1986 Porsche 944 Turbo

Cars From the 1980s You Might Have Forgotten About

The 1980s were a golden era for cars, filled with innovation, style, and some unforgettable designs. This was a decade where automakers weren’t afraid to push boundaries and experiment with new ideas. Whether you’re a fan of sports cars or off-roaders, the ’80s has a car for you. Let’s take a trip back in time and check out some of the coolest cars that the 1980s had to offer.

BMW M3 (1988–1991)

1988 BMW M3 EVO
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The BMW M3 from the late ’80s was born out of racing necessity. To meet Group A racing requirements, BMW had to produce 5,000 M3s, leading to a car that won the European Touring Car Championship. The M3 stood apart from the standard E30 3-series with its unique body kit, flared fenders, and a distinct rear spoiler. Power came from the S14 engine, a 2.3-liter four-cylinder that made an impressive 192 horsepower. The M3 wasn’t just fast; it was also about precision handling and a driving experience that remains iconic to this day.

AMC Eagle (1980–1987)

1980 AMC Eagle
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The AMC Eagle was ahead of its time, introducing the concept of the all-wheel-drive wagon way before it became a trend. It started off as a wagon but soon added sedan and coupe versions to the lineup. What set it apart was its raised suspension and the option to have wood-grain on the sides – definitely a different look for the time. Built in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Eagle was a real game-changer, blending the practicality of a wagon with the toughness of an all-wheel-drive system.

Buick Grand National GNX (1987)

Buick Grand National GNX (1986)
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The Buick Grand National GNX made a bold statement in 1987. It was the high-performance version of the already popular Grand National, but with significant upgrades. McLaren Performance Technologies tweaked the 3.8-liter V-6 engine, boosting its output to around 276 horsepower, though some say it was closer to 300. With its black paint job, fender flares, and 16-inch wheels, the GNX had a menacing look. It was a powerhouse on the road, clocking a 0-60 mph time of just 4.7 seconds. Only 547 units were made, making it a rare and sought-after classic.

Audi Quattro (1983–1985)

Audi Quattro
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The Audi Quattro redefined performance with its innovative all-wheel-drive system and turbocharged five-cylinder engine. Despite its modest 160 horsepower in the U.S. versions, it made a huge impact on the early ’80s World Rally scene. The Quattro stood out with its blocky, blister-fendered design and was available in extremely powerful rally versions overseas. This car was pivotal in giving Audi a performance-oriented image in the 1980s, setting the stage for the brand’s contemporary reputation.

Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z (1985–1990)

Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
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The Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z is the quintessential ’80s muscle car. With its angular design and removable T-tops, it was made for the era. The IROC-Z came with a 5.7-liter V-8 from the Corvette, slightly tuned down to 220 horsepower. Although it didn’t quite outshine the Ford Mustang in performance tests, it still won the hearts of car fans with its bold styling and powerful engine. 

Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition (1980)

Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition (1980)
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The Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition, also known as “Black Gold,” was a standout in 1980. This limited edition model, with only 3,000 units made, was draped in a black and gold color scheme both inside and out. It was so well-equipped that it left hardly any room for options. But what really made this car memorable was its advertising campaign. Datsun’s promotion featured bright lights, big hair, and an unforgettable theme song -a combo that few could forget.

Ferrari Testarossa (1984–1991)

Ferrari Testarossa
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The Ferrari Testarossa was the ultimate ’80s dream car. It had those wild side strakes and a look that was all about showing off. Under the hood, the Testarossa packed a serious punch with a flat-12 engine cranking out 380 horsepower. This car wasn’t just about looks; it could fly, hitting speeds close to 180 mph. Back in the day, if you were into cars, chances are you had a poster of the Testarossa on your wall.

DeLorean DMC-12 (1981–1983)

DeLorean DMC-12
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The DeLorean DMC-12 is as famous for its backstory as it is for its design. Known for its gull-wing doors and stainless-steel body, the DMC-12 became iconic through its appearance in a popular movie series. Without that cinematic fame, it might have faded into obscurity. The DeLorean’s story is a mix of ambition and controversy, involving its creator John Z. DeLorean.

Ford Mustang GT 5.0 (1987–1993)

Ford Mustang GT 5.0
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The Ford Mustang GT 5.0 of the late ’80s was the muscle car everyone respected. It looked similar to other Mustangs but packed a serious punch with the “5.0” V8 engine, which was actually a 4.9-liter powerhouse. This Mustang was all about raw power, cranking out 225 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. It could tear up the streets, going from zero to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds.

Dodge Omni Shelby GLH/GLHS (1984–1986)

1986 Dodge Omni Shelby GLHS
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The Dodge Omni Shelby GLH and GLHS models turned a simple hatchback into a performance legend. “GLH” stood for “Goes Like Hell,” and the even more potent GLHS version, “Goes Like Hell Some-more.” The 1986 GLHS, straight from Shelby’s facilities, packed a 175-hp 2.2-liter turbocharged engine. This made the Omni a serious contender against other hot hatches of the era.

