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The 20 Best Manual Transmission Sports Cars of the 80s

Best Manual Transmission Sports Cars

The 80's presented us with a substantial dynamic spread from movies, fashion, music and many more. It was also a decade that witnessed a significant change in the automobile industry, with improved technology being a key marker for this era. Such advancements made the 80's showcase some of the most outstanding creations to take on the auto-sport scene. At the time, the manual transmission was the thing as not all companies had fully bought into the automatic transmission. Manual transmission cars still cut the motor sport scene and served and adrenaline-inducing moment on the asphalt. So which was the best car from that experimental decade? Below are some of the best manual transmission cars from the 80's to answer the question.

20. 1989 Nissan Skyline GTR

1989 Nissan Skyline GTR

Starting off the list is the 1989 Nissan skyline GTR. It was among the first models in the third generation stint of the Nissan skyline make that ended somewhere in the mid-1990s. It came with a 2.6-liter twin-turbocharged engine and featured a six-speed manual transmission and had an impressive output reaching 312 horsepower. It was a proper racing car with its design being the basis of several sports cars that came out in the 90s extending to the early 2000s.

19. 1987 Dodge Daytona Shelby Z

1987 Dodge Daytona Shelby Z

When talking about slickness and simplicity, the 1987 Dodge Daytona Shelby Z is the benchmarking point. The hatchback had a 2.2 liter engine, which is quite friendly for a sports car. It had a lightweight frame which made it the perfect automobile for street racing and also for hitting the circuits. It had upgrades in terms of suspension, which translated to stability and proper handling. A standout feature of this sports car was its pop-up headlights which are reminiscent of the trends in the 80s.

18. 1980 Chevrolet Camaro Z28

1980 Chevrolet Camaro Z28

A look at Hemmings proves you can see how lucrative riding in the 1980 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 was. The car came is a classy design that would make it a collector’s item at this age. It featured either a V6 or V8 engine, both of which transmitted impressive power for both street roads and other sporting situations. The 165 horsepower was decent for a smooth cruising excursion. The downside is that it came out during the recession period for Chevrolet; hence a sizable figure made to the sales catalog.

17. 1987 Honda Integra

1987 Honda Integra

The Honda Integra lies somewhere between a sedan and a street sports car. Also known as the Acura Integra, it was fairly popular due to its low consumption featuring versions of 1.5 and 1.6 liters. Its styling, especially the hatchback, received praise from critics owing to the simplicity achieved. Though not that powerful at roughly 100 horsepower, it proved to be resilient and exuded proper handling. Its comfort was also a feature to look at. It is a common feature in some short chase street races and with little modification; it is an excellent project car for the circuits.

16. 1987 Pontiac Mera

1987 Pontiac Mera

Most of the 1980s sports cars bought into the principle of aerodynamics, focusing on a streamlined shape in designs. Evidence of this approach is present in the rare 1987 Pontiac Mera. It took a page from the Pontiac Fiero of the previous years as evident from a fan website. Slight modifications to the body and engine, where a powerful V6 engine took position under the hood, were made to the Fiero models and ended with this exceptional sports car. However, less than 250 units came out of the assembly with many speculating that a lawsuit from Ferrari was the reason.

15. 1987 Buick GNX

1987 Buick GNX

For several years, Buick struggled with its brand image as it was mainly associated with the older generation. Then enter the 1987 Buick GNX that changed the notion with a sporty and masculine look suitable for the streets. It is the resultant collaboration between McLaren and Buick, with the former handling the engine tuning part. It featured a V8 engine which exuded an impressive 276 horsepower. This was a good value at the time and made it a roadworthy car for races and other showcases despite its limited production.

14. 1981 Datsun 280zx

1981 Datsun 280zx

The Japanese auto-manufacturer came through in full throttle with this coupe sports car. It is a good looker aesthetically and has speed etched on it once you come across it. It features a 2.8-liter V6 engine that results in a fantastic 145 horsepower. In its design, there was more emphasis in handling, power and fuel efficiency. In the racing sector, a turbocharged engine took charge and had an impressive 700 horsepower with a maximum speed of 230km/h.

13. 1981 DeLorean DMC

1981 DeLorean DMC

The famous DeLorean captured the minds of various sports car enthusiasts in the 1980s, mostly due to its association with the Back To The Future movie franchise. It is famous for its gull-wing doors which were hinged from the roof and added to its mystique. Under its hood was a 2.85 liter V6 Peugeot-Renault-Volvo engine under a 5-speed manual transmission with a 130 horsepower rating. The frontal lightweight and robust suspension made it a suitable vehicle to hit the highway at incredible speeds. It also features power-assisted disc brakes available on all the wheels.

12. 1984 Ford Rs200

1984 Ford Rs200

The ford rs200 is another one of the sports manual transmission cars that decorated the 1980s. It had a more modern look and can be termed as precursor to modern sports car designs. The two-door car sports a five-speed manual transmission and sat comfortably atop either a 1.8 or 2.1-liter straight-four engine. Its suspension is also robust and has independent dual wishbones for both the front and rear with twin coil springs. On the road, this make from Ford is all to write about mostly resiliency. It also brings its best when looking at the comfort factor, with the focus on its interior

11. 1983 Pontiac Firebird

1983 Pontiac Firebird

If you are keen on the sporty look, with a slight leaning towards muscle cars, then the 1983 Pontiac Firebird would impress you. It came in two body styles where you could either go for the two-door convertible or the three-door liftback. For its engines, the Pontiac came with a variety featuring a Pontiac 2.5 liter, a 2.8 liter v6, a 3.8 liter Buick turbo V6 engine and a 5.7 liter Chevy V8 engine. To achieve the sporty look, it featured standard 14-inch wheels, retractable headlights and several aircraft-inspired additions. The interior featured leather upholstery, making it a comfy ride.

