Famous 80s Cars that Reinvented Cool Motoring

From Ford to Ferrari and Peugeot to Porsche, there were a host of classic cars from the 80s, but which ones were the most memorable? The 80s was the decade of excess, of big hair and even bigger mobile phones, but what were the cars that defined the decade? Read on to discover which are the greatest 1980s cars, including the coolest 80s hot hatches and the best 80s Japanese cars.

Motoring Automotive History Petrolhead Zone
29 April 2022

Out of the austerity of the 1970s, the world’s car designers literally and metaphorically let their hair down in the 1980s. From the highly questionable Austin Princess, the Morris Marina with windscreen wipers the wrong way round and the Soviet-era Lada Riva (a terrible copy of an already awful car), we were introduced to some absolute belters in the ten years that followed. Let’s be honest, cars couldn’t get any worse! Come with us on a trip down memory lane with the very best 1980s cars.

What Were The Best 80s Cars?

Building on some of the most iconic cars of the 1970s, the 80s was a magnificent mixtape of marvellous motors. Here are some of the best:

BMW M3

Unveiled in 1985, the street version of one of the world’s most successful racing cars had a top speed of over 140mph. With its flared arches, 7,000 rpm redline and four seats, it just may be the best everyday sports car ever made.

Porsche 944

A Porsche 944 Cabriolet from 1989 on display (Photo: ullstein bild Dtl via Getty Images)

Wider, lower and much prettier than the average 924, the 944 was an affordable alternative to the iconic 911 and considered one of the best handling of all 1980s cars.

Saab 900 Turbo

A 1989 Saab 900 turbo convertible (Photo: Heritage Images via Getty Images)

This was the car that paved the way for mainstream turbo-charging. This sexy Swede was a design classic. If you were an architect or a graphic designer in the 1980s, you had a Saab 900 Turbo. They were that cool.

Audi Quattro

A 1983 Audi Quattro (Photo: Heritage Images via Getty Images)

The Quattro was one of the classic cars from the 80s. It was the benchmark by which all 80s performance cars were judged, and very few matched. It was sold to compete with the Porsche 911 and even the Lamborghini Countach. It was a very special car.

The Hottest 80s Hot Hatches

The formula was simple yet effective. Take a small family hatchback, flare the wheel arches, add a loud exhaust, awesome alloys, blindingly bright front fogs and a big, powerful engine and the most identifiable motoring niche of all time was born. Here are the best 80s hot hatches.

Ford Fiesta XR2

A blue collar everyday hero that perfectly reflected its owners. The uncomplicated 1.6-litre XR2 wasn’t quick and the brakes stopped the car in instalments, but it was one of the classic cars from the 80s and who can forget those iconic pepperpot alloys…

Peugeot 205 GTi

Whether the 1.6 (the purist’s favourite) or the peppier 1.9, the 205 GTi was a lightweight pocket rocket. Even today’s hot hatches can’t compete with the agility and redline edginess of one of the most iconic 80s cars.

Renault 5 GT Turbo

A 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds was quick for the car that outgunned the 205 1.6. It was beautifully poised with superb steering. There was something about the yellow fog lights and the GT Turbo graphic just forward of the rear wheels that made you feel like you were driving a sultry, exotic supercar.

Ford Escort RS Turbo

A Ford Escort RS Turbo (Photo: Heritage Images Via Getty Images)

The original automotive ASBO, the RS Turbo was the first production car with a limited-slip front differential. You could have it in any colour as long as it was white, and with the awesome seven-spoke alloys and heavy rear wing, it made the XR3i feel tame by comparison.

Volkswagen Golf GTi

A 1983 VW Golf GTI Mark 1 (Photo: Heritage Images via Getty Images)

One of the very best 1980s cars, the 1.8-litre 8v was fantastic. However, it was the launch of the 16v which truly catapulted the Golf GTi onto the golden throne at the top table of 80s hot hatches. A grown-up, refined car whose red grill decal was the automotive equivalent of a City boy’s red braces, the Golf GTi was every inch an 80s icon.

A Decade of Classics

We can’t cover all the 80s hot hatches so we give a special nod to the ones we missed – the Vauxhall Astra GTE 16v, the Citroën AX GT and the Fiat Uno Turbo are just a few of the iconic hot hatches that defined the 80s.

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