By on December 30, 2013

DSC_0405Haven’t you heard the exciting news? There’s a new Corvette out this year! Cadillac is building convertibles again! The VW Vanagon has a water-cooled engine! Oldsmobile is offering some kind of voice warning doohickey and the FIRENZA HAS NEW TRIM OPTIONS!1!!11! All with interest rates hovering just under 13%! It’s 1984, and I just can’t wait to check out the goods at the auto show.

 

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My mother volunteers at a local charity that provides needy families with household items. Her job involves separating and sorting useful donations from not-so-useful ones: broken glass, dead appliances, and in this case, old newspapers. She gifted me a piece of the long-defunct Columbus Citizen-Journal which previewed the upcoming attractions at the city’s 1984 auto show. I eagerly awaited page after page of achingly desirable machines, available for a pittance, indicative of a prosperity and degree of freedom that my Internet-addled generation could never hope to know.

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Olds, Pontiac, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Ford, Dodge, and Honda products are all given the puff treatment here, alongside a plethora of ads. Curiously, no Buick, VW, Toyota, Subaru, or any other import marque is included in the paper’s formal writeups. Limited column space, perhaps? On the front page, there’s a marketshare breakdown for 1983: Ford had 17.1 percent, GM had 44.4 Chrysler had 10.3, and AMC 2.5. Imports made up a combined 25.7 percent, with the Japanese holding more than four-fifths of that total. In the whole American market, things have changed dramatically. In the Midwest? Maybe not so much. But hey, check out those conversion vans!

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 A four-cylinder, turbocharged Mustang! How oddly familiar. The EXP serves as a reminder that in the 80s, there was still a market for inexpensive 2-seater coupes. Will they ever come back? Considering that two-door coupes not called Camaro or Mustang barely exist anymore, I’m guessing no.

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Pontiac’s new “showpiece of engineering” won the sales race in the aforementioned market, but changing tastes ultimately doomed it. Perhaps the Solstice would have sold better under the Fiero nameplate.

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  The Civic lineup was all-new in 1984, with seven different models sold under the nameplate. You could get the gas-sipping CRX, the sporty Si hatch, a five-door wagon, and several others. The EPA rating of 67 on the highway for the CRX was undoubtedly optimistic, but real-world mileage still proved stellar. Before the pointless economy-car horsepower wars, you got 60 horsepower out of the 1.3 liter base engine in the Civic. If you were feeling adventurous, you could get the 1.5 liter with its awesome 76 horsepower. Slow? Yes. Tuned for actually saving gas? Absolutely. Tongues will wag and say that safety regs killed light, simple cars like the CRX, but in a world where the Fiat 500 and the Chevy Spark both exist, I’m not buying it. Size creep was already making its presence felt in the mid-80s. As the column points out, the 1984 Civic sedan was 5.2 inches longer than the ’83. Check out the Subaru ad too. In the current era of pseudo-premium everything, would any car company ever dare to describe their product as “inexpensive?”

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 The most important new car of the 1984 season was the Plymouth Voyager/Dodge Grand Caravan. Like it or not, this is the vehicle that truly spawned the SUV/CUV revolution. It showed millions of middle-class families that they could have the kind of voluminous, carry-all interior space previously considered the exclusive domain of commercial vehicles. Their relative cheapness and ease of use made consumers unwilling to tolerate the compromises inherent in traditional sedan-based wagons. True truck-based SUVs didn’t take off until the early 90s, but minivans paved the way long before huge fake dinosaurs were eating people out of Ford Explorers.

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 A BMW sold on its residual value? Your eyes do not deceive you. Exacting build quality, careful engineering, the latest in technological wizardry (Service warning lights! An MPG computer!) all help you “not only hold onto a significant portion of your wealth- the portion that you keep in the form of a car- but to enjoy yourself tremendously in the process.” Is this even on the same planet as the modern-day lease extravanganza? You needed the retained value if you were going to be paying 12.95% APR on a new car loan, though.

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 Here’s another bank ad. It might have been morning in America, but credit was still quite tight in 1984. 11.95% sounds like buy-here pay-here level financing today, but in the mid-eighties one needed to have great credit to get these kinds of rates. Apparently 60 month terms weren’t that uncommon thirty years ago.

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  There aren’t a lot of prices in these ads, but the few that are there are revealing. $9999 for a 1984 Marquis Brougham is $22,430 in today’s money, according to the handy Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. For that, you got a front-drive, midsize sedan powered by a  carbeurated 120 horsepower V6, an automatic transmission, and air conditioning. You also got one power seat (part of a split bench), steel wheels with covers, no cassette player, zero airbags,  and no ABS. Don’t forget the interest rate.

