80s cars

80s Cars – The 10 Best

The 80s, a time of optimism and excess, nothing represents that ideology better than 80s cars designed during this era.

This period in automotive history brought us some of the most eye-catching and iconic car designs ever, often polarising opinion, but always appreciated for what they’re a symbol of.

80s cars have gone through the darkest days of being unwanted and worthless, and the survivors that eluded the scrapyard are now on the upswing and enjoying some appreciation in value.

Thanks to this, most of the remaining cars are likely to be kept going by their loving owners, old and new. Their quirky styling is no longer considered out of date.

Join me on an exploration of my 10 best 80s cars in no particular order. Some of these are obvious, others an unexpected blast from the past.

BMW E30 M3

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know I have a real soft spot for old BMWs. And there is no softer part of that spot than the BMW E30.

The E30 M3 is the ultimate rendition of the E30, and while it’s not the most powerful car on this list, it’s potentially the best looking in my opinion.

The E30 M3 is actually the original BMW M3, and a true homologation special. Due to this they are very rare and sought after these days, and have become rapidly appreciating collectors cars.

To me, this is as much of a shame as it is a positive for the car. A shame because it puts me in a position where I’m unlikely to ever own one, and probably a position where I’m unlikely to see too many of them again.

The positive being that the few that remain are being well cared for and from here the E30 M3 of the 80s is unlikely to ever become extinct.

The E30 M3 is equipped with a notoriously good feisty little 2.3-2.5L 4-cylinder motor in a lightweight car giving it plenty of poke. Where the E30 M3 really shines though is in its balance and handling.

In the 80s, safety equipment wasn’t as high on the list of priorities helping the cars keep their weight down. This provides handling characteristics a much heavier modern car could never replicate, no matter how much horsepower is thrown at it.

The E30 M3’s showpiece however is its styling. At a glance it looks rather like a normal BMW E30 coupe and nothing particular to write home about. But if you let your eyes linger for a moment you will begin to notice all of the changes that were made, and there are many!

Not only did the E30 M3 have exquisite box flare wheel arches front and rear providing a meaner, wider stance, but there are much more unexpected changes than this.

Note the c-pillar. This part of the body was changed to increase the rake of the rear screen, and leads on to a peculiar trunk boot-lid design which appears to stand taller than expected. Of course this is finished off with a large and aggressive looking spoiler, and the later Evo run out variants even had an adjustable gurney flap attached to perfect the whole look.

Due to these more extensive than meets the eye changes to the car’s body, the E30 M3 looks stunning from every angle, and it screams 80s car at you at the top of its lungs.

Many enthusiasts wax lyrical about the days these E30 M3s could be picked up for under £4-5k. But sadly those days are long gone with perfect examples fetching record prices towards the £100k range, and good condition cars fetching around £45k.

E30 M3 Spec Sheet

  • Configuration: front engine, rear wheel drive
  • Engine Power: 217hp and 180lb-ft from a 2.3L inline 4 cylinder engine
  • Weight: 1200kg
  • Release Year: 1986
  • 80s Car Cool Factor: 10

Audi Ur Quattro

Another 80s motorsport icon, and a dominating force in the rally racing sport in the era. The original Audi Quattro.

The “Ur” in Ur-Quattro is prefixed onto the Quattro name to indicate its the original quattro in German, and this is how they have been referred to for quite a while. In period, there was only one Quattro so the Ur was an unnecessary addition back then.

This is another of those homologation special cars, when Audi introduced the race car in the world of rallying, its cutting edge 4-wheel-drive system quickly enabled it to dominate its rear wheel drive competitors, changing the course of history and the configuration of all successful rally cars going forward.

By modern day standards, the quattro sports a very crude and rudimentary 4-wheel-drive system sending power 50/50 front and rear, but it was enough to provide that extra traction making the car a legend in motorsport history.

The Audi Ur Quattro, like many of the best 80s cars, came fitted with an interesting engine. The 5-cylinder turbocharged engine has a very distinctive sound, as many engines with an odd cylinder count do.

There are multiple engine configurations during its production run and improvements made to the race car propagated down to their road-going variant too.

In 1989 the 20 valve version of the engine was launched with a more modern 4 valve per cylinder setup. This is probably the favoured engine among enthusiasts and available in the version of the quattro that could be attained.

