The 1980’s was a great decade for awesome and groundbreaking cars. This decade was also full of corny television shows and experimental music videos on MTV and it changed everything. You had questionable fashion with massive hairstyles. You also had Miami Vice and Duran Duran. More importantly, the Berlin Wall was torn down and the decade also saw the end of the soviet union. And it was the era of Group B rally racing and Super Cars, too.
Chances are you won’t argue the cars we have chosen here, nor will you argue whether they even qualify to be on our Top 20 list. What you will argue about though, is the order we listed them in. These 20 cars are not just a matter of personal choice (well, a lot actually) and it’s merely down to the order. That’s what’s interesting. Who is Numero Uno? Think about it for a minute. If you really had to make a list, which one is the ultimate car from the 1980s.
Not as easy as it seems, right? Just do the exercise with your friends and we’ll guarantee that you’ll fight about it all night.
Each of our 20 contenders have established themselves as cars worth buying, driving and of course collecting. It’s not entirely about the value of a car measured in money or some car collectors wet dreams. It is, simply put, because a desirable car is a desirable car, regardless of its value. Fair enough, a good few of them were born for success and instant fame. Admittedly though, value plays a big part. And the two mechanisms are connected. If everybody want’s a certain low-production-number car, its value will go up. And it will become even more desirable. And suddenly it’s out of reach. Cars available for sensible money not that long ago; what happens if you look away for a year or two, BAM, prices go through the roof.
We thought long and hard about which cars to feature. We read all the available lists online and scoured through every available magazine lying around the office. We summarized, we included and we excluded. The no-brainers, like Ferrari or a Porsche, are on every list ever made, and both marques produce some of the most sought-after cars of all time. You will find them here also, but at least we wanted to feature a handful of cars, that are still within reach on a normal pay-grade and we think we found the perfect formula. Publishing another-list-apparently-looking-like-any-other-list, we’re not trying to invent gun-powder or new forms of communication or something like that. Enough gibberish. Let’s get on with it…
20: Renault Turbo 2
The Turbo 2 featured a mid-mounted 1.4L turbocharged engine placed behind the driver in a modified Renault 5 chassis (converted to rear wheel drive). The engine developed 160 hp, and there were several engine and chassis upgrades available. It’s distinctive boxy look sporting huge fender flares, short wheelbase with ultra short overhangs, and a genuine rally pedigree about it, it looked like nothing else. Marcello Gandini, who designed many great cars, also played a role in creating this little french frog penning the whole rear part.
19: Ford Sierra RS Cosworth
Produced between 1986 and 1987 this car has a huge following. The Sierra was chosen as the car that should help Ford Motor Company being succesful in racing again. Cosworth developed the inline 4 cylinder turbocharged engine producing 204 hp (224 hp in 1987). The signature rear spoiler were the creation of Lothar Pinske and thank God for that, seen also on the Escort RS, it’s as massive as they come. It’s very 1980 in every way. Ford dominated several racing series with the Sierra RS and the model later developed into a four-door saloon with four-wheel-drive and a lot more potent engine.
18: Volkswagen Rallye Golf
Call it 1980s rally chic, this Golf is actually a true gem. Costing twice the price of a standard Golf GTI, Volkswagen only had to build 5000 to homologate it for the World Rally Championship (Group A). People could, in other words, buy a hand-built homologation-special right of the dealership’s lot. It’s easy to see exactly why you would have paid almost twice the price Golf GTI for this über Golf. The Supercharged 1.8L inline-four put out a modest 160 hp, and with VW’s Syncro four-wheel-drive system, traction was not a problem. Of course, if you want a properly fast Mk2 Golf there’s the super-rare G60 Limited models, which used the GTI’s 16-valve head to give an impressive 210 hp. But VW only made 71 of those and you didn’t get the fender flares that we all love…
17: BMW M635CSI (M6)
The BMW M635 CSi has really earned its place in the history books. It had unheard performance for its day, and as the first practical M car, it kick-started the now-famous Motorsport Division into life. BMW Motorsport developed the twin-cam, 24-valve inline-six-cylinder engine known as the M88, which were derived from the BMW M1. A solid 282 hp and 340 Nm in the european version gave the big coupe a top speed of 255 km/h and 0-60 were over in just 6.4 seconds. There is something incredible appealing about the car, and some argue it is the most beautiful coupe BMW ever made. The shark nose, long bonnet and rubber boot spoiler all hint at its significant potential. Its made for Grand touring and it’s equally good on the Autobahn as well as the notorious Bavarian back roads. Build quality is second to none and you’ll find plenty of examples around, but expect to pay a premium for the best ones.
