June 7, 2024 | Peter Kinney

The 15 Coolest Cars Of The 1980s

Sweet Rides

The 1980s were a decade of drastic change for the world. It also saw lots of cool changes in the car industry, like a renewed interest in muscle cars and experiments with turbochargers, fuel injection, and all-wheel drive systems. 

In celebration of this epic decade, here are 15 of the coolest cars from the ‘80s.

coolest cars from the 1980s

Lamborghini Countach

The Lamborghini Countach is still beloved by fans for its iconic wedge-shaped design. The Countach was one of the last cars made under the supervision of company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini, and it’s cool factor made it a popular poster in many teenagers' rooms throughout the ‘80s.

Lamborghini Countach LP400Benespit, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Lamborghini Countach (cont’d)

Although the Countach was first designed in 1974, it didn’t hit the American market till 1982. It’s many vents, wings, scoops, and periscope rear-view mirror instantly caught the eye. 

Beneath the hood, the Countach was equipped with a V-12 engine that could crank out 370 horsepower and hit a top speed of 185 mph.

Lamborghini Countach LP 5000QVJeremy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Chevy Corvette C4

With the Corvette C3 receiving lukewarm fanfare, Chevy was feeling the pressure to put out something that would wow people. Luckily, they hit the mark with the C4. Launched in 1994, the newly designed Corvette featured a digital dashboard and removable Targa top and was more fun to drive than its predecessor.

Chevrolet Corvette C4Steve Glover, Flickr

Chevy Corvette C4 (cont’d)

The C4 was powered by a V-8 engine that produced 205 horsepower and could hit a top speed of 140 mph. The C4 effectively revitalized interest in the Corvette brand and was a hit among consumers, who purchased 350,000 units of the vehicle.

Chevrolet Corvette C4More Cars, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

1983 Audi Quattro

The Quattro arrived on the scene as a simple, yet elegant addition to the car market, with memorable features like its horizontal air inlets above the grille. But more than looking good, this car was fast.

1983 Audi Quattroharry_nl, Flickr

1983 Audi Quattro (cont’d)

Equipped with all-wheel drive and a turbocharged straight-five engine that produced 300 horsepower, the Quattro quickly became a favorite at rally races. It won quite a few World Rally races but only 700 of these hotrods were sold in the United States.

1983 Audi Quattroharry_nl, Flickr

1988 BMW M3

We have a racing rule from the International Automobile Federation (FIA) to thank for the creation of the M3. FIA required all Group A race cars to have a street-legal version. So, to qualify for racing, BMW made 5,000 M3s in just a year.

1988 BMW M3Matt, Flickr

1988 BMW M3 (cont’d)

The M3s iconic look featured a big rear spoiler and flared fenders and was equipped with BMW’s powerful S14 inline-four engine. It produced 192 horsepower, had a top speed of 146 mph, and went from 0 to 6 mph in 6.9 seconds, which was good for the time.

1988 BMW M3 (E30)peterolthof, Flickr

1987 Ford Mustang GT 5.0

Mustangs were a popular sight in the 1980s but the GT 5.0 was the coolest version of this iconic hot rod. Consumers loved it—as did police departments—for its thrilling speed.

Modified 1991 Mustang GT convertibleBen Schumin, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

1987 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 (cont’d)

The GT 5.0 was powered by a 4.9-liter V-8 and new fuel injection system. Cranking out 225 horsepower, it could hit a top speed of 140 mph and go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3. At the time, it was one of the fastest cars on the road.

1989 Ford Mustang GT HatchbackCars Down Under, Flickr

1987 Ferrari F40

The Ferrari F40 was inspired by the 288 GTO but proved to be an incredibly cool supercar in its own right. The F40 inherited design features from the 288 GTO Evoluzione and was the last Ferrari to get the seal of approval from Enzo Ferrari himself.

Ferrari F40 1987-1992Falcon® Photography, Flickr

1987 Ferrari F40 (cont’d)

The F40 was lightweight and made from state-of-the-art materials like bonded Kevlar Paneling and carbon fiber. Beneath the hood, it sported a 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 that could produce 471 horsepower and hit 201 mph

Ferrari only made 1,315 of these beauties, each going for $400,000.

Ferrari F40 1987-1992Falcon® Photography, Flickr

1987 Mazda RX-7 Turbo II

The design of the Mazda RX-7 Turbo II was inspired by the Porsche 924 and 944, but this car had all the best aspects that were synonymous with Japanese sports cars: it was lightweight, stylish, and high-tech.

Mazda RX-7 Savanna CabrioletRiley, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

1987 Mazda RX-7 Turbo II (cont’d)

The Turbo II was a fan favorite, with a distinct asymmetrical hood scoop and rear-wheel drive. Been the hood, it sported a turbocharged Wankel rotary engine that could produce 182 horsepower and push the car to a top speed of 143 mph.

1987 Mazda RX-7 Turbo IIpeterolthof, Flickr

1987 Buick Grand National GNX

When the Buick Grand National debuted in 1982, it was an instant hit. The car started off as a high-performance version of the Buick Regal, but got another upgrade in 1984, when it was equipped with an intercooler and fuel injection system.

