By on March 4, 2014
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With the wife and kids out of the house on Sunday I finally had a little private time. Naturally, I did what a lot of men do when they find themselves home alone – I caught up on the current season of Top Gear. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the world’s most popular television program. On the one hand I am generally unimpressed with lengthy reviews of million dollar hyper cars or high end luxury cars, the seats of which my ass will never grace, but I do enjoy the challenges and the occasional look back at cars of the past. Naturally, I was quite taken by this season’s premiere episode, a modern day test of the hot hatches of the 1980s.

For those of you who are too young to remember, the ‘80s was the greatest decade ever. Beginning with the official death of Disco on July 12, 1979 and ending only with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind on September 21, 1991 it was a decade that lasted almost 13 years. That’s astounding! Moreover, blah blah blah, Reagan, blah blah blah, MTV, blah blah blah cellphones the size of bricks instead of the size of a suitcase. Yeah, it was great. We had some things and we did some stuff but the best part was the cars.

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In the Top Gear episode, our trio of aging heroes set out to prove that the small, sporty cars of their (our) youth were better than the youth oriented small cars of today. To support their claims, they are each given a small sum of money and are told to bring back an aging hot hatch. Because it’s Britain, the only car I could actually recognize was Jeremy Clarkson’s VW Golf GTI, but all three seemed to be small, “sporty” and, compared to today’s cars, terribly lacking in options or sophistication. They then put these cars through a series of “tests” in that special way that only Top Gear UK can manage and the results are a lot of fun. If you get BBC America, I highly suggest tuning in and watching the fun for yourself.

The episode put me in an introspective sort of mood. I lived through the entirety of the 1980s, actually beginning my first year of high school in the fall of 1979, but I was not a creature of the ‘80s. My tastes ran towards ‘60s muscle cars, ‘70s hard rock and that special sort of Pacific Northwest fashion sense that Nirvana made a grungy part of the ‘90s. Still, by the end of the ‘80s, with the arrival of my own Tuuuuurbo Dodge I had adapted enough that I at least (sort of) fit in.

Photo By T Kreutzer

It turns out that, like our Top Gear hosts, I miss those days and I find myself spending a good deal of time looking back at the cars of that era. I have this nascent idea of bothering poor unsuspecting people on Craigslist by posing as a buyer for their old car and then writing articles about my test driving experience, but of course, I have a problem in that, first, I’m not very good at telling lies and, second, cars of that era are a might thin on the ground in the Western New York region. Perhaps I will try this ploy once I relocate to less salty climates but for now I am stuck living in my own memories.

Compared to modern performance cars, the cars of the 1980s are pitiful pieces of machinery. The turbo Dodge I recall so fondly had a peaky turbo, suffered from massive amounts of torque steer, and blew a head gasket at just 90K miles, but it was light, flickable and, punched way above its weight. The 200SX Turbo I lionized at the beginning of my tenure here at TTAC was much better composed than my Shadow and was a speedy little thing but it turns out that it had just 120 horsepower – that’s actually 2 horsepower less than dowdiest little car Nissan makes today, the Cube. I could find other examples too, I am sure, but there is no point in beating a dead horse there is only one right answer to the question at hand. Today’s cars are far, far better in every way.

But the right answer is, I think, wrong. What we had then may have been technically worse, but it was also so much better. In that same way that a modern jet fighter can outperform a P51 Mustang the new cars have it all over the old ones, but ask any pilot which bird he wants to strap himself into and the vast majority will choose the old one. So it is with cars. I might lose a contest of seed and handling, but at least I’ll go down fighting with a smile on my face. And that’s what it’s really all about anyhow.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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109 Comments on “The 1980s: When Worse Was Better...”


  • avatar
    James2

    I had lots of fun driving a ’86 Mazda 323. No power and the skinniest tires ever, but damn if the thing didn’t live for corners.

    • 0 avatar

      Some of the best cars of the 1980s – Mazda RX7, Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, MB AMG Hammer, Mustang 302 roller cam 5 speed, MB 190E 2.3 16, BMW 533i, Toyota Supra, 1990 Eagle Talon TSI, MB 300 E, Porsche 944, Ferrari 288 GTO, Ferrari Testarossa, Porsche 959.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a friend with an ’89 323. I don’t remember it having the skinniest tires ever, but it certainly did live for corners, and its styling was simple elegance. When it was time for me to start looking for a new car (’92), I spent a lot of time trying to find a good used 323, but I think the only one I found with a stick didn’t have power steering. I didn’t like the Paceresque styling on the new ones, so I ended up with a ’93 Saturn SL2, which also lived for the corners.

      But aside from a few other Japanese cars (CRX), and maybe the Chevy Caprice, the ’80s really were bad times for car lovers.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Mercedes and Volvo were still building great cars then too.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        Disagree that the ’80s were a bad time for car lovers. Over the course of the decade, cars improved in terms of reliability, longevity, and handling. And by the end of the decade, they really weren’t giving up too much to ’64ish through ’71ish cars in terms of acceleration. I think you’d have to go back to some time before 1930 to find a decade in which the average car improved so much.

        Probably the only fly in the ointment, in my opinion, was the phasing out of bumpers that actually functioned as such, leaving city dwellers’ cars susceptible to parking rash. And I think that happened more so in the ’90s than it did during the ’80s. (I know the standards changed in ’82; I’m speaking more about scratch-susceptible, painted bumper covers than I am about 5-mph vs 2.5-mph bumpers.)

        • 0 avatar
          Tosh

          Totally agree with Featherston! Think of the delicious Hondas born in the 80′s: Legend, Integra, NSX, Accord, CRX, Prelude…
          And at the very end of the 80′s, nice cars had ABS and airbags. Great decade!

        • 0 avatar
          raph

          Indeed, the 80′s and into the 90′s was the rebirth of performance in America ( well unless you ask my Terminator buddies who swear up and down that it didn’t arrive until 2003).