10. 1988 Ford Thunderbird

1988 Ford Thunderbird

The 1988 Ford Thunderbird is like a slick crossover between a sedan and a street-worthy racecar. It had a simplistic design that you could easily underrate considering its fantastic performance. As from Carfolio, the thunderbird features a naturally aspirated engine. The 3.8-liter V6 petrol engine of the thunderbird is capable of maximum displacement of an impressive 185km/h.

9. 1987 Ford Mustang

1987 Ford Mustang

The Ford Mustang cemented its place as one of the sports cars to look out for decades ago, and in the 80s it still had a place among the best. The 1987 ford mustang was a facelift of the 1986 model and put some emphasis on the interior. It featured cozy seats, a center console and an improved door trim. The car was very versatile in its makes focusing on different body styles where there were the 2-door coupe and convertible as well as a 3-door hatchback. The same applied to the engines ranging from a 2.9 liter to a 4.9-liter capacity, with some turbocharged versions between. It had both manual and automatic transmission, with the manual being four or 5-speed transmission.

8. 1984 Chevrolet Corvette

1984 Chevrolet Corvette

Also known as the Chevrolet Corvette C4, this is one sports car that was the dream of many in the 80s decade. It featured modern styling, evident at the pointy nose of the hood and was probably a move in the application of aerodynamics. The engine was a V8 5.7-liter engine charging up a 375 horsepower. The 6-speed manual transmission promised proper handling and could support and upward speed of 282 km/h.

7. 1982 Toyota Supra

1982 Toyota Supra

The 80s boom in the auto-sports vehicle category would not be complete without an entry from Toyota. The japans automaker made a move in the 1980s with the Toyota Supra, also known as the Celica XX in some markets. For a sports car, it was quite economical and manageable; hence, its popularity in several markets. Its engine came in either two or 2.8-liter capacities and sported a 5-speed manual transmission.

6. 1980 Audi Quattro

1980 Audi Quattro

Featuring heavily in the rally scene at the turn of the decade was the 1980 Audi Quattro. It had its base on a Volkswagen B2 platform and took advantage of the then changed rules in rallying to bring up a four-wheel-drive transmission. It had a 2.1-liter engine and 5-speed manual transmission and took on rough terrains with excellent handling, an explanation of why it was common in rallying.

5. 1983 Porsche 911c

1983 Porsche 911c

The Porsche 911 model has an inarguable top spot when it comes to the best sports cars of all time. It has been prominent in the racing circles, and in the 1980s it was no different courtesy of the 1983 Porsche 911c. It had a short chassis, a coupe and it was synonymous for its large protruding headlights that almost looked like eyes. Its 3.0-liter engine had a fantastic performance translating to a horsepower of 180 units.

4. 1986 BMW M3

1986 BMW M3

When it comes to sturdy and durable engines, then the German automaker BMW stands among the best. When it comes to the1986 BMW M3, the company spared no effort in making it one of the best manual transmission cars. It came in two body styles, a 2-door coupe or a 2-door convertible. It ran on either a two or a 2.5-liter engine. According to Business Insider, the M3 had a horsepower boost and some tweaks to its aerodynamic essence which made it popular among race-oriented drivers.

3. 1984 Toyota MR2

1984 Toyota MR2

On the third spot is the Toyota MR2 featuring a unique design as it was a mid-engine and rear-wheel-drive vehicle. Its claim to the spot is due to its charming simplistic look and also fuel economy. The two-door car had either a 1.5 or 1.6-liter engine with the option of either five or 6-speed manual transmission. Its handling was also one of the best at the time.

2. 1986 Mazda Rx-7

1986 Mazda Rx-7

At the time Mazda was well known for its hatchbacks and sedans, and the RX-7 was a worthy trial in the sports car direction. The car was economical and had a 1.3-liter engine on a Mazda FC platform. With the low consumption, it is fantastic it brought out a 182 horsepower capability, a badge on efficiency. It was a suitable make for street races and highway cruising.

1. 1987 Ferrari F40

1987 Ferrari F40

The top spot of the best manual transmission sports cars goes to the 1987 Ferrari F40. It is a wonder in the field of both auto-sports and auto-engineering. It was the perfect fit for racing and also for street showcases due to its flashiness. The body was quite lightweight and featured carbon fiber and aluminum for some strength. Power was the real deal for this Ferrari, and its 2.9-liter V8 engine had a fantastic output of 471 horsepower. It had a low ground clearance that boosted its stability. Though in later models there was the option of adjusting the clearance factor by a slight lift.


The 1980s came along with amazing goodies from all sectors, and the automobile sector evolved with the various sports cars under production at the time. Above are some of the best manual transmission cars in the sports category. Among the defining factors is the horsepower, fuel economy and comfort among many more. Most of the cars in the entry above ceased production or are now modified that they are slightly close to their older versions. They currently rank as collectors' items, more so the ones with a low number of produced units.

Benjamin Smith

Written by Benjamin Smith

Benjamin Smith is one of the managing editors of Moneyinc. Ben's been focusing on the auto and motorcycle sector since 2005. He's written over 1000 articles in the space and continues to learn about it each day. His favorite car is "any Bugatti" and he's a die hard Harley Davidson fan.

Read more posts by Benjamin Smith

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