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Sports and Sporty Cars of the '80s

hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,168
We may tend to think of the '80s as recent, but the first models of this decade rolled off the assembly lines in 1979. While many of the cars from this period were plagued with the same design and quality issues of the preceding decade, the '80s also saw a turnaround in these areas. Also notable was the fact that the Japanese manufacturers went from having a foothold in the U.S. market to a rapidly growing market share. Models such as Celica and Supra, 280Z and 300 Z, Prelude and others became widely recognized.

This discussion is intended to be a sequel to the Sports Cars of the '60s and Sports Cars of the '70s topics, only broader, to include sporty cars.

Happy New Year to all!


  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,168
    While serious quality problems continued to plague many cars in the '80s, as they had in the '70s, there were some interesting attempts (from a historical perspective, at least) to tap into the desire for sharply styled, fun-to-drive, yet economical cars. For example...

    GM introduced a slightly smaller Camaro and Firebird for '82. To satisfy the demand for fuel economy, the base engine was the ill suited OHV Iron Duke 4, which make these sleek looking pony cars real slugs. Balancing those off, however, were hot performing Z28s, IROCs, and Trans-Ams. For '84, Pontiac introduced the half baked Fiero, a sharp looking commuter car featuring much more show than go. A slightly trimmer C4 Corvette was also introduced for the '84 model year. The new-for-'85 N-Bodies was arguably GM's answer to the BMW 3 Series. For '88, GM redownsized its luxury coupes, the Toronado, Riviera, and Eldorado. The first downsizing of these cars, in the late '70s, was successful in its day, but the second downsizing, wasn't. Although credible in concept, these cars seemed to satisfy almost no one, and sales tanked.

    Meanwhile, at Ford, the first two seater since the '55 T-Bird was introduced, the Escort based EXP, and its Mercury counterpart, the LN7. Unfortunately, performance suffered because they weighed 200 more than the Escort/Lynx, yet had the same 1.6 engine. Also from Ford was the aerodynamically styled '83 T-Bird, available with a turbo-4, 5 speed manual and sport suspension. The T-Bird was restyled again for the '89 model year. The performance model, the SC. featured a supercharged V6. This last generation four passenger T-Bird, and its Mercury counterpart, was a nice looking car, which kind of/sort of resembled the larger BMW coupe, but unfortunately, like the EXP/LN7, it was porky. Meanwhile, the Mustang, which converted from the Pinto based economy coupe to a more credible Fox based pony car for '79, continued to regain its mojo in the '80s. At Lincoln, the Mark VII (or VIII?) luxury coupe got more rounded styling in the mid-'80s, with notable improvements in V8 performance and greatly improved handling.
    A couple of other performance models from Ford were the LTD LX, with a modified 302 V8, special trim, and firmer suspension, and the Taurus SHO.

    Chrysler leveraged its K-car bodies with convertible derivatives, and for '84 introduced the sharply styled Chrysler Laser/Dodge Daytona four passenger coupes. The turbo versions of these were good performers in their day.

    Some notable European models were the '83 VW GTI. At BMW, the 3-Series became the undisputed model sport sedan. And, for a few years, beginning in the mid '80s, the Saab 900, especially the turbo, was a hot yuppymobile.

    Some of these cars were successful, and, looking back, others were almost laughable, but the '80s were significant because it was the period when Detroit realized that it was being seriously challenged, and reacted.
  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,676
    I find it pretty easy to ignore everything out of Detroit in the '80s. The only cars that interest me had good intentions but were ultimately pretty bad cars - C4 Vettes and Fieros. Cars that made a momentary splash, like the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, the Mustang SVO, and the Taurus SHO were quickly forgotten. Daytonas and EXPs were roundly trashed when they came out. Mustangs and Camaros were OK at the time. Grand Nationals are still popular amongst the Larry the Cable Guy types, but they weren't particularly good cars.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,168
    Yeah, most of Detroit's entries weren't good or memorable, but I think we have to consider them within the context of the time, when the vaunted European cars also had their own design and reliability issues, and the Japanese cars, while comparatively reliable and fuel efficient, had serious rust problems.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,422
    The major problem with the 1980s, with a very few exceptions, was that 80s "sports" or "sporty" cars (you almost HAVE to put them in parenthesis---why? See the following) ===>

    They were 95% style attempts and 5% substance attempts.

