Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, or so the saying goes. But some car designers with an appreciation for history want to repeat it. That's the theory, anyway, behind retro style. A nod backwards in time, retro styling can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your view of the original influence and your opinion about whether the new vehicle does justice to the old one.

Currently, classic muscle cars of the late 1960s and '70s are the focus of retro stylists. But there are plenty of other examples — some good, some that miss the mark. Here is a snapshot of the 10 most notable retro-style rides on the road today.

Volkswagen New Beetle

Click to enlarge pictureVolkswagen New Beetle (© Volkswagen AG)

Volkswagen New Beetle

Ironically, the retro vehicle that started the idea of heritage design is itself about to become a relic of the past, since it will go out of production at the end of this year. First born (again) in 1998, the New Beetle was a thoroughly modern reimagining of the classic VW Bug shape. But unlike its bare-bones, rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive forebear, the New Beetle is a front-wheel-drive luxury car — by comparison, anyway — that's propelled by an engine mounted up front. The New Beetle's super-symmetrical front-to-back shape has become an icon in its own right, and it has been essentially unchanged since its introduction, except for the 2003 addition of a convertible version.

Compare: Volkswagen New Beetle vs. MINI Cooper vs. Honda Civic

Chevrolet Camaro

Click to enlarge pictureChevrolet Camaro (© General Motors)

Chevrolet Camaro

By 2002 the legendary Camaro had obviously lost its way. At the time, the slope-nose design of the fourth-generation muscle car bore more resemblance to a Pontiac Sunfire than its legendary street-brawler forebears. So after 35 years of continuous production, General Motors killed the model. Eight years later, however, the Camaro was resurrected, and this one was spawned using early DNA juiced up with some GM special sauce. The new Camaro is brutally fast: Even the $22,680 entry-level V6 shoves forth 304 horsepower; and the $31,795 V8-powered SS trim adds even more brawn with 426 horses. The design is unapologetically badass, inside and out.

Compare: Chevrolet Camaro vs. Ford Mustang vs. Dodge Challenger

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG

Click to enlarge pictureMercedes-Benz SLS (© Mercedes-Benz USA)

Mercedes-Benz SLS

The gullwing doors are really the only reference point you need. The Mercedes SLS supercar draws direct inspiration from the most famously collectible coupe ever made: the 1955-63 300SL. The 300SL was the fastest production car of its day and the first commercially available direct fuel-injection vehicle. The SLS can claim no such superlatives, but it is pretty darned fast. With a 563-horse 6.2-liter V8 engine hustling it from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, it's definitely able to keep pace with some of the best vehicles Italy has to offer. To some the SLS may be a bit too retro, with fender cuts and a droopy tail end that directly mimic the '50s SL. But if you like your exotic sports cars classically beautiful, the SLS fits the bill.

View Slideshow:  Driven to Impress

Ford Mustang

Like the Chevy Camaro, the Ford Mustang also lost its way for a while. A comparative analysis between the body of a 1980s third-generation Mustang and the original pony car from the '60s is enough to make Steve McQueen cry. Gen-three Stangs were a milquetoast exercise in platform design that you had to squint at to identify as sports cars. The 1990s refresh helped a bit, but it was the 2005 retro redesign that brought the Mustang back to its roots as the Everyman's sports car — a utilitarian slab of power with a tapered roof and overshot front lip that is a direct design link to the classic fastback 2+2 coupe configuration from the late 1960s.

Read:  Pony Car Throw-Down

Dodge Challenger

Click to enlarge pictureDodge Challenger R/T (© Chrysler Group LLC)

Dodge Challenger R/T


Like most muscle cars, the Dodge Challenger proved itself on the street in the '70s, got some early cred in an iconic movie (1971's "Vanishing Point"), then had the life squeezed out of it with an embarrassing 1980s version (essentially a rebadged Mitsubishi import — with 4-cylinder engines, no less). In 2008 the Challenger was reborn with aggressive styling that featured the raised-up rear haunches and four round headlights of the original. For about a year, the Challenger owned the honor of most muscular modern muscle car, but the new Chevy Camaro and recent engine upgrades to the Ford Mustang make the Challenger look anemic.

View Pictures:  Muscle Cars