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The DeLorean Conundrum, by Wayne Batty

Shift up a gear or hit the brakes and snatch reverse?

So here I am click-clacking away at my keyboard at 5am, sipping tea to a cerebral tug of war: I have a single-use time machine but cannot decide how to use it. Do I jump ahead a decade or two, or turn the clock back to the Eighties and the simple life of payphones, music on cassette and checking the weather by looking outside. 

This is what happens when you can’t sleep after watching 1985’s Back To The Future with your Marty McFly newbie of a teenage daughter the night before. If you had asked me 35 years ago, the decision to go either back or forward in time would’ve been an easy one.

‘Take me to 2020, baby’, every time.

You see, I’ve always considered myself a futurist of sorts – a mag-lev monorails between shining skyscrapers kind of guy. But right now, I’m a somewhat disillusioned middle-ager asking, ‘Where is the future we were promised?’

How did I get here? Let me roll this back a bit. Quite recently I began a series of digital illustrations of influential concept cars from the late 1980s and early ’90s. The 6.0-litre quad-turbo V12-engined Ford GT90 and sliding bubble-canopied Peugeot Proxima and Renault Laguna topped my list.

Old Concept Cars

Above: The future looked great in 1986. Image courtesy of Wayne Batty

These weren’t vehicles designed to transport muscle-shirt-sporting teased-hair humans and their tortoise shell fanny packs to the mall; they were a wildly varied trio of spaceships, veritable time machines that foretold a future of striking aesthetics, stirring performance and driving joy. That is the future we were promised.

Contrast that with today’s cookie-cutter corporate crossovers and chronically congested roads. Inching through oceans of soulless faux-by-fours is leagues short of motoring nirvana. So take me back to 1988 instead, when the roads were less crowded and everything was more analogue.

1988 was a decent year for cars: Jaguar unveiled the XJ220 concept, BMW freaked us out a little with the Z1, VW launched the Corrado and Toyota announced its new Lexus brand. However, my reason for picking 1988 is that’s the year Lancia released the Delta HF Integrale.

Why the Integrale? Well, some experiences live larger than others.

The year was 2009. I was in Italy covering the Mille Miglia in an Alfa Giulietta press car. While on yet another coffee stop (espresso only, no lattes allowed after 10am) in the hills around Firenze, a chance meeting with a colleague’s Integrale-owning friend delivered my first taste of Lancia’s pocket rocket.

Lancia Delta HF Integrale

Above: Lancia Delta HF Integrale – a fast-appreciating Youngtimer classic that was integral to Lancia’s super-successful late ’80s, early ’90s World Rally Championship campaign. Image courtesy of Newspress

It’s hard to forget the thud in the back as the 2.0-litre motor’s Garrett T3 turbocharger let loose, the stickiness of the grip, the nimble immediacy of its reactions, and how the relative dearth of mechanical refinement amplified the sense of speed. It was an espresso and benzina experience that turned out to be the best 8km road trip ever. Like that famous two-word verse in the bible, it was short but had all the feels. Hot hatch fun has never been as visceral.

I’m not the only one experiencing a strong rush of nostalgia. We’ve all seen the rise of Singer – builder of resto-modded air-cooled 911s that many find more desirable than Porsche’s latest models, even at five times the price.

Of course, I have to mention the similarly reimagined Delta Integrale Futurista by Automobili Amos. Just why does this new ‘old’ car resonate so strongly? In the words of founder Eugene Amos: ‘This car represents my romantic vision in a world that is too aseptic, too fast, that runs like the wind, superficial and intangible. I long for a bygone, idealised time when men, values and substance were at the core of the product. Therefore this car is pure, analogue, raw and essential’. Exactly Eugene, exactly.

Futurista

Above: The Futurista is the 300hp, carbon fibre-bodied, 3-door Integrale of your dreams. The catch? A price tag of more than £300,000 makes it an expensive dream. Image courtesy of Automobili Amos

It would appear that this wave of retro inspiration is not slowing down either. This year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed offered a first encounter with the Ineos Grenadier – a 2020s off-roader wearing 1980s farming overalls. And yet, somehow it fits.

Post Festival of Speed, Lamborghini announced a new version of the machine that inspired an entire generation, the Countach. Alarmingly for that particular generation, the news came 50 years after the Countach first appeared in concept form. Really, has it been that long? Granted, the 2021 version lacks the original car’s perfect proportions and looks every bit the rebodied Aventador it really is, but its existence shows that even cutting-edge Lamborghini believes there is profit in nostalgia.

Lamborghini

Above: Lamborghini Countach LPI 800-4: a poorly executed pastiche of the original, or a genuinely exciting wall poster-worthy new model from Sant’Agata?
Image courtesy of Lamborghini

And then there is Radford. We covered the history and revival of the brand in Radford – Take Four in this blog but the dynamic duo of Ant Anstead and Jenson Button were on hand at the Goodwood Revival meeting to launch the John Player Special version of the brand’s new Lotus Type 62-2. The retro-themed black and gold livery clearly struck a chord with its Revival audience, even if it took a moment to realise the John Player Special branding had been quietly removed for its UK reveal.

Radford JSP

Above: It may be missing its John Player Special stickers, but it seems gold on black is enough of a visual cue to trigger images of Andretti and Senna.
Image courtesy of Philip Porter

 

So what to make of my DeLorean conundrum? Given recent world events, the future doesn’t appear as rosy. Having said that, the past had its troubles, too – stretched mix-tape anyone? In the end, it comes down to this: I might not want to live in the past, but it sure would be great to drive there once in a while. And it seems quite a few car manufacturers agree.

Article by Wayne Batty

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Comments

Mark - October 12, 2021

Exactly how I feel. The notion in the early 90s that life would be an upward spiral now seems naiive and absurd. Good choice of period concepts, though I’d prefer the 1991 Ital Nazca M12, or Corvette ASC Spyder from the same year.

Robert Norris - October 12, 2021

I fully support your comments re positioning of your stand. Far to far from the car parks to carry purchased books. I had to search you out. Also leaving purchases with you until the end of the day was not a practical option.

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