But this engine was not the most powerful, that came later in the ultra rare sport quattro variant which is now unobtainable. The 20v produced a mighty 220hp propelling the Ur Quattro down any road at a rate of knots.

Thanks to the sport quattro’s short wheelbase, the Ur Quattro was known to be a challenging car to drive fast, but when it was learned, drivers swore by it and we’re able to bring the back end of the car around in the corner by simply lifting off the throttle briefly.

The Ur Quattro is another 80s car styling masterpiece with a very boxy design.

Audi Ur Quattro Spec Sheet

  • Configuration: Front engine, 4 wheel drive
  • Engine Power: 305bhp and 258lb-ft from a 2.1L inline 5 cylinder turbo charged engine
  • Weight: 1273kg
  • Release Year: 1980
  • 80s Car Cool Factor: 9

Ford Sierra RS Cosworth (Cossie)

One of the most iconic and memorable 80s cars has to be the Cossie!

The Ford Sierra RS Cosworth of the eighties was a sight to behold with that huge whale tail wing and its punchy turbo inline 4 power.

These cars are considered the “working class hero” car of the era, everyone knew what the Cossie was and who in their neighbourhood possessed one. Those owners being the envy of everyone else.

This might in part be the reason why the RS Cosworth was such an attractive prospect for thieves.

At the time, it was well known that the cossie was a prime target for thefts, and insurance prices shot up to unbelievable highs, pricing many enthusiasts out of the market for owning one.

Younger drivers became completely uninsurable on a cossie, but this only increased their allure.

As far as a driver’s car, the cossie is known as a bit of a sledge hammer with its wonderfully tuned cosworth engine kicking out a remarkable 204bhp which was up there with the exotica at the time. It was known to be a bit of a giant slayer.

In the world of racing the Sierra RS Cosworth had a lot of success and won various touring car championships between 1988 and 1990.

Ford’s motorsport division effectively took a fairly sedate family sedan car in the Sierra and turned it up to eleven with distinctive styling and that powerful lump, creating a true 80s car icon to this day.

Ford Sierra RS Cosworth Spec Sheet

  • Configuration: Front engine, rear wheel drive
  • Engine Power: 204bhp and 205lb-ft from a 2L inline 4 cylinder turbocharged engine
  • Weight: 1217kg
  • Release Year: 1986
  • 80s Car Cool Factor: 8

Lancia Delta Integrale

This is yet another 80s car icon, incredibly successful in Group A rally and a revered hot-hatch on the road.

The 3.7 metre long Delta Integrale is a real pocket rocket and won 6 world rally championships consecutively thanks to its spectacular characteristics.

This 80s car is yet another example of beautiful box flares. With a wider and more aggressive track the Delta Integrale looks like it means business.

Late Evo II models featured a rather spicey turbocharged inline 4 cylinder engine kicking our a very respectable 212bhp to four driven wheels. In true 80s car fashion, this turbo power is quite spikey with plenty of lag. The Delta Integrale’s turbo system provides boost right up to the red line, but hasn’t even started to spool before around 8000 rpm.

The 4 wheel drive system is quite complex on these cars allowing it to modulate power between front and back axles with a limited slip differential at the rear. But even more impressive is the suspension setup.

Lancia didn’t simply up-rate the road cars setup, they built a complete bespoke system designed with rallying at the heart. The sheer amount of suspension travel these cars were designed to have is impressive by today’s standards, and looking underneath the delta integrale you can see how overengineered this is.

The design is to allow the wheel to have considerable travel up and down but while keeping the handling in check at all compression levels.

Lancia Delta Integrale Spec Sheet

  • Configuration: Front engine, 4 wheel drive
  • Engine Power: 212bhp and 232lb-ft from a 2L turbocharged inline 4 cylinder motor
  • Weight: 1340kg
  • Release Year: 1986
  • 80s Car Cool Factor: 9

Porsche 964 Turbo S

This awesome-looking Porsche nips into our 80s cars list by a hair’s breadth being released in 1989, but nevertheless one of the true eighties greats.

By this point, Porsche had really started to perfect their 911 model through years of research and development.

Despite the strange engine at the rear configuration posing a challenge, they kept at it producing one of the worlds most loved cars that’s still going in one form or another to this day.

