Definitive Cars of the 1980s


Escort XR3i

Image: Chris Taylor

Near ubiquitous in the suburban environs of Britain in the mid eighties, Ford’s everyman classic is possibly Britain’s most instantly recognisable eighties motor.

Porsche 911 (959)

Spookily locked in tight to the aesthetic of the age, the 959 was Porsche’s group B rally homologation special, and pioneered the company’s all wheel drive system.

Ferrari F40

The F40 was last car that the great Enzo Ferrari would personally commission, built to commemorate the first four decades of the Prancing Horse. This ultimate in race bred road-legal motoring, it brought track and road experience together in a legendarily lean, turbocharged package.

Honda CR-X

Nippy, light and to this day an accessible cult of enthusiastic motoring, we still desire one of these eminently chuckable Civic variants.

E30 M3 EVO.

Lusted after these last quarter of a century for its boxy mechanicity, the E30 3 series makes you wish the world was the Green Hell.

Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato

Imagined in steel, wood and leather in the fusty workshops of Newport Pagnall, but bodied by the single minded Zagato in Milano. This was an unholy fusion of the old-world Aston and Italianate angularity. Decadent, faintly ridiculous, like the decade itself.

Audi Sport Quattro

No, Gene Hunt didn’t drive one of these. This was the short, stubby Group B Homologation car, one that no copper could ever afford. The Quattro expressed the twin obsessions of the era – all wheel drive and forced induction – in a geometrically appropriate form that perfectly fitted the temper of the times.

Peugeot 205GTi

The definitive hot hatch of the eighties, the 205 GTi had front wheel drive but oversteered pleasurably with lift-off going into the corner. This car is, to this day, stripped down, simple fun. Its success is as responsible as any car for the near ubiquity of the Front Wheel Drive form in current everyman motors.

Alfasud Ti Cloverleaf

We think some editions of Alfa’s ‘Sud are plain ugly: but the cloverleaf later versions with the twin carb 1500 Boxer and the bits of plastic trim scream eighties cool, and having recently driven one (thanks Scott) we are convinced. Some say they are even more fun to drive than the 205.


53 Responses to “Definitive Cars of the 1980s”

  1. Keith Turner

    Surely the VW Golf GTI was more responsible than the over engined Peugeot & less lible to kill you if you lost it driving too enthusiastically!

  2. David Taylor10

    oh come on the m3 come on the c2 2.8i was the better the faster and the ideal 80’s bmw icon i have and 85 model and still leaves 99% of m series bmws now

  3. Dave Goode

    whilst that’s certainly true but the GTI was essentially a 70s car

  4. C2 Alpina pretty but standard E30 boat handling made worse by the big anchor up front. At the end of the day BMW could have DTM’d the standard chassis but didn’t want the humiliation…
    B6S is interesting tho…

  5. alfa sud ti??? what a bag ‘o’shite, had one worst car I’ve ever owned……mk2 golf gti replaced it and should replace it here!!

  6. Red_corvette

    The Alfa Sud ti is no doubt one of the best handling cars of that era ! A flexible engine that will go into the red without valves leaving the head. Did sufer from the rust bug but i went everywhere
    with it and for those that worry about fuel consumption it was better than some of todays offerings and more fun to drive

  7. Aston Martin????? you gotta be kidding,even the CRX was only just into the 80’s.Got to be the Golf GTI (Mk 1 had the Campaign and Mk 2 went 16v) and Capri 2.8i (which had the Special/Brooklands/Tickford) and where is the Cossie??

  8. Vantage? CRX? Definitve 80’s?? You’re ‘avin a laff.
    Are they ‘avin a laff??
    Where’s the GTE and the Cossie…

  9. I also bought a 205GTI in 1993, what a fun car..only had it for a year as a fill in but fun to drive and I even managed to get The Great Dane in the back.

  10. Some “nice” cars on the list for sure , But any list for the 80’s or 90’s must include the Lancia Delta HF integrale.. nothong more to add!

  11. Franksmith127

    Q.what was the most stolen car of the 80’s
    A. Because it ws so go and at the time so so cool
    Q Why isn’t it men tioned here.
    A. Becaise the author has really got much of an idea of cars for the 80’s. pobably had to loook it up as a wiki-

  12. I guess they can’t fit them all in..they’ve chosen cars from different budgets. Mk2 GTi should be there too. A lot of peeps wouldn’t know Alpina and Hartge even if one ran them over lol. MB 190E 2.5-16 or Evo 1 should be there as should Saab 900 T16S

  13. i a gree with bob where is the cosworth and even the nissan skyline r32 gtr? alfa the best handling car dowt it. try the cossy or a skyline most of the cars on this list are shite apart from the audi!

  14. Cycle2worker

    1980’s sounded the death knell for RWD in smaller cars but the Opel Manta was the rally king it should be in there, also MKII VW Golf had more room for your sholder pads than the 205 and was less likely to kill you.
    That Aston is definitely the runt of the litter and I’m an Aston fan, the biggest thing in British motoring in the 80’s was in 1983 when Peter Wheeler squeezing Rovers V8 in to the stupidly light TVR Tasmin in fact that put British motoring back on the map and in the magazines for 20 years

  15. The Mercedes SEC? And the list is filled with puny neer do wells.

  16. Fairly pointless feature. If you’re going to sum up the best cars of the 80’s at least make them the result of a widespread vote/survey, rather than just asking around the office.

  17. Although i’d agree the CRX was a cracking car, I had new one in 87 when you didn’t get a choice in colour they were that in demand, not sure it was definitive.
    I’ve moved on from 4 pot cars and have driven American Muscle cars for the last 20 years so i’d say the 3rd gen Pontiac Trans Am (Knight Rider) has got to be in this group.
    What about the DeLorean too?

