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Post: Autotrader: That old thing? 8 cars we want to see make a comeback.

From the mid-1980s to the early 2000s, the Integra was the most important vehicle in the Acura lineup, and it was the point of entry. The Integra built the Acura brand. You could argue it was nothing but a jumped-up Civic, and you’d be right. You could also argue it was one of the best cars of the 1990s, and you’d be right again. The Integra introduced millions of buyers to luxury and performance at a reasonable price. It earned a fan club most cars would envy.

Then Acura retired it.

A string of replacements never caught on the way the Integra did. Acura went a decade and a half searching for an identity of its own in a crowded luxury market.

This year, the brand came to its senses. After a 16-year hiatus, Acura finally has a new Integra.

You could still argue it’s just a jumped-up Civic. So, Acura understood the assignment. The 2023 Integra is precisely what it needs to be.

And it got us thinking – what other cars need to make a comeback? We threw the question to our crack team of automotive journalists and got opinions good, bad, hilarious, and odd.

Our favorite comeback candidates:

  • Ram Dakota 

  • Mitsubishi Lancer

  • Mercury Messenger Concept

  • Volkswagen Type 181 “Thing”

  • Nissan Xterra

  • Saturn and Saab

  • Buick 225 

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Ram Dakota

The Ram 700, a South American market truck that might make a usable Dakota.


RL GNZLZ/Wikipedia

First, a practical answer:

The undisputed automotive winner of 2022 is the Ford Maverick.

Trucks have grown so big that what would have qualified as a full-size truck in the 1980s is just midsize now. Ford
F,
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was the first company to realize it had created a massive unmet need. The company built a genuinely small truck – just 10 inches longer than a Honda
HMC,
+0.09%

Civic – for the 2022 model year. Americans thirsted for a small truck so badly that a full year’s production run sold out in weeks.

It wasn’t a fluke. The entire 2023 production run sold out in six days.

Clearly, there’s a market for smaller trucks.

The original Dodge Dakota’s measurements almost match those of today’s Maverick. Parent company Stellantis
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has spun off its truck unit into a separate business under the Ram name. But a Ram Dakota is a no-brainer in 2023. They’d sell every one they could build. It wouldn’t even take much work. Ram already sells a small truck, the 700, in some South American markets. Chevy makes one, too, called the “Montana,” in Latin America. Why aren’t these here yet?

— Senior editor Sean Tucker

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Mitsubishi Lancer

The Mitsubishi Lancer was one of history’s great rally cars.


Klaus Nahr /Wikipedia

Now an impractical answer (I’m cheating and giving two because I’m the one compiling these answers):

In 1992, two of history’s great rally cars were introduced. The Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution enjoyed a tremendous rivalry as high-performance off-roaders based on economy car chassis for over two decades. Mitsubishi
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retired the Evo in 2015. Subaru is still building the WRX.

Come on, Mitsu. Get back in this game.

It feels like we’re all watching a cartoon called “Jerry” about a mouse with nothing to do.

— Senior editor Sean Tucker

Mercury Messenger Concept

The Mercury Messenger concept was a Mustang with a more luxurious interior and futuristic exterior.


BLakerman/Wikipedia

If I could bring back a car from the past, it would be a car that never really got too far off the ground in the first place.

In 2003, Ford showed a concept called the Mercury Messenger. It was a Mustang with a more luxurious interior and a futuristic-looking exterior. I imagine this as the spiritual successor to the Mercury Cougar from the late 1960s. Luxury combined with performance but with less of a juvenile look.

I’d want to see a range of engine choices – for example, the high-horsepower plug-in hybrid unit from the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring, a small gas-powered V8, and an all-electric version. The idea is similar to that of the Kia Niro – a single model available as a gasoline-powered car, a hybrid model, or an all-electric vehicle.

The ride would be softer than a Mustang but still deliver decent handling. On the electric version, the offering would feature Lincoln levels of luxury, including a variety of colors, textures, and patterns.

The interior would have lots of soft leather on all other trim levels. It would feature horizontal (not vertical) touch screens, a high-end audio system, and advanced technology. Ford’s Blue Cruise would be part of the package, as would Enhanced Active Park Assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist, and a more powerful, more attractive version of Ford’s current SYNC system. In addition, a Tesla-like
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summon feature and Lincoln’s Black Label concierge service would be available.

– Executive editor Brian Moody

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Volkswagen Type 181 “Thing”

The Volkswagen Type 181 “Thing” was VW’s attempt at a Jeep.


Sven Storbeck/Wikipedia

I laud Volkswagen
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for bringing back the International Scout name on a future off-road electric SUV and pickup. But I’d also like to see the German company stick within its traditional family and build a new version of the Thing.

That’s right, the beloved Volkswagen Type 181 Thing.

Remember it? Sold new in the U.S. in 1973 and 1974, the boxy and angular VW Thing was VW’s Jeep. It was replete with military origins, a soft top, removable doors, and even a fold-down windscreen. It was like summer on wheels. The air-cooled Thing didn’t have 4-wheel drive. But its torsion bar suspension and extra ground clearance meant you could get far off the beaten path.

While I’d love to see VW pour all its engineering might into developing an all-new air-cooled flat-4 powerplant (wouldn’t that be fascinating), I’d be okay with this new Thing being electric – with the same type of fun-loving spirit as the new electric Meyers Manx dune buggies. Far more important to me, though, is this: This new VW Thing can’t be a caricature of the beloved original.

That means my new electric Volkswagen Thing must be compact, simple, genuinely rugged, and easily repairable. What’s more, VW must avoid plastic. I want a metal body with bolt-on fenders, a painted metal dash (with VDO gauges), and a sparse interior with durable all-weather seats and not much else.

