Top 10 cars from the ’80s

As a follow-up to the article a coupe of days ago, when it was revealed that cars from the 1980s were disappearing from the roads faster than any other generation. I’ve decided to have a look at some of the cars which defined the decade, and indeed are still legends to this day. The cars are in no particular order, and they encompass everything from supercars, to hatchbacks, budget roadsters to high-powered coupes.

If you can think of any others which deserve a mention, let your voices be heard in the comments.


Mazda MX-5 / Miata MK1 (1989 – 1997)

Mazda MX-5 Miata

This one only just scraped into the list. A few more months and it wouldn’t have qualified. But although it appeared in ’89, all the hard work which went into designing and developing it had occurred in the ’80s. It brought budget, no-frills roadsters back to the masses. It was front-engined, and most importantly rear-wheel drive. It wasn’t bad looking. It still isn’t. To this day they’re still one of the cheapest ways to get yourself behind the wheel of a sports car, or even into motorsport. Successive generations of the car have stayed true to the original character, layout and styling. Proving that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Ferrari F40 (1987 – 1992)

Ferrari F40

The F40 is one of Ferrari’s most celebrated models. And rightly so. Everything about it oozed power, speed and performance. It was built to commemorate Ferrari’s 40th anniversary. When it went on sale in 1987, it was the fastest and most expensive car that Ferrari had ever produced. It was also the first production car to break the 200 mph barrier. The F40 quickly gained a reputation as a driver’s car, and one which wasn’t afraid to lash out in the hands of an inexperienced pilot. Since it was introduced over a quarter of a century ago, the F40 has notched up a mountain of industry awards, and praise from all directions.


BMW M1 (1978 – 1981)


The M1 was BMW’s first serious go at a genuine supercar. Come to think of it, it’s about their only one. It was built with the help of Lamborghini, and it was essentially a homologation special so BMW could take the car racing. The car was designed by Giugiaro, who took inspiration from the 1972 BMW Turbo concept car. In total only 456 M1s were built, making it one of BMW’s rarest models.


Ford Sierra RS Cosworth (1986 – 1992)

Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

The Ford Sierra RS Cosworth proved you didn’t need pedigree to go fast. It was a bit of a hooligan, the result of a one-night stand with a humble Ford Sierra and a bunch of guys from Ford Motorsport in Europe. It was in no way discreet, and advertised its performance from every angle – especially from the back with its distinctive “whale tail” spoiler. Throughout its production lifespan there were several different versions of the Sierra RS Cosworth, including the RS500 Cosworth, the Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth, and the Sierra RS Cosworth 4×4. All of them were beasts, powered by a turbocharged inline 4-cylinder producing up to 224 horsepower in some models.


Lamborghini Countach (1974 – 1990)

lamborghini Countach

Although the Countach was conceived in the ’70s, its long production lifespan meant it covered the entire ’80s decade. It became the pin-up of a generation for its ludicrous rocket-ship like styling and crazy scissor doors. It was far from reliable, completely impractical and an absolute pig to drive. But somehow it managed to capture people’s imaginations like nothing else. It became a legend, and also helped firmly establish Lamborghini’s reputation as a maker of all things bonkers.


Volkswagen Golf GTI (1975 – 1989)


When Volkswagen decided in 1975 to put a 110 horsepower engine in their pedestrian little Golf, and bring it along to that year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, it was a revelation. Their idea of taking what was an unremarkable little economy car, and fitting it with what was at the time a fairly powerful engine was genius. The following the Golf GTI has managed to amass over the decades is quite extraordinary for a car with such innocent beginnings.


BMW E30 M3 (1986 – 1992)

BMW M3 E30 1987

This is where the M3 story started, with the original E30 M3. The road car was built to homologate the M3 for Group A Touring Car racing. The E30 M3 has over the years gained a reputation as one of the best driver’s cars ever built, with one of the greatest chassis ever produced. In Sport Evolution trim its enlarged 2.5 litre four-cylinder engine produced 235 horsepower. And while that might not sound like a lot compared to today’s sports coupes. Don’t forget, the E30 M3 had light on its side.


Porsche 959 (1986 – 1989)


If the Ferrari F40 was the driver’s car, the Countach the playboy’s car, then the Porsche 959 is the geek’s car. Proven by the fact Bill Gates  had one, as did Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It was a technological tour-de-force from Porsche. It was also a successful Group B rally car, and for a while it was the fastest street legal production car – until the F40 came along. To this day it has to be one of the most comprehensively engineered and painstakingly designed supercars. It was the antidote to the Italian way of building supercars; make it loud and paint it red. The 959 helped usher in an age where supercar drivers could rely on their cars to get them to their destination without overheating or blowing a gasket.


Toyota MR2 Mk1 (1985 – 1989)


When the Toyota MR2 arrived in the mid-eighties it looked amazing. It was all pointy and sharp, and just had something about it that always made it stand out. I remember being fascinated by the “floating” MR2 logo in the back window whenever I saw one. But that’s not really important now. What the MR2 did was to prove the mid-engine RWD two-seater recipe wasn’t just reserved for people with lots of zeros at the end of their bank account. Not only that, it was a great drive. Fast, handled well and it was affordable to run.


DeLorean DMC-12 (1981 – 1982)

Delorean DMC-12

I’m not entirely sure if the DeLorean DMC-12 deserves to be on this list. Because as a car it was rubbish. It was underpowered, overweight, too expensive, and it didn’t handle all that well either. Even those trademark doors became a bit of a liability, as the gas struts holding them open weren’t strong enough, causing them to fail prematurely and bring the door down onto their hapless owners as they tried to get out. Yet despite all that, and the fact they were only produced for a year, somehow the DeLorean DMC-12 has managed to become one of the most iconic and recognisable vehicles ever built. It could only happen in the ’80s.


  1. I would suggest the Lancia Delta…choose you between the S4, the HF 4WD, the HF Integrale 8v or the HF Integrale 16v!

      • It was an excellent car, considering it shared many parts with the Fiat Ritmo/Strada and that it was built from 1980 to 1993! And -I know that might generate some laughter- I would add the Fiat Panda, though it’s less “international” than the Delta…its simplicity motorized Italy in the 80s and still nowadays it’s a very appreciated and beloved car!

  2. The E30 M3 is without a doubt one of the best cars ever made and it kicked of BMW’s “M” cars entire line up. However, it should be remembered that even without the M badge, the e30 models were and probably still ARE the best cars that BMW has ever produced, particularly those with the V6 MTB engine. You still see plenty of them driving around today. Nimble, comfortable, solid, rwd, and amazingly good looking (at least the es and is versions). BMW seems to be trying again at the basic concept of the e30 with the 1 series but the jury is still out. Over the years the 3 series became progressively fatter and with the exception of the e36’s, less nimble. It was the 80’s 3 series that really took BMW from a maker of crappy little euro cars to the luxury automaker it is today.

  3. To many cars missing on that “Top 10”. VW Golf G60 Rallye, Mercedes 190 2.5 16V, Clio 16v, Renault 5 GT Turbo, Mercedes SL R129, etc. Many cars reaching the 25 years that will start to be an investment.

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