Trace the etymology of the word “nostalgia” and contrary to its modern use as a kind of warm, fuzzy feeling of remembering people, places, and things from days gone by, its Greek roots described a more debilitating condition of homesickness.
We tend to err more toward the modern interpretation, which for cars means appreciating the history, aesthetics, and driving experience of the older models fortunate enough to still be around. This year, we’re once again focusing our nostalgia on the cars hitting significant anniversaries in 2024, beginning with the modern classics reaching their 20th year, and ending with models celebrating a century.
As with previous years, we’ve tried to keep the list to cars you could buy, somewhere at least, in their relevant years, with one or two exceptions made for significant debuts. Likewise, we’ve ignored the US model year system for those cars, so we’re covering their launch year rather than their showroom year anywhere that might differ.
20 Years (2004): Exotic metal and talented family cars
Twenty years isn’t much of the automobile’s overall history, but a quick look back at cars released in 2004 reveals some models that are still significant today.
The year was a good time for exotic metal, as it turns out. It saw the debut of the Aston Martin DB9, a model whose elegance the company seems to have been chasing (and not quite attaining) ever since. It was also the debut year for its contemporary rival, the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti – awkward-looking at launch but arguably better today, and one of the final Ferraris available with a manual gearbox, too.
Ferrari also launched the F430 in 2004, which also had a British rival in the spectacular Noble M400 and, from Germany, with the Porsche 997. The year saw two very different Maseratis too, which if you squint a little could themselves have been Ferraris: the Enzo-based MC12, which went on to be a dominating race car, and the Quattroporte V, one of the 21st century’s most desirable saloons.
Next to the Maserati, the Mercedes CLS doesn’t look quite as striking but it was one of the models that debuted the “four-door coupe” look. The second-generation Mercedes SLK also arrived in 2004, while in the US roadster market, the Pontiac Solstice squared up to the now ageing second-generation Mazda MX-5. More significant though was the fifth-generation Ford Mustang (which launched in October as a 2005 model-year car), with its throwback styling opening the door for 2008’s similarly retro Dodge Challenger and 2010’s Chevrolet Camaro.
The Chrysler 300C also debuted in 2004, while other more mainstream arrivals included the original BMW 1-Series, the Citroën C4, the Mk2 Ford Focus, Mk2 Volvo S40 and V40, and the Smart ForFour. One model never offered in the UK was the Subaru Impreza-based Saab 9-2X, but the first Renault Sport Megane 225 was, paving the way for some of the decade’s best hot hatchbacks.
25 Years (1999): FOTU favourites and performance icons
A quarter-century is a significant milestone for classic car enthusiasts in some countries, as it becomes the official point at which cars are considered classic or historic, and they benefit from certain usage or taxation leniencies. Not in the UK, of course, though a quarter-century does mentally separate the new and the old.
For Hagerty, 25 years old means Festival of the Unexceptional concours eligibility, so say hello to the Citroën Xsara Picasso, Honda HR-V, original Kia Rio, Vauxhall Zafira, Peugeot 607, Skoda Fabia, Toyota Yaris, and Volkswagen Bora and Lupo, all of which are 25 in 2024. In Japan, the industrial-looking Daihatsu Naked kei car debuted, the sharp-looking Mk7 Toyota Celica hit worldwide markets, and in the US the Lincoln LS tried to add some sophistication to America’s mid-size sector.
The year 1999 was a good one for sporty hatchbacks, too, with the Ford Fiesta Zetec S, Peugeot 206 GTI, Proton GTI and Renault Clio 172 all arriving that year, the last of which competing with the new Ford Racing Puma. There were fun saloons, too, in the shape of the Ford Mondeo ST200 and Lexus IS200, along with one of the great homologation specials, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI.