Honda CRX Si (1985–1987)

1987 Honda CRX Si
Image Credit: Mr.choppers/WikiCommons.

The Honda CRX Si from the mid-80s was a game-changer. It was small, but it packed a punch with its fuel-injected 91 horsepower engine. This car was all about fun. It weighed less than 1900 pounds, making it quick and agile. The CRX Si wasn’t just a great sports car for its time; it set the standard for affordable, enjoyable driving. Honda nailed it with this one, creating a car that was as much a blast to drive as it was reliable.

Porsche 959 (1986–1989)

Porsche 911 Turbo
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The Porsche 959 was a technological marvel of the ’80s and a true supercar of its time. It boasted advanced features like sequential turbocharging, an all-wheel-drive system, and 444 horsepower from its flat-six engine. The 959 wasn’t just fast; it was a showcase of cutting-edge engineering and design. It set new standards for performance and handling, showing that smart technology could lead to crazy results.

Mazda 323 GTX (1988–1989)

Mazda 323 Hatchback
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The Mazda 323 GTX was a hidden gem in the late ’80s. It was a small hatchback, but it came with a serious kick thanks to its turbocharged engine and all-wheel-drive system. The 323 GTX was one of the early players in the hot hatch scene, delivering 132 horsepower in a nimble package. It was the kind of car that could zip around town just as easily as it could tear up a back road. Mazda was ahead of the curve with this one, offering a combination of performance and practicality that was hard to beat at the time.

Toyota Celica Supra (1982–1986)

Toyota Celica Supra
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The Toyota Celica Supra from the early ’80s was a real crowd-pleaser. It had a sporty look with flip-up headlights and flared fenders, making it stand out on the road. Under the hood, the Supra was powered by a 2.8-liter inline-six engine, delivering a decent 178 horsepower. What made the Celica Supra special was the overall driving experience. It had a certain finesse and a feel that reminded you of classic rear-drive GT cars. 

Jeep Cherokee (1984–2001)

jeep Cherokee
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The Jeep Cherokee hit the scene in the mid-80s and quickly became a classic. It struck the perfect balance between being a rugged off-roader and a comfortable family car. Its design was simple yet effective, with a boxy shape that meant business. The Cherokee was versatile enough to handle outdoor adventures and daily commutes with ease. Its long production run is a testament to its popularity and reliability. Even today, the Cherokee is remembered as a vehicle that defined what a modern SUV could be.

Mazda RX-7 Turbo II (1987–1991)

Mazda RX-7 Turbo II
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The Mazda RX-7 Turbo II in the late ’80s was a serious contender in the sports car world. This second-generation RX-7 was inspired by European designs and packed a punch with its turbocharged rotary engine. It delivered 182 horsepower and had a sophisticated feel with features like a complex rear suspension and an asymmetrical hood scoop for the intercooler.

Lamborghini Countach (1974–1990)

Lamborghini Countach
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The Lamborghini Countach was the poster car of the ’80s. This beast was all about sharp angles, scissor doors, and a look that said, “I’m here to conquer.” Powered by a roaring V-12, the Countach had the go to match its show. It evolved over the years, with the later models featuring more aggressive styling and even more power.

Nissan Pulsar NX (1987–1990)

1987 Nissan Pulsar NX
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The Nissan Pulsar NX was the epitome of ’80s creativity and versatility. It stood out with its unique reconfigurable rear end, pop-up headlights, and sharp, angular styling. The Pulsar NX offered a practical hatchback design with a twist. Owners could transform it from a standard hatchback into a convertible or even a sort-of pickup truck, thanks to its removable panels.

Mercedes-Benz G-Class (The Late Triassic Period–2018)

Mercedes-Benz G-Class
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The Mercedes-Benz G-Class, often known simply as the G-Wagen, was a luxury off-roader that combined rugged capability with high-end comfort. Though it wasn’t officially sold in the U.S. until the early 2000s, the G-Class had already been making waves since the ’80s. Its boxy design and robust build made it as much at home on rough terrain as in upscale neighborhoods.

Saab 900 Turbo (1978–1993)

1979 Saab 900 Turbo
Image Credit: Mr.choppers/WikiCommons.

The Saab 900 Turbo really hit its stride in the ’80s. It was a bit different from your typical sports car, with its unique styling and front-wheel drive. But don’t let that fool you – this car had some serious get-up-and-go. The turbocharged 2.0-liter engine put out a solid 160 horsepower, making the 900 Turbo a blast to drive. It had a cool factor that set it apart, with a design that was quirky yet functional.

Porsche 944 Turbo (1986–1989)

1986 Porsche 944 Turbo
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The Porsche 944 Turbo was a standout sports car in the late ’80s. It took the already impressive 944 and cranked it up a notch with a turbocharged version of its 2.5-liter engine, delivering up to 247 horsepower in the Turbo S model. This car was all about balance and handling, thanks to its front-engine, rear-transaxle layout. The 944 Turbo wasn’t just fast; it was a blast to drive, with quick acceleration and responsive handling.

Subaru XT (1985–1991)

1987 Subaru XT
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The Subaru XT was a true ’80s icon with its futuristic, wedge-shaped design. It looked like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. The XT had some pretty cool features under the hood too. The turbocharged flat-four engine gave it some pep, and you could get it with all-wheel drive and a manual transmission, which was pretty rare for the time. Inside, the car kept the futuristic theme going with a unique two-spoke steering wheel and a gauge cluster that moved with the steering wheel.

Author: Abbie Clark

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