16: Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II
In March 1989, the 190E 2.5-16 Evolution I debuted at the Geneva Motor Show. The standard 2.5-16 were in fierce competition with the BMW M3 on the racetracks, and when BMW launched the Sport Evo, Mercedes had to come up with an answer. The Evo I had a new spoiler and wider wheel arches. But in 1990 Mercedes went all-out and developed the Evo II featuring a crazy body kit with a large adjustable rear wing, rear window spoiler, and Evolution II 17-inch wheels. The kit improved the aerodynamics of the 190 dramatically, and it was wind tunnel tested to reduce drag to 0.29, while at the same time increasing downforce. Period anecdotes tell of BMW research and development chief, Wolfgang Reitzle, saying «the laws of aerodynamics must be different between Munich and Stuttgart; if that rear wing works, we’ll have to redesign our wind tunnel.» The anecdote claims that BMW did. The Evo II also included a full SLS suspension allowing vehicle ride height to be adjusted from an interior switch all to make the Evolution II cars to be much faster round a track. The optional AMG «power-pack» from the Evo I were made standard and improved the engine with an additional 30 hp.
15: Peugeot 205 Turbo 16
Peugeot only produced 200 road-legal examples, according to Group B regulations, and these were based on the 3-door 205. The road variants of the T16 had basically nothing in common with the regular production cars and instead they shared the transverse mid-engine, four-wheel drive layout of the rally car, but only had less than half the power; 197 hp. All of that mattered not, as the 205 T16 is as period correct as they come. It has super wide wheel arches, and the whole rear section opens up to give full access to the engine and suspension. The complex drivetrain (lifted practically unmodified from the rally car) with a central diff sending power to all four wheels, was cleverly developed by Peugeot-Talbot Sport and Jean Todt. The fact that it’s not the most rewarding to drive with performance not in proportion to its enormous price, make it even more special and a true collector’s item.
14: BMW M5 E28
The BMW M5 is a sport sedan version of the 5 Series car built by the Motorsport division of BMW. This first M5 was hand-built in 1986 based on the 535i chassis, using a modified BMW M1 engine, that made it the fastest production sedan at the time. Just as comfortable and competent at full-bore on the Autobahn as it is at picking the kids up from school. The E28 M5 is the original super sedan. The inline-six M88/3 engine produced 286 hp and in the 1980s this was a lot of grunt. With a total production of 2,191 units, the E28 M5 remains among the rarest regular production BMW Motorsport cars. It’s said to be the best car in the world and Chris Harris actually has one in his garage. Enough said.
13: Ford RS200
Another Group B derivative, the RS200 is a mid-engined, four-wheel drive sports car and it was produced in only 200 copies from ’84 to ’86 . The road-going RS200 was based on Ford’s rally car and it was designed purely to comply with FIA homologation regulations. A 450 hp Evo version made it to the record books for the fastest acceleration time (0-60 in 2.1 seconds) and Ford did hold that record for 12 years. The road cars had about 250 hp and weighed just 1150 kg. The suspension had independent, double wishbones, twin coil-springs and telescopic dampers. Enough tech to give you a unparalleled driving experience. Reliant made the bodywork, and the same company also built the three-wheeled Robin, thus the RS200 didn’t win any prizes in build quality. As for many of the others cars on this list, all of that didn’t really matter, as it’s a proper rally car from the mad 1980s and extremely cool and desirable.
12: Porsche 944 Turbo
In 1985, Porsche introduced the 944 Turbo, designated as the 951. It had a turbocharged and intercooled version of the standard car’s engine. Developing 220 hp, it would reach 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. Later the Turbo S was bumped up to 250 hp. The S had a top speed of 261 km/ and did 0-60 km/h in just 5.5 seconds. In its period, the 944 wasn’t acknowledged as a real Porsche, and the 911 purists would frown at the front-engined freak. But they misinterpreted the concept completely. The Porsche’s 944’s forte is and always was sweet, sweet handling at all speeds. Even the Turbo is less than 3,000 pounds and the balance is great, without any rear-engine handling weirdness. Iconoclastic, oddball, reliable, low-priced and above all fast – it may just be the perfect Porsche. The9 44 Turbo S for instance, will be a future classic and prices are already on the rise.
