While many cars from the 1980’s are obvious classics, some are forgotten gems. It would be easy to put together a list of IROC Camaro's, 5.0 Mustangs, Supras and Buick Reattas. Well, maybe not the last one. We wanted to come up with a list of cars that were cool and mostly overlooked. These are vehicles that were overshadowed by higher dollar machinery or by other cars thatcame before or after them.
As time marches on, some of these lesser know cars are starting to look cooler and more collectible. Even though the 1980’s may not have been a decade of stellar automobile design (or any sort of design), here are a few diamonds in the rough.
8) 1978-1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Early 80's Monte Carlos can and have been customized to the extreme. It doesn’t hurt that they share some mechanicals, as well as a platform, with race cars that went on to be campaigned
in NASCAR. This specific model was chosen because it made a few brief but memorable impressions in the film Training Day
, where a version of this car had hydraulic suspension in place, and Dayton wire wheels with white wall tires. According to Denzel Washington, “[t]his car’s sexy though, isn’t it?” From the notchback roofline to flowing fenders, it’s a car that exudes class and power, and it helps that it looks good in black.
7) 1982-1989 Alfa Romeo Graduate Spider
Dustin Hoffman made a version of this car so famous in the film, the Graduate,
that Alfa Romeo later named the car after the film. The Graduate
film feature a 1966 Alfa Romeo Duetto
. This design kept the affordable roadster idea alive when the British car industry’s roadsters were dying. It is this car that might live on in the next Miata, which is rumored to be built in conjunction with Alfa Romeo. This super Italian design has lots of flamboyance, and lots of sensuous curves. Not many would argue that the Graduate Spider is well built, or would ever be reliable, but it does have a certain charm. I always smile when I see one on the road. And, whenever I drive my convertible and the song "Mrs. Robinson" comes on the radio, I rev my engine and look for a winding road to race around and pretend to be a young Hoffman driving his Alfa Romeo Spider.
6) 1980-1988 Datsun 280ZX/Nissan 300ZX
I once read somewhere that this was a car for “swinging dentists.” While the idea of "swinging dentists" is appealing on many levels, I would argue that the 280ZX was for people who wanted a newer 240Z, because essentially that’s all it was. Yes, it had put on weight undoubtedly. It’s not a 240Z
, or a 260Z or even a 280Z, but all of those vehicles were stepping-stones to a better day, and a better vehicle, and they lead the way to the 370Z
that we have today. As a result, the old Datsun’s and Nissan’s are starting to become affordable classics.
5) 1987-1989 Toyota Celica GT4 ST165 (All Trac)
Essentially a rally car for the street, Toyota took its 1980’s front-wheel-drive Celica and turned it into an AWD Turbo vehicle, and then drove it in road rallies
worldwide. Today, they’re somewhat hard to come by in good condition as many have been raced extensively. Toyota made the All-Trac Turbo for the U.S. market until 1993, but by 1994 it was gone. At the Toyota Museum in Torrance,California, they have a pristine All-Trac Turbo on display underscoring it's significance. This Celica spawn is a true testament to what a monumental vehicle it was for its time.
4) 1987-1988 Porsche 924S Turbo
This is not a well-known Porsche, but definitely an interesting attempt at a front-engine Porsche vehicle. The 924 models were originally introduced in 1977 and were powered by a Volkswagen Van engine of the same period (the nerve of those Germans). The 924 was created to replace the 912 and 914 models in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and lasted only a short while. Some were turbocharged from 1980-1982, giving the vehicle the power it desperately needed. For 1987-1988, the 924 was given the larger engine from the 944 and better brakes as well. Today, few examples exist in good condition. Now that its predecessor, the 914, is becoming collectible, we suspect that the 924 will be collectible someday as well. Even with its humble beginnings, it is a Porsche after all.
3) 1985-1991 Honda CRX
It is quick, agile, and it corners like it is on rails. A Honda CRX has to come to mind as a 1980’s classic. The CRX is a car that started the boy racer scene for front-wheel-drive cars. Light is might, and the CRX is a great example of this. It is a car that has been raced and thrashed by many people over the years, so if you can find a good clean example with low mileage or a good power train, buy one and hold onto it. Not to bad for a car that is sort of shaped like an egg.
2) 1985-1989 Toyota MR2
An affordable, mid-rear engine placement sports car was not a new idea in the 1980’s, but one that was reliable and affordable might have been. Someone once told me that what Toyota does well is improve upon existing concepts. The MR2 is an example of this idea, as it is extremely reminiscent of a Fiat X/19. Yet despite the two vehicles’ similarities, the MR2 was obviously more successful with three generations of the vehicle being produced. The 1980’s MR2 was sort of like the Miata of its time, taking a small sports car concept pioneered by the European’s and making it reliable, and more affordable. This car went on to sell like hotcakes.
1) 1978-1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am
In the 1990’s film Billy Madison
, a rich kid goes back to school to prove to his father that he is a competent person. To make a good impression on his first day of high school, he pulls up in a 1979-1981 Trans Am, because it’s a car that was cool, and is still cool to this day. But why is it cool? It could have something to do with the phoenix (screaming chicken) painted on the majority of these vehicles’ hoods, or it could be the engines and engineering under those hoods. It also could just be that cool people in the 1970’s and 1980’s drove these vehicles, or that it was featured in the Smokey and the Bandit
Personally, I think it is the styling of the car with a short deck and a long front end, and the phoenix on the hood just puts the car over the top. Similarly the 1978-1981 Camaro has a lot of the same panache. It is a car that symbolizes the late 1970’s and most of the 1980’s much like leg warmers, big hair, and bigger glasses. Every time I hear Van Halen or any other 1980’s hard rock, I feel I should be driving a Trans Am and should grow my hair into a mullet.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org, davidhasselhoff.com