If you were into cars in the 1980’s you’ll remember that times were tough. Performance numbers were in the toilet, as were most of the cars themselves. I was in high school out on Long Island’s north shore and back then and I remember my high school parking lot very clearly. IROC Camaro’s, old Trans Am’s, Datsun 210’s and old Mustangs filled the lot. As high school kids we took anything we could get our hands on and simply ran with it. Hell, I remember my first car… it was a 1981 Mercury Capri that my Aunt gave me. It was blue, rusty and had 4 different tires on it, but it ran and back then that was all that mattered.
The 1980’s were filled with a fair amount of automotive atrocities, but if you looked hard enough there actually were some bright spots. Listed below are 10 rays of sunshine that helped shed some light on an otherwise miserable automotive decade.
• 1982 Lamborghini Countach LP5000 S
I lusted after two things in 1982, a Lamborghini Countach and Farrah Fawcett, neither of which were attainable. The Countach, to most American’s anyway, made it’s debut in the 1981 movie Cannonball Run. It was low, fast and had an exhaust note that sounded like an automotive symphony. It was also way over the top as far as the styling went and the perfect “excess” car for the 80’s. The now legendary scissor doors first appeared on the Countach and from that point on the car was set in stone as an automotive icon. The big V12 made 455 hp horsepower in European trim which was good for 182 mph flat out. Production of the Countach stopped in 1990 with a total of 2,042 being built since its inception in 1974.
• 1987 Buick Grand National GNX
The 1987 Buick Grand National GNX was one bad ass beastie, and the last in the line of Regal based Grand Nationals produced from 1984-1987. Think of the GNX as a Grand National on steroids. The stock V6 was reworked by Mclaren and both the turbo and intercooler were given upgrades. Body styling ques were tweaked a bit with a new blacked out grill, wider fenders and new vents behind the front wheel arches. Power from the turbo V6 was 276 hp and a whopping 360 ft. lbs. torque. Oh, and one other thing, when ordering the GNX you could get it in any color you wanted, as long as it was black.
• 1984 Ferrari 288 GTO
Remember watching Magnum P.I. as he drove around Honolulu in that bright red Ferrari 308 GTB. The GTB in stock form was somewhat of an underachiever. Sure it said Ferrari on it, but with only 220 hp it wasn’t winning to many races. Then in 1984 Ferrari got a bug up its ass and decided they had had enough of the slow 308 and built the 288 GTO. Sure it kinda’ looked like a 308, but underneath it was a whole new animal. Originally built as a competitor to the Porsche 959, the Ferrari 288 GTO was more than just a punched out 308. A 2.9 liter V8 engine with twin IHI turbochargers helped the GTO produce 400 hp and 366 lb.ft torque, simply huge numbers for 1984. 0-60 times were in the low 4 second range and given enough road the 288 GTO would top out at 189 mph. Who knows, maybe if Magnum was driving this sucker he’d have caught more of the bad guys.
• 1981 Delorean
Nothing says, “I do cocaine” like the 1981 Delorean. Manufactured in northern Ireland the Delorean was the brain child of GM executive John Delorean. His goal was to build a cutting edge GT car that would appeal to the world over. Styling wise the Delorean was actually a very nice looking car. With a monocoque chassis, gull wing doors and stainless steal body panels it definitely had an appeal to it. However once it hit the market, people began to realize that the cars were not only underpowered but had severe reliability issues as well. Then in 1985 “Back to the Future” came out and gave the then defunct company some positive publicity, alas it was too late as the Delorean Motor Company hit the skids in 1982.
• 1985 Audi Quattro
To all you STi and EVO freaks out there, I want you to say hello to the Grandfather of the AWD revolution, the original Audi Quattro. The Quattro was the first production car to feature high end AWD as part of its design. The Quattro was originally designed for off road rally racing and when introduced to the racing scene in the early 1980’s it dominated year after year. Sales in North America began in 1983 and ran until 1986 in which time only 664 were sold. Today these gems are rare, and are fast becoming collector items.
• 1982 Ford Mustang 5.0
Unless you’ve been living under an automotive rock for the last 3 months you’ll know that the big news at Ford in regards to the Mustang is the return of the 5.0. Do you however know the origins of the mystical number and where it got it start? Back in 1979 the Ford Mustang was completely redesign from the God awful Mustang II into the Fox body Stang’ you see here. It was a body style that would last for 14 years. The 5.0 was the designation given to the V8 in 1982 because it was the first year that people had the option of a true 5.0-liter 302 cubic inch V8. From Vanilla Ice to drag strips around the world the 1982-1993 5.0 Mustangs have a following that can’t be matched in the automotive world.
• 1986 BMW E30 M3
Today when we think of quick imports we envision small Japanese pocket rockets like the Subaru STI or Mitsubishi EVO. Sure those are great automobiles, but let me introduce you to the one that started it all, the BMW E30 M3. I remember being in school back in the late 80’s, and seeing this thing roll through the parking lot. It was white, with flared fenders, a wicked little front spoiler and a rear wing. My first thought was, WTF WAS THAT? This little Bavarian bad boy was the catalyst, at least in my opinion, to the whole import craze. The styling was a huge leap of faith for BMW back then as wings and spoilers were seldom seen. By taking a chance on this M3, BMW not only created and icon but a car that is still unbelievably capable to this day.
• 1983 Renault 5 Turbo
Now this is one cool little pocket rocket. I remember watching James Bond in Never Say Never Again, and in one scene good ole’ Jimmy Bond was chasing some chick in a hot little wide body import. Even back then at the ripe old age of 11, my piston driven brain wanted to know what that car was. Turns out it was a 1983 Renault 5 Turbo and man did it blow me away. The Renault 5 Turbo featured a mid-mounted turbocharged engine that pumped out 158 hp. The little mill combined with the Renault’s light weight and stellar handling helped it excel in off road rally events. The styling, although a bit over the top, is still considered to be one of the most aggressive designs ever put into production.
• 1986 Porsche 959
While I wasn’t a real fan of the styling there was no doubt that the Porsche 959 was a car, that in 1986 set the automotive world on its ear. It made 450 hp, had four-wheel drive, went 0-60 in 3.7 seconds and had a top speed of 196 mph. Even by today’s standards those numbers are pretty awesome. There were however two inherent problems with the 959. First off, they were not allowed in the United States due to not meeting emissions standards and secondly the price in 1986 was a staggering $225,000. Today most 959s are in the hands of collectors and museums with few being street driven. A technological masterpiece, the 959 helped paved the way for much of the technology that resides in today’s 911 series of cars.
• 1987 Ferrari F40
Considered by some to be the last of the real driver’s Ferrari’s, the F40 has developed a reputation as an unbridled, no-holds-barred street legal race car. The F40 was one of the first cars to utilize materials such as kevlar, carbon fiber and aluminum. There were no carpets, no stereo and no power windows. Power for the F40 actually came from an enlarged version of the 288 GTO’s 2.9-liter twin-turbo V8 that produced 417 hp. This helped rocket the F40 from 0-60 in 3.2 seconds and helped it achieve the title of the first road legal production car to break the 200 mph barrier.