The key thing to note with the 964 Turbo S is its sheer power output. Porsche Turbos are well known to produce supercar power and this late 80s version is no different with its air cooled engine producing 385 horsepower and around the same in pound foot of torque.

At the time, this was certainly one of the most powerful cars on the road that money could buy.

These cars have a distinctive look too with a wider track and the iconic Porsche whale tail affixed to the rear housing the large intercooler. However, when it was released, the 964 was not as quickly embraced as previous generations due to its new styling. I personally feel that this era of 911 has aged really well and continues to look better with age.

Porsche 964 Turbo S Spec Sheet

  • Configuration: Rear engine, four wheel drive
  • Engine Power: 385hp and 384lb-ft provided by a 3.6L turbocharged Flat 6 motor
  • Weight: 1470kg
  • Release Year: 1989
  • 80s Car Cool Factor: 7

Ferrari Testarossa

As far as 1980s cars go, they don’t get more recognisable than the Ferrari Testarossa.

This beautiful Italian supercar hit the road in 1984 and featured an impressive flat-12 mid-mounted engine. This was Ferrari’s flagship production car in the 80s.

The styling was designed by Italian design house Pininfarina as many of Ferrari’s cars were.

Pininfarina really got it right with this one and the Testarossa of the 80s featured a spectacular slab rectangular rear end with a black grate spanning between the rear lights allowing hot air from the engine and exhaust pipe to escape out of the back.

Probably the most notable design feature is the huge side streaks along the side of the car. These are fully functional and feed air to the rear mounted engine.

The Ferrari Testarossa is not particularly at home on the race track, and is known as more of a GT car than anything and is not particularly spartan by 80s car standards.

Plenty of comforts and even decent luggage space mean it’s a surprisingly easy car to live with compared to other 80s supercars.

However, it has no power steering, but with sensible sized front tyres it’s still easy enough to live with.

The whopping 4.9-5L 12 cylinder engine has a lower red line than you might expect from a 12 pot Ferrari, topping out at just 6800 rpm. Despite this, the car has plenty of power and torque and creates a wonderful sound completely unmatched by anything modern

The only real bug bear to speak of is the servicing costs. By no means the most awkward Ferrari to work on but changing the cam belts is still an engine out affair. Luckily Ferrari found a way to mount the engine on a somewhat self contained subframe meaning its only around 30 hours to do the job.

Ferrari Testarossa Spec Sheet

  • Configuration: Mid engine, rear wheel drive
  • Engine Power: 385bhp and 362lb-ft from a 5L flat-12 engine
  • Weight: 1708kg
  • Release Year: 1984
  • 80s Car Cool Factor: 9

Mercedes AMG hammer

One of the lesser known 80s car icons is the Mercedes-Benz AMG Hammer.

This 6L V8 saloon car beast was built completely in the AMG factory and based on a Merc W124 E class. Customers purchased their base car from Mercedes and then took it straight to AMG for the full treatment.

At the centre of the experience is without doubt that remarkable V8 engine. AMG hand builds all their engines to this day and each are fitted with their own little plaque with the name of the engine builder.

With its unique wide body with obnoxiously wide wheel arch flares and deep dish wheels, the AMG Hammer looked remarkable too, although nowhere near as in your face as the supercars of the era it could keep up with or even out-pace.

This is a very rare car and it’s believed that there’s less than 50 ever built. This is probably something to do with the incredible high supercar level price tag that getting one of these built cost customers back in the day.

It wasn’t quite flagship Ferrari money, but it wasn’t a million miles off either at around £116k.

Mercedes AMG Hammer Spec Sheet

  • Configuration: Front engine, rear wheel drive
  • Engine Power: 379bhp and 417lb-ft from a 6L V8 engine
  • Weight: 1651kg
  • Release Year: 1986
  • 80s Car Cool Factor: 6

DMC DeLorean

Arguably one of the most iconic cars in the world ever, let alone in the 80s.

Not only is the DeLorean a Hollywood film car featuring in “Back to the Future”, the DMC company has an almost Hollywood level backstory too featuring fraud and drug allegations.

Thanks to this, the DeLoreans story is an interesting but short one with very few cars ever actually reaching customers after considerable production costs and time spent getting the manufacturing process set up in Northern Ireland.

