“Nothing ages as quickly as yesterday’s vision of the future” For the most part, this statement by film critic and magazine editor Richard Nelson Corliss holds true. Visions of personal jetpacks and flying cars remain forever tied to the sensibilities of half a century ago, proof that people of the fifties had no clue as to what tomorrow would bring.
Retrofuturism is an entire artistic movement based up on these dated visions, many of them absurd and amusing. There are entire subgenres dedicated to alternate realities of fantastical creations that fly or travel at high speeds but powered by dated technologies, such as steampunk or dieselpunk. Of course, there’s also retrofuturism in some mid-century architecture.
As improbable and insane as many of these literal flights of fancy are, every now and then you’ll get a retrofuturistic vision that proves to be a lot closer to reality than you might expect. A prominent example of rather true-to-life interpretations is the 1997 movie Gattaca, a dystopian science fiction drama that takes place in the “not too distant future” and dealing primarily with the subject of genetic engineering. The world of Gattaca is one filled with hard-to-place-the-build-date modernist or brutalist mid-century architecture like the Marin County Civic Center; the roads are brimming with technologically advanced turbine or electric powered cars that are seemingly styled to look like landmark vehicles from the fifties and sixties.
What makes the choice of vehicles so astute is that the director, Andrew Niccol, chose vehicles that were generally a view of the future from minds that were not clouded by the prevailing aesthetics of what “the future” should be–the main reason why they work so well in the imagined twenty first century of the film. Any car enthusiast can typically tell the year of an auto show from looking at the concepts on the stands. For example, you flat out KNOW that it’s around 1957 if you see plenty of tailfinned, chrome covered, glass bubble roof concepts of what the next years would bring. Designers like Flamino Bertoni and Raymond Loewy ignored such visions and came up with their own forward thinking solutions which, ultimately, stood the test of time far better than the Homer Simpson car-looking design studies on the stands.
It’s a good flick, but my only wish was that Gattaca featured more examples of these devoid-of-trends choices of cars from the past as future EV transportation (or whatever kind of power that could make that odd whining sound in the film).
Let’s take a look at some possible choices for these genetically engineered future generations to draw upon for their transportation for the sequel (or prequel). Unlike the film cars, we’ll put in some effort to remove as much of the time stamping as possible and allow us to appreciate the shape. It’s essentially restomodding them (but beyond the capabilities of most restomodders) for the movie to look like “new” examples of familiar cars and keep most of the original as is. Can you think of some more examples that might work in Gattaca II: Legacy?
Advanced looking, devoid of cliches, and a bit sinister; this seemed to be a hallmark of the cars chosen for Gattaca, and the early 1966-67 Toronado has that in spades. Likely the largest engine ever in a front wheel drive passenger car, the 425ci V8 transfers power to the front wheels through a two-inch-wide chain (and later powered the iconic GMC motorhome). Such a condensed drivetrain means this flat-floored design would be ideal for whatever power source the people of tomorrow would put under the hood; a nuclear generator or a hydrogen powered turbine? Who knows.
The only thing better would be if Gattaca II featured a Jetway 707- the airport limousine variety of Toronado. In fact, it would totally fit the gestalt of the movie:
Talk about a car that seemed to be looking for an appropriate time to exist, or even an appropriate planet for that matter. The Czechoslovokia of the sixties where it actually did live seems like a far less logical locale and age for this lozenge-shaped conveyance than Gattaca world. If you were to replace the rear-mounted, air cooled V8 with an ion generator or similar perpetual motion source it wouldn’t seem out of place.
The Countach might be your choice of ‘car of the future’, but the angular style puts it squarely in the seventies with other Bertone designs of the era. No, the Espada’s rather form-follows-function shape to give full four seat capacity challenges your visual preconceptions of what a grand touring exotic should look like, yet it does so with the restraint of the other cars in orderly-looking environment of the film (it’s also more restrained than the Lamborghini Marzal showcar that begat this thing).
WHOA, wait a minute, you’re saying now. I HATE these things! I get it, but we need to look at the overall concept of this misunderstood ride. If there’s ANY company that was lambasted in the 1980s for making cars that missed the mark, it was Cadillac. It’s hard to find one of those ‘Ugliest Cars of All Time’ lists that doesn’t include the 1980-1985 Seville.
This car was essentially a ‘retro’ car before that genre became A Thing; an homage to the Hooper-bodied bustle back Rolls-Royces and Daimlers. I mean, you wouldn’t call the car in the image below ugly, right?
But what if you slapped lots of chrome and fake wire wheels and a front end of a different car on it? Well… then you’d have a problem… and you’d have a 1980 Seville. Still, if we removed much of the malaise-era gilding, we’d be able to appreciate what the Cadillac designers were trying to do. Also, I like the idea of a retrofuture car actually drawing its design from ANOTHER retro car from decades before. Honorable mention: Lee Iacocca’s 1981-83 Imperial could also fit the bill.
Retrofuturism Is Back In Style
So how was Gattaca in any way a true-to-life vision? To once again prove that I am Old As Fuck, Gattaca is now unbelievably over 25 years old and we could, possibly, be living in the future date that it envisioned. We seem to have escaped cloning and class-based genetic monkey business, but AI is running rampant. Also, in an odd twist of fate, we’re beginning to see automakers making the Gattaca world a reality.
Maybe it started with sports vehicles like the original Ford GT, but it’s still growing strong with concepts like the Alfa-Romeo 33 Stradale that updates the vaunted 1967 show car (though the new one could use a LOT more of the restraint of the original car before it would EVER be allowed to appear in Gattaca world).
However, we’re now seeing everyday machines going a Gattaca route, like BMW with their new 3 Series concept, the Vision Neue Klasse, a car that chucks all of the post-Bangle aesthetic chaos of the brand for a modern interpretation of the sixties “Neue Klasse” cars like the 1600 and vaunted 2002.
Will we see more of this retrofuturism trend in our driveways soon? I mean, I’d bet on that before I would on those personal jetpacks and two helicopters in every garage.