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Maybe used is more your style. Then as now, Budget has plenty of no doubt gently-driven rental cars to offer you. How about an ’83 Sentra for $15,227 in today’s dollars? Hey, at least it has a stereo, four wheels, and “air conditioning!” You could get a Citation for a little less. A V6, automatic ’83 Camaro or a Mercury Cougar would set you back $21,284. Deals! There are more than a few cars from 1984 that I wouldn’t mind owning. The G-body Cutlasses and Regals are still among the best designs of the latter half of the twentieth century. I’d love to have a Civic Si and a Prelude, as well as a Fiero and Shelby Charger. I will own another E30 some day. But 1980s new car prices stir no longing for times gone by in my heart.

 

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37 Comments on “Maroon Velour, Coupes Galore, And An Important Four-Door for 1984...”


  • avatar
    LeeK

    In 1984 I was one year into my four year loan on a 1983 VW Rabbit GTI at 12.98%. I guess I should have bought it at Davidson-Green VW in Columbus as they are advertising a 100,000 mile warranty. My then fiancé bought a used 1983 Nissan Stanza that same year with a 13% loan. Both were quite reliable though, with the Stanza needing a clutch and the GTI needing an alternator over the next ten years we drove them.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Might as well swipe it on your credit card by today’s standards but for then, coming off 20% APRs just a few years before at the end of the Carter Era, you actually did well!

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        No doubt – my Mom and stepfather had a mortgage on the first house they bought in the late 70s at 18%+. I can’t even imagine! I don’t even have a credit card with a rate that high at the moment.

        I think my Grandparents paid nearly $4K for their first Subaru in the fall of ’79, one of the “all new” not silly looking ’80 Subarus. DL hatch, no A/C, AM radio. 1.6l 5spd. Sills rotted out and it failed inspection when 2.5 years old. 6mo inspections here in Maine in those days. They paid cash for the car though, and it got 40mpg, so it paid for itself in gas savings vs. the boat it replaced. Actually the first new car they had bought in a decade, having had a succession of 2yo full-size Mopar products from a local used car place.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    In 1984 I bought a brand new Plymouth Turismo loaded (well, loaded for 1984) for $7200. Total POS, traded it for a 1986 Riviera for $14,900 another POS. Ah, the 80s

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    Wow. I was born that year.

    Also, the Marquis was RWD. Just sayin’…:)

    • 0 avatar

      Nope. The Grand Marquis (and LTD Crown Victoria) were rear-wheel drive Panthers. The Marquis and LTD were front wheel drive – they were the predecessor to the Taurus/Sable.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_Marquis#1983.E2.80.931986

      • 0 avatar
        jz78817

        Er, what? They were Fox cars just like the Mustang. RWD.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Not FWD per your link, RWD

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        They were RWD. Ford wouldn’t have an FWD mid-size until the ’86 Taurus.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          Marquis and LTD were RWD, period, point blank, as were the Granada and Cougar sedans the year before.

          We’ll let Mr. Emerson slide on this :)

        • 0 avatar
          ppxhbqt

          Depends on your definition of mid-size. Yes, legally the Tempo/Topaz were compacts, but they replaced the Fairmont/Zephyr, and both the Granada/Cougar twins and the LTD/Marquis twins that replaced them were little more than the Fairmont/Zephyr with some sheet metal changes. Inside, all these Fox sedans were about the same size. Also, the Topaz cars competed against the X-cars, which were legally mid-size.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Ugh. My grandmother had a Topaz in my younger years (late 90′s). Eventually my great-grandfather (her father) became disabled and could no longer contort himself to fit into the a Topaz, and she had to ditch it for one of the later Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight models.

  • avatar
    Caboose

    “Mr. Reagan will raise your taxes, and so will I. The difference is: He won’t tell you, and I just did.”

    “Not at all, Mr. Truitt. And, I want you to know, that I will not make age an issue of this campaign; I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

    I *do* miss 1984.

  • avatar

    It was 30 years ago that Chrysler invented the minivan. Lee Iaccoca introduced the Dodge Caravan in November 1983. Now, today 30 years later, Chrysler is the only one of the Detroit Big 3 that still makes the minivan.

    My father had a 1986 Dodge Caravan SE.

    You can see that 1984 minivan at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC.

    Here is a commercial for the 1984 Plymouth Voyager: The Magic Wagon

    • 0 avatar
      mr.cranky

      @davinp- My father traded in his lowly Chevette toward a new 1984 Voyager. We loved that van and kept it running for about 8 years before it proved too costly to fix.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    The good old days. I bought my first new car a 1985.5 Mustang SVO for $12,000 which was a lot then. I was flush with cash working a lot of overtime to buy a house.

