Plenty of the cars we know and love today were influenced by the cars we grew up staring at on the walls of our bedrooms. In a time before the Internet we didn’t get updates every hour about the latest super cars, hyper cars or mind-blowing performance figures, we had to do actual research or, unthinkably, subscribe to a magazine. Just as importantly, most of us couldn’t drive, so we were left enjoying the automotive feats of the time vicariously through parents, friends or what we could find on TV. Needless to say, we love those old cars.
No list of iconic ’80s cars would be complete without the car that would be most kid’s introduction to both gull-wing doors and time travel—the DeLorean DMC-12. This car is not fast. This car is a pain in the ass to maintain. It doesn’t even really qualify as a sports car, but hot damn is this car is cool. The unique Giorgetto Giugiaro body design, the brushed stainless exterior and the aforementioned doors are all selling points, but it’s the car’s starring role in the Back to the Future franchise that makes The DeLorean a collector’s item.
You could spend an entire workday arguing about the coolest car produced by Ferrari in the ’80s. The 288 GTO was the fastest car in the world when it came out, and ultimately became the basis for the F40, Enzo’s last design and the first production car to top 200mph. They’re both mind-blowing automobiles, but we’re still going with the Ferrari Testarossa. Yeah, yeah, it was on Miami Vice and was chastised for being too cheesy (partially because of the grater-ish sides), but we grew up staring at this mid-engined flat-twelve beauty on the wall. That’s nostalgic staying power.
Despite being released in the late ’70s, the Lamborghini Countach didn’t really hit its stride on the pavement and boy’s bedroom walls until the release of the Countach 5000 Quattrovalvole in the mid ’80s. Did anyone with a poster of this car (including us) have any idea what four valves per cylinder and four hundred horsepower meant on the road? No way. We hung the posters because the car looked mean as hell, had awesome doors and was frequently adorned with all manner of beautiful women. We’ve grown up since then, but the Lamborghini Countach remains cool as hell.
When it was released over three decades ago, the Porsche 959 was an engineering and design marvel built to murder the track with twin turbos, close to 450 horsepower, all-wheel drive and a top speed just under 200mph. The car that’s part of both the Seinfeld and Gates collections also appears on every worthwhile list of cool ’80s cars because it was a technical masterpiece that demolished everything from the street to Le Mans and would influence Porsche design for years.
BMW E30 M3
Based on the BMW E30 3-Series model, the E30 M3 was a homologation car (which roughly means that the race version has to be similar to the street legal version) produced for rallying and road racing. With an S14 engine and plenty of upgrades (suspension, body panels, brakes, gearbox and aerodynamics) the BMW E30 M3 produced around 200hp while still cradling the pilot in the luxury you’d expect from a BMW. It would go on to be crowned the winner of the World Touring Car Champion, Guia Race, 24 Hours Nurburgring and Spa 24 Hours which, according to BMW, makes it the most successful road race car in history.
Chevy Camaro IROC-Z
Named for the International Race of Champions, the IROC-Z version of the Chevrolet Camaro featured upgraded suspension, lowered ride height, better tires and a whole slew of new body pieces. The third-generation Camaro would go on to build a rabid following for its sharp, angular lines and the fact that it essentially encapsulated everything we love about ’80s American cars. To this day the competition between the Camaro and the Mustang is as heated as a showdown between Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, but we’re going with the IROC-Z as the favorite because of the t-tops and a more flowing design.
First shown at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show, the Audi Quattro is a road and rally car that would eventually evolve into the four-wheel drive race behemoth that many know it as today. While it was no slouch in the performance department thanks to the turbocharged five-cylinder engine and AWD setup, the North American versions were knee-capped when compared when compared to what was available in Europe. But the Quattro still ends up our list of cool ’80s cars because of its boxy, almost American styling and the fact that it paved the way for future Audi builds and rally designs in general.
Buick Grand National GNX
In a decade of blinding colors, questionable style choices and future memes, there was one piece of murdered out American muscle lying in wait to crush all comers—the Buick Grand National GNX. With a turbocharged V6 engine the GNX posted numbers similar to those of its exotic counterparts while still looking like an average, albeit meaner and far more gnarly, grocery getter.