So many things we use today came to fruition in the 1980s. Personal computers, compact discs, the Walkman, the mobile phone, and portable video cameras ("camcorders"), all emerged during the decade. Of course if one takes a look at the hairstyles and fashions from back then, it’s certain there are aspects of the 1980s we’ll all too happily forget.
There were however, a number of 1980's cars we should always remember.
Technological innovation had finally begun to overcome the limitations safety and emissions regulations had imposed in the latter part of the 1970s. It was the beginning of the Golden Age of performance cars we’re currently enjoying. Just as the items described above finally merged into the all-conquering Smartphones we so covet today, these cars were the precursors to the exceptionally exciting roster of automobiles we have to choose from these days.
Let’s pay tribute with this 80s flashback to cars we loved in the 1980s
The 1986 BMW M3 was created to enable BMW to enter the Group A Touring Car racing series. To qualify, a manufacturer had to field a model of which it had built at least 5000 units. Amazingly there was doubt within BMW management whether the company could sell that many of the modified 3 Series coupes. Ultimately, some 17 thousand cars were built. A double overhead cam inline four displacing 2.3-liters powered the first BMW M3, routing192 horsepower and 170 ft-lbs of torque to the rear wheels through a five-speed manual transmission.
The super sinister-looking 1987 Buick GNX was the ultimate version of Buick’s Regal-based Grand National performance car of the 1980’s. Buick claimed 245 horsepower and 360 ft-lbs of torque from the turbocharged 3.8-liter V6. A five-speed automatic transmission routed the thrust to the rear wheels. While its blistering acceleration got it named "the last of the muscle cars", the turbocharged Buick actually pointed the way to the high performance cars we enjoy today.
The International Race of Champions was conceived as a series pitting the best racing drivers from different aspects of the sport against one another in identically prepared cars set up by the same mechanics. Chevrolet’s Camaro was the car of choice for the series from 1975 to 1989. Naturally, a street version of the car was offered as well. The IROC-Z was based on the Camaro Z/28 and came to market in 1985 featuring a 5.0-liter V8 producing 215 horsepower.
Yeah—Magnum’s Ferrari. The show made the Ferrari 308 intensely popular, even among people who didn’t care about cars. For people who do care about cars, this mid-engined Ferrari model ultimately evolved into the twin-turbocharged Ferrari F40, one of the most highly coveted supercars of all time. As its name suggests, the 308 ran a 3.0-liter four-cam V8 producing 230 horsepower and 188 ft-lbs of torque. A five-speed manual transmission routed power to the rear wheels.
It could be argued the EcoBoost engines Ford is using today evolved from the 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine powering the Ford Mustang SVO, which ultimately produced as much as 205 horsepower and 248 ft-lbs of torque. This was actually more power than Ford was getting out of the Mustang’s 5.0-liter V8 back then. And yes, it has been announced the 2015 Ford Mustang will feature a (wait for it…) 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder among its engine offerings.
The world’s most beloved two-seat roadster came to market in 1989. Suddenly, here was a small affordable rear-drive sports car like those coveted British roadsters of the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s—but with reliability. Further, when you opened the hood, the 116-horsepower 1.6-liter twin-cam engine was a delight to behold.
While the R107 Mercedes-Benz SL was actually introduced in 1971, it was the it-car to have during the 1980’s “I, me, mine” era of conspicuous consumption. The R107 ran through 1989 to become the longest running iteration of the Mercedes SL ever. Arguably, it was also the prettiest SL ever. Powered by a broad variety of eight-cylinder engines over its run, most people refer to the car as the 450SL.
Today, Porsche has two front-engined models, but the 1976 924 was revolutionary when it was introduced, as Porsche had previously only fielded rear- and mid-engine models. Following the 924 to market in 1982, the 944 ran a 150-horsepower 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine. The ultimate iteration of the car, the 944 Turbo S, made 250 horsepower when 944 production ended in 1991.
The first all-wheel drive supercar, the 1986 twin-turbocharged Porsche 959 was Porsche’s state of the art, cost no object technological innovation test bed. Pioneering four-channel ABS, torque-splitting all-wheel drive, and speed adjustable suspension systems, its 195-mph top speed made it the fastest road car in the world when it was introduced. The 959’s 444 horsepower 2.8-liter engine was mated to a six-speed manual transmission and produced 369 ft-lbs of torque.
After a decade or so of building uninspiring front-wheel drive cars, somebody at Toyota had a brilliant idea. Take a front wheel drive powertrain, mount it in some swoopy bodywork behind a pair of seats, and presto, you’ve got an affordable mid-engine rear drive sports car to offer. Introduced in 1984, Toyota’s “Mister Two” has seen three generations of production since then, and ranks as one of the best affordable sports cars of all time.