Best 1980's Cars

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The 80s might be known for big hair, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and the Golden Girls, but it was also a decade of change for the automotive world.

The best 1980s cars are listed below, with descriptions for each one.

  • 1982 Ford Escort
  • 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass
  • 1986 Honda Accord
  • 1982 Ford Mustang GT
  • 1986 Toyota 4 Runner
  • 1988 Porsche 944 Turbo S
  • 1987 Buick Grand National GNX

While the 80s is often characterized as the decade where Americans learned how to power into higher lifestyles,  most Americans embraced their rising affluence by buying stuff. The yuppie culture invaded everything, and items like walkmans, cell phones, microwaves, and home computers began to invade the home. As automakers were trying desperately to recover from the rising tide of imports, the Big Three drastically changed the kinds of vehicles they produced. Americans abandoned the gas-guzzling, smog-producing V8s in favor of more efficient cars. The 1980s became a time of automobile design, performance, and safety changes as customers demanded better-made vehicles. So, what are the best cars from the eighties? Even though many cars could make the list, let’s look at some of the most iconic vehicles from this decade.

Table of Contents


What Are The Best 1980s Cars?

Here is our vote for the most influential cars from the decade of Miami Vice, Magnum PI, and the A-team.

1982 Ford Escort

1982 Ford Escort
1982 Ford Escort

Introduced in 1981, Ford promoted the small Escort as a “brand new world car.” The little four-cylinder got off to a good start by dethroning the Cutlass as the best-selling car in the US in ‘82 (a feat it would repeat in ‘87). Ford had brought the Escort on as a replacement for the Pinto and was anxious to put the safety problems of the Pinto behind them. Powered by a 1.6L four-cylinder engine that produced 70 hp, most Americans were delighted with the fuel savings at over 39 mpg on the highway (EPA estimate, although Ford claimed the mileage was closer to 44 mpg with the 1.6 engine). With the oil crisis of the 70s were still fresh in people’s minds, any gains that saved money at the pump were welcome news.

The Escort was offered in a two and four-door hatchback and a four-door Wagon (with imitation wood grain on the sides like the much larger LTD Crown Victoria station wagons). The interior featured cloth high-back bucket seats and a two-spoke steering wheel, with basic items like a padded dash and color-coordinated sun visors. An AM radio was standard, or consumers could opt for an AM/FM stereo with multiple speakers. Power Steering and Power front disc brakes were part of the Wagon’s standard features, but if you drove the hatchback, you needed to pay extra to get them.

Ford produced over 385k units for the model year, and though the numbers were down for a few years, the Escort repeated its feat of being America’s best-selling car in 1987. With a base price of $5,518, many Americans found themselves enjoying the savings and using the extra money to improve the lives of their family.

  • The Ford Escort was the best-selling passenger car in 1982, 1987, and 1988..
  • The Escort embraced Ford’s desire to compete with imports like Honda, VW, and Toyota.
  • Ford advertised the Escort as the new “world car.”

1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass

1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass
1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass

Even though the Olds Cutlass has a proven track record as the best-selling car in both ‘78 and ‘79, the car would repeat the feat in ‘80, ‘81, and again in ‘83. The Cutlass offered Americans a good transition vehicle, as many consumers didn’t want to give up the power of larger V8 sedans but needed to save money at the pump regardless. The Cutlass gave them the best of both worlds by providing more power than a small import and enough room as a family car while offering a stylish look that looked great sitting in suburban driveways.

The standard engine for the Cutlass was the 3.8L V6 which provided 110 hp, but there were options for additional V8s. With a fully automatic transmission on most models, coupled with power steering, power brakes, and other amenities, the Cutlass quickly established itself as America’s car.

Consumers found the interior spacing adequate, with wall-to-wall carpeting, luxurious brushed nylon seating surfaces (vinyl was also an option), and a long, wood-trimmed dash with an oversized horizontal speedometer. There was plenty of visibility from the elongated windshield and rear window. The entertainment and comfort controls were housed in a separate box in the center area below the dash, but they were still easy to reach. While there were plenty of nice standard features, many options were available, like Automatic Cruise Control, ABS, Tilt steering, and even a power antenna.