What do you think, VW? I know you’ve discussed an electric Thing in Wolfsburg. It must be tough to make a viable business case for the vehicle. But if you keep it genuine and fun, a rugged and minimalist new electric Volkswagen Thing would thrive in places like Southern California and beach communities worldwide.

— Expert review editor Andy Bornhop

Nissan Xterra

The Nissan XTerra was a legit off-road SUV.


Nissan

I’d love to see Nissan
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rebirth an Xterra for the modern era.

Granted, it only left the market in 2015. But in the years since, there’s been an ever-increasing appetite for real-deal off-road SUVs with attitude at an everyman’s price. The Xterra was all those things; a modern one could appeal to overlanders and influencers alike.

So c’mon, Nissan. Stop dressing up the family-oriented Pathfinder as a rock-crawling bruiser and bring back one in your arsenal designed for that.

— Expert review editor Matt Degen

Mitsubishi Montero

The 2006 Mitsubishi Montero, called Pajero in other markets.


DY5W-sport/Wikipedia

Hey, Mitsubishi, sneak a peek at your classmate’s test answers and bring back the Montero.

With the success of the Ford Bronco and Land Rover Defender, Mitsubishi could show significant flex by revisiting a popular vehicle body style and beating both of the aforementioned automakers on price.

The boxy, upright Montero first appeared in the late 80s with the two-door option. Mitsubishi advertising called it the “Urban Gorilla,” even pointing out how the power steering made it easy for ladies to drive.

The family-friendly 4-door model followed, including the same 4-cylinder and V6 (either manual or automatic) powertrain options and excellent fishbowl visibility. But it added more space for kids and an optional sprung driver’s seat that rivals the comfort of a pillowy Citroën DS.

If Mitsubishi offered up a PHEV version a la the Outlander and went all out with short- and long-wheelbase models – we’re nodding at your genius Ford and Land Rover –  those vehicles would fly out of dealerships faster than you can say “inclinometer standard.”

Need a study partner for the venture? Look no further than your old buddy Dodge, who could easily resurrect the Raider nameplate in the same breath. With successful Ram trucks but a lackluster show in the SUV category (yes, they still only make the Durango), Dodge could use a shot in the arm here as they slink away from internal combustion engine muscle cars.

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Make it unibody or body-on-frame. Just make it capable. Like 4×4 optional with some of the off-road goodies we’ve all become accustomed to, including solid ground clearance, hill descent control, a one-pedal mode for both regen and easy wheeling, skid plates, and perhaps a rear locking differential, and we’re in. Oh, and you would be again, too, Mitsubishi.

— Editor and video host Lyn Woodward

Saturn and Saab

The Saab 900 is one of the most identifiable vehicles from the brand.


David Wright/Wikipedia

I have a two-for-one deal for GM
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right now. The automaker is looking to lean heavily on its Ultium platform, and it should. The EV lineup will help bolster the automaker across its various brand families as the world transitions to a more electrified future. But it could make the transition even more fun if it revived one of two names. I’m talking about Saturn and Saab.

It’s almost a no-brainer to bring the Saturn brand back under the vision that it would become an entirely EV-focused entity. You could return to the dealerships with town names instead of person names, the simple plastic body panels, and basic but useful interiors. This frugality would help keep the cars light, the price down, and the dealership experience potentially enjoyable.

And if you wanted more upscale but offerings not as luxurious as Cadillac, then Saab fits the bill nicely. Give the world the 9-3, 9-5, and 9-7 as new EV options, and watch Saab fans weep tears of joy.

It’s great to see more EV options coming from GM. But the automaker could go crazier here and offer super affordable EV appliance cars with Saturn and premium EV options with Saab.

— Senior video editor Jeff Glucker

Buick Electra 225 

A 1970 Buick Electra 225


Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA/Wikipedia

After much thought, I’ve decided the Buick Electra 225 — known on the streets as the Deuce and a Quarter — is the car I would bring back.

For me, a modern interpretation of the big Buick would have to be long, low, and, most importantly, wide. It would need classic Electra styling cues, such as the descending accent line running the length of the car and a slim horizontal taillight traversing the entire rear fascia.

A reimagined 225 would incorporate a healthy dose of chrome for the grille, bumpers, and window moldings. It would feature adjustable LED lighting behind the fender-mounted Buick ventiports (sometimes called portholes).

I’d opt for two body styles: a hardtop sedan and a two-door convertible.

Naturally, the 225 would have an interior as bold as its exterior—one touting unique environments like white leather tuck and roll seats against a contrasting red dash and carpet.

Understanding that an old-fashioned bench seat won’t cut it with regulators, I envision a set of wide 45/45 seats separated by a thin power-retractable center console.

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Paying homage to the past while recognizing the realities of today means a plug-in hybrid V8 running power to the rear wheels. And, speaking of wheels, only one design will do: an updated version of the classic Buick Rallye wheel.

Used on Buick vehicles from about the mid-60s through the mid-80s, the chrome-and-black-painted Buick Rallye wheel was one of the company’s most recognizable calling cards. Even if you couldn’t identify the car from 50 feet, if you could see that wheel, you knew it was a Buick.

Increasing the Rallye wheel to 18 or 20 inches would make a stunning visual statement.

For me, a revived Buick Electra 225 wouldn’t concern itself with versatility, efficiency, or resale values. Its sole reason for being is to go cruising. I like to think of it as 225 inches of rolling social media, a way to attract attention, make new friends, and provide transportation to far-off destinations that make for great photos and greater memories.

— Senior editor Joe Tralongo

This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.

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