Taking a stroll through this spacious 19th century tram depot had an unsettling vibe to it. Passing by rows of cars, the one more invaluable, special, or quirky than the other, in this public garage is an almost desensitizing experience. A BMW Z8 at the entrance, separated by a mere couple of meters from a Mercedes 300SL, Dino GT, Lancia Stratos HF, and a BMW Z1 suspended above a range of Lamborghinis. If so many specials cars are brought together, what defines a special car? What makes a classic car? The Remise’s living exhibition offers an excellent opportunity to briefly reflect on these questions.
The Oxford Dictionary of English defines the adjective classic as something of the highest quality, or something typical. The noun classic refers to a work of art with a recognized and established value. Taking up everything that was on display, the vehicles were not so much classic cars as cars that are classic. They are works of art, unique, one of a kind. The cars stabled here are older, but not terribly so. Most of them date back to the second half of the 20th century with a healthy range covering most decades. There is plenty of nostalgia to go around. From a European perspective, the selection of American cars, the couple of Corvette C1, Corvette Stingrays, Chevrolet Camaro SS, and the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500E Fastback are relics of a foreign age, an age screaming grandeur and made desirable through Hollywood movies and TV shows.
The ideal that cars from the past are better is still alive and well, following the argument that cars today have less soul and are not as exciting or reliable as they used to be. Engine and underbody covers tuck away mechanical components, the complexity of internal combustion engines has increased to enhance their efficiency, and safety features have led to high repair costs (due to the sensors and cameras required for blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, et cetera).
Yet, the common denominator of the cars presented on these floors is price. Most of them can be labeled as luxury cars, or cars that were already collectible from their inception. And if they weren’t luxurious or exclusive, they still stood out from the crowd of their time. Cars like the BMW Z8, Dino GT, Diablo GT were in a sense already relics of a past era when they were made, flirting with a classic design or criteria of sports car desirability that were becoming outmoded. They embody a nostalgia for a time in which either design or performance were simpler, less refined, more accessible; a time that never was. Ironically, it is the perpetuating cycle of car design that upholds this myth in this day and age of long production cycles and modular platforms.
What is obvious, however, is that today’s classic cars have become increasingly more democratized with the flourish of hot hatchbacks and reasonably affordable sports cars. Designs like the Alpine A110, Alfa Romeo 4C, and the Honda Civic Type R can hardly be called timeless. But they do bring unique looks and serious performance to a larger audience than many Porsches, Ferraris, Mercedes, and BMWs have done.