Back in the ’80s, there were no constant updates about the latest super cars. It’s safe to say it was unimaginable then that people would join online waiting lists in the hopes of a shot at the next hottest electric vehicle that won’t be delivered for months or even years. And yet many of those classics have influenced the design of what people drive today. Some are still fetching top dollar.
While there’s a long list of cars to choose from, these are the eight that every guy should know, whether they were alive in the ’80s or not.
DeLorean DMC 12
No list of iconic ’80s cars would be complete without the car that introduced a generation of kids 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 and the company went out of business almost as quickly as it started. But hot damn is this car 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 starr role in the Back to the Future franchise that makes the DMC 12 a collector’s item.
You could spend an entire work week arguing about the coolest car produced by Ferrari in the ’80s and still have more to say when the weekend rolls around. 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. Both are mind-blowing automobiles, but it’s the Ferrari Testarossa that really stands out. Yeah, yeah, it was on Miami Vice and was chastised for being too cheesy (partially because of the grater-ish sides), but kids around the world 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 every person with a poster of this car have any idea what four valves per cylinder and four hundred horsepower meant on the road? No way. But the car looks mean as hell on a poster, has awesome doors, and is a legend that influences Lamborghini models to this day.
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 is a technical masterpiece that demolished everything from the street to Le Mans in its day, and would go on to influence Porsche design for years.
BMW E30 M3
Based on the BMW E30 3-Series model, the E30 M3 was a homologation (which means it’s a street legal model) 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 had around 200 horsepower while cradling the driver 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 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 most loved 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 it’s hard to deny the fact that the IROC-Z has 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 to what was available in Europe. But the Quattro is still an undeniably 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.