Which Cars Evolved To Look Even Better As They Aged?
This morning, while cruising down the highway I came upon a 2007-2009 model year Nissan 350Z. I recognized the car’s year range from the mid-cycle refresh updates, which include a revised hood reminiscent of the older Z models, larger machine-polished five-spoke alloys, and more attractive xenon headlights and taillights.
Now, the early 350Z is by no means “ugly,” but Nissan did a spectacular job refreshing the Z. The surprisingly unmodified and spotlessly clean black example I ran across caught my eye this morning—and a 350Z normally doesn’t. It got me thinking, “Man, they really nailed that refresh.”
Shortly after, once the coffee started turning gears, it dawned on me: many enthusiasts think that original designs often can’t be improved up. So I started thinking, “What other cars look better after a mid-cycle refresh?”
It certainly took a minute, because I too tend to believe what’s originally released is hard to beat. Perhaps it’s a bit of regularity? We see the car for years in one light, so when a manufacturer goes about tweaking it, we freak out? I don’t know, but I started to recall a few cars that look better when the designers got the green light for plastic surgery.
I’m a tad biased because I owned a number of these, but the DC2 Honda Integra Type R is one of those cars that looks better post-facelift… or in this case… a backside enhancement—no, not like the Kardashian’s. You see, the ’96 spec Honda Integra Type R looks fine. In fact, I tend to believe it’s one of H-car’s finest from the ’90s. The 15” Enkei eight-spokes look sporty enough and the rest of the car looks stunning, especially in Championship White.
Here’s the mid-cycle refresh for the model. It’s subtle, but it’s certainly an improvement. The fascia was left alone with the exception of factory projector HIDs—the lens have a circle etched in front of the projector to distinguish the look from the early standard lamps. The wheels were bumped up to 16×7” ten-spoke units that really improve the car’s stance by filling out the wheelwell a bit more. That rear-end treatment though? Biggest improvement. Again, it’s not loud, likely unnoticeable at first glance to those non-ITR fanatics, but the rear bumper is slightly taller—as in, it hangs lower to the ground. From the profile, it helps level the side skirt with the back of the car and from the rear a faux diffuser adds some flair and compliments the rather tall factory wing.
Another car I believe looks better post facelift is the Ferrari Testarossa. Now, the original is perfectly ’80s. With its boxy Pininfarina body, flip-up headlamps, and massive side blades—known to “slice like a ninja, cut like a razor blade… so fast”—the original iteration of the Testarossa is fine. Small alterations were made throughout production—not in one swift update—such as the painted front lower valance, larger diameter wheels, and two mirrors.
Now, as fond as I am with classics with just one side view mirror, the Testarossa’s high-mounted driver’s-side-only unit (yes, like the one on Miami Vice) always looked quirky to me. A later ’Rossa with two mirrors mounted down low, where they should have always been mounted? Yes, please, and thank you! Now, the 512TR revisions? Uh…
Finally, one of my very favorite saloons came to mind—the E38 BMW 7-series. To this day, I think a 2001 BMW 740i M Sport is the greatest sedan ever to rein from Munich—over any M5 (put down the pitchforks…you can’t shank me through the internet).
Now, that’s not to say when it debuted in 1994, it was perfect. I’m sure it was fine back in the ’90s, but unpainted side skirts and half painted bumpers on a Bavarian flagship? Unacceptable! 1998 brought the first major aesthetic changes, often referred to as the mid-life facelift: more attractive tail lights helped out back, while the glass rectangular headlights were ditched in favor of plastic units, but featured Xenon projector low beams with a squinted lens look—which became BMW’s corporate headlight shape for the early 2000s.
The ’98 mid-life facelift was an improvement, but the E38 still had that “unfinished” look thanks to the unpainted plastic cladding. Thankfully, for the final production year, BMW fixed this by offering full color-matched bumpers and skirts, and offered the M Sport model with “Shadowline” window and bumper trim (black in place of chrome), and machine polished 18” M Parallel wheels. All of which were great improvements over the original design.
The Nissan 350Z, Honda Integra Type R, Ferrari Testarossa, and BMW E38 7 series are just a few examples of mid-cycle alterations done right. What says ye, readers? What vehicles do you think were better off after factory updates? Let us know in the comments!
Photos courtesy of Honda, Nissan, BMW, Porsche