The 80’s: a time of the best music, bold style, and most importantly, great cars. This was a decade that brought us some of the most iconic and memorable vehicles ever to hit the road. From sleek sports cars to innovative designs, the 80s had it all. Let’s step back in time and take a look at 25 of these legends that still turn heads and stir the souls of car lovers everywhere.
The AMC Eagle, a pioneering all-wheel-drive station wagon, set the stage for today’s popular models like the Subaru Outback. Originally launched as a wagon and later expanding to sedan and coupe variants, the Eagle stood out with its lifted suspension and optional wood-grain siding. It wasn’t a rugged off-roader but a comfortable, capable car equipped with a 4.2-liter engine, three-speed automatic transmission, Quadra-Trac 4WD, and standard 15-inch wheels. Its influence on the modern car market is undeniable, making it a memorable icon from the 80s.
The first BMW M3, born from racing ambitions, became a European Touring Car champion and a collectible icon. Its unique features, like flared fenders and a large rear spoiler, distinguished it from the standard E30 3-series. The M3 was powered by the S14 engine, boasting 192 hp in the U.S. version. Its advanced technical features and racing pedigree made it a standout performer and a symbol of BMW’s motorsport legacy.
AMG Hammer (1986–1988)
Before becoming part of Daimler, AMG was an independent tuning powerhouse, exemplified by the AMG Hammer. Based on the Mercedes 300E, AMG swapped its straight-six for a 5.5-liter V-8 from the S-class, adding twin-cam heads to boost power to 355 hp. Later, the engine was enlarged to 6.0 liters for a 365 hp output. The Hammer was a luxurious beast with unmatched power in its era, setting a precedent for AMG’s future innovations.
Ford Escort (1980-2003)
The Ford Escort reigned supreme in the 80s, evolving into a front-wheel drive hatchback in its Mk3 incarnation. It offered something for everyone, from basic models to performance variants, like the one owned by Princess Diana. The Escort RS Turbo was particularly notable for its blend of style and speed. Despite its modest 61 lb-ft torque and a top speed of 89.4 mph, the Escort’s broad appeal made it a sales success. Its transformation in the 1980s marked a significant shift for Ford’s family car, cementing its place as one of the decade’s most popular and versatile vehicles.
Ferrari F40 (1987-1992)
The Ferrari F40, a celebration of Ferrari’s 40th anniversary, was the last car unveiled under Enzo Ferrari’s watch. Its demand skyrocketed, leading to a production of 1,311 units, exceeding the initial plan of 450. The F40 was a marvel of engineering, featuring a 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine that produced 471bhp, propelling it to a top speed of 201 mph and accelerating to 60 mph in under four seconds. With its lightweight carbon fiber, Kevlar, and aluminum body, the F40 epitomized the ultimate performance car of its era, combining raw power with a stripped-back, race-inspired design.
Austin Metro (1980-1990)
The Austin Metro, while not the flashiest car of the 80s, was undoubtedly significant. Introduced as a replacement for the Mini, it was touted as ‘a British car to beat the world.’ The Metro came in various models, including the more desirable MG and Vanden Plas versions. It connected with the British public and even had a link to Princess Diana, highlighting its cultural importance despite its relatively modest specifications.
Porsche 959 (1986-1993)
The Porsche 959 was a futuristic vision of what supercars could be. Initially built for Group B rallying, the 959 featured an air-cooled flat-six engine with twin turbochargers and an electronically-controlled four-wheel drive system. It was a technical masterpiece, achieving a 0-60 mph time of just 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 197 mph, showcasing Porsche’s engineering prowess and foresight.
Alfa Romeo 164 Procar (1987-1998)
The Alfa Romeo 164 Procar was a unique blend of an F1 car and a typical saloon. Its 3.5-liter V10 engine, developed for a partnership with Ligier, and a chassis and body shell developed by Brabham, made it a 210 mph+ wonder. Only two were built, making the 164 Procar even more fascinating.
