Not The Best Of Times

Foul Reader Paul G. sent me these links to the Concours d’Elegance Suisse (here for the pre-WWII models and here for post-war) which show some magnificent cars — and a couple of howlers.  Take this 1981 Daimler V12 Double Six “shooting brake” (a.k.a. station wagon  to us Murkins):


On a tangential thought:  I seem to be one of the few people of my vintage who actually enjoyed the 1980s.  I liked the music, I liked the clothing, and I sure as hell enjoyed the lifestyle.  (Remember, for me the 1980s straddled two continents:  South Africa pre-1986, and the U.S. from 1987 onwards.)

The cars were… well, patchy.  On the one hand, you had the pretty ones:

Mercedes 380SL

Ferrari 288 GTO

Porsche 959

And then we had the wonderful Toyota MR2 (“Mister 2”)

…which unfortunately led other Japanese car makers to go all wedgey, e.g.:

Subaru XT

Acura Integra

Come to think of it, even the 288 was a wedge, but an Italian  wedge (which makes all the difference).

Of course, there were also the 80’s cars which were horrible and disgusting:

Plymouth Reliant

Ford Thunderbird

…and we won’t even talk about the Cadillac Cimarron

Let’s go back to the goodies.  First, the boxy-boxy look:

Audi Quattro

BMW E30 M3

Lancia Delta Integrale

Maserati Biturbo — the very definition of

Saab 900 Turbo

Volvo 740/760 Turbo (& wagon  — you can’t use the term “shooting brake” for a Swedish  car, it’s illegal))

Golf GTI

Note that many of the above were quite decent performers — the BMW E30 is one of the greatest racing cars ever made, the Audi Quattro dominated rallying for years, and even the Volvo 760 Turbo had quite a bit of poke — but they’re all still pig-ugly as far as I’m concerned.   Speaking of “ugly performance cars”, though, there were the Murkins:

Ford Mustang GT 5.0

Buick Grand National GNX

Both the above were quite hideous to look at, but at least they were fast.  As were a couple of European entrants:

Merkur XR4i (a.k.a. Ford Sierra GT)

Ford RS200

…which was underpowered — for rallying — but which still managed a 0-60mph time of 3.8 seconds, which compares well to the supercars of today.

Speaking of supercars, the 1980s did produce a couple of sublime models like the Ferrari F40

and the Lamborghini Countach

There were others (the above is by no means a comprehensive list);  but these were the ones that caught my eye at the time.  To my mind, though, no car captures the spirit of the 1980s quite like Toyota’s MR 2.

Go ahead and talk about your  favorites, in Comments.


  1. My theory of the slab-sided, Lego car design of the seventies and eighties is that is was a result of the factory transition from clay models to computer-aided design. I do not believe the primitive CAD software and limited power of the mainframes of the time could cope with many complex curves. By the time that was sorted out, we were into wind tunnels and crush zones.

  2. I drove a 1989 Mustang LX 5.0 (basically the GT without all the stupid stuff hanging under the body, it was actually FASTER than the GT because it was lighter) for 27 years, until I lost it to an accident. It was beat up, had serious rust issues, but it would still take off like it was launched from a carrier. Personally I loved the look of it, (certainly better than it’s main competitor, the Camaro). Maybe I was influenced by where I lived at the time (Staten Island, NYC), where the Guidos (Italian-Americans who got their style from John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever) drove Camaros or Monte Carlos and the non-Italians drove Mustangs or one of the Japanese cars like Supras or 280Z’s.

    Oh, the other nice thing about the Mustang: It came from the factory fast, and it was REAL easy to make it faster without spending a fortune. Bone stock it would 1/4 mile in about 14 seconds, it was real easy to get down to the high 12’s without spending more than a couple hundred bucks. Another $2,000, a big chunk of which would be tires, would get you into the mid-to-high 10’s.

    Maybe I’m just a form-follows-function, beauty-is-as-beauty-does kinda guy.

    1. Mr. Free Market (who drives a Land Rover Defender) says that the current Ford Mustang is the most uncomfortable car he’s ever driven. He rented one in Denver and drove down to Dallas, and he needed a case of whisky before his back stopped hurting.

