Throwback Thursday: Ten cars that defined the 80s


The 80s were some eccentric times. Aside from the colourful yet questionable pop culture, the 80s was also a brilliant era for cars. It was a time when manufacturers toyed and tinkered with the new and untested – without a car in the world for boundaries and limitations.

Here are ten cars, in no particular order, that made the 80s a wonderful decade for motoring. Only one rule applies to this list – the cars must be road legal and produced from 1980 to 1989. On that note, we extend our apologies to Knight Industries Two Thousand. As much as we love its wits and speed, it’s a “fictional character”.

Audi Quattro (1980-1991)

Source: Wikipedia

All-wheel-drive super sedans such as the Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution were icons of the PlayStation generation. However, these cars owe their existence to Ingolstadt. It was the Germans who first came up with the idea of channeling power to all four wheels instead of two.

When the Audi Quattro coupe was launched in 1980, it dominated the World Rally Championship’s notorious Group B with 23 wins, cementing its position as an icon. From there on, all-wheel driven cars bearing the four rings were proudly emblazoned with the Quattro emblem.

BMW 3 Series E30 (1982-1994)

As Gordon Gekko made his mark in Wall Street with his charm and persuasion, the go-to toys for the jet-set included the E30 BMW 3 Series. The boxy and compact coupe was not only on the wishlist of yuppies, but similarly adored by petrolheads. From sedans, wagons to coupes, the appeal of the E30 has not waned throughout the years – just look at the current used car market.

Ferrari F40 (1987-1992)

Ferrari had a great run in the 80s so it’s difficult to shortlist only one car from Maranello. From Magnum PI’s 308 GTS to Outrun’s Ferrari Testarossa; but it was the F40 that stood out above all. Built to commemorate Ferrari’s 40th anniversary, it was the final car that Enzo Ferrari approved before his passing so it’s extra special. The Italians’ pursuit of motoring nirvana made this the most powerful and expensive Ferrari at that time.

Lamborghini Countach (1974-1990)

Source: Wikipedia

The Countach may have begun production in 1974 but it was on the wall of every teenager’s room up until the 80s. It’s not hard to understand why. Its flamboyant aesthetics, including the iconic scissor doors, made it the car to have among the rich and famous.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. Unlike other Lamborghini names which are related to bullfighting, this one isn’t. It’s actually a slang from Piedmontese, a native language in North Italy.

DeLorean DMC-12 (1981-1983)

Source: Wikipedia

We can’t do an article of cars from the 80s without mentioning a stainless steel car that’s capable of time travel when it hits 88 mph. The DeLorean DMC-12 was developed by an ambitious American car designer, John DeLorean. Having a car penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro and gull-wing doors seemed like a winning formula for a sports car but sadly, its underwhelming performance and high asking price destined the DMC-12 for failure. Compounded by the troubles faced by the founder, DeLorean was led to oblivion when it declared bankruptcy in late 1982.

It was film director Robert Zemeckis who brought the car back to fame via the silver screen; when he didn’t like the idea of a time-traveling refrigerator featured in the earlier drafts of the first Back to the Future movie. Instead, he wanted a car that looked like a spaceship. With its ahead-of-its-time looks, the DeLorean DMC-12 was selected. The rest as they say, is history.

Honda City Turbo (1982-1986)

Source: Road & Track

The ubiquitous Honda City’s humble beginnings as a supermini originated from the land of the rising sun. Honda opted to turbocharge it and as a result, the 700 kg Honda City made 100hp from 1.3-litre engine. Honda even created a scooter to compliment the City in Honda’s product lineup, the Honda Motocompo.

Peugeot 205 GTi (1984-1989)

Source: Motor1

The 80s was the era of endless hot hatches and this one from France exemplified it. The Peugeot 205 was a solid offering, but the GTi variant took it to another level. It started life with a 1.6-litre engine before it was replaced with a more powerful 1.9-litre mill. Together with the Volkswagen Golf GTi, the pair were the OGs of hot hatches.

Nissan Skyline GT-R R32 (1989- 1994)

Just like the Imprezas and Lancer Evolutions, the Nissan Skyline GT-R R32 was an icon of the 90s. During its six-year production cycle, 44k units were made. The twin-turbo, all-wheel driven coupe gave Nissan numerous trophies in motor racing and an iconic nickname – Godzilla.

Toyota Levin/Trueno AE86 (1983-1987)

Another icon from the East during that decade was the Toyota AE86 – Toyota’s idea of less is more. With a balanced, lightweight chassis, a high-revving engine driving the rear wheels, and most importantly, an affordable price tag meant that you don’t need the megabucks to have fun.

Proton Saga (1985-2008)

Being Malaysians, we can’t simply ignore the car that mobilised us. It’s the car that allowed Malaysia to join the ranks of industrialised nations, but it’s also the car that made . Whether you are for or against it, the Proton Saga is weaved into the Malaysian motoring landscape. Fast forward to 2020, we may not have flying Proton Sagas yet but at least this 35th Anniversary edition of the revised third-generation Saga looks rad for RM40K.


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Travis Chang
Formerly spamming articles about cars and motorsports on this site until the day-job caught up. While the day job remains as exciting as a certain beige sedan, writing about cars could be his closest display of showing passion on cars until he gets either a Bimmer, or an Hachiroku one day...