According to these guys, the top cars of the 1980s were (as listed):
- 1983 Golf GTI
- 1984 Ferrari Testarossa
- 1985 Corvette
- 1986 Porsche 959
- 1987 Camaro IROC-Z
- 1987 RUF CTR
- 1987 Mustang 5.0
- 1987 BMW M5
- 1987 Ferrari F40
- 1987 Buick Grand National/GNX
A couple of points come to mind. The RUF and 959 Porsches aren’t really “production” cars in the true sense of the word — they’re essentially low-volume tweaked models. The F40 is a wondercar — still is — but it wasn’t really a car for the general public back then, just as La Ferrari isn’t for today’s public. As for the rest — and I’m trying not to compare this list to today’s cars in terms of performance — the only one I’d consider owning is the BMW M5, which I have driven, and it was fantastic — even with all the shit we know goes along with Beemer ownership.
And while the Ferrari Testa is the best-looking of all of them, in practice it’s a beast to drive — it once took me about a dozen tries to parallel-park it, to the amusement of many onlookers.
I’ve driven a couple of the others as well: the Mustang and the Grand National were great, but butt-ugly. I was nearly talked into buying a Buick, actually, but the purchase was nixed by Wife #2, who pointed out (quite reasonably) that a supercharged rear-wheel drive car with crap handling was not the optimal vehicle for Chicagoland’s icy and potholed streets. The IROC-Z was really aimed at the street-dragster market, as was the Corvette (then and now), which leaves me out. And all these cars drank gas quicker than you could toss out the window in 5-gallon cans. Except for the Golf.
The Golf GTI needs a special mention, as it’s the only other car I’d take from the Hemmings list. While its 90hp performance is risible by today’s standards, it wasn’t back then; remember that the Porsche 356 only developed 95hp. But the VW’s light weight made it truly quick, if not especially fast, and on city- and suburban streets it was a rocket. And it handled better at speed than the Mustang, Camaro, or Buick.
Frankly, I think one of the 1980s’ best cars (and most glaring omission from the Hemmings list) was Toyota’s 1986 MR2 model, but no doubt someone’s going to take issue with this. I thought it was superb, especially when compared to its major competitor, the stupefyingly-bad Pontiac Fiero.
In fact, the Toyota’s only real competition came from Europe, in the form of the Lancia Delta Stradale:
…except of course that the “Mister 2” didn’t break down every quarter-mile, as the Lancia was prone to do.
Feel free, as always, to add your own ideas in Comments.