11: Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R
Nissan, who at the end of the decade was competing in Group A Racing with the Skyline GTS-R, wanted a more competitive vehicle. The new generation GT-R, E-BNR32 chassis (known as the R32), was designed to dominate Group A racing. Nissan developed a motorsport-oriented AWD system for this purpose called the ATTESA E-TS, and although it added 100 kg to the drivetrain, it wasn’t an issue as Nissan just increased displacement to 2600 cc. This new 2.6 L RB26DETT-powered all wheel drive concept was put into production as the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R. The R32 developed 280 hp and had a curb weight of 1,430 kg. Creating a huge following all over the world the name «Skyline» truly means something special to every car enthusiast, and it has indefinite street cred.
Wake up now, we’re halfway through the list. Agree or disagree with us so far? Yeah? Good! Let’s add up. Noticed how many of the cars listed from 20th to 11th place are Group B Rally or racing derived cars? It’s no coincidence. Facts:
Back in the eighties, if you wanted to compete in racing, you simply developed the ultimate car, had it simmered down slightly so you could get it through FIA homologation regulations, and the way you did that, was to build a series of street-legal versions. Essential the same awesome car for you and me to buy, but without all the racing gear and of course, less power. In fact, many buyers of these street-legal cars, would just slap on stickers on the side of the car and race (well, almost).
This was a perfect window for car manufacturers. They were rather strange-looking cars with bulging flares, scoops, wings and wide wheels and there wasn’t even invented a segment, less a market for them. It didn’t matter of course. The manufacturers probably figured that some of the cars would sell to privateers wanting to race. A huge investment for such small production numbers, but a small prize to pay when you had just developed a weapon, which most of them were. Monsters.
People were killed. Group B were killed too.
Little did the manufacturers know. The group B cars became some of the world’s most desired cars and today they are legends from a crazy decade. This sort of rule-bending doesn’t exist any more and Group B rally are long gone. Nowadays car manufacturers, are using Motorsport to develop new tech, and later implement it in their road cars.
On with the Top 10!
10: Lancia Delta Integrale Evolution
Lancia Delta Integrale is known as the beast that won six consecutive victories in the World Rally Championship-seire. From 1987 to 1992 no one could touch the little Italian Pocket Rocket. As we’ve seen with cars presented here, many road-cars have been created for homologation requirements and the Lancia Delta Integrale is one such car. Since the Integrale was motivated by motor sport, it was engineered more as a race car than the sedan which shared its name. What really sets the Evolution apart from earlier cars was its body. Both the front and rear track were increased, as were the wheel arches, to comply with Rally Regulations stating that the tires could not extend beyond the body. A rear spoiler was also added to the top of the tailgate to improve airflow. Under the skin, many changes were introduced to the brakes and suspension to increase endurance and stress tolerance. Specifically, the brake calipers were fixed and featured twin pistons instead of the single piston, floating calipers used on the earlier models. Other less significant changes included, smaller more powerful elliptical headlights, colored instrumentation, a front aluminum strut brace, a larger steering box and a remapped engine that produced 210 bhp. As classic 1980s as they come.
9: Audi Sport Quattro
The Audi Sport Quattro was developed for Group B rallying in 1984, and also sold as a production car. A total of 224 cars of this «short version» Quattro were built. It had a 2.1 L 20v 5-cylinder Turbocharged engine with 306 hp and a body shell made of carbon-kevlar and of course, it had those desired flared and wider arches. Stupidly fast too, even back in 1984, and just the look of it screams Rally. A much shorter wheel base really make it stand out from its derivative, the Ur Quattro (featured here: Ur-Q-RS2). It’s almost impossible to find an example today and as you would have guessed already, prices are sky-rocketing.
8: Porsche 930 Turbo
Faster than a kid could reach out and grab a piece of free candy, the Porsche 930 was the fastest production car available in Germany. Built between 1975 and 1989 it was the top-of-the-range 911 model for its entire production duration. The wide arches, the whale-tail rear spoiler and the reputation of being a widow maker, all ensured the Turbo its legacy as one of the world’s most desired cars. In 1984 Porsche produced the fastest of the 930 Turbos with a 0-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 278 km/h. Those figures instantly made the Turbo a legend. A dream car for many of us, and it remains so today, as prices have literally exploded.
7: BMW M3 E30 Sport Evolution
BMW developed the M3 to enter the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft) and the Sport Evolution, or EVOIII, had the latest iteration of the inline four-cylinder (S14) producing an incredible 235 hp at 7000 rpm. It’s legendary box flared wheel-arches, an adjustable rear wing, a dog-leg gearbox with first gear being down and to the left, and of course the improved suspension and brake system, gave the M3 it’s pedigree known to every car enthusiast today. It’s still a very hard car to follow on a twisty back road (or on a track) and prices are rising by the minute. So grab one while you can!
