8 Forgotten Car "Gems" of the 1980’s: Part II
As we wrote the first part of this list (8 Forgotten Classic Cars of the 1980's) a few weeks ago, we knew some cars had been left off either intentionally or unintentionally. But given all the comments left by our audience, here is a second list barring exotic makes. However, in compiling this second list we noticed a trend toward imports of the RWD nature. There is one FWD car included, and one Domestic car, as well, for a nice blend. Your great comments including “KITT!!!” or “General Lee” or even “Delorean” forced us to build this second list of what was missing from the first. That being said, we might have to come up with yet a third list, so we invite your further comments on this supplemental second list. 1.1975-1984 Volkswagen Rabbit/Golf GTI MKI
Where do we begin with a car that virtually changed the world of front wheel drive, as we knew it? It was one of the first “Hot Hatchback’s” that catered not just to people looking for a economical car, but to those who wanted a bit of driving excitement German style - ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch’ indeed. It’s been said time and time again that this car was for those people who knew that it was built to go fast on “die Autobahn ya?” It was built as an engineer’s late night project which blew away some competitors for years to come.
2. 1984-1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S/AE86
While we realize this car is epic as a result of the popularity of ‘Drifting in Japan’ and now the U.S.A. and other places abroad - the television show ‘Initial D’ might have had something to do with the sudden and rapid price change for these vehicles. Also the use of these cars in Scion’s current advertising campaigns will most likely make these cars even harder to obtain for reasonable amounts of money in the future. If the Datsun/Nissan 240Z is the early 1970’s Japanese car to own, the Corolla AE86 might be the car of the mid-eighties drift scene. It’s loved for being an underdog car that crushes giants of power, speed, and handling. This David of a car might have been the last gasp of RWD in the Corolla lineup, but it lead to the current Scion FRS, both of which are bold rides indeed.
3. 1981-1987 Buick Regal GNX
Put the moniker “X” into a Buick’s name and make it rear wheel drive with power under the hood, and something truly special happens. Such was the case with the Buick Regals of the 1980’s listed here. It was especially true for the Grand National Experimental from the 1980’s. That car has also been featured in the fourth installment of the Fast and the Furious films, where the character Dominic Torretto, with a penchant for American Muscle cars, utilized a 1984 version of the Buick Regal to steal gasoline for personal gain. The phrase, “Win on Sunday and sell on Monday” definitely applies to this car. Torretto said, “Ask any racer, any real racer. It doesn't matter if you win by an inch or a mile; winning's winning.” While some cars are great in fictional pursuits, this car proved it in real life by winning real races. Richard Petty drove one to victory in the 1981 Daytona 500. And the car won a majority of the 1981 and 1982 season’s races and the NASCAR manufacturers’ title in 1981 and 1982. Just like the Monte Carlo from the last list, it looks sinister in Black but is a “street sleeper” in any other color, which means you wouldn’t know what was under the hood until you saw it’s taillights fade into the distance as it blew you away off the starting line.
4. 1986-1992 BMW M3
It is an Autobahn burner and an over engineered masterpiece of Teutonic build quality that year after year manages to out smoke the latest and greatest sports sedan from Japan. It’s a car that many love to own, and many aspire to own. Leave it to the Germans to build a car and hone it over years until it is truly precise like a scalpel. Other cars that come to mind that are similar in the concept of honing to near perfection are the original VW Beetle, the Porsche 911, the Mercedes SL. While it might not be everyone’s favorite car on this list, anyone who knows cars knows that the M3 is a great instrument in the automotive tool belt.
5. 1983-1989 Mitsubishi Starion/ Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge Conquest
It was a fast car with a rallying pedigree. What really made this car stand out to us was its styling. It’s like nothing else that came before or after it. If you encounter a Mitsubishi Starion or one of its American brethren, take a second look because the styling is so different. Some people think that the name Starion came from a mispronunciation of “Stallion,” which might be true, who knows. But the car went on to win races regardless of its name(s). We think that’s all that matters in the end.
6. 1986-1988 Mazda RX7- Turbo
The Wankel rotary engine utilized in the Mazda RX7 was unique and revolutionary, to say the very least. We chose the word “revolutionary” in part because it was a radical design and because the engine in the Mazda RX7 and even the RX8 could rev high due to their very design. Take an engine that is quite powerful, lightweight, and compact like the Wankel rotary engine was and place it in a lightweight rear wheel drive body, and you get the picture. It was a successful car selling in multiple generations. We chose to cover the second generation due to its use of turbochargers and the fact that it was built in the 1980’s, entirely unlike the first generation which originally was produced from 1978 onward.
7. 1986-1992 Toyota Supra Turbo
There were Toyota Supras before and after this car. But, it was this car that firmly separated it from the Celica and Supra nameplates. It was this car that introduced Turbocharging for the range. It might not be the Supra that everyone wants, but it makes a great and relatively cheap introduction to the Supra name. Everyone knows the 1993-1998 Supras are red hot in terms of pricing by comparison, possibly due to the Fast and Furious films. But, at least you can still pick up a 2nd generation Turbo relatively cheap, and we would do so if we could find one in good condition not headed for a junkyard.
8. 1989-1994 Nissan 180SX/240SX
Yes, we do realize that this car was primarily built in the 1990’s, but we were able to rationalize its addition because of the racing nature of most of the cars in this list. This car has been raced just as much if not more than any other car on this list, and had its start in the 1980s. It’s a car that’s been used and abused - raced hard and put away wet. Along with many of the other front engine rear wheel drive cars (FR cars for short on this list), this car is synonymous with drifting in the U.S.A./Japan. It is a car that just seemed to fit on this list of cars that are popular not only with the tuner crowds, but with young people in general.
(PHOTOS: See more cars from the 1980's)
We know someone will say “What about this car [fill in the blank],” and we honestly look forward to hearing what cars were left out. After we reread this second list we came up with 2 honorable mentions - the Ford Mustang 5.0 and the Camaro IROCZ. Both of these vehicles and some of their badge-engineered siblings are boldrides, no doubt about it, but again we had to make certain compromises to make a list of only 8 cars long.
“Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, way before Nirvana, there was U2 and Blondie, and music still on MTV… cuz some people are still preoccupied with 19, 19, 1985…” These lyrics and the video to the a hit song “1985” by the band Bowling for Soup might take you back in time almost as much as sliding behind the wheel of one of these Reagan/Bush classics. But our second list centered primarily on 1980’s imports because the market was flooded with them back then. Some would argue it still is. That being said, the American manufacturers battled against the odds in the 1980’s to turn out some wonderful machinery like the Buick mentioned above to compete with the excellent offerings from Europe and Japan. We hope they boldly do so for a lifetime to come.