  • The Oldsmobile Cutlass was the best-selling car in ‘78 - ‘81 and ‘83.
  • The car had a standard 3.8 V6 which offered power but also saved fuel in the minds of consumers.
  • The Cutlass would adapt to the Malibu body style in 1988, which led to poor sales, and it was replaced in the late 90s by the Oldsmobile Intrigue.

1986 Honda Accord

1986 Honda Accord
1986 Honda Accord

Honda’s market share grew consistently throughout the 1980s. By the time 1986 rolled around, the Accord was in its third generation and gaining a loyal following. As the first Japanese car to be built in the US, the Accord had a solid reputation for being well-built, reliable, and dependable. The fact that the small four-cylinder engine got excellent fuel economy didn’t hurt its sales at all.

The third generation Accord was offered in five trim levels, from the DX Hatchback and Sedan to the LX and LXi Sedan and LXi Hatch. The car featured a lower, sleeker profile with hidden headlights, giving it a more sporty feel. American market Hondas had a 2.0L four-cylinder engine shared with the sporty Prelude. The engine was peppy, producing 98 horsepower and a maximum torque of 98 lb/ft (higher hp on the injected models). While the Accord wasn’t going to set any top speed records, it was a good enough engine to get Americans to work and play when they needed.

This generation of Honda was the first to use a double wishbone suspension, which provided the car with good stability and a firm ride. Interiors could vary depending on the options, but Honda did a good job of offering amenities like standard air conditioning to help convince buyers of their value. The MSRP for the DX model was $9,587 and a bit more for the LX and LXi models.

  • The 1986 model was the third generation of Accord, having debuted in the US in 1976.
  • The four-cylinder engine was virtually indestructible.

1982 Ford Mustang GT

1982 Ford Mustang GT
1982 Ford Mustang GT

Ford had used the Fox-body platform for its Mustang for a few years when they rolled out the ‘82 model. The Cobra line was dropped in favor of the GT badging, with an upgraded 4.9L (302) V8 that produced 157 hp. (North of the border, Canadians had to settle for the 2.3 OHC four-banger). Ford labeled the V8 as the new 5.0L High Output to avoid confusing it with their 4.9 inline six.

The Ford designers increased the cam, opened the airways with a larger carburetor, and slapped on more restrictive intake and exhaust manifolds. The result was a small versioned muscle car that could motor down the track with 0-60 mph time in about seven and a half seconds without breaking a sweat. (While many owners wished that the car would go faster, the Fox Body Mustangs were still fast enough to beat the Camaro’s pedestrian 9.4 seconds, and they often did).

The Mustang GT had Macpherson struts on the front and a 4-bar link/coil rear suspension, which, combined with the rack and pinion steering, helped provide effective control. The 4-speed manual override transmission was paired with the 5.0L engine, and young bucks constantly wore out the clutch pedals because they were racing so much.

Unfortunately, the Mustang continued to lose favor with the American public. Turned off by the Fox Body design, only 130k units were produced, with only 24,799 (19.1%) being the Mustang GT hatchback. Ford attempted to justify the $8,308 MSRP by claiming that the “Boss was Back,” but this did little to sway buyers. It would be a couple of years before Mustang found a way to bump the power up to almost 200 hp, but the Fox Body would stay until 1993.

Editors note: Anyone living during the eighties will likely wonder why this car made our list. Surprisingly, collectors often seek these cars because they are easy to work on, and the 302 is about as bulletproof as any motor Ford ever made.

  • The 1982 Mustang GT was offered in only four colors, Black, Silver, Bright Red (mid-year), and Dark Red.
  • While the Mustang GT might have been a hot hatchback, it could move down the track.

1986 Toyota 4Runner

1986 Toyota 4Runner
1986 Toyota 4Runner

When Toyota decided to market their HiLux pickup to the SUV market, they knew they needed to make the small pickup look like a sports utility vehicle. Their answer was to slap a fiberglass shell over the bed and label their truck with a four-wheel drive system to run off-road. Little did they know that the “4Runner” would become one of the longest-running nameplates in the world, and the quality of the little SUV would translate into a vehicle that could go well past 200k miles.