  3. Absolutely agree with Mark D. If I survive this year, I’m gonna get me a 5 litre Mustang, in red, with a go faster stripe. And see what can be done to oomph it up a bit. Why? Why the hell not?

    1. Biggie, take it from me: no man over 40 should drive a Mustang. Don’t do it. You’ll thank me later.

      1. I remember when the Mustang was introduced. I was 13 years old (if I’m doing the math correctly) and obviously too young to own one. I tried to talk my dad into buying one but he said that it wasn’t a “family car” – -whatever that meant in the mid 60s. Anyway when I reached driving age I was getting ready to join Uncle Sam’s canoe club and lots of people very wisely counseled me against buying a new car that would sit in storage while I spent most of the next four years out at sea. So I spent my money on cheap beer and cheaper entertainment and concluded that a Mustang was out of this then young sailor’s budget.

        I came home and got married a went through a succession of the “family cars” – and a couple were sort of interesting. When we got to the point where I could think about a toy again I went down to the Ford dealer and drove a new Mustang and found that my arthritic old body couldn’t get in and out of the seat without the help of a chiropractor. This old man’s body just doesn’t bend in the right places any more.

  4. IMO the E30 line of BMWs is one of the best looking car models ever mass produced.

    The Saab 900 was a looker too. If Saab hadn’t had massive quality problems during that era (my dad has a Saab 99, it spent more time in the shop for repairs than on the road, until a cracked cylinder head after a year and a half sealed its fate. At least one of his colleagues had the exact same experience with his Saab 99) I’d slaver over them even today.

    The Countach was a great looking car, from a distance. Up close it didn’t hold up, and the interior couldn’t be called spartan, it was worse than spartan. It was also utterly unreliable, like all Italian cars of the era.

    Then again, I happen to like boxy cars 🙂

    1. What killed the Countach for me was the single windshield wiper which somehow failed to wipe the windshield in front of the driver’s eyes, and the non-existent ability to reverse the thing into a parking spot without opening the door to look behind. In the words of one of my friends, it was a car designed by a modern architect: it may have looked fine, but it had no practicality whatsoever.

      1. and then there’s the rope in lue of a door handle on the inside, a “design element” apparently decided on to reduce weight.

  5. Ugly 1970’s – 80’s cars – I was there – I preferred the older 50’s & 60’s sports cars and had some garage pets but I bought some strange metal with wheels.

    A trip down memory lane, I had several of those boxy cars, in 1978 when daughter was born I sold my wife’s Chevy Monza 2+2 V-8 which was a strange little car but fast and got her a Buick Regal with, I think the first US production turbo car. I kind of liked turbo’s so I had the Audi 5000 turbo which went fast and then one of your uglies, a 1986 Thunderbird turbo because it actually had a great suspension.

    Then as the years went on I started buying Jap cars because they don’t break, about six very boring Toyotas that did not break and got handed down in the family and we are still driving a great looking clean and neat 2000 4-Runner that will be good for another 20 years with careful maintenance.

  6. The wife says:
    “Another great coffee table book; good info, slanted opinion, and pretty pics.
    Kim should get Time-Life to make them up in book form.”

  7. I especially like the 1932 Voisin C23 Charente factory saloon radiator cap. Fold those wings down so they face front and go skewer some antifa demonstrators.

  8. The Cadillac Cavalier. I laughed so hard the first time I saw that car.

    I did love my ’87 T-Bird Turbocoupe for the two years I had it in the Northeast. Nearly killed me three times. After 100k miles I had to get rid of it.

  9. I was riding shotgun with a buddy of mine in his Merkur, when we rounded the bend in the freeway, and got radar-tagged by the State Police. He was doing 90+, when the speed limit was 55. His ID got him out of the ticket. ID? He produced his drivers license, and his ID card for the Ranger Battalion.

  10. From the 80s, for looks and a glorious noise, the Alfa GTV6 is my favorite. Thankfully, when I test-drove one, my size 13 foot was obstructed by the heater hose headed from the heater box to the dashboard, so I was spared its foibles. I bought an Alfa Graduate convertible instead, and set it up for Autocross. Go figure.

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