As far as performance goes, the DMC DeLorean DMC-12 sadly falls flat on its face. These exciting looking cars are notoriously underpowered for their weight putting out just 130hp from its 2.85L V6 engine.

In itself this sounds like a reasonable power number for 80s cars, but the DeLorean is a little too heavy to feel spritely at that power output.

Where the DeLorean excels though is in its striking and unique looks.

Well I say unique, but it’s clear to see that it’s based on the Lotus Esprit, thanks to Colin Chapman’s involvement with John DeLorean when it came down to production.

The design itself is, in my opinion, very pretty and futuristic for the time. Probably considered more as “retrofuturism” these days though. It’s an Italdesign car designed by the famous Giugiaro and its brushed stainless steel appearance is like no other.

The gullwing doors are a particularly nice design cue from the era.

DMC Delorean Spec Sheet

  • Configuration: Rear engine, rear-wheel drive
  • Engine Power: 130hp and 153lb-ft of torque from a 2.85L V6 engine.
  • Weight: 1233kg
  • Release Year: 1981
  • 80s Car Cool Factor: 9

Toyota MR2 W10

The original W10 Toyota MR2 is a real pocket rocket, remarkably fun and nimble 80s cars from the Japanese manufacturer famous for its dependability and longevity.

The MR2 featured a very compact and small lightweight design with a little 1.6L engine mounted in the middle, right behind the driver and passenger seats.

The MR2 was designed not just for driving enjoyment, but with frugality in mind with its surprisingly good fuel economy for what is technically a sports car.

The MR2 is known to have exceptional handling and this is largely to do with its configuration being favourable but also in part due to some help from a Lotus engineer when it came to the suspension setup and geometry.

Towards the end of its run, Toyota threw a supercharger onto the feisty little 4 cylinder engine to release more power without adding too much additional weight. This was a roots style supercharger which topped up the power to an impressive 145hp which is very lifely in such a lightweight and small car.

Thanks to its fundamentally good handling and design, the MR2 has developed somewhat of a cult following and there are lots of racing series events owners can enjoy competing in.

In the mid-eighties, Toyota themselves were working on an MR2 rally car, but as Group B rallying ended up being cancelled, it never got to reach its potential and was left on the shelf.

Toyota MR2 W10 Supercharged Spec Sheet

  • Configuration: Mid-engine, rear wheel drive
  • Engine Power: 145hp and 137lb-ft of torque from a supercharged 1.6L inline 4 cylinder
  • Weight: 1131kg
  • Release Year: 1984
  • 80s Car Cool Factor: 6

Range Rover Classic 4-Door

You might think the Range Rover Classic is a strange vehicle to feature on a top 80s cars list, as technically it’s an earlier car, and I found my way to omitting the revered Lamborghini Countach for this same reason.

We can consider the Range Rover Classic to be a wildcard on this list, however in 1981 the 4 door model of the Range Rover was born starting the trend that lead on to the Range Rover we all know and love today.

The Range Rover Classic is an exceptional blend of luxury and off-road capability. Of course the 80s range rover had much fewer luxuries than its modern day equivalent, but still generally a delightful place to be with power steering, carpeted floors, air conditioning, wood trim and supple leather seats.

Unlike conventional 4 wheel drive vehicles that precede it, the Range Rover Classic is fitted with shocks and springs in all 4 corners as opposed to the more traditional leaf springs. This makes it even more versatile and not a pig to drive on the road either.

Under the bonnet is a 3.5L Rover V8 which is actually an American Buick derived motor which is famously dependable, if not rather thirsty.

It’s boxy design and charming round headlights enhanced by some particularly classy, earthy colours such as Shetland Beige means its aging well, like a fine wine and values are going up rapidly.

Range Rover Classic Spec Sheet

  • Configuration: front engine, 4 wheel drive
  • Engine Power: 158hp and 210lb-ft of torque from a 3.5L V8 engine
  • Weight: 2011kg
  • Release Year: 1981
  • 80s Car Cool Factor: 7

Thank you for reading my completely biased 10 best 80s cars selection, if you feel I have missed any 80s car icons out here, please feel free to leave a comment with your favourite 80s cars and why you have an appreciation for them.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *