Only one more year and we're into the "aughts"! Here's a car that really turned the automotive world on its head and led to a sea change in design:
1998 Volkswagen New Beetle.
How do you revive a stagnant brand? Look backward. The New Beetle, basically a Golf with a different body grafted onto it, pretty much single-handedly brought Volkswagen back from the brink of relevance. In 1997, VW basically had three vehicles: the Golf/Jetta, the Passat, and the Eurovan. Quality was iffy, styling was bland and boxy, and the company really didn't have much to offer anyone that wasn't trying to get into a German car on the cheap.
Enter the New Beetle.
Pretty much overnight VW was back in the game. With the buzz generated over the New Beetle, the entire industry started looking backward. Now, granted, Chrysler started the retro craze with the Viper nearly a
decade prior, but the New Beetle was a car everyone could afford. 2001 saw the Ford Thunderbird come back (after a 4 year absence) with definitive cues to the original 1955 T-bird. The 2005 Mustang was obviously influenced by the 1964½. GM brought the SSR out in 2003 and redesigned the Camaro in 2009 with a body that could have been pulled from 1967. Even stodgy old Chrysler revived the Charger (2006) and Challenger (2008).
I think it's safe to say, though, that the crazy buzz brought by the New Beetle started the retro trend at the end of the 1990s...
That is all.