    The Fiero is a good example of course, giving us a reasonably attractive mid-engined two-seater that a) drove like it weighed 5 tons and b) couldn't get out of its own way.

    The Allante was another. Again, reasonably attractive exterior but with a morbid V8 until 1993, and what had to be one of the world's cheesiest interiors for a supposed "luxury sports roadster" competing with the MB SL.

    There is just so little "meat" in most 1980s sporty cars, they are difficult to like from real enthusiasts point of view. It's like they have a sign on them that says "Look but don't drive".


  • texasestexases Posts: 5,511
    At least the '80s saw the return of speed. 0-60 times in the '70s averaged about 12 sec, by '89 it was down to about 8 sec in the magazines. For the '80 to '85 cars, the only two that immediately come to mind are the RX-7 and the GTI. Of course, by '85 one could get reasonably powerful Camaros/Firebirds/Mustangs.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,422
    yeah there were a few cars worth driving. A Camaro/Mustang was fun as long as you didn't attempt to steer it. The Mustang convertibles had a very flexible chassis. You really needed to weld 'em up to feel safe.


  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,168
    Other failed attempts at appealing sporty cars include the '82 Renault Fuego (how can anyone forget that one, or should I say, remember that one?); Buick's first two seater, the '88 Reatta; and the '89 Chrysler TC. A more successful model, though expensive to maintain, was the Audi Quattro coupe.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,422
    I was reading in an Auto Salvage trade magazine where a lot of recyclers don't even WANT 80s cars, since they just take up space. There's not a high demand for parts. So they crush 'em pretty quick and don't pay very much, if anything at all, for them.

    Some of the book values on 80s cars barely break $1,000.


  • kyfdxkyfdx Posts: 27,704
    Any Supra

    Any RX-7

    E21 320i '80-'83 (much maligned)

    E30 325i (starting in '87.. not the 325e)

    VW GTI

    VW Scirocco

    The mid-80s Celicas... the last rear-wheel drive ones..

    V-8 Mustangs/Camaros

    C4 Vettes

    Mark VII LSC

    '88 M5

    Porsche 944 Turbo

    Porsche 911

    I'm probably missing a bunch of cars that I liked then, being in my 20s for most of the decade.. but, wouldn't consider now...

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  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,168
    "I'm probably missing a bunch of cars that I liked then, being in my 20s for most of the decade.. but, wouldn't consider now... "

    Yeah, like the '86 Dodge Omni GLH (for Goes Like Hell). There was an even hotter Shelby version of this turbo hot rod called, appropriately enough, the GLH-S. I imagine if you could deal with the torque steer, these must have been fun to drive.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,852
    when I was a teenager, my dream car was a Grand National. But I would've settled for a Monte Carlo SS. One of my best friends in high school and college also lusted after the Grand National.

    I never got a Monte SS or a Grand National, but I don't think my life is too lacking because of that. My buddy though, went from an '85 Cavalier that shorted out its electrical system and would no longer start to an '87 Tercel that sludged up before we even knew what that word meant. I lost track of him for awhile, but saw him a few times in the late 90's. He ended up finally getting something muscular. Not a Grand National, but a '96 Trans Am. Last time I saw him was 1999 I guess, so I dunno how it held up.
  • kyfdxkyfdx Posts: 27,704
    Gee... those weren't any that I liked, even then.. ;)

    Seriously... even with the hot motor, those were miles behind the GTI, or even a Prelude...

    But, I've never been a MOPAR fan...

    Which reminds me...

    Mitsubishi Starion / Chrysler Conquest..

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  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,676
    Any Supra - all seem to be automatic with baby blue interiors, really heavy.

    Any RX-7 - Gen I is good, Gen II = poor man's 944, now 944s are also dirt cheap.

    E21 320i '80-'83 (much maligned) - slow and unreliable, but I like them anyway.