          The cars might not seem like much by todays standards but it was a good time to grow up.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the 86 Mazda 323… obviously.
      DX Model, 5 speed standard,few if any options, no power steering,windows, no AC etc. and still the best car I ever owned.
      I perfected hand brake turns in it and a set of Nokian Hakapaletta tires (175/80R/13 IIRC) made it unstoppable in winter.
      To be honest I didn’t buy mine until 1998,I wanted one in the early 90′s but high resale values stopped that so I settled for Ford Escorts, which don’t hold a candle to the 323′s.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    Cars in the 80s definitely looked better, without a doubt.

    No stupid designs ruined by designers run wild and people wandering into oncoming traffic!

    Of course, I’m also a “sharp angles and wedges” guy, so I’ll be the maniac who says he prefers the Countach to the Aventador in the looks department.

    • 0 avatar
      jayzwhiterabbit

      And all those simple, thin, and elegant “A” pillars! Not so much DLO fail in the 1980′s. I too prefer the so-called “boxy” edges and understated crispness of 80′s design.

  • avatar

    I was born in 83 and have accidentally time and time again fallen in love with 80s cars. Currently I’m working on a 82 Dodge Rampage. The temptation to toss on a turbo is hard to ignore at times. I sell new cars for a living, but the pure simple rides of the 1980s appeal to me and the fact that they have little collectible appeal at this time makes me fond of them (of course I also love Ramblers). They also are still very affordable!

    • 0 avatar
      bertolini

      I saw your Rampage on allpar , assuming you use the same name as here and considering how many clean 82 Rampages exist… I was born in 80 and these were the vehicles I grew up with. The K in my avatar was purchased after my GF and I saw it on the side of country road for sale on a Sunday drive. We both came from Mopar families and had several EEKs in our childhood. A $600 memory lane purchase and its now my DD. An 87 Omni just came in to a friends salvage yard simply because the owner did not want it any more and I am eyeing that up as my next project.

      • 0 avatar

        Indeed. Although pictures make it look cleaner than it is. Solid project and driver though. I’ve owned many 80s beaters. This is the first I’m able to have with intention to use as a collectable car rather than daily driver. Still almost inspectable!

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve always had a grandiose dream where I build a turbo Shelby Rampage. I understand there were actually a couple of mules built and then used as shop trucks, but think what fun that little ute would be to drive and how pretty it would look done up in silver and blue.

      • 0 avatar

        I had a chance to buy a rampage equipped with a shelby turbo engine and nose. It was about 10 years agi and i didn’t have the cash. Wish I did would have been a fun ride. It was built in the 80′s by a Dodge tech according to the owner the transplant came from a shelby turbo Z that was totaled in a rear end collision with 20k miles. I believe the trucks (it was red) only had like 70k miles on it when I looked at it.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        Huh sounds like my dream where I cobble together an SHO Mustang!

  • avatar
    danio3834

    My ’87 Monte Carlo SS was a lot of fun in high school, after modifying it. In stock form, they looked great, sounded good, but had performance matched by most minivans today.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      But of course, this was at a time when minivans were even more sluggish. Your average Chrysler minivan circa 1987 had, what, 100 horsepower? I don’t think they gave the minivans a V6 until the very end of the 80s or the early 90s.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    My first car was a 1986 Nissan Pulsar, it had all of the 80s goodies lacking on cars today, pop up headlights, non-integrated clarion cassette deck, extra long throw 5spd gear box. I loved that car.

  • avatar
    jmo

    “What we had then may have been technically worse, but it was also so much better.”

    No, you aren’t so much remembering the cars as you are remembering your youth.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      “No, you aren’t so much remembering the cars as you are remembering your youth.”

      As a high school senior of 1980, I disagree.

      In 1980, I was still driving my first car, a 1974 Plymouth Fury. It was the typical Chrysler barge from the early 1970s. It was built like a tank, not a bank vault, and I was lucky to barely get 10 MPG out of it. It accelerated decently with the 360 V-8, but cornered like a battleship, and like the other full size Chryslers of the era I saw, it had dents in the rocker panel from parking accidents — you parked it by touch or ESP, because the visibility was terrible. (No right view mirror for example.)

      It and my late friend Curtiss (“Jake”) was imortalized in my mind by the movie “Blues Brothers” in 1980. But if I had one today, it would sit in my garage gathering dust only to be gazed at and sat in — I could not afford the gas, and it was a pain to drive. It came with an AM radio with a single speaker in the dash; which I upgraded to an AM/FM/cassette with a pair of speakers in the package deck.

      Then out went the Malise Era and Jimmy Carter, and in came the aero era and Ronald Reagan. The Space Shuttle first blasted off in 1981; at the same time the Star Wars and Star Trek movies came out. It was a time of great hope for the future; a hope that died with 9-11 and dot-com bust and has never returned.

      The Fury was replaced by an ’84 Reliant Wagon. It’s body felt tinney compared to the tank that was the Fury. But, it got twice the gas mileage, and also cornered like a dream — I had a favorite twisty back road that I drove nearly daily; trying to see how much faster I could go. It was much smaller than the Fury, but could still hold six people in a pinch, and much of what the Fury’s trunk could hold the Reliant could hold in the back. Overall, the quality felt much better than the Fury; if I had one today, it would get driven; but today it would feel like the cheap ride it was. It had an AM/FM radio with a pair of speakers in the back.

      The Audi 5000s as well as the Fords mentioned by jayzwhiterabbit ushered in the aero era. Another car that impressed me as far as looks went was the Rover Sterling; it was on the glossy front cover of Car Magazine. Granted, it did not hold up to it’s looks.

      I closed out the era by buying my first car on my own — a 1990 Dodge Spirit. It had the space of my Reliant wagon, but was wrapped in a sleeker, more aero body (though still not a Ford or Audi.) The build quality was better; it had the 2.6l bored out version of the 2.2l that was in my Reliant, so it had a little more pep. It also had the radio with the joystick that was in Thomas’ car, and four speakers. We kept it out to 2004 and well over 200,000 miles; and sold it in still running condition because it was an extra car by then and needed restoration work.

      We also had a Volare wagon in 1980; it was closer to what Chrysler had to offer in the late 1970s; but it was much like my Fury; just smaller. It was still built like a tank, handled terrible, space usage was terrible with it’s thick doors, and gas mileage was still not great, even with a slant six.

