Ten Future Classics from the 1980s
Turn on a Barrett-Jackson or Mecum auction this weekend, and you are bound to see miles of vintage American muscle cross the block. From ’75 Chevy Bel Airs to Pontiac GTOs and Chargers, it’s a muscle car fan’s dream, but these cars cross for a lot of dough, and they won’t be around forever.
So what’s next for car auctions? I won’t even touch the 1970s, but in the 80s things started to change; cars actually became fun and laid the foundation for the amazing sportscars of the 1990s. So, here are 10 future classics from the 1980s. If you own bowling shirts with flames on the sleeves, this list is probably not for you.
Right now, Italian brands like Fiat are finally getting back to classic, small displacement drop-top roadsters, and are looking to the Mazda Miata for inspiration. Well when Mazda first wanted to design a nimble, sporting roadster, the looked to the Brits and the Italians. The Alfa Romeo Spider carried on in the same standard formula from 1966 to 1993. Some were not in love with the cutoff “kamm-tail” but it improved aerodynamics
M3, M5, M6 (where you can find one), you name it! These cars made the daily driver-sportscar a commonplace thing. In fact, these cars will become so sought after, that it will drive up the price of non-M variants of the 3 Series, 5 Series, and 6 Series. Good luck!
The same concept applies to the Gran-Nat and its even more badass sibling, the GNX! On its own, the Regal was case study in “how to build a car so boring it’ll make you cry.” Throw a turbocharged V6 under the hood, and black out EVERYTHING, and you have a screaming good time. Heck, a group of folks loved this car so much they made a documentary on it! (See above)
Before the Miata, there was the RX-7. Reliability may not have always been peak, but it was so quintessentially '80s and so quintessentially Japanese. If you find one in good condition, take the time and money to keep it in working order. One day you will find you have an extremely valuable coupe in your garage.
It goes without saying that a clean Corvette or V8-powered Camaro from the '80s will be worth a bit of coin down the road, but they are not the only two-door vehicles to wear a bowtie and sport a V8. First, there is the El Camino, which is just about as cool as you could get for the 1960s and 70s, and though most versions from the 1980s wear that ‘Grandma’ front end, Choo Choo Customs offered a more aerodynamic front end worthy of its performance.
The same can be said for any Blazer that isn’t rusted like Swiss cheese. Find a clean one with a V8 and you’ll own a piece of the past that few will get to enjoy- a two-door V8 SUV!
Through the years Mitsubishi and Chrysler have attempted to share models and engines for many small, compact cars– not always with terrific results. This is not one of those times. The Starion/Conquest was one of the first harbingers of the Japanese sportscar dominance that would take hold in the mid-to-early 1990s. These 2+2 coupes featured a 2.6-liter turbocharged inline-4, manual transmission, and rear wheel drive.
As a side note, I was at a salvage yard in my hometown several years back, looking for spare Cherokee parts. I came across a friend I had not seen in about a decade. I asked him what he was looking for- he responded “a turbo for a conquest.” I said nothing more. I knew his life was in the right place.
The list would not be complete without the old “Five-O.” The 3rd-gen of the original Pony Car was produced between 1979 and 1993, and it owned the '80s. In 1989, its speed air density induction system was replaced with a mass air system. It lowered the stock power, but makes it much easier to modify. So there’s that.
It would be unfair to the other entrants on this list to give Toyota three separate spots, but the Supra, MR2, and Corolla GT-S all warrant mention. Two generations of the Supra spanned the 1980s, but it was the 1981 to 1986 generation that is as much a credit to the Japanese sportscar craze as any on the list.
The Corolla GT-S defined affordable performance, and the MR2 (which many owners and fans affectionately call “Mr. Deuce”) was a mid-engined dream.
Wood panels, four-wheel drive and V8 power. Do I need to go any further? If I must, there is the fact that you can own a vehicle from 1989 that looks much older, thus bridging the gap in reliability versus vintage provenance. If any of that made sense to you, we should talk.
The RX-7 may have a cult following, but it had nowhere near the mass popularity of the Z. Engines ranged from a turbocharged 2.0-liter mill to a dual overhead cam (a big deal back then) 3.0L V6. There are plenty of these cars, but finding an unmolested one is quite difficult. You will likely be sourcing parts form all sorts of salvage yards, but a clean one will stand out among the rest. It was replaced in 1989 by a car that was entirely bonkers, and we’ll talk about that next week.
BONUS: Subaru Brat
This was not included in the hard list of ten, because, well, who knows what safety regulators might do to this damn thing– but will you look at it! It's a pickup with, open air, rearward-facing seats! If you do not agree with its "Fun on Wheels!" slogan, than you are in the wrong place. Image Sources: Wikipedia, Hemmings, Autoweek, CarGurus