Ford Sierra RS Cosworth (1987)
The Ford Sierra RS Cosworth was a force to be reckoned with, thanks to its Cosworth-engineered 2.0-liter engine. With Weber-Marelli electronics, fuel injection, double overhead cams, sixteen valves, and a turbo, it generated 201 horsepower. Its performance was remarkable, achieving 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds and a top speed of 142 mph. The Sierra RS Cosworth stood out not just for its power but also for its exceptional handling, making it one of the best-driving cars of its time.
Alpine GTA (1985-1991)
The Alpine GTA, with its 160 horsepower and 166 lb/ft torque, may not have had the headlight count of the A310, but it still represented a significant offering from Renault. Marketed against competitors like the Porsche 944/911 and Lotus Esprit, the GTA was Alpine’s first UK-sold model, bringing a slice of French performance and style to the market.
Lancia Delta Integrale (1987)
The Lancia Delta Integrale dominated the World Rally Championship in the late 80s and early 90s, thanks to its formidable combination of four-wheel drive and turbocharging. Beginning with the Delta HF in 1987, the Integrale quickly made a name for itself in the rally world. Its road-going versions, with their aggressive body kits and wide arches, were more than just performance machines; they were statement pieces. The Integrale’s dominance on rally circuits and its unique design, based on the humble Giugiaro-designed hatchback, made it an unforgettable icon.
Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z (1985–1990)
The Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z is a quintessential representation of the 1980s, with its angular styling perfectly matching the era’s fashion. As the high-output Camaro, it came equipped with the Corvette’s 5.7-liter V-8, although slightly detuned to 220 horsepower. The IROC-Z garnered a passionate following that persists to this day, setting it apart as a memorable and desirable classic from the 80s.
DeLorean DMC-12 (1981–1983)
The DeLorean DMC-12, made famous for its gullwing doors and iconic role in pop culture, was a unique car with its stainless steel body and rear-mounted engine. Although its performance, with a 0 to 60 mph time of around 8.8 seconds for the manual version, wasn’t groundbreaking, the DeLorean’s design and the story of its creation have cemented its status as a cult classic. Its futuristic look and the intrigue surrounding the brand have kept the DMC-12 in the hearts of car lovers decades after its production ended.
Ferrari Testarossa (1984–1991)
The Ferrari Testarossa, unmistakable with its side strakes and emblematic of the 1980s, was a powerhouse with a mid-mounted flat-12 engine. Producing a staggering 380 horsepower, the Testarossa was capable of nearly 180 mph, making it the fastest car available in 1986. Its distinct design and impressive performance have turned the Testarossa into a beloved classic, representative of both Ferrari’s heritage and the excess of the 1980s.
Ford Mustang GT 5.0 (1987–1993)
The 1987 refresh of the Ford Mustang GT 5.0 marked the aesthetic high point of its third generation, offering hatchbacks, coupes, and convertibles. The “5.0” engine, a 4.9-liter V-8, was updated in 1987 to produce 225 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, bolstering the Mustang’s reputation as a performance icon. Its popularity with law enforcement and its role as a cultural symbol of the 80s make the Mustang GT 5.0 a memorable and sought-after classic.
Jeep Cherokee (1984–2001)
Introduced in 1984, the Jeep Cherokee was a game-changer, blending rugged off-road capability with the refinement needed for a family vehicle. Its design was both practical and stylish, and the Cherokee remained popular throughout its production run, even after the introduction of its intended replacement, the Grand Cherokee. The addition of the 4.0-liter inline-six engine in 1987, producing 173 horsepower, further solidified the Cherokee’s place as a beloved and versatile SUV. The Cherokee’s combination of compact size, unibody construction, and iconic design has kept it in high regard among enthusiasts.
Lamborghini Countach (1974–1990)
The Lamborghini Countach was the epitome of cool in the 80s, a dream car for many with its radical scissor doors and striking design. It was not just about looks; the Countach was a powerhouse, with its V-12 engine’s power ranging from 370 hp in the late 70s to 445 hp in the mid-80s. The Countach’s performance and iconic design have solidified its status as a symbol of extravagance and innovation.