      So, we started the era with the Plymouth Fury and Volare, and I ended it with the Dodge Spirit. Like Featherston said, you would have to go back to 1930s to find a decade where automobiles changed so much. It began with Carter, passed through a decade full of hope, and ended with the dawn of computers and the Internet.

      Today, I daily drive my Taurus (a ’95, but first came out in ’91 and has strong roots going back to ’85) because of my fondness for the cars of this era and the memories of it and my parents. Today’s cars are packed with more electronics and safety features; but they are just an evolution from the aero cars of the 1980s. As I mentioned in another thread, we are overdue for another revolution like the ones in the 1980s, the 1960s, and the 1930s. In the meantime, we have a right to look back fondly on that period of time.

      I somehow failed to post it on the convertible thread, but I would still like a Chrysler-Maserati; even if it was a K-car in Italian clothes. It would just be driven on nice weekends, but it wouldn’t just sit there like the Fury would.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You nailed it. I drove my bench front seat ’65 Impala from San Diego to Boston, and it was a ball back then, in my 20s. Today, my back would give out somewhere west of Albuquerque.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    I lost interest in the scripted, redundant, formulaic nonsense of Top Gear a long time ago.

    It has no relevance to my life as I’m neither 17 & a 14 hour per day XBOX player nor a lusting-after-a-million-dollar-hypercar type person whose dream is to one day be a superstar bond trader at Barclays in London or an equivalent too-big-to-fail “bank” in Manhattan.

    I’m not saying Top Gear should restrict its reviews and road tests to sensibly priced cars, but when road testing vehicles that cost more than 99% of the developed world’s citizens HOMES becomes the rule, rather than the exception, even the entertainment value (forget about the information value) transparently feels like the completely engineered exercise in getting its viewers to chase the automotive dragon that it is.

    It was a much more entertaining show when it had a semblance of humility, at least related to some degree to the lives of the masses, and reserved reviews of uber-super-hyper cars to a special occassion rather than weekly feature.

    • 0 avatar
      alsorl

      So true. The show has gotten out if touch a bit with super car this and super car that.

    • 0 avatar
      cpthaddock

      Clarkson was in his prime during the original Top gear show that ran in the ’70′s and ’80′s. His humor was less arrogant, much more sly and cheeky, and he had a wicked ‘fro too! Back then he was a genuinely unexpected breaht of fresh air on an otherwise very sensible BBC motoring show that was more about consumer adivce and televised reviews.

      I also have only a very marginal interest in the megabucks conveyances of the lazy rich. In between the dropping of my testes and discovering what it takes to earn and hang on to a Dollar, Pound or Detsch Mark, my vehicular interests have fallen in line with my proletrian place in the world.

      Yes, Top Gear has unquestionably become very formulaic, though it’s clearly a winning formula for them. At the same time many of the features they run are very precious for this ex-pat brit. From dropping piano’s on Morris Marina’s to crap testing the sad sedans of my childhood to the recent hot hatch comparo Thomas writes about which transported me right back to my high school parking lot. And the ditches, rolling small cars into ditches. Hmmmm.

    • 0 avatar

      > I lost interest in the scripted, redundant, formulaic nonsense of Top Gear a long time ago.

      It’s hardly the cars themselves but rather hosts getting old and running out of ideas. The really sad thing is how closely Top Gear US copies the tired formula with even worse hosts.

      • 0 avatar
        fredtal

        Because I don’t have cable or broadband it’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen it in total. I’ll still watch it when the next discs come out. Really what else is there to watch about cars that is as much fun?

  • avatar
    alsorl

    I had a 1988 VW Jetta GLI. It had a 16v 128 hp engine and by today’s standards it was slow car. But I loved it then and I would love another one today. The steering, shifting, and handling was simply a thing of beauty. Ran it to almost 300,000 miles and sold it for a good price in 1995. I would see it around town and then I saw the owner one day at the grocery store. He told me he wrecked the car and it was totalled. It was like I had lost a part of me. And I really wanted to beat the crap out of that kid.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    “In that same way that a modern jet fighter can outperform a P51 Mustang the new cars have it all over the old ones, but ask any pilot which bird he wants to strap himself into and the vast majority will choose the old one.”

    Unless you’re asking him to actually go out and fight. Then, I think it safe to say, he will want the newer bird.

    • 0 avatar
      Les

      Oh obviously, but how many car owners are going to be asked to ‘fight’?

      I think that’s one of the big problems with the modern performance era. Technology has made such gains that we now have cars so powerful and so finely balanced they’re nigh-on undriveable without extensive electronic aids (much like modern fighter-planes would fall out of the sky without computers backing-up the pilot’s input.), and for what? Shaving a rounding-error off of a lap-time?

  • avatar
    pb35

    I started driving in 1983. My favorite cars of the decade were my first new car, a 1987 Mustang GT in scarlet red. Once that was totaled (long story but not my fault), I eventually wound up in a 1986 GTI, probably my favorite of all the cars I’ve owned over the years.

    In between the Mustang and the VW, there was an Aspen, another Mustang that needed oil burning plugs for the inline 6 and a 280z that the engine fell out of due to rust. Those were the days indeed.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I graduated high school in ’89 thus I went thru the 80′s in my teens… perfect timing! Back then I was driving an ’85 Civic S1500 Hatchback. Sure it was underpowered (all of 90HP) but the gearbox was snappy and the handling was great (front wishbone), along with rack-n-pinion steering (no power assist). The greenhouse was large, the dash was logically arranged and simple to operate. The hatch area was big and boxy, with fold down seats expanding the space. It got 30 MPG all day long no matter how you drove it. There really isn’t a modern day version. My wife’s Volvo C30 comes close but its pricy compared to what a basic Honda would cost. If there was such a thing as a 3 door Fit that would be perfect. The CR-Z is smaller that’s not a fair comparison.

