As we have said before, the ‘80s was a great decade for the automobile industry. The golden era of muscle cars ended in the ‘70s thanks to the 1973 oil crisis. We started getting more and more eco-friendly cars from once sports-oriented manufacturers. But as the effects of the crisis started to fade away, manufacturers started making more daring vehicles. By the time the ‘80s came around, the automotive industry’s ‘innovative’ or ‘experimental’ side was firing on all pistons. Sports cars, supercars, and muscle cars categories saw the biggest change of them all. We saw brands like Dodge, Ford, Pontiac, Porsche, and Nissan make lots of efforts in making sports cars with innovative mechanical parts or complete futuristic designs from the ground up.
But not all experiments are successful, at least not in their initial days. Cars like the Pulsar NX, the ’81 Charger, and the ‘Iron Duke’ Camaro will probably never make it to the top. But some of them seem like they were simply out of place at that time. As Passenger says, “Only miss the sun when it starts to snow”, we can now reminisce about the failed designs of the ‘80s and realize that some of these unpopular designs were actually cool and ahead of their time. Such cars deserve a second chance that they never got. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane and take a look at some of the most underrated sports cars of the ‘80s.
10 1982 Pontiac Trans Am
The 1982 Trans Am gets a lot of bad press because of the Iron Duke engine. It’s the same horrible engine that killed the Camaro of the same year. But the Trans Am is actually a very cool car. It starred in Knight Rider as not just a mere car, but a significant character.
It paired up with none other than David Hasselhoff for crying out loud. It would be one of the best-looking cars around the block. The performance was not up to the mark. Just tune it or swap the engine out, and voilà!
9 1982 Ford Thunderbird
Let’s stick to 1982 for another moment. The Thunderbird has always been one of Ford’s most elegant cars. It has now earned the status of a ‘Classic American Automobile.’ But the 1980 to 1982 models lacked power. It was a large car with a V8 engine, but the power figures only reached 120 hp.
In the first four years, only 60,000 Thunderbirds were ever sold. Its comparison to the cooler original Thunderbird factored as well. The interior boasted lots of plastic and bland cluster, so it wasn’t special on the inside.
8 1982 Lotus Excel
Many of us know about the Lotus Excel through Top Gear. James May took a 1987 Excel and turned it into a Motor home by sticking a rocket-shaped roof box on top to add a sleeping bed, stove, and even a small lavatory. The Excel took inspiration from the previous Éclat but with some improvements.
Toyota was a major shareholder of Lotus when the Excel came out, so they benefited from the extremely reliable W58 5-speed manual transmission among other things. It was also a proper Lotus i.e. lightweight and fun to zip around curvy roads. Despite all that, we have somehow remained oblivious to this beautiful sports car from the ‘80s.
7 1985 Porsche 928 S
The 928 S is a classic Porsche sports car. It has Rally racing, GT racing, and Autocross background. It’s one of the best-looking cars of the decade. Want to know more? The 928 S has got a 5.0-Liter V8 that makes 288 hp and it’s a great pleasure to drive.
Yet, for some reason, most people have either neglected or forgotten about this car. Today, its value is super low. Fortunately for us, it’s one of the cheapest Porsches money can buy. You can have it for about $10,000 only!
6 1987 Porsche 944 Coupe
The 944 Coupe is another really cheap Porsche that we have undervalued for decades now. You can easily find a 944 on the used market for around $10,000. The 944 looks good and has a 2.5-Liter Inline-4 that makes 150 hp and 142 lb-ft of torque.
The 944 is not boring in any sense, it only gets overshadowed by other Porsches. Look no further than Jeremy Clarkson’s craft at turning a 944 turbo into an ambulance. Aptly named the ‘Rambulance,’ it was anything but boring and slow.
5 1980-81 Delorean Dmc-12
The DMC-12 is a tricky car to judge. Its appearance in the Back To The Future movies gave it lifelong fans. But the few people who bought it do not share the same fandom. The Delorean is technically a muscle car. Yet, it only has 130 hp and takes more than 10 seconds to reach 60 mph.
But we have got to cut it some slack though. The DMC-12 was ahead of its time, at least design-wise. The choice to add gullwing doors and stainless steel finish was brilliant and revered even before the movie came out.
4 1983 Dodge Challenger
Today, the Challenger enjoys tremendous popularity and a huge fanbase. The third generation came in 2008 and Dodge got appraisals for its old-school, throwback early 1970s style. But the 1978-1983 second-gen Challenger couldn’t achieve the same success. While it was still rear-wheel-drive, the V8 and V6 engines were no longer available. We got a 2.5-liter four-cylinder instead. It made a measly 100 hp.
As a result, it ultimately didn’t make the sales that Dodge needed to keep it in production. The first-gen Challenger enjoyed the golden era of muscle cars, and the 3rd gen brought back those memories. The 2nd gen, on the other hand, was nothing special for its Challenger moniker.
3 1985 Ford Escort RS Turbo
If the Escort Cosworth is too much for you, then you have the option to settle with an Escort RS Turbo. It launched in 1984 and was immediately subject to a few delays. People heavily criticized the chassis, and it wasn’t generally loved too. But it was a proper car built for racing nonetheless.
Instead of fitting a tachometer, Ford used that money to install a limited-slip differential. The 1.6-Liter 4-cylinder engine made 132 hp. But that’s all it needed to become an enjoyable and potent sports car. Only 5,000 pieces made it to the street, all of them in white. Unless you’re Princess Diana, then you can have a Black one too.
2 1981 Chrysler Imperial
Chrysler advertised this Imperial as an “electronic marvel.” Ironically, the 1981 Imperial had too many electric issues. The computerized display didn’t work, the electronic fuel injection unit didn’t work. There are too many factory-installed supplementary quality controls that didn’t work to mention here.
Chrysler only managed to sell 11,000 of these over the course of three years. The K-car, Lido, and Ol’ Blue Eyes were popular and successful enough to overshadow the massive flop that the Imperial was.
1 1980-1984 TVR Tasmin
TVR has had a very interesting and unique history as an automobile manufacturer. We all know the story of how their dangerously unsafe Cerbera Speed 12 turned out to be. In the midst of the Speed 12, Sagaris, or Griffith, we have somehow forgotten about the Tasmin (Or Any TVR Wedge-car for that matter). The Tasmin was the first of the TVR Wedges, available as a coupe or convertible, manual or automatic.
TVR used Ford’s legendary 2.8-liter Cologne V6 for this one. The build quality could’ve been better, but it looked very cool and was great fun to drive. Sadly, TVR only sold 1,167 of them over the four years. TVR reached a record low of just 121 units produced in 1982.
These cars may have been lost in time, but certainly not erased from history.
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