At the start of this century, we thought "retro" car styling would become a part of the past, just like the old cars that inspired such designs. We were wrong.
DaimlerChrysler's (nyse: DCX - news - people ) Dodge subsidiary recently announced it will showcase the Challenger, a retro-mobile prototype with a retro name at January's North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep have been trading on the success of their historic Hemi brand of engines, but the Challenger prototype takes a bigger step into the past than other new Chrysler Group vehicles. It looks way more retro than the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Charger sedans.
The Challenger prototype shares mechanical underpinnings with the 300 and Charger, as well as the Dodge Magnum wagon. According to supplier sources familiar with the automakers plans, Dodge wants to put the Challenger into production by the end of the decade--and it has every reason to.
Actually, it has one specific reason: Ford Motor's (nyse: F - news - people ) Mustang sports car, which has been a runaway success and has no real competitors. Dodge would love to have a similar muscle car with a V-8 engine, and General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ) is also preparing a competitor.
At the Detroit auto show, GM will show a Chevrolet sports car prototype that will either ape the 1969 Camaro or the 1970 Chevelle, and will bear the name of whichever classic it copies. Expect the vehicle to use a Corvette V-8 engine. GM is planning to build some manner of Chevrolet coupe to fight the Mustang. The idea would be to give the car a V-8 for muscle-car credibility but also to have a more affordable V-6 version.
We have seen artists' renderings of the GM show car, and it looks impressive. But we think the Challenger looks absolutely sinister and will give the Mustang a run for its money. In fact, when the original Challenger came out for the 1970 season, its main competitors were the Mustang and Chevy Camaro.
Ford did an excellent job with the new Mustang's retro-heavy styling. Many Mustang fans believe the overhauled model is either the best Mustang since the original or the best one ever. Among Ford passenger cars, only the Taurus and Focus have outsold the Mustang this year, which is remarkable considering the Taurus and Focus are utilitarian, populist vehicles, required by many for daily transportation--while the Mustang is just for fun.
No wonder that in the wake of this success, the competition is about to heat up.