Cars

The 10 Best Cars of the 1980s

Is what you're about to read scientific? Well, you know the answer to that. But when discussing love, there's simply no room for data/reasoning/Nate Silver. And this...this is a love story. 

The 1980s was a time when we saw all-wheel drive dominate rallying, when turbos went mainstream, and when aerodynamics started to actually mean something to the average person. Yugos aside, some of the most iconic cars of all-time are from the '80s, and one could make the argument it was one of, if not the, best decade for automobiles. (And yes, some damn fine automobiles didn't make our cut.)

Okay, we won't keep you any longer. Go ahead, scroll down. Because we love you. 

10. Buick GNX

At the time, the turbocharged V6 meant the Buick GNX counted as an advanced form of muscle car. Despite looking like a murdered-out version of your grandfather's grocery getter, the GNX was much faster than Camaros of the day, and actually nipped at the heels of Corvettes, at least in a straight line.

9. DeLorean DMC-12

The DeLorean is all about pros and cons. On the plus side it's the frickin' time machine, it's got that awesome Giorgetto Giugiaro-penned design with gullwing doors, and it looks great in bare stainless steel. On the downside: it's underpowered, features mediocre handling, and everyone will ask you if you've got enough road to get up to 88 mph. Still. You know it's cool.

8. Porsche 944 Turbo

The 944 is example numero uno when debating the merit of a front-engined Porsche. It's lightweight, handles great, and, in turbo form, it packs a competitive punch. Nearly 30 years on, it's still favored by a lot of grassroots racers.

7. Lancia Delta Integrale

It's often said that the best street cars ever made were those only ever produced to meet homologation requirements for motorsports. The Integrale was exactly that, and its rallying counterpart won six consecutive world championships starting in 1987. Not bad for a turbocharged all wheel drive family car.

6. Audi Quattro

The Quattro is certainly one of the most important cars on this list. As a rally car, it ushered in the four-wheel drive revolution. As a street car, it was a solid performer with handsome looks that have aged more gracefully than the vast majority of cars from the decade.

5. Ford RS 200

To be clear: The RS 200 was an absolute failure as a rally car. It was under-powered, tricky to drive, and actually was involved in spectator deaths. As a homologation special road car, however, it's an all-time great. It's a shame Ford only made 200 of this mid-rear mounted, four-wheel drive, super-lightweight 250 hp two-seater. Fun fact: it can hit 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds, which is faster than all but the very fastest cars in the world, even today.

4. Ferrari 288 GTO

Another homologation car (seeing a trend yet?), the 288 GTO was designed to compete in the same class as the RS 200 on the road racing side of things. That the class was cancelled before the car was ready is one of history's twists of fate. Instead, it was a 400 hp beast that was the fastest car in the world when it came out, at 189 mph. Just as importantly: much of the car's mechanical bits formed the basis of the F40.

3. BMW E30 M3

The E30 M3 is quite simply the most successful homologation special of all time. With all due respect to so many great cars made purely to qualify a race car, the E30 M3 not only dominated racing around the world—BMW claims the E30 has won more races than any other car in history—the car was such a commercial success it spawned its own iconic line of factory-suped up 3-Series Bimmers. No other car on this list comes close to that.

2. Ferrari F40

How good was the F40? The last Ferrari designed during Enzo's life used all sorts of state of the art tech, saving weight with tons of kevlar and carbon throughout the body. (The car itself was shaped in a wind tunnel.) The first production car to ever top 200 mph was on every car-obsessed kid's wall in the '80s; and in terms of competition, only one car was close, and it's really a toss-up as to which one takes the top slot here. 

But...

1. Porsche 959

The 959 doesn't get the top spot because it could do 198 mph. It doesn't get it because it let the world know that twin turbos are awesome, or that variable all-wheel drive was a thing. It doesn't even get it because of its treasured place in the collections of guys like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates. The car's influence is still felt to this day on Porsche's lineup, and even that wasn't enough. The Porsche 959 is the best car of the 1980s because it walked the walk, winning everything from Dakar to Le Mans. Quite simply, in its heyday, nothing made could beat this car on any surface.

It's not just the car of the '80s. It's among the best of all-time.


Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor. He's been on track in just two of these, but he had posters several others on his wall as a kid, which totally counts.