By 1986, the 4Runner had been out for a couple of years. While most early models did not have rear seats, most SR5 models imported into the US did. (Toyota offered rear seats as an $800 option). With a new turbo-charged 22R-TE engine that produced 135 hp, and a new Hi-Trac independent front suspension, the four-wheel drive truck/SUV proved an effective city driver. The 4Runner didn’t perform as well off-road as the GMC Jimmy or Jeep Waggoneer, but that didn’t bother the few thousand people who purchased it. (The third generation of the 4Runner would take off in the late nineties when Toyota increased the size of the 4Runner).

Despite the initial weak sales, Toyota found that the car sold well internationally (known as the Surf), and the automaker stayed committed to offering the SUV to American buyers. While governmental regulations made it hard to import light trucks (25% tariff), the 4Runner didn’t succumb to the “Chicken Tax” because it had a shell on the back and was classified as an SUV.

  • The 1985 Toyota 4Runner was virtually indestructible and known for its dependability and reliability.
  • The 4Runner was a great city driver, purchased by more suburbanites who wanted something to commute to work, not as much for off-road applications
  • Many early model 4Runners did not have rear seats.

1988 Porsche 944 Turbo S

1988 Porsche 944 Turbo S
1988 Porsche 944 Turbo S

When Porsche added the “S” abbreviation to the 944 in ‘87, they might have been on to something. The S stands for Super, which is the exact word to describe this fast car. The 944 had been designed as an entry-level sports car, and it quickly became known as the “poor man’s Porsche.” While Porsche had been making the 944 for a few years, the “S” model powered it into the hearts of speed lovers everywhere.

The car was powered by a dual overhead cam 2.5L engine that produced 250 hp and had a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds. Its top speed was 162 mph, making it faster than anything on the road then. (It had the designation of the fastest production car at the time). Porsche improved the suspension, added an upgraded transmission cooler, and a limited-slip, making this car one of the best cars on the planet.

Knowing that owners would be tempted to push the car’s limits, Porsche added ABS to go with the driver and passenger side airbags it had installed the year before. Interiors included power seats for both sides and a ten-speaker sound system with an equalizer + amp integrated.

Only 13k 944 Turbos were made for the US market for its six-year production run. Porsche offered ingenious advertising when their commercial asked, “What To Feed A Porsche 944 Turbo?” The answer was simple. The Porsche 944 ate Feraris and Corvettes. The commercial spurred a lot of Americans to investigate Porsche’s power and performance.

  • The 1988 Porsche 944 Turbo S had a 2.5L engine that produced 250 hp and blazed down the track from 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds.
  • The 944 Porsche was the fastest production car made at the time and the first to offer both driver and passenger airbags.

1987 Buick GNX

1987 Buick GNX
1987 Buick GNX

The 1987 Buick is probably the most iconic classic car of the 80s. When Buick unleashed the limited production vehicle labeled the GNX in partnership with Maclaren in 1987, they desired to make the ultimate Grand National. The automaker used a  turbo-charged V6 which was a beast on the track, with its 4.6 second 0-60 mph (faster than Ferrari and Porsche). The V6 produced similar power as much larger V8s (officially 276 hp and 360 lb/ft of torque, although it might have been closer to 300 hp).

The black exterior paint, dark interior, and 16-inch black wire meshed wheels gave the Buick a menacing appearance as it lumbered down the street. The Buick Grand National earned a “dark side” and was labeled since they were all black. (They came out during the height of the Star Wars craze - think Darth Vader). The aura surrounding the GNX made it one of the coolest cars. In truth, the GNX, although limited in production, was one of the best performance cars of the 1980s, proving that the American muscle car was not dead but alive and well.

Buick offered the GNX for a mere $29k MSRP, and while only 547 of the special model were produced, Buick had to extend production on the regular Grand Nationals due to increased customer demand. 1987 would be the last year that the large rear-wheel drive G-body platform was used, as the Regal was built on the W platform with a smaller V6, and aimed at the luxury buyer.

  • The Buick GNX was a limited production of the Grand National with only 547 units produced.
  • The GNX had a turbocharged V6 with a power output of 300 hp and a 4.6 second track time (0-60 mph).