces including bronze-coloured seat stitching, 40th anniversary floor mats, and a smattering of 40th-anniversary logos.

Serving as the impetus for this list, it wore a sticker price of $54,380, which placed it on par with the popular TRD Sport trim. Tooling around rural Ontario communities reliably drew looks and scattered thumbs up from other drivers, a sure-fire indication this retro homage checked the right boxes for a particular demographic. In fact, we’ll argue the 4Runner’s entire personality is appropriately old-school, complete with handsome lantern-jawed styling and an interior that still chooses to place functionality over chasing the latest jumbotron touchscreen. That’s a win.

Ford Bronco Heritage

Ford knew exactly what it was doing when bringing back the Bronco name a few years ago – classic nameplate, great off-road chops, and the ability to drive without the roof or doors. With its round headlights and boxy, upright stance, it already looks retro, but ratcheting up the vintage appeal in 2023 are the Heritage and Heritage Limited trims, which use colour and signature design cues to harken the original truck from 1966. Paying respect to the Bronco’s roots, these models are highlighted by a two-tone paint job set off by white accents, including the modular hardtop roof. The latter detail appeared frequently in that era, largely thanks to manufacturing limitations; this time around, it’s an intentional callback to a different time. A unique grille with red FORD lettering appears instead of the usual BRONCO billboard, while 17-inch old-school styled wheels look like steelies but are hewn from modern aluminum. An era-appropriate body side stripe features OG lettering as well.

Ford Bronco Sport Free Wheeling

Sticking with Ford, the little Bronco Sport is now offered with a Free Wheeling package. Introduced this year, its graphics evoke an identically named option group back in the day offered on trucks like the old full-size Bronco and F-Series pickup trucks. This time, the Free Wheeling package appears on the compact Bronco Sport crossover, using the Big Bend trim as its starting point before adding reflective red, orange, yellow, and silver graphics to the body. Also on board is a silver-painted grille with two-tone Bronco badging and high-gloss black wheels with red accents. The retro theme carries over inside with tremendous sunset-coloured seat inserts that make the interior pop.

Dodge Charger/Challenger Last Call Editions

The entire past few years of these cars have been a huge retro-fest in and of itself, but Dodge ramped up the heritage throwbacks in a big way during the Charger and Challenger’s final model year. Half a dozen Last Call trims were doled out to an adoring fan base, including a Super Bee, Swinger variants, and a Black Ghost that made the already super nostalgic cars even more so. The latter even went so far as to include a roof graphic mimicking old-school “gator skin” vinyl top coverings popular in the 1970s. Predictably, the brand quickly sold every single one of these things it could build.

Porsche 911 Dakar

Moving several rungs up the price scale, we find Porsche mining its heritage while dipping a toe into the popular “safari-all-the-things” trend that has gripped certain corners of the auto industry. Recalling the first Porsche victory in the brutal Paris-Dakar Rally, this is a 911 with extra ground clearance, body modifications, all-terrain tires, rally-style driving modes, and one helluva graphics package. The latter pays homage to the 1984 Paris-Dakar winning 911 – though Porsche had to get creative with referencing the livery and the Rothmans sponsor without actually mentioning cigarettes, so it used a “Roughroads” graphic instead. Customers can also choose an individual race number between 0 and 999.

Jeep Wrangler Willys

In addition to serving as a callout to the old Willys Wheeler, this trim takes styling inspiration from the first Jeep brand vehicles built by a company called Willys–Overland in the 1940s. Gloss black on its grille and front bumper elements are a throwback, as is the old-school tailgate badge inspired by the brand’s heritage of towering off-road capability. This trim has proven so popular that it is being expanded to the 4xe range of electrified Wranglers. Another trim worth noting from a couple of years ago is the Islander package, which delightfully returned the cartoon character of Tiki Bob to the flanks of the Wrangler’s hood.