The 1980’s might be remembered for their dramatic hairstyles, confused fashion, and surprisingly rhythmic tunes, but they were a revolutionary decade in automotive performance. It is here that we were introduced to on-board computers, all wheel drive, and iconic turbochargers. Everything from the number of cylinders employed to the placement of the engine was experimented with. Some cars were fast, but lacked proper handling. Others were stable, but not as fast. But there was a fine line between these, and some models emerged out of the chaos, inspiring future generations for decades until now.
Below, we give you our picks for the top ten sports cars of the 1980s:
1989 Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R
(Current price tag: about $29,985)
When it comes to 1980’s sports cars, you have to bow in awe at the 1989 Nissan Skyline. Powered by an extremely powerful twin turbo 6-cylinder engine wired to a 6-speed gear box, the car not only won Japanese Touring car races, but it actually dominated them. Indeed, the Skyline was way ahead of its time. Although the model was never sold in the U.S, it was recognized around the world as a force of nature on the track, even earning the moniker “Godzilla”. Its RB26DETT engine could produce an impressive 1,000hp or more when fitted with after-market components!
1987 Buick GNX
(Current price tag: $26,750 to $32,500)
Most people who know a thing or two about sports cars would happily agree that the 1987 Buick GNX may not have been the fastest or most attractive sports car of the 80’s, but it was probably the most iconic. De-badged, blacked out, and with the badass looks of a super villain, the car steered away from the typical relaxed image of Buick automotive. It hid a 3.8L turbocharged V6 engine below the hood, which gave out 360 lb ft. of torque and 276 hp power output. Safe to say, the GNX was specifically designed to negotiate corners seamlessly while maintaining power on the ground. The only quarrel was the car was only fitted with a 4-speed automatic transmission.
1986 Porsche 959
(Current price tag: then $225 000: now – more than $1m)
At a period when sports cars were breaking adhesion limits on the amount of power they could incorporate on the rear wheels, Porsche came up with a superior all wheel drive system, giving it an edge as the first high performance car with all-wheel drive. The idea turned out to be ingenious: powering all 4 wheels instead of the rear ones alone boosted the performance of track-oriented sports cars significantly. With a 2.85L 6-cylinder engine, the car delivered 444hp of heart-stopping thrills. During its time (between 1986 and 1989), the Porsche 959 was referred to as the fastest street legal production car in the world and was celebrated as the most technologically-advanced sports car ever manufactured.
1987 Ferrari F40
(Current price tag: $595,000)
Simply put, the 1987 Ferrari F40 was the fastest sports car of the 1980s. Designed as a street race car, the F40 featured insane aerodynamics, materials, suspension geometry, and a heartbreaking price tag. A 2.9L turbocharged V8 engine helped the car achieve 471 horsepower. With tremendous levels of weight savings involved, for instance the absence of a glove box, door panels, or door handles, the F40 was virtually unrivaled during its time.
1989 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe
(Current price tag: about $6,000)
In 1989, Ford introduced the 10th generation Thunderbird dubbed Super Coupe, featuring a longer wheelbase and more aerodynamic bodywork. Powered by a 3.8L supercharged V6 engine, the Super Coupe could manage an impressive 315 lb ft. of torque and 210 horsepowers. Apart from the powerful engine, the car also featured an optional 5-speed manual transmission, stiffer suspension, skirt package, anti-lock brakes, and a limited slip rear differential.
1983 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
(Current price tag: from $12,000 to $15,000)
If 4-speed manual shift helped enhance the performance of the Trans Am, then 5 would surely help even more. Therefore, the 1983 Trans Am’s were integrated with a 5-speed manual shift while automatic transmissions went from 3 ratios to 4 with a lock-up torque converter. The ’83 models were slightly wider and taller, and the engines a little more powerful. For long distance driving comfort, the cars came with Lear/Siegler multi adjustable bucket seats featuring movable cushion bolsters and lumbar support. Across the board, there was a split back folding rear seat. Suspension refinements gave S/E Firebirds a lighter feel and more comfortable ride. The hoods were now fitted with an off-center power blister to compliment their fresh air induction system, as well as a 5-liter V8 engine and mandatory automatic.
1987 RUF CTR Yellowbird
(Current price tag: $279,000)
One of the fastest cars in the 1980s, the 1987 Ruf Yellow Bird featured a turbocharged flat/boxer 6-cylinder and a customized five-speed transmission to cope with the additional power. Its only competitors on the road were the likes of the F40 and other high-performance sports cars. In addition to the enhanced power output, the Ruf also applied weight reduction techniques by using lightweight body panels and removing sound deadening insulation. While there was a very limited production of these special cars, they were definitely one of the best sports cars of the 1980s.
1983 Mercedes-Benz 190E
(Current price tag: between $2,500 and $8,000)
When it came to rallying racing in the 1980s, the German Touring car series known as DTM had really made a name for themselves. Like most rallying events, only production based vehicles were allowed to participate in the race. This was the basis on which the Mercedes Benz 190E series were born. The model ran on a 2.3-liter 4-Cylinder, sixteen valve engine produced in collaboration with Cosworth. With an ability to produce 174 lb ft. of torque and 185 hp, the car was a significant improvement from the basic Mercedes power plant. The 190E would later replace the engine with a larger 2.5 liter to push the power way above the 200hp limit.
1986 BMW E30 M3
(Current price tag: about $69,995)
The BMW E30 is definitely one of the best-performance sports cars of the ’80s, competing in German-based DTM events against the likes of Mercedes Benz 190 E (on number 8). Some BMW fanatics argue that this was the best generation model of all the M3 series as it was specifically designed for racing. The model would inspire a line of German compact sports cars from other automotive manufactures like the 190E 2.5-16 and Audi S4. What’s more, that year’s M3 would go on to inspire other manufacturers around the globe for future sports coupes.
1987 Ford Mustang GT
(Current price tag: about $8,500)
Muscling its way to number ten on our top ten sports cars of the 1980s is the 1987 Ford Mustang GT. Considered as the poster child for U.S sports performance in that decade, the refreshing Ford Mustang was arguably the highest selling sports car during its time. If you didn’t own one of these beauties, chances are you knew someone who did. While there are many variable engines that have been produced over the years, the 1987 version is quite possibly the greatest 80’s Ford Mustang.
The model came with a completely new “aero” face lift and the V8 engine could now cough 300 lb ft. of torque and 225 hp. And the best part? The V8 Mustang came with a complimentary manual transmission.