10 performance cars from the 80s everyone forgot

Every decade in automotive history has had its fair share of cool cars. Many would say it’s the 60s, 80s, and some even say the 2000s brought us the best performance cars in recent history. Indeed, back in the 1980s emissions and safety regulations weren’t as common as they are nowadays, and that meant automakers could really go crazy with the performance cars they were looking for. ‘they imagined.

Most car enthusiasts are familiar with the performance car icons of the 1980s; the Ferrari 288 GTO and F40, the Porsche 959, the Audi Quattro and all the rest of these legendaries sports cars. Perhaps as a direct result of this, dozens of other performance cars from the ’80s have been forgotten, and they haven’t quite stood the test of time. This, of course, means they’re relatively cheap and definitely worth revisiting, maybe even buying while they’re still cheap.


ten
Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16

The front of the 190E 2.3

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Before AMG became part of Mercedes-Benz, the three-pointed star was the only one for performance cars. The most notable effort of the 1980s was the 190E 2.3-16. The 190 was the forerunner of the C-Class in the Mercedes lineup, and before AMG really took hold, it was the best version of the sedan.

Rear 3/4 view of the 190E 2.3

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As the name suggests, this car used a 2.3-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine. Anyone familiar with this car knows that Cosworth was heavily involved in the development of the engine. It developed 185 horsepower and 173 lb-ft, which were sent to the rear wheels via a mandatory 5-speed manual transmission with a dog-leg first gear.

RELATED: Here’s Why the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 Is Better Than the BMW E30 M3

9
Volkswagen Scirocco GTI

VW dropped the ball by not offering the newest Scirocco in North America, although the market for this type of car has shrunk significantly anyway, with the Hyundai Veloster being the only similar vehicle remaining. However, the Mk2 Scirocco, praised, was officially sold in the United States.

The Scirocco GTI was exactly as the name suggests; it was a Scirocco with the Golf GTI engine. While only developing around 110 horsepower, the Scirocco also inherited most of the fantastic handling prowess from its hatchback cousin, and although few people remember it, it’s an interesting piece of the l history of VW performance cars.

8
Merkur XR4Ti

People in the UK and Europe who grew up in the 1980s will almost certainly remember the Ford Sierra; the brand’s mid-size sedan in Europe and one of their best-known models, being the default choice before the Mondeo arrived.

RELATED: Here’s What We Love About the Merkur XR4Ti

Ford in North America was desperate to expand its lineup of performance cars on the continent, while keeping things well within the confines of the gas crisis. From there came the Sierra of Europe, badge under the sub-brand “Merkur”. It was a cool performance car, but due to the confusion caused not many people remember it and few units were sold.

7
Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

The front of the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

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The Merkur XR4Ti wasn’t Ford of America’s only attempt to expand its line of performance cars. Enter the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. By the late 1980s, the Thunderbird was already in its ninth generation and it remained a full-size luxury coupe powered by a V8 engine. Not the Turbo Coupe, however.

The rear of the Turbo Coupe

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In addition to unique styling, the Turbo Coupe inherited the 2.3-liter turbo four-cylinder engine from the special Mustang SVO. It was even available with a manual transmission, and these models developed a healthy 190bhp of power, allowing the Turbo Coupé to reach a top speed of 143mph.

6
Lamborghini Jalpa

Front 3/4 view of a white Jalpa

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The Huracan is Lamborghini’s current entry-level model, replacing the Gallardo introduced in the 2000s. But, in the 1980s, Lamborghini had its first crack in an entry-level Lambo to sit alongside of the Countach; the Jalpa.

Rear 3/4 view of a black Jalpa

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Until the Urus in 2018, the Jalpa was one of the few Lamborghinis to ever use a V8 engine. Although it looked pretty cool, it drove … like an 80s Lamborghini. Enough said. Typical Lambo buyers weren’t interested and the Jalpa walked away with just 410 units sold during its production from 1981 to 1988. They are still relatively inexpensive, however.

5
Nissan 300ZX (Z31)

Z31 300ZX front 3/4 view

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Most people have heard of the Nissan 300ZX. It was Nissan’s flagship sports car in the ’80s and’ 90s, and it was a direct successor and evolution of the 280ZX. But, while most people remember the Z32 which was sold for most of the 90s, few people remember the original A31 300ZX.

300ZX rear 3/4 view

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The exterior styling was typical of the 80s, with square right angles and retractable headlights. Some of them even featured a digital dashboard and the hallmark of many ’80s sports cars; T-shirts. A variety of engines were available, including a turbocharged V6 and a smaller variety of the famous RB I6.

4
BMW M1

BMW M1 front 3/4 view

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Technically speaking, the M1 was released in the late 1970s. But it was sold until 1981, and is remembered mostly as an 80s supercar. It was the very first car to be released. BMW’s mid-engine and its very first supercar, built to homologate a racing car that BMW wanted to take in Group 5.

BMW M1 rear 3/4 view

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Unfortunately, all kinds of puzzles have occurred during the life of the M1. Only about 453 units were made, of which 53 were racing cars. Despite the troubled developmental history of BMW’s first supercar, he was a fairly successful racer, and a variant of his engine would power future BMW M cars.

RELATED: Here’s Why We Love the BMW M1

3
Volvo 240 Turbo

Everyone knows Volvo for its safety and durability, especially in the 80’s. It is said to be impossible to destroy the trusty old Volvo 240 series. Believe it or not, those bricks on wheels were RWD, and during some time Volvo offered a performance version; the 242 Turbo.

The 240 Turbo used a turbocharged 2.1-liter four-cylinder engine producing 225 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. That’s not far from a lot of modern hot sedans, and that was in the early 1980s. Power was transmitted to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. While most enthusiasts may not remember it, Volvo enthusiasts recognize it as one of the most successful cars in the brand’s history.

2
Volkswagen Rallye Golf G60

In the 1980s, Volkswagen developed an AWD system for its Golf hatchback, using a viscous coupling system. With this new AWD system, which they named Syncro, they decided to take the Golf to the rally scene.

Rally rules at the time required that a number of homologated road versions of the competing car be built. The Rallye Golf G60 used the G60 engine, a supercharged I4, and featured a very ’80s and very striking body kit with square fender flares.

1
Mazda 323 GTR

Like VW and the Golf, Mazda also wanted to take its Golf competitor, the 323, to the rally. Group A rules at the time lead to the 323 GTR, as well as some derivatives. The GTR featured an aggressive body kit and a 215bhp 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a 5-speed manual transmission.

The GTR is one of Mazda’s lesser-known performance models, as it was overshadowed by the Miata and the RX series, not to mention the other homologation specials. But it’s still a very special car, and for such a limited production model, a used model isn’t as expensive as you might think. In addition, it is old enough to be imported.


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