6: BMW M1
The M1 coupe was hand-built between 1978 and 1981 under the motorsport division of BMW as a homologation special for sports car racing. The body was designed by Giugiaro, taking inspiration from the 1972 BMW Turbo show car. Originally, BMW commissioned Lamborghini to work out the details of the car’s chassis, assemble prototypes and manufacture the vehicles, but Lamborghini’s financial position meant that BMW reassumed control over the project in April 1978, after seven prototypes were built. Since the engineering of the car was still incomplete, a group of former Lamborghini engineers that had founded a company named Italengineering offered to complete the car’s design. Less than 10 miles away from the Lamborghini shop, the engineering for the M1 was finished. Only 453 production M1s were built, making it one of BMW’s rarest models. Of the 453 produced, 20 were race versions created for the BMW M1 Procar Championship. The spirit of the M1 lived on in the M635Csi and the first-generation M5, which use a modified version of the M88/1 engine, the M88/3. A beautiful car with un-rivaled heritage. Expensive, good looking and an extremely rare car.
5: Ferrari Testarossa
Produced from 1984 to 1991, and named after its red-painted valve covers, it was the natural successor of the 512i Berlinetta Boxer. Pininfarina headed the design and the 390 hp V12 rear mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout had the power fed through the wheels from a rear-mounted, five-speed manual transmission, beautifully ending in a chrome open-gate gear lever. Less drama and more sophisticated compared to the Countach, but the width of nearly 200cm and a height at just 111cm, still makes it an impressive car. The large side intakes are actually functional and the strakes simply add to its signature look. No power steering or power brakes and two fuel tanks holding 102 litres. It’s a grown up sports car.
4: Lamborghini Countach – Runner up for the podium
Every boy’s dream and every man’s desire. The poster car. Named after a north Italian expression, meaning something like «Holy Fuck», the Countach simply oozes testosterone more than anything else in the world. The mid-mounted V12 has enough power to scare even the toughest driver, it’s a car you really have to man-handle in order to drive fast. You can’t reverse it unless you know how to sit on the sill with the scissor operated door wide open and just tip-top-operate the beast. It was the car that superseded the legendary Miura and that surely wasn’t no easy task. Designed by Marcello Gandini and crafted in Sant’Agata Bolognese – it was a match made in heaven.
3: Ferrari 288 GTO – A solid third place for one of the most iconic cars of all times.
When Ferrari launched the 288 GTO no one knew, that just a few years later, another thoroughbred from Ferrari were launched, called The F40. That fact didn’t do anything to quench the popularity of the GTO, though. So why is the 288 GTO number three on this list? Here’s a few reasons: It’s four times as rare as the Ferrari F40; the crazy high-strung turboed-out V8; the flared fenders; the never-seen-before-on-a-road-car odd (read: beautiful) rearview mirrors and the visible rear differential. It’s born to race and not to cruise boulevards. It deserves a spot on the podium just for the looks and brutality really.
2: Ferrari F40 – Runner up for the title (could easily have been no 1)
No 2 needs no further introduction. We all know it and love it. It’s a bonkers race-car for the road. Its red with a gigantic wing. It’s a Ferrari. And you will probably never drive one. Still, we all dream about the F40 because it ticks all the boxes. The hysteric twin-turboed V8 visible through the «plastic» engine cover. The naked cockpit with zero comfort or luxury. The turbo-lag. The noise. The capability. The F40 has it all. Try to open both doors and the rear part of the car (complete with engine cover, rear wing and the «frunk») at a car meet or a gas station, and you’re guaranteed endless attention. Chances are you will still standing there, reading this article on your cell phone while answering questions. Keep it well locked up too, since these come cheap..
1: Porsche 959 – The winner and the Ultimate 1980s car
No 1 has to be the 959. This is beyond doubt the best car from the Eighties. It was Porsche’s display of superiority and it was hailed as the most technologically advanced road-going sports car ever built. It was the forerunner of all super cars i.e. the first of the modern era of hyper cars. Manufactured from 1986 to 1993, the twin-turbocharged 959 was the world’s fastest street-legal production car, capable of a top speed of 314 km/h and 0-60 km/h in 3,6 seconds. Its all-wheel drive system convinced Porsche executives to implement their all-wheel-drive system on all 911 Turbos starting with the 993.
The Porsche 959 is, without a doubt, the most desirable of the 20 cars we picked.
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