Grand NationalJudy Baxter, Flickr

1987 Buick Grand National GNX (cont’d)

In 1987, Buick released the last version of the GN: the high-performing GNX. The GNX featured a 3.8-liter turbocharged V-6 that gave it 300 horsepower and a top speed of 125 mph. Only 547 units were made, available only in black, and going for $11,000.

1987 Buick Grand NationalChad Horwedel, Flickr

1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z

The Chevy Camaro was first thought up in 1964, as the ideal competitor for the Ford Mustang. Two decades later, and with the Camaro cemented as a favorite among muscle car enthusiasts, Chevy released the IROC-Z, which they still consider one of their coolest Camaros ever.

Chevy Camaro IROC-Z Convertibleartistmac, Flickr

1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z (cont’d)

Debuting in 1985, the IROC-Z was an upgrade to the Z28. Beneath the hood, base models featued a 5.0-liter L69 V-8 that produced 190 horsepower, but people could give it a bit more oomph by opting for a TPI LB9 engine, which cranked out 215 horsepower.

1985 Chevrolet Camaro Z28Sicnag, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Vector W8

Meet America’s forgotten supercar. Though its bold wedge design seems to be inspired by the Lamborghini Countach, the W8 was a cool car in its own right.

1990 Vector W8Simon Greig, Flickr

Vector W8 (cont’d)

The W8 was full of the latest tech at the time, like a body made from carbon fiber and Kevlar and dashboard CRT screens that look like something out of a sci-fi movie. 

Beneath the hood, the W8 sported a twin-turbo Rodeck V-8 engine that could push it to a top speed of 230 mph.

yellow Vector W8Craig Howell, Flickr

Porsche 959

The Porsche 959 was an instant hit when it was unveiled in 1986. Car and Driver magazine called it the “thinking man’s supercar”, while Sports Car Digest dubbed it a “generation-defining 80s car”. 

Looking at the car, we can see why it got so much praise, and it’s impeccable performance matched its stylish looks.

Porsche 959, 1988Stephen Hanafin, Flickr

Porsche 959 (cont’d)

Porsche equipped the 959 with state-of-the-art all-wheel-drive, six-speed manual transmission, and a twin-turbocharged flat-six engine that cranked out 444 horsepower and had a top speed of 197 mph. 

It was a thrilling ride, but sadly for American buyers, it couldn’t pass certification to be sold on the US market, and only 292 of these beauties were made.

Ralph Lauren's Porsche 959Damian Morys, Flickr

1980 Datsun 280ZX

People instantly fell for the Datsun 280ZX when it debuted in 1979, and Nissan sold more than 64,000 units. To celebrate the car, they released the stunning black and gold model in 1980.

1980 Datsun 280ZXdave_7, Flickr

1980 Datsun 280ZX (cont’d)

2,500 black and gold models made it off production lines, with another 500 released in black and red. Though the cars weren’t that fast, only reaching a top speed of 124 mph, the sleek design and stunning paint job make them one of the coolest vehicles of the ‘80s.

1982 Datsun 280ZX Series II CoupeCars Down Under, Flickr

DeLorean DMC-12

Even before gaining worldwide fame for its cameo in Back to the Future, the DeLorean DMC-12 had started to gain a cult following, thanks to its iconic gullwing doors. 

The car was unveiled in 1981, and while it certainly looked good, the actual performance left consumers disappointed.

1981 DeLorean DMC 12Joe Ross, Flickr

DeLorean DMC-12 (cont’d)

The car’s internal tech was the first letdown, with people complaining that it was underpowered. The engine and overall performance of the car were similarly weak. 

Still, the DMC-12 remains one of the most recognizable vehicles of the ‘80s—and one that people wish could have gotten its proper day on the road—so we’ve got to include it on this list.

DeLorean DMC-12Jeremy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Dodge Omni Shelby GLH/GLHS

Anything that Carroll Shelby put his hands on was bound to be a great car, but people were still a little surprised when he made the very uncool Dodge Omni into the hottest car in the company’s fleet. The “GLH” meant “Goes Like Hell”, while GLHS stood for “Goes Like Hell Some-more”.

Dodge Omni GLH-S ShelbyTony DiGirolamo, Flickr

Dodge Omni Shelby GLH/GLHS (cont’d)

Beneath the hood, the Shelby GLH/GLHS sported a 2.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produced 175 horsepower and pushed the subcompact car to a top speed of 135 mph. 

People loved the car’s signature black grille and Bosch fog lights, but this hot rod was a rarity, with only 500 units making it off production lines.

1985 Dodge Omni GLH DiecastGreg Gjerdingen, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Ferrari Testarossa

Thanks to its feature in Miami Vice, the Ferrari Testarossa has become one of the most famous Ferraris. And when it comes to looks, the Testarossa was the perfect example of 1980s style. 

1989 Ferrari TestarossaScarlet Sappho, Flickr

Ferrari Testarossa (cont’d)

Its wide rear fenders, side vents, and pop-up headlights paired well with the sleek, futuristic design of the car. And its stunning looks were equally matched by its incredible performance.  

With a 12 cylinder engine beneath the hood, the Testarossa cranked out 385 horsepower and hit a top speed of 180 mph. In 1986, it was the fastest car on the market, and is still one of the most recognizable cars of the '80s. 

Red 1984 Ferrari TestarossaNAParish, Flickr


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