Cars of the 1980s are now seriously sought after classics. Here are ten of the decade’s greatest icons.
The early 1980s was a period of innovation and growth for most of the major auto manufacturers, and the oil crisis and subsequent economic downturn in the previous decade had limited the development of sports cars a great deal. Cars like the Porsche 911 and Lamborghini Countach soldiered on for years with major updates rather than all-out replacement.
The introduction of new Group B sports and rally car regulations by the FIA meant that by the mid 1980s a new era of sports cars had dawned. Our list takes a look at an eclectic array of classics, which made an indelible mark on the automotive landscape. Leave us your thoughts in the comments section.
The Ford Sierra was a revelation in modern car design, featuring an aerodynamic front end and streamlined design it was the ideal base for the fire-breathing three door Cosworth RS. Arising out of a need for a Group A competitor, it achieved phenomenal success in both touring cars and rallying. The road versions were equally potent, producing 204bhp from its turbocharged 2-litre Cosworth fettled engine. The RS could race to 0-60 in 6.5 secs. Of the 5545 cars made, 500 special edition RS 500s were also produced.
Released to celebrate Ferrari’s 40th anniversary, the F40 was also the last car to be personally approved by an ageing Enzo Ferrari. Track biased it featured few creature comforts and had a lightweight Kevlar, aluminium and carbon fibre construction. Its 2.9litre 478bhp V8 twin turbo engine meant that 201mph was possible, edging the more luxurious Porsche 959 out of the fastest road car spot, even if only for a short while. Huge demand meant that 1311 units were eventually produced, instead of the 400 that were originally planned. The F40 remains one of the most recognisable icons of the 80s, and values have skyrocketed in recent years.
The Delorean DMC-12’s development was plagued by production challenges, design issues and even a drug scandal. Once production began, quality problems and spiralling costs kept things interesting. With its Renault-sourced 2.9-litre PRV V6, it was not a particularly quick either. Then the company declared bankruptcy. So why does it make our list? Well despite these hurdles the DMC-12 featured a stylish and innovative stainless steel body and the kind of desirability that takes a while to fully be appreciated. Today the remainder of the 8500-odd cars produced have become valuable collectors cars, appreciated for their unique design and timeless looks. Even if 88mph takes a bit longer to get to than you would expect.
The original Audi Quattro was introduced in mid-1980 just as its motorsport counterparts were starting to exert their four wheel drive dominance at rallying events around the world. Initially powered by a warbly 197bhp 2.1L inline five-cylinder turbocharged engine, the road cars performance was quick if not supercar rivalling. The focus was instead on its four wheel drive traction, making the Quattro unassailable when conditions got slippery.
Minor updates and modifications were made during its 11 year production life, the Quattro has become a modern cult classic, spawning a whole new range of powerful four-wheel drive sports cars. The ultimate short wheelbase Sport quattro was born out of a need to improve the car in Group B rallying, and is the most extreme of the quattro road cars, commanding huge values today.
If ever there was a car that signalled a change in the automotive industry in the 80s it was the 959. With the 911 having soldiered on in slightly modified form since the early 70’s and all attempts to replace it having failed, the technologically advanced 959 was released to showcase what could be done with the platform. Run flat tyres, twin turbo’s, advanced four wheel drive and aluminium and kevlar chassis design may be commonplace now but 30 years ago this sort of tech was unheard of. Despite not being designed for it, the 959 proved itself in multiple rallying successes.
Released in 1983, the fourth generation Corvettes design was quite a departure from the cars that had come before it. Gone were the curvy retro looks, replaced by thoroughly modern and sleek shell. The greatly updated chassis gave the cars much improved handling too, but power outputs were still somewhat miled, with 200bhp the most that the early base-spec 5.7 V8 could muster. Outputs slowly increased over the years, with cars like the limited edition ZR-1 (thanks to a Lotus re-engineered V8) producing 375bhp and the twin-turbo Callaway factory options offering up to 400bhp. Still a relatively affordable modern classic, the fourth generation Corvette has aged extremely well and set the template for Chevrolet’s subsequent sports cars.
The original M3 did what few high performance cars of the time could, and that was to combine all the best aspects of a great sportscar into one harmonious package. A motorsport derived 2.3-litre 192bhp four-pot provided the power, while a well set up chassis ensured that handling was sublime – on road or track. No individual component overpowered the other, creating a finely balanced machine. This basis made for an excellent racing car, and the E30 M3 dominated the touring car championships in its day. BMW has recently been revisiting this formula in road cars like the 1M Coupe and recent M2 to great effect. The original however remains a high point in BMW’s range and these little cars have consequently shot up in value in the past decade.
The Golf GTI from 1975 was the original sporty hatchback, and it proved such a successful formula that other manufacturers soon decided to get in on the action. With its second generation GTI, VW had to raise its game, or risk falling behind the competition. The first cars featured the original’s 8-valve motor but soon a 16-valve 1.8-litre version with 137bhp was launched, giving the new car serious pace. Practicality and handling remained strong points, while a supercharged G60 version boosted power to 160bhp in 1990.
One of the major headaches that faced the Golf GTI of the ‘80s was the rise of the sporty French hatchback. Arguably its biggest competitors came in the form of the excellent little Peugeot 205 GTI. Introduced in 1984 it quickly became a firm favourite with road testers and the public alike thanks to its fizzy engine and incredible handling. Starting off with a 1.6-litre 104bhp engine, it received minor changes throughout production including the introduction of a more powerful 130bhp 1.9-litre model. Mint condition cars tend to command premium prices today and to some they are the pick of the hot hatches from this era.
The otherwise nondescript Skyline range gained everlasting fame from one halo model, the all-conquering GT-R. Featuring a turbocharged 2.6-litre inline-six, allied with an advanced four-wheel drive system, it proved unbeatable around the world’s racetracks, earning the moniker ‘Godzilla’ in the process. Official power output was stated at 276bhp, the maximum allowed by Japanese regulations at the time, in truth most R32s produced in excess of 320bhp and were capable of much more than 400bhp with just a few tweaks. Launched in 1989, the GT-R signalled the beginning of an incoming generation of cars controlled by computers – changing the performance car landscape forever.
Words: John Tallodi