    Now compared to today’s offerings my ’85 Civic would be woefully underpowered and slow (0-60 was around 10 seconds). Plus it had no gadgets, heck it had manual windows and no cruise control. However the fun-to-drive factor was thru the roof. I had a Mustang before the Civic and honestly the Civic was more fun. And I think that’s what we are really missing these days: the small toss-able nature of a simple car that never let you down. The “hot” hatch just doesn’t exist today, we still got the VW GTI and the Veloster Turbo… and that’s about it.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Any decade that produces a glorious windowed box like the ’88 Trooper was a good decade.

    And Reagan’s Star Wars speech began the crumbling of my leftist indoctrination.

  • avatar
    jayzwhiterabbit

    The late 80′s fox Mustang hatch was and is my favorite ‘stang body style of all time. Period – I hate, hate this retro crap going on today. Love the box-it-came-in Volvos, the SAAB 9000 of that era, the GM Olds 88/98 coupes, Buick LeSabre coupes, Coupe de Villes (prior to ’86 downsize). My parents bought an ’88 Grand Prix coupe (FWD, gold, and boy, it felt FAST at that time with it’s 130 hp :). Looked really cool too, at the time, very fresh. My first car was an ’89 Olds Cutlass Supreme coupe which proved to be fun and very reliable.

    I still like the looks of the Merkur Scorpio and the original ’86 Taurus/Sable. Those were smashing designs when they came out – complete originals and a touch of European design for a Ford price.

    Don’t forget the Porshe 924/944. I still love pop-up headlights on anything, reliability of action be damned. Anyone remember the bustleback Eldorado from the early 1980′s? Love those.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      The bustleback Caddy was the Seville, not the ElDorado. Lincoln came out with their own version a year or two later. Totally agree about the Taurus, probably the best looking American sedan of the last 40 years.

      • 0 avatar
        jayzwhiterabbit

        Good correction, Russycle :). I actually did know that – just had Eldo on my mind for some reason or other. I almost bought a well-preserved ’86 bustleback Lincoln Continental, which looked great parked when it lowered almost all the way to the ground. Too bad the air suspension raised it to almost ridiculous height when you turned it on. This was 2007, and the car had only 19k on it and was owned since new by a couple in their late 90′s. Alas, it got away from me!

  • avatar
    koreancowboy

    I still have dreams about my 1985 Ford LTD II…granted, it wasn’t a sporty car by any stretch of the imagination, but I still miss that old thing.

    I would have loved to have the LX version with the 5.0…

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Unlike Thomas, I was leaving High School at the start of the 80s. Not only a good time for the sunset of the Malaise Era, it produced some cars that were simple but great leaps forward. Parking my Fury and using my older brother’s 84 GTI was what fueled my love for g forces. Yeah the numbers of those cars compared today is a total non contest but still there was something about the mechanical feedback from those basic but still advanced for the time platforms. And that’s just the vehicular lift from the Dark Days. Now add cool stuff like Deloreans, PacMan, some great new music, and the carefree times just rolled out….if I had a Delorean with Outatime plates, I would go back to the early 80s just to do it again. Even Reagan, whose policies are 100% counter to my viewpoints, was no doubt the right man for the times. In the late 70s I felt that America’s time had come and gone. Reagan changed all that. The 80s rocked!!!!!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    duplicate delete….”posting too quickly”….pretty funny

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    84-88 Isuzu Impulse: The car the Scirocco was supposed to be. Not quite what it could have been in a Chevette-with-a-truck engine chassis. Bought an ’88 (without the trick half-flip-up headlights) in 1995 and drove it until I wrecked it in ’98.

    84-88 Pontiac Fiero: not what it could have been until ’88 and then abandoned. I still want one – ’88 GT manual please. Or…just think what you could do with this “50 MPG commuter” with a modern Cruze Eco drivetrain.

    Porsche 944: Car Lust must have. Turbo or S2, convertible if you can find it. 928 was just too goofy and the 944′s wheel flares were oh-so-right.

  • avatar
    84Cressida

    The 80s were a wonderful time for cars. The Japanese were producing gem after gem, absolutely slaughtering Detroit, who’s poor quality was really starting to hit them hard.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      No, that was the 1970s.

      To paraphrase the Star Wars movie that also came out in 1980; it was also when “Detriot Strikes Back.” It took awhile for the tide to turn; but it began with cars like the Chrysler K-Cars, the Taurus/Sable, and the GM A body cars.

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        All 3 of those did nothing but to further deteriorate their reputation. The A bodies were garbage, I’ve driven several, my great grandma had one. Total piles, the Soviets would be embarrassed by them. Ditto the K car, maybe even to a higher degree.

        The Taurus was better, and it saved Ford temporarily. But it was no match in build quality and reliability to practically anything from Japan.

        • 0 avatar
          jayzwhiterabbit

          Well, I think the first generation Taurus/Sable increased Ford’s reputation at that time tremendously. It wasn’t until ’96, with the horrible and embarrassing ovoid Taurus, that things went downhill. The final blow with the Taurus was that as Camry/Accord got better and more refined with regular cyclic redesigns, Ford let the Taurus go to pasture and stay on as an inferior design without any improvement until it’s death in 2007 or so (the old model, not the unrelated newer full size model on sale today). That was inexcusable and you are correct, was detrimental to their reputation.

          The GM A bodies were not the best in terms of build quality, but they were pretty bulletproof reliability wise and developed quite a following. My grandmother had a ’93 Olds Cutlass Ciera bought new which is still on the road today with a minimum of maintenance. Yes, crappy cars, but cheap as dirt to fix and maintain and one of the earliest cars with FWD for the mass market. Many, many sold over the course of about 16 years through Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Buick, and Chevrolet. The V6′s were a much better bet, though, and for some reason the Olds and Buicks seemed to perform better in the long run than the Chevy’s and Pontiacs. Bizarre, really.

          The cool thing in automotive history is that, while not always perfect or even the best cars, K cars, Taurus/Sable, and GM A bodies were bridges from the dismal 1970′s to the much better and exciting cars being built by those companies now.

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          As well documented in “Car”; the 1996 Taurus was built to match the Toyota Camry in quality; and they mostly suceeded.

          But, just has Ford zigged; Toyota zagged. Toyota decontented the 1996 Camry; to this day, the early 1990s Camry was considered the best Camry ever built. And they lowered prices; which is what the consumer wanted.

          So the public rejected the 1996-1999 Taurus both because of the higher price tag and it’s oval styling. But, you still see those Taurus on the road, along with the early 90s Camry.

          The Japanese asset bubble bursting in 1992 also helped bring an end to the quality advantage the Japanese had. True, the K-Cars and A bodies were not constantly Japanese quality (my extended family owned three Reliants, a Shadow and my Spirit, and all gave good service, along with a Celebrity wagon); but they helped Detroit to turn the tide. The Detroit products that followed them continued to improve; while the Japanese had to continue to decontent and eventually send production overseas to stay profitable; the days of the supercars like the 300Z were over.

          • 0 avatar
            84Cressida

            American cars just continued to get worse and worse in the ’90s. The Domestics didn’t start to even get it anywhere near together until 2007 or so.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            “American cars just continued to get worse and worse in the ’90s. The Domestics didn’t start to even get it anywhere near together until 2007 or so.”

            Unfortunately automotive history does not agree with you; there is a reason why the Maliase era is defined as being from 1973 to 1983. But that is your worldview, and nothing I say will change it; so we will just have to disagree.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @84Cressida

            Disagree. Some never changed much from their introduction in the 80s (i.e. J-body) but others like GM’s H-Body were quite competent for the period.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    The 80s were a pretty good time for cars, but Whorehouse Red interiors deserve a special place in hell.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      I believe they called those interiors, “Trombone Case Red.”

      And why hasn’t anyone here mentioned the glory that was the fourth gen Celica? Possibly the best vehicle of that time when it comes to the few things I give a damn about these days.

      Anyone here seen my U2 leather jacket?

      • 0 avatar
        jayzwhiterabbit

        Don’t forget that old stalwart, “Colonial Blue” interior. Not as bad as Whorehouse red, but still just as deserving of death and hopefully will stay that way.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          I love color interiors.

          Still my favorite interior of all time. 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham sedan, white exterior, blue button tuffed velour interior, matching blue pinstripe.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Agree with you on this one, PD – one of my favorite cars was my ’85 Peugeot 505S Turbodiesel. White on blue velour, with a blue pinstripe. The most comfortable seats I have ever sat on, and just a great looking car overall.

            Had I been able to get the Navy Blue leather BMW offers in Europe, I would have gotten my wagon in that same scheme, and had the stripe put on.

        • 0 avatar
          mkirk

          Had a Bronco II with the red interior. I miss colored interiors. I found myself wondering in traffic how hard it would be to turn my Frontier’s drab gray interior to red.

    • 0 avatar
      Mandalorian

      I take it back, those interiors WERE a special place in hell.

      http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-rTZdRTYMc-s/Ucd2uRp45uI/AAAAAAAAAtI/dCLjodjfiFA/s1600/Kijiji+K-Car+race+car+-+1987+Dodge+Aries+6.jpg

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    In the early 2000s I owned 2 80s cars that symbolized the decade. The frugal 85 Plymouth reliant and innovative 88 Honda prelude si. The Plymouth was the workhorse that got me through college. The prelude was a blast to drive, and more fun to drive than today’s so called fun to drive cars.

    Driving an 80s car tells you what is wrong with today’s cars. They were light and tossable. Low on weight and power made you respect and enjoy what else a fun to drive car had to offer. Today’s cars are so much more heavy and bloated with way more power to compensate for all that extra weight…give me a lightweight 80s Honda any day =)

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I came of age in the ’80s as well. Got my license in ’86, first car was an ’82 Subaru GL 4dr hand me down. Which was pretty much a turd, but unkillable other than the rust. Second car was a ’85 VW Jetta 2dr – much more like it. Also unkillable, did not rust. Third car though was the bees knees – ’84 VW Jetta GLI in all its 90hp glory. So much fun! And it ultimately went more than 400K and is still on the road here in Maine – parked next to it at the airport a few months back.

    It was a great decade for the Japanese, the Germans, all of Europe really. American cars, well, uh, not so much. Every American car in my extended family in the ’80s was an unmitigated disaster. Thought the diesel Suburban was a good rig.

  • avatar

    Being from Brazil, my experience in cars is vastly different from most of yours. And, being that Brazil was one of the most closed countries in the world at that time, it also guaranteed that our cars were special. I turned 18 in 1989 (official driving age in Brazil), but had already been driving since 14. I learned to drive in my Dad’s VW Quantum, which was based off of some Audi or other (and different from the Brazilian-sourced American VW Quantum). That was one of the most advanced cars there was in the world, but the streets were littered with 60s or 50s era crap that had survived indefinitely due to our closed borders. Chevy Chevettes, VW Beetle and buses, Ford Corcels (based off of Renault 12s). In that context, it is almost little wonder that I like Fiat cars because as the 80s kicked off, the little 147 (with the exception of the already mentioned VW Quantum and Santana) the most advanced car in the country. It had FWD, transversal engines, which gave it great space in spite of the tiny size, not to mention some firsts as crumple zones and running on pure ethanol.

    As the 80s wore on the situation improved quite a lot. We had the introduction of the Chevy Kaddett (known as a Pontiac of some sort in the US), Ford Escort (the Euro one, not the American), VW Gol (a Brazilian special, mixing some of the old Beetle bones and construction techniques qith some more modern systems like water cooling and FWD), not to mention my favorite and first car, the Fiat Uno.

    A time of great difficulty in Brazil due to stagflation. Nonetheless we managed to have fun. And in terms of cars, a decade that brought us closer to what was happening in Europe.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Oh dear… they look old.

    Cars wise, you have a sort of Corsa A (Hamster) and Fiesta XR2 (Capt Slow) there. I have my doubts on the first one, may be a Metro or a R5.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I drove a lot of old British sports cars until 1985 when I finally bought my first new car, a Mustang SVO. So yea it was a pretty good decade for me and cars. Still it’s made me lazy and I don’t want to work on my daily driver anymore.

  • avatar
    jayzwhiterabbit

    Oh, and the 1980′s were the pinnacle of form and style for Mercedes-Benz, hands down. The S and E class cars were beautiful and instant classics, unlike the Hyundai-esque cars put out the last ten or fifteen years by M-B. 80′s Benz’s did, indeed, impress upon one the true meaning of “German arrogance” behind the wheel. And remember the big, deep dish steering wheel positioned like that of a big-rig in the S-class, with the drivers seat that felt like a concrete bench that sat waaaay down on the floor? Comfort be damned. And amazingly, the paint I see on many mid-eighties examples is still pretty damn decent. At that time M-B used Sikkens paint, and I chose that brand to repaint my Olds when I repaired it….best paint I ever used.

    The one car I have always, always dreamed of owning would be a late 1980′s turbodiesel S-class, in either black or white. Too bad I don’t have the bank account to constantly buy parts/labor to keep one going.

    Personally, with the exception of the big SL convertibles, I thought Mercedes did the best of any manufacturer in integrating the new 5 MPH bumpers mandated by the federal government into the 1970′s and 80′s.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      Very true! The iconic 240D, 525, 900S….I’d take anyone of them now. It truly was a time of function with simple form.

      Most of the cars today are way overstyled, and I believe will age poorly. There is an occasional stroke of genius in simplicity…whether the late ’90s (S70 & Jetta), the ‘oughts (Five Hundred)…even the current 300 if they added 3 inches to the windows.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    I guess in retrospect I would say that the 80′s were the best of times and the worst of times. Crappy malaise era cars were still at their zenith. Like the Oldsmobile Omega for example. I would say the archetypal 80′s car was the Chevy Citation, since it was so cleverly designed and so poorly executed. It embodied the extremes of 80′s car engineering. The car magazines were eagerly trying to promote this or that American car as sort of the white hope against the Japanese onslaught. The American cars were always disasters

    Then the swoopy T-bird came along. Then the Taurus which seemed like a bolt from the blue for the Fairmont it replaced. There were fits and starts all along the way, but ever since it seems like its been two steps forward and one back.

    The Japanese were going like gangbusters, especially at the beginning and middle 1980′s. I don’t think they every quite got their mojo back after the import restraints of 1984.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    One of the cars I lusted after in the 80′s but never owned was the Buick Grand National, and more so the GNX.

    • 0 avatar
      pb35

      My dad worked for a Buick-Pontiac dealership in the late 80s. I test drove the GN as well as the Formula 350 but ultimately went with the Mustang GT. I just had to have a manual trans and never regretted my decision although I still wish I had once purchased a new car from my old man.

      • 0 avatar
        Carlson Fan

        My brother had an 88 GT with a 5 speed stick. i loved driving that car. The little 302 just wanted to go. He drove it pretty hard and so did I. Still it was rock solid reliable.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I bought a new VW Rabbit , the Pennsylvania built one , in 1980, and kept it until 1989 .Given the times a good car, relatively trouble-free . I do miss that this type of car is no longer possible to build with all the weight-adding airbags and electronics. It was light ( 2000 lbs. IIRC ) relatively peppy for the times . Mine had the optional 5-speed and in that era was probably as quick as a lot of the then emasculated sporty Detroit cars . Yet it was capable of up to 45 m.p.g. on the highway. Of course we also had the awful 55.m.p.h. speed limit which was enforced in a pretty aggressive fashion back then by the highway patrol, so rarely went over 65 m.p.h. back then .After the Jettas came out shortly after I bought my Rabbit I wish I had waited and bought a Jetta GLI .

    • 0 avatar
      mankyman

      Yeah, I learned to drive a manual transmission on a ’79 rabbit and I remember it being so much peppier than my friends malaise-era lumbering US beasts. Fuel-injection, rack-and-pinion steering with no power assist. Just a simple, fun car.
      Those rabbits had that oily smell about them that was almost intoxicating. I remember that smell being present in one of the VW minivans from that era too, so it must have been some plastic that VW used.

      I bought an ’88 Jetta GLI after the rabbit and it was quite a lot better. It only made something like 125 HP with a DOHC 1.6L (?), but it was a lot of fun and a very pretty car. Even in the mid-90′s it handled pretty decently. And you had to have the Blaupunkt afermarket stereo with the removable faceplate and the cassette player.

  • avatar
    countymountie

    First car I drove of my very own was a 1976 Chevette, with the smaller 1.4 motor. That was 1992. My automotive revelation was the 1980 Pontiac Phoenix with a 2.8 that replaced it. What a night and day difference even though I understand that I’m comparing bottom feeders. Yes the X-car was leagues better than something else!

    I still own a 1980 Phoenix hatchback, again a 2.8 but this time replete with the whorehouse red interior, remote cassette deck below the radio and the cruise button on the tip of the automatic transmission lever. It doesn’t drive anywhere near as well as my Genesis or even my 96 Caprice and I thank God every day for fuel injection instead of the 2SE Varajet carburetor. But it is still a car I won’t ever sell and it never fails to bring a smile to my face every time I look at it or drive it.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    I’ve always taken an interest in the Omni GLHS.

    Other than its turbo engine, I cant for the life of me figure out why.

    Then I see one in traffic and drool. ??

    Beats the hell out of me. Ive heard of the awful shifting, and I can only imagine the lackluster interior, ooozing in mid-80′s Chrysler shabbiness.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the shabbiness is part of the charm. The non-GLHS Omni my brother owned was a plasticky, totally utilitarian economy car that attracted zero attention. The GLHS was a total sleeper when it came out. Guys with a lot “better” cars got slapped upside their stupid heads when they crossed paths with the baddest of the Omnis. You gotta love that.

      • 0 avatar
        raresleeper

        From what I’ve heard, and the research I’ve done about the Shelby Omni, all of what you’ve said holds true.

        Thank You for further reinforcing my love affair with it.

        Yes, I would agree with you, it would be part of its charm. I can only imagine some shade of burgundy interior pieces becoming loose as the coarse, loud engine’s turbo spools up like a behemoth. Suddenly the rickety door panel becomes strangely acceptable, as does the vibrating dashboard :)

        Now… what to tell the wife when one of these shows up in my garage…

  • avatar
    donutguy

    I had a 1980 Ford Fairmont Futura with the 2.3 four cylinder and a 4 speed manual. The only option it had was power steering.

    Pretty much the worst car and best car ever. I put over 130k highway miles on it over 9 years and other than oil and filter changes and tires….I spent exactly “0″ dollars on repairs. No brake pads, clutch discs or anything else.

    By the time I was done with it…there wasn’t much left of it, it was so rusty it wouldn’t pass inspection.

  • avatar
    gwwyjjliu

    I think there’s quite a bit of nostalgia going on here for the cars from our youth, while conveniently forgetting about the abysmal quality that plagued that era. I got my driver license in 1982 so I grew up with 80′s cars – Civic, Omni, Escort, Nissan Stanza, Beretta. They were all crap except for the Civic – a pure, underpowered, lightweight, absolutely flingable joy to drive. But it rusted prematurely and at only 75K miles became unsafe to drive. It was my first car so I have really fond memories of it, but I would never choose it over a modern car today. I’m convinced that a modern-day Fiesta ST or Subaru BRZ could deliver the same thrills as my old Civic without worrying about blowing a head gasket every time you spun the engine up or the body tearing itself in half in mid-corner due to the severe rust.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    1980 ~ a long time ago .

    I was driving a ’46 Chevy pickup as my work truck and a 1929 ‘A’ Model Ford Fordor Sedan , fun cars to be sure but it turns out the ” push ‘n pray ” mechanical brakes on those ‘A’ Models were not so good over 50 MPH even after up grading to ” brake floaters ” =8-^ .

    I like the 1980′s Mercedes W-123 chassis so much I now have three of them ~ all Diesels , Coupe , Sedan and Wagon (o , it’s NOT brown) .

    Back then Americans were killing early Honda Civics in droves by never changing the oil ~ I could buy *pristine* Civics for $150 all day long , $175 got me a low mileage Japanese takeout with the nice 5 speed tranny , in it went then a day or so of careful cleaning and polishing netted me a $1,300 $1,500 car that usually sold to the first person who looked at it…

    Those tiny CVCC Hondas were much fun to drive , near 45 MPG’s too .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    The 80′s was a great era. Glamour, Dallas, loads of cool comedy shows, Reaganomics, MTV, a plethora of good music and some really cool car styling. 1981 and 82 aside the prospect of an all new Camaro/Firebird had everybody talking, the new Corvette was right around the corner, the oil crisis was starting to become a distant but not forgotten issue and cars like the 1982 Mustang and the HO L69 equipped F and G-body cars proved that performance was making it’s way back. And who can forget the Buick Grand National/T-Types with there Corvette beating acceleration times and cool factor. Chrysler dialed up some pretty quick turbo cars as mentioned and Ford had there strong selling bubble Taurus and the performance oriented Thunderbird Turbo coupe. Then there are the everyday workhorses- Chrysler M-body, GM B and G-body and Fords Panthers were mostly reliable nicely furnished cars that gave many owners reliable service over the years and you still see them running to this day. The biggest things I miss in today’s cars are the styling, which looks as if the same designer drew up the majority of today’s sedans and SUV’s, the interior color choices and warmth and the character they had in droves. Hop in a Camry, Cruze, CRV or Civic and there it little memorable other than every car is mostly well screwed together, drives and handles well and outlast there predecessors by a long margin.

  • avatar
    mcarr

    My first car was a 1985 Mazda 626 5-speed. All of 80 hp from a 2.0L. Bought it with 164,000 miles on it, and put another 100,000 on it before moving on. The only repairs I did were brakes and wheel bearings. I remember how it slowed down when the A/C engaged. I hit a deer with it, killing the deer, but somehow not damaging the car. It was much more fun to drive than my parents Celebrity, but my second car, a 1993 SE-R would end up being my true love.

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    Disagree on 80′s when worse was better. That era was definitely the 70′s. The 86 Ford Sable/Taurus was an industry game changer with OBD1, common rail sequential EFI, 140hp Vulcan 3.0L engine and aero styling. It marked the beginning of modern automobile engineering and a greater emphasis on mpg, reliability and interior quality.

  • avatar
    zamoti

    I cannot disagree more with the premise of this post. Worse is indeed way worse. It’s funny how people trot out cars like Omni GLHs forgetting that they were by far the exception and that the miserable trash-can grade Omni was what roamed the roads puking blue smoke. In fact, most of the 80′s grade Dodge-subishis were total garbage, GM put out the most homely sedans possible with chin-height instrument clusters, Ford were by and large turds, they were all pretty awful unless you pick out the very few bright spots.
    Have some greatest misses:
    Escort L
    Tempo
    LTD
    Aries
    Citation
    any GM J body
    Any V8 making less than 200 HP
    Yugo (my first car)
    Mustang LX (4-cyl)
    Celebrity (oh the irony)
    Toyota/Chevy Nova

    I’m not even picking the worst of the bunch just to make the point that the every day cars of the era were absolute (as JC would say) RUBBISH.
    Airbags and other useful safety features were rare, most 80s cars were not terribly reliable nor fast, they were about as ugly as ugly gets. Most of the 80s cars remind me of the square glasses men wore during the same era. The japanese brands were better, but still nothing that special (with a few exceptions). It only appears that through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia do cars from that time appear to be at all interesting. I grew up in the 80s and remember specifically HATING so many of the cars that I saw. In fact, I don’t think I really even cared about cars until the late 80s early 90s (300Z, thank you).
    Honestly, I believe that cars of the 80s were an improvement over most of the late 70s heaps, but that the 90s were great and the 2000s had a lot to like. Only recently do I feel that we’re going the wrong direction with too many car infotainment systems, electronic nannies and black boxes, that detract from the actual experience of driving a car.
    May the 80s rust in peace, good riddance.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      “Yugo (my first car)”

      And thereupon lies your problem. You didn’t have to put up with the cars of the 1970s. If you were driving Detroit, they got half the mileage (if you were lucky), were hard to see out of (huge cars with crease and tuck styling and often no right hand mirror), and just an AM radio with a single speaker in the dash. And they also smoked; most cars did until they got fuel injection.