Audi offered two very different cars, the aluminium A2 supermini and the original twin-turbo RS4, while Honda covered a similarly diverse alloy/sporty spectrum, with the Insight hybrid and S2000 roadster. Nissan made an early venture into electric cars with the Hypermini, but also unleashed the iconic R34 Skyline GT-R, as well as the S15 Silvia sports car in its home market. Meanwhile, fans of exotica welcomed the Ferrari 360 Modena, Noble M10, Pagani Zonda, the first Porsche 911 GT3, the Qvale Mangusta, and the TVR Tuscan Speed Six.
30 Years (1994): Three decades of great designs
We’ve commented before on how diverse the 1990s were for new models, and 1994 was yet another strong year for both design and increasingly capable and desirable cars.
Take Italy, for instance, where Alfa Romeo launched the 145 and 146 into the stale Ford Escort class, while the wedgy Gandini-penned Maserati Quattroporte IV attempted to draw people out of their Jaguar XJs (the X300 XJ also launching in 1994). Alfa Romeo also debuted the front-drive GTV in 1994 (though it would take a little more time to arrive in the UK), while things were good at the top, too: The Ferrari 355 represented a huge leap over the old 348. Over the border in France, the Venturi 400 offered a nominal, if rarely seen rival.
US cab-forward design of the 1990s was really getting into its stride both with the Chrysler Neon and the “cloud cars” – the Chrysler Cirrus, Dodge Stratus, and Plymouth Breeze –while the Oldsmobile Aurora was another with a celestial name and smooth styling. Japan was also on a roll, with the Japanese Car of the Year–winning Mitsubishi FTO, and the Nissan Rasheen, by industrial designer Naoki Sakai, who had previously penned some of Nissan’s “Pike factory” cars.
The Audi RS2 arrived in 1994, but it was a busy year for mainstream Audis in general, with a new A4, A6 and S6, plus the all-aluminium A8 – the latter rivalling BMW’s new E38-generation 7-Series and tangentially, the P38 Range Rover. Caterham debuted the short-lived 21, Vauxhall and Opel launched the cute Tigra, and the Toyota RAV4 was new in ‘94, too.
Sensible, practical cars were also in abundance. The Peugeot, Citroën and Fiat “Eurovans” arrived that year, as did the new Volkswagen Polo Mk3 and the Skoda Felicia, while relative newcomer Hyundai brought its bubbly, Felicia-rivalling Accent to market.
40 Years (1984): Composites and mid-engined marvels
In 1984, we saw the debut of the Mercedes-Benz W124, though with customer deliveries beginning in early 1985, we’re putting it on this list more to whet your appetite for a year’s time. Still, there are several other 1984 executive cars to choose from in the meantime: the Alfa Romeo 90, Lancia Thema, and Saab 9000 all arrived 40 years ago.
As did one of the most significant European cars ever, with the Renault Espace launching the MPV market here – though first-year sales were legendarily slow. It was a lively year for plastic- and composite-bodied cars in general: the Chevrolet Corvette C4, Ford RS200, Pontiac Fiero, Reliant Scimitar SS1, and Alpine GTA/A610 all had 1984 debuts (as did the tiny Bamby microcar).
There were mid-engined sports cars at both ends of the scale, too: the original Toyota MR2 at the more affordable end and the Ferrari 288 GTO and Testarossa at the top (along with the incredibly rare Isdera Imperator 108i).
Back at ground level, 1984 was the debut year for the Austin Montego and Rover 200 series, and the Giugiaro-designed SEAT Ibiza (along with the rebrand of his Mk1 Golf, as South Africa’s new CitiGolf). Chrysler’s minivans launched with the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan, Russia got the somewhat modern Lada Samara for the first time, then-Czechoslovakia launched the Skoda 130 and Rapid, and Japan gave the world the Mk3 Honda Civic Si, Subaru Justy, and Toyota 4Runner.
50 Years (1974): Bedroom poster material and familiar family cars
The year 1974 is probably most significant in the automotive world for the debut of the Volkswagen Golf, but for classic appeal the Alfetta GT, Citroën CX, and VW’s own Scirocco are probably all right up there too, even if none of those nameplates are still around today.
One nameplate that is still around, albeit not through continuous evolution, is the Lamborghini Countach – definitely the most striking shape to debut in 1974. Elsewhere in Italy, the Fiat 131 also made its debut that year, replacing the 124, while Audi made a rare venture into the smallest market segment with the Audi 50. Not as small as the all-electric CitiCar built in Florida, though.
Another car looking to the future was Canada’s Bricklin SV-1, while the Plymouth Voyager nameplate arrived as a chunky full-size van, before it refined the idea into a front-wheel drive minivan a decade later. Last but not least in the Class of ‘74: The boxy Volvo 200 series is somehow reaching its half-century in 2024.
60 Years (1964): All-time icons
Nowhere was 1964 a stronger year than in the United States. It was the debut year for one of the world’s best-known cars, the Ford Mustang, but this was smack-bang in the middle of the muscle car era too, so the first generation of the Chevrolet Malibu also arrived that year, as did the fourth-generation Ford Thunderbird, the original Plymouth Barracuda, and the Mercury Comet Cyclone.
Britain, meanwhile, continued to concentrate on sports cars, with the debut of the Reliant Scimitar and Sunbeam Tiger, though 1964 also saw the BMC ADO17 or “Landcrab” hit the roads, its awkward styling hiding impressive technology for the era.
Like the Ford Mustang, the Porsche 911 was another 1964 debut that has since become one of the most recognisable shapes and nameplates in the world. In a different timeline, perhaps the Nissan Silvia might be up there with both of them, the original launching 35 years before the final generation. The Honda S600 sports car also arrived in 1964.
Italy offered up the Ferrari 275 and, at the humbler end of the scale, the Fiat 850 family, while France wasn’t to be left out either – the amazingly advanced and elegant Panhard 24 coupe came along that year, though it had been shown to the press in 1963.
70 Years (1954): The world’s greatest sports cars
Which significant cars are celebrating their 70th birthday in 2024? Only a few little-known models like the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, Jaguar D-Type and XK140, and Alfa Romeo Giulietta. The year 1954 was quite a special year, as it turns out.
It is also the year that Subaru launched its first ever model, the 1500, though few outside Japan would have been aware of it at the time. Buyers in the UK would have been more interested in the arrival of the Austin Cambridge and Westminster, the Hillman Husky, and the Vauxhall Cresta – and if they were in the market for a sports car, the AC Aceca.
A familiar US nameplate also arrived with the Ford Crown Victoria – a special package on the new Fairlane version of the “1955” Ford range. The Crown Vic name would hang around until 2011. The Borgward Isabella also debuted in 1954, while the Panhard Dyna Z would serve as the unusual family car entrée to the car Citroën DS main course arriving a year later.
75 Years (1949): The muscle car is born, and a two-stroke legend
While the term ‘muscle car’ wouldn’t arrive until the 1960s, it’s popularly thought that 1949 marked the date of the first muscle car, with the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 – dropping a powerful V8 from a larger model into the more compact 88 platform. The unsurprisingly named 1949 Ford, nicknamed the Shoebox Ford, also arrived 75 years ago, though its most familiar form, the wood-panelled Country Squire, didn’t appear until 1950.
The UK’s output wasn’t quite as powerful or glamorous, with the Austin A90 Atlantic and goofy three-wheeled Bond Minicar arriving that year, though the Rover P4 and Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn provided options for the middle and upper classes. Looking like something from the future though, the Saab 92 also first appeared in 1949 – and would go on to influence Saab’s range for decades.
100 Years (1924): Telegram from the King
The cars hitting their century in 2024 will probably be unfamiliar to most, but it’s a significant milestone and one worth celebrating.
This year, their number includes the Chrysler Six from the US; the Citroën B10, Peugeot 5CV and Type 177, and the Renault NN from France; the Fiat 509 from Italy; Mercedes’ 15 and 24 from Germany; and the Rover 9 and 14, MG 14/28, and the Triumph 13/35 from Great Britain. This is by no means an exhaustive list of cars marking their centenary, but it’s representative of the car industry globally getting into its swing in the Roaring Twenties.