retro car
(Image credit: Press)

A few decades ago, anyone wanting to eschew the auto industry's aesthetic status quo in favour of some old fashioned style didn't have a lot of options. Sure, there were plenty of backstreet garages pushing out fibreglass bodywork in vague approximations of the style of yesteryear. There are now a growing number of bespoke carmakers looking to capitalise on automotive nostalgia, with designs derived from the past becoming far more sophisticated.

blue retro car

(Image credit: Press)

See our favourite supercars currently on the market, taking their design cues from the 1950s and 1960s

Partly this has been spurred on by the mainstream industry's insistence on playing the nostalgia game for itself. New MINIS, Fiat 500s, Citroen 2CVs and any number of all-American muscle cars testify to the power of iconic car design and the desire to trigger memories of a supposedly glorious past. Throw in the need to sustain echoes of a storied brand heritage, and a whole swathe of contemporary car design has become a veritable repository of cultural memories.

Forward-looking futurism still has a place - just check the very real advances made in electric car technology in the past couple of years - but for those looking for a rather more authentic evocation of the past, consider this set of bespoke designs.

A quartet of inspired independents, the Rizk RA, GWA Panamericana, Jensen Interceptor S and AC Cobra MKVI all have their roots in the 1950a and 1960s. But rather than chart a path of insipid evolution, their creators have gone straight to the source, pairing their designs with modern materials and technology.

Arturo Alonso will build the GWA Panamericana in Germany. Directly inspired by Mercedes' classic 300SL Gullwing, the new car is handbuilt on a customised chassis, with aerospace industry grade aluminium bodywork.

'I'm an engineer by training and have driven Mercedes all my life - I've raced them in the Carrera Panamericana,' says Alonso, 'this car is a redesigned icon for the 21st century.' Fitted with a modern Mercedes engine - either a V6 or V8 - Alonso is confident the new car will capture the spirit of the original, now an established and rarefied classic. Retaining the classic gullwing doors (recently seen making a comeback on Mercedes' new SLS AMG model), Alonso's car is a note-perfect recreation, save for the big wheels and fat tyres needed for modern power outputs.

Wa-el Rizk describes his company, Rizk Auto, as operating in the grand tradition of the coachbuilder. 'In the golden era of the automobile the great marques like Ferrari and Maserati lent their chassis and mechanicals to various design houses such as Bertone, Zagato and Scaglietti, and each designer put on their own unique signature and style to the cars,' he says, 'We are doing a similar undertaking, but we will be taking it a step further - our engineering will be more extensive for a start.' The RA is light and powerful, with curvaceous bodywork inspired by 50s-era Aston Martin racing cars, in particular the 1957 DBR2. 'The car will be ultra modern but will encapsulate the spirit when curves instead of sharp lines ruled the design world,' Rizk explains, adding 'It's a purging effort to get rid of the 'Bangle-ized' influence of modern design,' a reference to former BMW design chief Chris Bangle's obsession with complex forms.

Sourcing newly manufactured wire wheels and light clusters from companies specialising in classic car parts, the RA has one clear nod to the noughties; the seats are Herman Miller Aeron chairs, adapted and re-trimmed to provide weatherproof seating for the open-topped car. 'I plan to sell 40 to customers and keep one for myself,' says Rizk. Customers can chose from three engines, 6 or 12-cylinder Jaguar or the V8 from the new LS3 Corvette.

Last time we looked at classic cars cloaking modern mechanicals, back in W* 112, the Jensen Interceptor S stood out. The handsome original featured Italian bodywork - by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan - and a reliable lump of American V8 engine. In between, however, was rust, poor wiring, bad brakes and numerous other faults. Nonetheless, Interceptors have a passionate fanbase, so when V Eight developed the reconstructed 'S' model, it took the car's failings in hand. Now the company is back with a new model, the SX, with twice as much power as the original, a new interior, enhanced bodywork and numerous other tweaks. The end result is still recognisably a Jensen, only this time the car has been designed to hold its own against modern supercar stock.

Finally, there's the AC MKVI GT, also built by Germany's Gullwing Gmbh. Although AC is a British marque, the classic Cobra bodyshape - which dates from the early 60s - continues to be built under license. The German specialists are giving the MKVI car all-aluminium bodywork plus a special hardtop, complete with gullwing doors that turn this iconic roadster into a practical, almost luxurious everyday car. With nearly 650hp on tap in GTS spec, the MKVI is not, as they say, for the faint-hearted.

Blending the modern passion for limited editions artworks and high-end supercars, these are individual cars for those who care little for modern brand values.

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.