Status: 08.12.2023, 09:30 a.m.
By: Sebastian Oppenheimer
The 1994 car year stood above all for the dawn of a time of diverse body concepts. Vehicles from back then will now become classic cars in 2024.
They have never been more popular than they are today: perhaps because classic cars are time capsules that conjure up the attitude to life of past decades – back then, when everything was supposedly better: In 2023, the Federal Motor Transport Authority recorded over 700,000 passenger cars for the first time that were registered at least 30 years ago and thus also meet the critical age limit for applying for the coveted history license plate. In fact, the H license plate declares classics to be a technical cultural asset that enjoys some privileges – but an expert opinion must first certify that the old car is largely original and in good condition.
Cars from 1994 become classic cars – including the Opel Tigra Coupé
If you want to buy a young classic car in 2024, you have a wide choice: After all, an era of particularly diverse body concepts began 30 years ago. In addition to convertibles – which, by the way, account for almost 30 percent of all classic cars on German roads – early crossover types such as the Toyota RAV4 Funcruiser and family vans from Japanese and European manufacturers caused a sensation. For example, the Eurovans from Citroën (Evasion), Fiat (Ulysse), Lancia (Zeta) and Peugeot (806) are legendary as a cooperation project as in today's Stellantis Group, but also challengers to the van trio of VW (Sharan), Seat (Alhambra) and Ford (Galaxy) that followed in 1995. In the mid-size class, Renault Laguna and Audi A4 (B5) competed in rounded bio-shapes, and in the small class, the Opel Tigra Coupé and the first BMW 3 Series Compact (E36) guaranteed coolness.
Also debuted in 1994: the Opel Tigra Coupé. © Opel
Sports history: In 1994, Michael Schumacher becomes the first German Formula 1 World Champion
Speed was in vogue in 1994, as indicated by the new Ferrari models F355 and F512 M and the rapidly expanding portfolio of the successful Porsche 911 (993) or the first BMW M3 Convertible as well as the Volvo 850 T-5R as the fastest Swede to date. On the other hand, one of the most tragic Formula 1 weekends in motorsport took place at the time. During qualifying for the Imola Grand Prix, Roland Ratzenberger had a fatal accident and in the race on Sunday, three-time world champion Ayrton Senna died. Fans of the Brazilian Formula 1 titan were still in mourning when, at the end of the 1994 season, Michael Schumacher made sporting history as the first German Formula 1 world champion, in a Benetton-Ford.
Sport and Ford, that's what the technically sharpened Escort RS Cosworth stood for. Otherwise, the Cologne-based volume manufacturer caused astonishment 30 years ago when the final Scorpio competed against the also new Opel Omega (B) in a sultry, rounded shape with googly eyes and a fish's mouth. What no one could have guessed was that although the winner in this duel was the winner in terms of sales figures, the Omega also gave its farewell. Lancia, on the other hand, advertised its clearly designed Kappa sedan as "Granturismo in perfection", but in the end this business liner also convinced too few buyers.
The Ford Scorpio presented itself in 1994 as rounded and somewhat pompous. © Ford
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Volvo 960: Six-cylinder sedan to be technically refreshed in 1994
Europe grew closer together in 1994: the Channel Tunnel between Calais in France and Folkestone in England was opened, Hungary applied to join the EU, and in Austria and Sweden people decided to join the EU by referendum. With the technically refreshed six-cylinder Volvo 960 sedan (advertising slogan: "It doesn't reveal everything at first glance"), which was also used by the Swedish royal family, the Gothenburg-based carmaker made a new attempt in the race for parking spaces in front of political power centers and corporate palaces throughout Europe. There, however, national prestige symbols as well as V8 and V12 of southern German or British origin continued to dominate. Jaguar and Daimler wanted to "redefine the world-class standard for luxury sedans" with the XJ Series and Double Six, but they only succeeded in doing so in the vicinity of 10 Downing Street, where the pro-European Prime Minister John Major ruled.
The XL-Benz is supposed to look more graceful: S-Class gets a facelift in 1994
In Germany, Helmut Kohl remained chancellor of a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition in the second Bundestag election after German reunification – and remained loyal to his Mercedes S-Class (W 140). Helmut Kohl was just as uninterested in the media clamour as to whether the W 140 model series would fit on the car train to Sylt or whether the body, drawn by Bruno Sacco in classically clear but colossal-looking contours, could really only be manoeuvred into parking spaces with the help of extendable dipsticks at the rear: the XL-Benz remained the global market leader in the luxury segment. Only the Mercedes developers must have been hit by the criticism, as was shown with the big facelift in 1994, as it aimed to make the flagship look a little more graceful. In doing so, the brand with the three-pointed star also countered the second-generation Lexus LS, but above all the third edition of the BMW 7 Series (E38).
High-tech meets elegance: the new BMW 7 Series (E38) was one of the stars of the 1994 car year. ©
Elegance meets high-tech: BMW launches the new 7 Series (E38)
For connoisseurs, the BMW flagship combines elegance with high-tech (the first European sedan with an integrated navigation system). Speaking of high-tech: With the A8 in 1994, Audi finally established itself in the luxury class. Up to 5.16 metres long but slender in design, the A8 – successor to the ill-funden V8 – shone as the first luxury saloon with a lightweight aluminium body and all-wheel drive, but above all as the first modern state car under the sign of the rings. Gerhard Schröder, chancellor of the first red-green coalition at the federal level from 1998, set a counterpoint to the omnipresent S-Class with the Audi A8. And Angela Merkel also later used an A8.
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Volume models in 1994: These were the trendsetters
But which volume models were the trendsetters of 1994? Above all, small cars such as the VW Polo, which became larger than a Golf I in the third generation. But the Skoda Felicia was also successful, as the first Czech development after the entry of the VW Group. The Hyundai Accent surprised as the first compact export bestseller "Made in Korea" and the Mazda 323 F as a small five-door coupé model. Nippon also continued to drive ahead in all-wheel drive: the renewed Subaru Legacy was on its way to becoming the most-built 4x4 passenger car of all time, the fresh Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD triumphed as the unbeatable World Rally Champion, and the off-road vehicle sales charts were dominated by Suzuki, Nissan & Co. anyway.
Convertibles were in vogue in 1994 – even in the small car segment such as the Fiat Punto. © Fiat
Alfa Romeo aroused emotions, because the brand also knew how to present unmistakable models with a sporty touch under Fiat's direction. For example, the compact Alfa 145 and 146 models designed by Ermanno Cressoni or the parallel models GTV and Spider designed by Pininfarina. Speaking of convertibles: The summer hits of 1994 such as "Cotton Eye Joe" by Rednex or "Without You" by Mariah Carey often sounded from new four-seater convertible top carriers: from the tiny Fiat Punto to the Peugeot 306 as the last convertible built by Pininfarina in Italy for the time being, to the classic Mercedes E200 (W 124). And let's not forget the newly launched Saab 900 Cabriolet, which still plays leading roles in TV movies and commercials today. A colourful portfolio of a total of more than 80 potential "H" contenders who have one thing in common: the new classic cars embody fascinating contemporary history. (Tungsten Nickel/SP-X)