From your high school parking lot to posters on your bedroom wall, we celebrate all the most gnarly and bodacious new classic cars from the 80s and 90s.
Automotive fashion has a peculiar half-life. What looks modern and cool in the present quickly becomes dated and boring within a few years. But, given enough time, those same stale designs become “cool” again and command plenty of cachet and cash on the secondary market. We decided to indulge our love of all things radical and tubular with a list of our favorite cars from the 1980s and 90s.
1991 Acura NSX – carsforsale.com | Shop Acura NSX on Carsforsale.com
It’s impossible to talk about 1990s Japanese sports cars and not gush over the original NSX. Back then, supercars came with a lot of compromises, poor visibility, wonky interiors, cramped driving positions, finicky handling. Then came the NSX, Honda’s answer to the Italian supercar. Innovations included an all-aluminum chassis, limited-slip differential, a swanky, leather-clad interior, and a price-point around $60,000. The NSX was a revolution in affordability and drivability when both were hard to find among the supercar elite.
1996 Dodge Viper GTS – carsforsale.com | Shop Dodge Viper on Carsforsale.com
When Tom Gale and Chrysler decided they wanted to make their own version of the Shelby Cobra, they naturally enlisted the help of Chrysler-owned Lamborghini to design the engine. And while it might not have been 12 cylinders, the 8.0L V10 was just as thundering and potent as you might expect. By the standard of the early 1990s, the 400 horsepower Viper was immensely powerful, as a 12.4 second quarter mile and 0 to 60 time of 4.2 seconds can attest. The Viper was a driver’s car as few others have been. There were no exterior door handles, no side windows, no door locks, no ABS, AC or stability control. The first generation only had a button-on cloth roof, many of which were lost forever the moment new owners stomped on the gas.
1997 Toyota Supra – carsforsale.com | Shop Toyota Supra on Carsforsale.com
What makes a car iconic? Looks help; smooth, sleek lines and a totally rad rear spoiler. Or maybe it’s a legendary engine like the 2JZ-GTE. But most likely crushing Ferrari’s along the Pacific Coast Highway was what cemented the Toyota Supra Mk IV in the imaginations of gear heads the world over. A short production run, just 5 years between 1993 and 1998 in the US, had combined with its cult status, thanks to the Fast and Furious movies, to make it a highly desirable (and pricy) collector’s car. The 3.0L inline-6 came in naturally aspirated and turbo varieties, the latter made an impressive 320hp from the factory.
1993 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra – carsforsale.com | Shop Ford Mustang on Carsforsale.com
The Fox-body Mustang turned the page from the popular yet uninspiring Mustang II. The new chassis was just the beginning though, there was also a new body, updated interior, and the return of the V8 with an optional 5.0L. The Fox-body sold like hotcakes for Ford, over 2.6 million units spanning model years 1979 through 1993. In a fantastic swan song for the Fox-body in 1993, Ford’s then newly established SVT (Special Vehicle Team) division designed the Mustang SVT Cobra featuring a 4.9L small-block V8 capable of a 14.5 second quarter mile. Today a notch back Fox-body is spoken of with the same sort of reverence among Millennials, as our Boomer dads speak of McQueen’s fast-back.
1988 BMW E30 M3 – carsforsale.com | Shop 1988 BMW E30 M3 on Carsforsale.com
Thanks to BMW’s insatiable desire to best Mercedes in racing, Bimmer fans got their own homologation special in the BMW E30 M3 in 1986. With a high-revving DOHC inline-4 and a 5-speed manual, the nimble E30 M3 was every bit the ultimate driving machine. The distinctive marriage of styling, performance, and racing pedigree has made it an icon today. A recent auction saw a pristine example of a 1988 E30 M3 go for a jaw-dropping $250,000.
1988 Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z convertible – carsforsale.com | Shop Chevrolet Camaro on Carsforsale.com
The coolest guy in high school in the late 1980s played quarterback, was prom king, unironically sported a mullet, and drove an IROC-Z. Released in 1985, the IROC-Z (named after the International Race of Champions) offered an upgraded suspension and shocks, bigger sway bars, lower ride, and optional Tuned Port Injection. 1987 was another a big year for the Camaro. Not only was a convertible on offer (the fabled T-tops), but the IROC-Z received an optional 350 V8 making 225hp.
1984 Nissan 300ZX – carsforsale.com | Shop Nissan 300ZX on Carsforsale.com
The Fairlady Z of the 1980s and 90s was the renamed Nissan 300ZX in the US. Across two generations (the Z31 and Z32), the 300ZX was flashy, tech-heavy, and a worthy rival to the Supra, Camaro, and Mustangs of its day. The Z31 (1983-89) went on to become the best-selling of all the Z cars, with over 320,000 produced. For its part though, it’s the Z32 generation (1990-2000) 300ZX that most people think of when they hear 300ZX. The Z32 generation featured a twin-turbo 3.6L V6 making 300hp and 283lb.-ft. of torque.
1981 DeLorean DMC-12 – carsforsale.com | Shop DeLorean DMC-12 on Carsforsale.com
The story of the DMC-12 is as wild and wholly as any model ever, regardless of the era. Made famous as Doc Brown’s time machine in the Back to the Future movies, the DeLorean DMC-12 began as the brainchild of former GM executive John DeLorean. It was intended to be the American mid-engine sports car, trend setting, fashionable, and fast. The car did look the part of a 1980s icon, with swooping gullwing doors and a stainless-steel body. Engineering compromises and production hiccups were not kind to the DMC-12, which ended up with a rear-mounted Lotus engine making an anemic 130hp. Financial and legal difficulties combined with quality issues and bad press to ultimately doom the DMC-12 and the DeLorean Motor Company. But if you ever need to get back to 1985, the DMC-12 is fully capable of warping the space-time continuum, with or without a flux capacitor.
1987 Lamborghini Countach – carsforsale.com | Shop Lamborghini Countach on Carsforsale.com
Like my uncle Randy, the Lamborghini Countach may have been born in the 1970s, but it peaked in the 1980s. No other car does ‘80s excess like the Countach; so wedged is the shape, so awkward is the entry, so glorious and raucous is the exhaust note. From the scissor doors and rear wing to the super low driving position and roaring V12, the Countach set the benchmarks for how we define a supercar.
1992 Mazda RX-7 – carsforsale.com | Shop Mazda RX-7 on Carsforsale.com
The Mazda RX-7 may look like a typical sports car of its era with its smooth and aerodynamic profile, its awesome rear spoiler, and nifty pop-up headlights. But the RX-7 doesn’t sound like a typical sports car. Open up the hood and you won’t find an inline-6 or four-banger, no V6 or V8, either. No, instead you’ll find one of automotive history’s weirdest engines, the Wankel rotary engine. The small 1.2- and 1.3-liter engines may not have had a lot of power, just 100hp and 130hp respectively, but they were small enough to be positioned behind the front axle, producing a near 50/50 weight distribution. By 1987, the RX-7 got a turbo version good for 182hp and a 0-60 time under 7 seconds. Today, owning an RX-7, with its rotary engine, is a lot like being a progressive rock fan, where a nerdy level of esoteric knowledge is just the bar for entry.
No Porsche Boxster?