    E30 325i (starting in '87.. not the 325e) - nice engine, but just a prosaic sedan.

    VW GTI - unreliable and hard to find, but I still think they are cool.

    VW Scirocco - same as above, but even harder to find.

    The mid-80s Celicas... the last rear-wheel drive ones.. - slooooooooow.

    V-8 Mustangs/Camaros - epitome of '80s build quality, fit and finish. Not good.

    C4 Vettes - Too unreliable, too harsh, too ugly inside.

    Mark VII LSC - Just a big, cheap, slow sedan now.

    '88 M5 - I used to really like them, but just seems like an old complex car now.

    Porsche 944 Turbo - great car, even though expensive to fix and not all that reliable.

    Porsche 911 - clutch and shifter like a school bus, but I love these
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,852
    Yeah, like the '86 Dodge Omni GLH (for Goes Like Hell). There was an even hotter Shelby version of this turbo hot rod called, appropriately enough, the GLH-S. I imagine if you could deal with the torque steer, these must have been fun to drive.

    I had an '88 LeBaron turbo coupe, with the 146 hp 2.2 Turbo I. Torque steer on that sucker was pretty evil, and something I wasn't used to, as I had predominantly driven RWD cars. It seemed like a fun car to drive at the time though, and must have been a desirable car to have, considering how often it got stolen. :surprise: I'm sure if I had it to do over again though, it wouldn't live up to my memory of it.

    And ultimately, that car did turn into a total pile of junk, but in its defense it had been fairly reliable up through around 90,000 miles. I'm sure the joyrides it went on when it was stolen probably contributed to its demise, too. :sick:
  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,676
    Mitsubishi Galant VR4 = Mazda Mazdaspeed Mazda 6

    Mazda 323 GTX = Subaru Impreza WRX
  • kyfdxkyfdx Posts: 27,704
    Porsche 911 - clutch and shifter like a school bus, but I love these

    I'll have to take exception here.... School buses have much nicer shifters, and the clutches aren't nearly as heavy... :surprise:

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  • kyfdxkyfdx Posts: 27,704
    Protege = '90s?

    Man.. I almost forgot one that I actually owned... only I owned it in the '90s..

    '88 Mazda 323 GTX 130 hp, intercooled turbo, AWD..

    Now, that was sporty!

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  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,676
    You are correct.

    GLC = 323 = Protege = Mazda3

    They are all Great Little Cars.
  • fintailfintail Posts: 33,515
    I was under 10 years old for most of the 80s...but I remember when I was really little I liked the RX-7. I never cared much for Camaros and Mustangs. I do remember I liked the Supras somewhat, and the AWD Celica after I saw one in a rally. But, no surprise, the car I liked for most of the time was the W126, and W124 as well. 80s AMG cars are amusing too, a 'Hammer' would be a good conversation piece today.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,422
    Any Supra -- kinda heavy, looks sporty, but mostly isn't. (but you can work them up)

    Any RX-7 -- I like 'em

    E21 320i '80-'83 (much maligned) -- much maligned with good reason, although it really was, in concept anyway, a better car than a 2002. Too bad they cost way too much and had plenty of bugs.

    E30 325i (starting in '87.. not the 325e)-- not sporty, but fun to drive and a good solid car.

    VW GTI -- always fun to drive between visits to the repair shop

    VW Scirocco -- see above

    The mid-80s Celicas... the last rear-wheel drive ones.--

    V-8 Mustangs/Camaros -- Good bang for the buck, but don't do anything sudden unless the car is perfectly straight.

    C4 Vettes -- mixed bag of yes and no. Cheesy interiors, harsh ride, but gee, a good used car value at the moment.

    Mark VII LSC -- I thought this was about sporty cars? What's this...this...THING...doing on the list?

    '88 M5 -- Nice car, very fussy, $$$ to fix, not all BMW guys will even work on them. Very rust prone behind the wheels, in the rockers.

    Porsche 944 Turbo -- helluva good handling car! Highly recommended if you have the bucks to maintain them. NOT CHEAP to fix.

    Porsche 911 -- love 'em. what a kick in the pants!


This discussion has been closed.