  • avatar

    Here is a commercial for the 1984 Plymouth Voyager: The Magic Wagon

  • avatar
    geozinger

    In 1984 I was paying off a loan on my 1983 Trans Am WS6. IIRC, I had a 14% loan. It was way better than the 20% loan on the Mercury Capri RS Turbo that I traded in to buy the T/A with. That one hurt…

    BTW, no Marquis, Grand or not, ever had FWD… Edit: Ah crap, someone else beat me to it.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Interesting that the ad fails to mention the newly-introduced Jeep Cherokee/Wagoneer, which is the granddaddy of the SUV-as-family-car revolution. Unlike the Bronco/BroncoII and the Blazer/S10 Blazer, which were sedan bodies grafted (somewhat poorly) on to a pickup truck frame, the Cherokee/Wagoneer was designed from the ground up as a 4-door, 4WD station wagon type vehicle, a product of the then partnership between American Motors (which owned Jeep) and Renault, which owned a piece of American Motors. Unlike Jeep’s previous Wagoneer (re-named “Grand Wagoneer), which featured B-O-F construction, a lot of weight, comparatively little room inside and a thirsty V-8 engine, the new model was lighter, reasonably roomy and was powered by your choice of 2.5 liter 4 cylinder or Chevy’s 2.8 liter V-6, with about 15 more HP.

    Since this car was made, virtually unchanged, into the oughties, it deserves the label “classic” more than any of the other stuff listed, including the Corvette, which was merely less awful than its immediate predecessors in the late 70s.

    • 0 avatar
      Firestorm 500

      I’ve got 2 of ‘em. Many people wish they still made them. I’m not counting the Liberty or the ’14 Cherokee.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Agreed, my folks leased a ’92 Cherokee for a couple years. In that green on silver paint scheme that about 75% of them sold in. For some reason Chrysler had a crazy cheap lease deal on them for a while. 3-4 family members got in on it. Nice little truck, with the 195hp HO I6 it went like a missile compared to the ’85 98 they also had. I was sad when the lease was up, the replacement was a Chevy Z71 pickup. Blech. The fuel economy was so bad on the truck it only lasted 6mo before it got traded on the first of a pair of Ford Windturds. Shame it was so mechanically horrid, because for ’95 a loaded Windstar was a pretty che-che minivan. That thing was like a shuttle pod inside. Also cost over $30k!

  • avatar
    JMII

    I was just about to start high school back in ’84. I also got my first computer back then: a Commodore 64 with the floppy drive add on! A few years later I would buy one of those fancy new Civics off the used market as my first true owned car. I almost got an EXP, but had trouble locating one with a manual transmission.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    1984;

    The glut of nice 10 year old Japanese cars was flooding the used car market , I looked around my old Air Cooled VW Shop , busy as always , saw the writing on the wall and folded up that tent , got a regular gig as a Journeyman Mechanic and have been better fed if not as happy , ever since .

    I always thought the first generation Honda CRXsi’s were nice , speedy and thrifty .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    The BLS inflation calculator is misleading. Those prices are staggering for how awful those cars were.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Yeah, the BLS increases 1984 prices by 2.24 times, but if you use the price of gold, and gold is now at a low, the multiplier is 3.48 times 1984 prices. That Marquis Brougham for $9,999.99 was actually close to $35,000 in today’s dollars. But that was with $2437 ($8475) off!

      What makes it tough today is that wages haven’t increased by 2.24 times, let alone 3.48 times, and for some the purchasing power has declined dramatically. By the late ’80s, Lee Iacocca told the UAW workers he had plenty of jobs for $17/hr, but no jobs at $21/hr. That would be $38 and $47 using the BLS, and $59 and $73 using the gold price.

  • avatar
    theonewhogotaway

    ” How about an ’83 Sentra for $15,227 in today’s dollars?”

    MSRP on base 2014 Sentra is $15,999. Some things remain constant

  • avatar
    Opus

    We purchased one of those new Civics in ’84. But there was no Si model available. The 84 (and 85, if I recall correctly) was an S (which is what we had), the Si did not come about until 86. Difference was CVCC vs. Fuel Injection, I think.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I don’t know. My parents were teenagers in the eighties and I hadn’t even been *thought* of…and so don’t have any anecdotes to tell. It does seem like it was an interesting time for young, single people to be in the auto market, though.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    For someone like myself who would have been 30 back then , it is notable how people have changed their car buying habits . Most of my contemporaries I had at the crappy office jobs I had back then and paid what I would say was an entry level salary were generally driving new or nearly new cars , even though now they seem like such crummy cars at outrageous interest rates . But don’t forget , anyone who had extra cash could make good money on interest rates on fixed-rate CDs which were well over 10% for most of the malaise era . Many of the elderly relatives back then started really living the good life , with just interest money . They suddenly started buying Cadillacs and taking luxury vacations .And rent was way cheaper back then . In ’84 I was renting a beautiful apartment in an older building in a great neighborhood , 1200 sq. ft , $225 a month .

    • 0 avatar
      eggsalad

      Back then, I had no money. Not to buy a car, and certainly not to invest. It certainly didn’t matter to me what interest rates were.

      Now I have money. Enough that if I wanted a new car, interest rates would be irrelevant. But I’d really like to get 10% on my savings account, instead of 0.80%!

  • avatar

    That was the year I was born. So glad that the cars (and interest rates!) are way better in this day and age. But if you look at the inflation rates of car prices, we’re paying a lot more for a car now than back in the day. I guess quality comes at a price… which we should all be happy to pay!


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