      And, your first car was a Yugo. (What could be worst than that?!?!?!) I could understand how owning a Yugo could turn you off to the cars of the 1980s; but not everyone drove a Yugo. Many of us had a much more pleasant experience with our 80′s cars; even the K-Cars and GM A bodies. And like others said; when they did break; they were inexpensive to repair.

      I found a Yugo (obviously not running) at a shop in a nearby town a couple of years ago; it was the first one I have seen since the 1980s. I can count on one hand the number of first generation Taurus I still see on the road, but they are out there; K-Cars and GM A bodies are also rare, but I still see one every now and then. Even a few Fox body Mustangs, and a 300ZX just this week.

      • 0 avatar
        zamoti

        At least the Yugo was good as a joke, but aside from that, it had few redeeming qualities. I did my teenage best to flog the living hell out of that $h!tbox; 4 spd man, no power nuthin’. You could say it fits the very descritption of a true purist’s car.
        My beef with the 80s is that not just with reliability it’s just that most cars were godawful bland to look at and dull to drive. So I guess it’s not that I’m looking to hate on the 80s, but that I don’t see them as anything more than an ugly spot along the way to the later years. Fuel injection of 80s cars seemed like an experiment at best in an attempt to deal with emissions regulations, but it was a necessary experiment that got us into reliable FI which is head and shoulders above carburetors. I never did understand the nostalgia associated with those miserable rats’ nests either. Must be something wrong with me I suppose.
        I will hate on a K-car though. Rode in plenty, never owned one, but to me that is THE 80s car. Ugly, slow, bland, miserable in just about every way. I would like to hear from someone who owned one when they weren’t a teenager or 20-something to get a realistic perspective. I should go find my high school typing teacher who had one. Upon recalling that fact, it is kind of depressing to consider that Metzo had to drive that MFing thing. Never mind.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I’m not all the way through that episode of TG, probably 75%. The old hot hatches challenges sounded promising. As usual, I enjoyed the first bit where they talk about the history of the cars they chose, how much they paid, and then ripped on each other. The hill climb bit was fine, though I figure Hammond intentionally crashed.

    Then came the heat wrap – ridiculous.
    Then came the staged grocery store driving nonsense – ridiculous.
    Then came the “producers aren’t looking” stunts inside the car – ridiculous.
    Then was the “police chase” bit, which I haven’t watched but a minute of, but already it was staged and stupid. The challenges apart from the hill climb have nothing to do with the car, and everything is so staged and unbelievable that it’s almost painful to watch. The show has gone so far down hill that no hill climb segment can save it.

    I’m barely interested in watching any more, as it continues to pander to a lower and lower audience, with periodically redeeming segments (trip to Africa last year in estates, and the Spanish segment in supercars). Still the worst episode ever IMO was the hovercraft from a van one.

    The whole mission of “new Top Gear” was to get rid of the serious-minded and starchy image of the old one, ending all the segments which people found so boring. They had a good mix of information and fun for a while, they really did. But since about 2008 or so, it’s been on a serious slide into a useless popularity contest.

    • 0 avatar
      raresleeper

      I did find the episode where they drove from Florida to Louisiana in $800 cars amusing.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Me too, but that was back in about 06. Even then it was heavily scripted. Actually if you look closely, as the trio is rendezvousing at the Miami Jai Alai stadium, they claim “oh James is late wonder what he bought” etc etc. But when they showed Richard turning up in his truck ages before, as the camera panned, James’ Caddy was clearly there already, doors open and being fitted with cameras and microphones.

        Fakey fake.

        • 0 avatar
          raresleeper

          I’ll be damned. I certainly didn’t think it was from ’06, either.

          Hopefully the American Top Gear will return. I’m sure the thoughts on our stateside Top Gear are mixed as well; however, I enjoyed the last episodes I watched.

          I still remember the American Trucks Episode where he drove the old Silverado into the glacier (if I recall correctly).

          And maybe it’s just me, but (switching back to the UK Top Gear now) after watching the crap get beat out of the old Toyota pickup, I wanted- and still wouldn’t mind to have- a vintage Hi-Lux, just to beat up on (lightly) myself.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Top Gear US got better after season one, and when they started to focus on challenges/road trips. It isn’t perfect, but recently I’ve found it more watchable than current seasons of Top Gear UK.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        The winner was the drive across South America

  • avatar
    mkirk

    The cars were good…BUT THE BLOW MAN, THE BLOW!!!

  • avatar
    msquare

    As Marcello notes, the automotive situation was different in various parts of the world. In North America, we were barely working our way out of the Malaise Era with computerized engine management and finally real fuel injection replacing balky carburetors. In Europe, they never had to deal with those problems, just the fuel crunch of 1973.

    Europe did not seriously get into emission controls until the mid-1980′s when unleaded fuel became widely available. American (and particularly Californian) emissions standards were by far the world’s toughest. I believe comparing them now is a little more complicated, but most of the technology used today was originally developed to meet US standards. And by the middle of the decade, it was sufficiently refined to narrow the performance gap between US and Euro models.

    Now that standards are reasonably close worldwide, it would make sense to normalize them across the board. Then manufacturers could sell their cars anywhere. But that would be too logical.

  • avatar
    racerxlilbro

    Good Lord, I hope you meant to say “…contest of sPeed and handling.”

  • avatar
    gwwyjjliu

    Personally I think the late 70′s cars were much better looking than the 80′s era, terrible quality and emissions-choked underperformance nothwithstanding. What’s not to like about the crisp, handsome, well-proportioned lines of a downsized GM B-body or A-body or 1st gen Cadillac Seville? In the 80′s GM couldn’t make up its mind between going aero a la Taurus or keeping the squared-off formal look so it decided to go in between with abominations like the “look-alike” C-cars and N-cars (Pontiac Grand Am, Olds Calais).

  • avatar
    Numbers_Matching

    For me the 80′s will always be about the fox based Mustang and its often forgotten stablemate, the Mercury Capri. Eevn though their styling was pretty much finalized in 1976, these cars really captured the optimism of the day with constant upgrades in handling and power. They brought back real, every-day affordable performance.


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