  18. Well if anyone was asking around the office, I must have missed the email. A piece like this is intended as a discussion starter, which it certainly seems to have been. I think the responses we’ve had so far are as good a survey as you could ask for. FWIW, my favourite cars of the 80s are, in no particular order.
    1.) Lamborghini Countach LP500S (probably because Sunstreaker was my favourite Transformer)
    2.) BMW E32 7 Series, which featured a ludicrously advanced on-board computer
    3.) Ford Escort XR3i (preferably one with a Dixie Horn), that you used to see around our way. They definitely went by much quicker than any of the other cars on our street, and were therefore almost certainly the fastest cars in the world.

    From this you can probably gather that I have always been a geek, and am also too young to have driven any of these cars. Saying that there are some nice-looking E32s on eBay…

  19. No Corolla GTs Drift Kings No Jap Cars from the 80’s a bit of a European selection we have here

  20. you seem to have missed the Delta Integrale and also included a picture of a rather messed about Alfasud surely you could have found a picture of a standard green cloverleaf??

  21. Cossiemanuk

    you forgot the sierra cosworth…a car that can kick ass even today..i know… i still own one!

  22. Norfolkman2000

    What about Volvo 240 estates? Not because they were good to drive but a van with 5 seats, thank goodness not like cars are now!
    Also Rover SD1???

  23. haymaster

    I agree with you the Opel Manta was an awesome car for its time i owned two GTE’s and they used to eat XR3i’s and the Peugeot 205GTI. I was never a boy racer however when i had the odd idiot reving up their engines at the traffic lights and sitting up my a@#e on the motorway it was nice to say “Eat my Dust”…hahaha
    The Capri 2.8i Laser should also be up there this was a truely remarkable car for its time.

  24. Ben Dodds

    The Audi Sport Quattro and E30 M3’s are a must! Other than what’s been suggested already,
    would have to add the Porsche 930.

  25. Hey Frank

    Just thought I’d chip in by way of reply. I was seventeen years old in 1984, and grew up in Ilford, Essex, (just down the road from the Ford plant in Dagenham. I always thought the Cosworth thing was the height of vulgarity! So many of my mates’ dads worked at the Ford factory, everything Ford simply represented mediocrity to me. I wanted to get the hell out of Dodge. Consequently I always lusted after something exotic and Italian. That’s why I left the Cossie out. And while I am indeed an intimate of Mr Wiki (I don’t know a hack who isn’t), I don’t need his help to express an opinion. Especially not with regards cars and the eighties. Stay tuned for more on the Cosworth: because these days I am quite attracted by its brutality. Time is a great healer of prejudice and preconception.

  26. Michael Lounton

    Toyota MK1 MR2 set the precedent for the Japanese 2 seaters and raised the bar for the rest of the competition. Cracking car!

  27. Chubanana

    What about the Mitsubishi Lancer 2000 Turbo. As aerodynamic as a brick, 160bhp and one of the original turbo cars. Bit of neg camber on front wheels and the terminal understeer was gone. Prone to rust but a great fun car for me in the early 80,s

  28. Franksmith

    Hi Mike,
    The last line of my post was a bit below the belt. There were as you say many cars of the 80’s so I suppose you cant mention them all.
    My first real car was a 1985 Cavalier SRi and although by today’s standard was a bag of $hit, I would still have on now is I saw one. Carmine Red, Black bottom Half and last of the Recaro Trim. I thought it was the “Bee’s Knees”. Since I have had most of the Cosworths and love them. I have a 996tt now but still hanker for a sorted Escort Rs Cosworth.
    A few others great cars of the 80’s
    Rover SD1, Renault 5 Turbo, Astra 2.0 16V. Metro 6R4( rally car I know but also sold as road cars)

  29. Hey Frank: no offence taken, and thanks for the background. Since we posted this little feature we’ve had a great discussion about all things Cosworth, and I must admit, there’s something about the idea of a brutally powerful Ford that really appeals. Please check back onto the Influx daily later in the week: I think the Cosworth deserves some airtime!

  30. 80`s brainbox

    what about the lanica delta intergriale evo. superb car. wish i had one now in right hand drive. what about the brooklands capri or the tickford capri, manta 400, RS1700T (thats a rwd mk3 escort) 205turbo, the list goes on.

  31. BoXXer RACE

    Opel Manta? Seriously underated 80’s motor and could Tan a 205 any day/


    I would like to add the Mercedes 190e to the list. Proper build quality, brilliant road manners in “Sportline” trim and as good to drive as a 3series.

  33. Peter Newman

    No one person has mentioned the BMW 635 csi or the the BMW m6, I still own a near imaculate 1986 635 csi which is insured through Adria Flux needless to say, These are solid and very robust super cars which stay together under all extremes, Peter Newman

  34. Dmbkenglish

    what about the ae82 corolla twin cam , i still drive one and love it

  35. Twstrchasr

    944 Turbo S.. One of the best handling cars of all time.. 

  36. Fiat X1/9 once again ovelooked, the first mass produced affordable mid engine car

  37. David Clemence

    i had a limited edition rover montego advantage in black it was thw last one to come off the production line on a h plate rover ran out of the white advantage decals that ran down the outside so it came with just black paintwork thought it was a lovely motor with white 15 inch alloys when i part chopped it at my local dealers the whells go nicked off it the next day the car could fly youd be doing a ton on the motorways without knowing it and so comfortable to drive i bought it from a car supermarket it was an ex swan national hire car and already had 70000 miles on the clock after 4 years use