With the 1980s making a significant pop cultural comeback in recent times, it’s an opportunity for a memory refresh, so today we’re digging into the coolest cars of the 1980s. The 80s cars were a blend of heavy-hitting cult vehicles, all-time automotive icons, and many overlooked gems that came from boutique companies and the blossoming tuner scene.
For this reason, we’ve decided to exclude the tuners from the list, narrowing down the entries to street-legal production iconic cars.
Before we start this journey through years of neon, synths, mustaches, and hairy chests, we’d like to stress that the 1980s were so productive when it comes to cool machinery, so all your personal favorites are very welcome in the comment section below.
Even though the Countach has been around since 1975 and its original LP400 variant is the most valuable classic car among traditional collectors, the later versions have another rather visceral value: they are impossibly cool.
With all its grates, ducts, and that infamous oversized wing, the LP500 S, LP5000 QV, and 25th Anniversary Edition are the epitomes of everything the 1980s stood for. That way, the Countach entered the collective consciousness as an 80s car pop culture icon and is an inevitable part of the decade’s iconography, especially in white.
2. Chevrolet Corvette C4
The third-generation Corvette had endured some of the best and the worst times for American power, so its successor had pretty big shoes to fill when it was unveiled for the 1984 model year. It had to better the last, insipid C3 Corvettes in both performance and style, and luckily it did, enabling the nameplate to reclaim all appeal it lost during the malaise era and survive to this day.
Above all, the C4 Corvette was obtainable, enabling more than 350,000 buyers to star in their own movie, driving a modern, sharp-looking, V8-powered American sports car with a digital dash and a removable Targa top. Pretty cool, right?
3. Buick GNX
Black, menacing and fast, the GNX was not a typical 1980s Buick, nor a regular American performance car, for that matter. Sporting a 300 horsepower 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 in a personal luxury coupé, it was a successful experiment that turned the Buick Grand National into the quintessential 1980s muscle car.
For the GNX, Buick teamed up with McLaren. In addition to its performance, the GNX earned additional cool points for its villain-like presence, a perfect match for Darth Vader. So, thanks to Buick, the Dark Side has never been more alluring, and 547 succumbed to the temptation, becoming the coolest Buick ever created.
4. Ferrari Testarossa
There’s no point really explaining why the Ferrari Testarossa is one of the coolest 80s cars because it just is. For a generation of kids hanging its poster on their bedroom walls, the Testarossa wasn’t about its upgraded flat-12, historical name, or performance worthy of a Ferrari flagship. On the contrary, it was all in the way it looked, with pop-up headlights, wide grated hips, and louvered stoplights.
Then, there was OutRun, a red Testarossa convertible and a blonde riding shotgun with the wind tossing her pixelated hair around. The Testarossa was the wildest automotive dream for a whole generation of kids, and the ones who have made this 80s car into reality before the prices skyrocketed are extremely lucky today.
5. Renault 5 Turbo
Throwing out the back seats from a Renault Le Car to make way for a turbocharged engine is something you’d expect of a borderline insane enthusiast, yet this is precisely what Renault did to the R5 to compete in the FIA Group 3 class.
The R5 Turbo sported a mid-mounted turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, and unlike its ordinary counterpart which was front wheel drive, it was rear wheel drive. The R5 Turbo reached rally stardom thanks to Jean Ragnotti and found its place on our list thanks to its dramatic body kit and bulging rear fenders housing the angry little rev-happy four-banger.
6. Ford Mustang 5.0
It’s no secret that, like many other cars, the Mustang too lost its cool factor during the malaise years, with the Mustang II being a downsized car with no actual power to go along with its name. Yet, when the third generation Mustang debuted in 1978, things were about to change.
Throughout the eighties, the Mustang GT had several incredible performance options like the 2.3-liter turbocharged Mustang SVO or the scarce Mustang McLaren M81. Still, nothing came close to the original all-American 1980s legend, the 5.0 Mustang in all honesty.
Sporting a 301 V8, the 5.0 80s car restored faith in America’s original pony car, so much that the fans stopped Ford from switching the Mustang to Mazda’s front-wheel-drive platform.
7. BMW E30 M3
BMW started brewing the sports sedan formula with the 2002, perfecting it in the 1980s when it created the BMW E30 M3. Initially intended for the DTM racing series, the BMW M3 expanded its portfolio to rallying, soon becoming one of the winningest sports cars ever created.
With flared fenders, a boy racerish body kit, and captivating driving dynamics, the original BMW M3 coupe was so cool both in its civilian and racing guise that it reflected on its meteoric rise in demand in recent years. Now the generation lusting over it have become able to afford it and live through their adolescent dreams.
8. Ferrari F40
Ferrari’s second supercar is indeed a car talked about exclusively in superlatives, so it’s no wonder it’s super-cool too. An evolution of the 288 GTO, the F40 inherited many of its internals, also getting an aesthetic treatment of the 288 GTO Evoluzione’s overly dramatic body.
Now, while a casual observer might not know a thing about the GTO, the F40 is a whole different story. Ask anyone who grew up throughout the 1980s to sketch a fast car, and they’ll most likely come up with something resembling the F40. All collector appeal and technical perfection aside, the F40 is just an inherently cool 80s car, and we have to thank its visceral looks for that.
9. Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
Compared to the Mustang, the Camaro survived through the malaise era with more dignity, with the second generation keeping its cool throughout the 1970s.
For 1982 model year, Chevy introduced the new, third-generation Camaro, sporting sharp looks on the same F-Body platform.
Among many cool editions of the 2nd generation Camaro, the IROC-Z stands out as the coolest. This Camaro was introduced for the 1985 model year as an upgrade to the Z28. It was named after the International Race of Champions, an all-star racing series Chevrolet sponsored from 1975 to 1989.
An ear-catching name, typically 80s cars graphics, and enhanced performance made the IROC-Z Camaro a hit and an object of automotive lust almost 40 years later for car enthusiasts.
10. Porsche 959
Porsche’s proto-hypercar showcased several pioneering features, including sequential turbocharging, hollow-spoke wheels, and Porsche’s own state-of-the-art all-wheel-drive system. These features made the Porsche 959 one of the most advanced cars of its era and the most significant rival to Ferrari’s F40. Everything about this redefined 911 was plain perfect, making it a generation-defining 80s car.
The 959 was that unobtainable dream car to many kids growing up in the late 1980s, but adults too, even the richest ones. If you were living stateside, Porsche 959 was the car you couldn’t get, not even if you’re Bill Gates himself and the unattainability created an even cooler culture for the vehicle.
11. Dodge Omni GLH
In years where the American industry declined in all segments, Detroit had to think outside the box to offer performance to its power-hungry buyers. Dodge came out the most creative by coming up with the first American hot hatch, the Dodge Omni GLH.
It was not your ordinary hot hatch either, as it was developed by Carroll Shelby, and as you probably already know, GLH stood for Goes Like Hell. And boy, it did – with 150 horsepower from a 2.2-liter inline-four in a 2205 lb body. The more powerful Shelby GLH-S was further modified by Shelby Automobiles and limited to 500 pieces, and GLH-S stood for Goes Like Hell S’more.
12. DeLorean DMC-12
Regardless of the timeframe, there’s hardly a list of cool cars without the DeLorean DMC-12, and we don’t dare to make an exception to this golden rule for the list of our 80s cars. While its transfer from an idea to the finished product was plagued from the very start, resulting in an underpowered car, the DMC-12 had an immense charm.
With a brushed stainless steel body, gullwing doors, and a starring role in the Back To The Future trilogy, the DMC-12 was dripping in eighties cool. Moreover, the cocaine-fueled controversy surrounding it also made it an inevitable part of the decade’s mythology. To top it all off, American Express even offered it completely 24-karat gold plated, pinpointing the 1980s excess at its finest.
13. Aston Martin V8 Zagato
Aston Martin’s resurrection under Victor Gauntlett came hand in hand with a number of exclusive cars handbuilt by Zagato. The historical connection between the two brands was revived when Gauntlett bought a 10% stake in Zagato, resulting in the first Zagato-bodied car since the DB4 GT.
The new coachbuilt Aston Martin V8 Zagato was light years ahead of the car it was based on. Zagato’s trademark double-bubble top didn’t fit the formula, as this grand tourer was radical, geometric and a complete opposite to any car ever wearing the Aston Martin badge. This British brute in an Italian suit isn’t the best-known 80s car, but it sure is one of the coolest.
14. Audi Sport Quattro
We’re celebrating fender flares with another car America missed to see, except for the Pikes Peak-conquering S1. The Sport Audi Quattro was a homologation special for Audi’s Group B rally superstar, and even in bone stock roadgoing form, it was nothing short of amazing.
Even though it’s not that radically different from the Ur-Quattro it was based on, the Sport Quattro has been thoroughly re-engineered with its chassis shortened to minimize understeer and power upped to 300 horsepower coming from a turbocharged 2.1-liter inline-five.
In a decade where performance went hand in hand with outlandish looks, the Sport Quattro was even restrained, with its cool factor being in subtle details like those three horizontal air inlets just above the front grille graced with Audi’s four interlocking rings.
15. Vector W8
Last but not less cool than any other car on the list of 80s cars is America’s best-known forgotten supercar, the Vector W8. This wild wedge car design is a peerless creation in many ways, starting with the fact that it’s got a twin-turbocharged transversely-mounted 6.0-liter all-aluminum Rodeck V8 engine. The engine claimed a maximum output of 1,2000 horsepower on 14 psi and a top speed of over 230 MPH, and all that with GM’s 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic 425 automatic transmission.
Next, there are CRT screens mounted inside a massive cockpit-like dash showing vital information. Finally, the whole body is made of Kevlar and carbon fiber and riveted onto an aluminum spaceframe.
The W8, an evolution of the 1976 Vector W2 one-off prototype, was inspired by fighter jets and Alfa Romeo Carabo, Marcello Gandini’s 1968 concept car. Still, many troubles in the automotive industry and Vector Aeronautics itself pushed the production all the way to the late ’80s, just in time for the W8 to become one of the coolest 80s cars for the decade.
Are there some iconic 80s cars that we didn’t mention that should have been on the list? – Comment below.