Mazda 323 GTX (1988–1989)
The Mazda 323 GTX stood out in the 80s with its turbocharged DOHC 16-valve engine, producing 132 horsepower and featuring a lockable center differential for all-wheel drive. This hot hatch was subtle in appearance but packed a punch in performance, making it a hidden gem among the era’s performance cars. Its combination of power, handling, and understated styling has earned the 323 GTX a cult following among Mazda enthusiasts. Despite its discreet exterior, the 323 GTX was a capable and dynamic car, offering a 0-60 mph time of 8.7 seconds and a top speed close to 120 mph, making it a thrilling yet underrated player in the hot hatch segment of the 80s.
Mazda RX-7 Turbo II (1987–1991)
The Mazda RX-7 Turbo II was a significant step up from its predecessor, showcasing Mazda’s serious commitment to sports car development. With features like a complex rear suspension, a twin-scroll turbo, and European styling, the RX-7 Turbo II was both a convincing grand tourer and a highly capable sports car. Its 182 horsepower output and refined driving experience paved the way for the legendary twin-turbo RX-7 of the 90s, marking it as an important milestone in Mazda’s sports car lineage.
Renault 5 Turbo (1980)
The Renault 5 Turbo was a radical departure from the conventional hot hatch, transforming the standard Renault 5 into a mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive powerhouse. The removal of rear seats to accommodate the 1.4-liter engine behind the driver created a car that blurred the lines between a supercar and a hot hatch. The original 5 Turbo was a limited-production, specialized machine, with later Turbo 2 models being more accessible yet still exciting to drive.
Toyota Space Cruiser (1987)
The Toyota Space Cruiser, while not designed as a car-like MPV from the ground up like the Renault Espace, still offered a unique and practical solution for people carrying. Its van roots gave it a distinct character, and its name alone – Space Cruiser – added a cool factor. This vehicle may not have been the epitome of style, but it represented a functional and reliable choice for those needing space and versatility.
Mitsubishi Starion (1983–1989)
The Mitsubishi Starion, a sports car that marked the brand’s foray into performance vehicles, offered distinctive styling and impressive performance, particularly in the U.S. market. Equipped with the 2.6-liter Astron engine, a turbocharged four-cylinder, the Starion delivered robust power and agility. Its iconic pop-up headlamps and later ESi-R variants with bold fender flares gave it a strong visual presence. Although the Starion didn’t have Mitsubishi’s legendary 4G63 engine in the U.S., it still stood out as a memorable sports car of the 80s.
Saab 900 Turbo (1978–1993)
The Saab 900 Turbo emerged as an icon of Swedish engineering and design, especially after 1985, when it received significant upgrades. The 900 Turbo’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, boosted by an intercooler and other enhancements, delivered 160 horsepower and 188 lb-ft of torque. Its distinctive body kit and advanced turbo technology combined to create a car that was both stylish and powerful. The Saab 900 Turbo’s blend of unique design and robust performance made it a standout in the automotive world of the 80s.
Volvo 780 (1985)
When the Volvo 780 debuted in 1985, it represented a new level of luxury and style for the brand. The collaboration with Carrozzeria Bertone in Turin resulted in a sleek and elegant design, setting it apart from Volvo’s traditionally boxy aesthetic. The 780 was a true grand tourer, offering refined driving dynamics and a comfortable interior, all while maintaining Volvo’s reputation for safety and reliability. Its status as the most expensive Volvo at the time was justified by its sophisticated design and premium features.
Toyota Celica Supra (1982–1986)
The Toyota Celica Supra of the A60 generation might not have been the fastest, but it excelled in delivering a refined and enjoyable driving experience. Its 2.8-liter inline-six engine, while modest in power, provided a smooth and balanced ride. The A60 Supra’s real charm lay in its finesse and ability to evoke the feel of classic rear-drive GT cars.