The 1980s was a time of confused fashion, dramatic hairstyles, fanny packs, and velour. Many of the styles and popular products of the 1980s seem outlandish now but there were cars built during that period of automobile history that were cool then and still look cool today.
Automobile performance and technology made significant strides in the 1980s. While car manufacturers experimented with engine displacement, the number of cylinders, and location, they also introduced widespread use of all-wheel drive, onboard computers, and turbochargers.
Many car historians consider the early 1970s to be the golden age for the muscle car while the late 1970s were mired in the Malaise Era. The period from 1972 to 1983 saw stricter government regulations and customer preferences triggered a focus on fuel efficiency and emissions. US automakers found it difficult competing with the smaller, more efficient import cars.
Consequently, the 80s fell short of the 70s in terms of muscle car production. Efficiency, lightness, and handing were at the forefront of engineering and design. Some of the 1980s cars were fast but lacked handling characteristics, while others were stable but fell short on speed. However, there were some surprising gems with both speed and handling featuring heavily in their performance.
Many of these 80s cars now sell for under $10,000. For the performance-minded buyer on a budget, 1980s automobiles provide an opportunity to purchase a high-performance car at a dirt-cheap price. Here are 25 fast cars from the 80s that fall are easy to find at low prices.
25 1987 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z - $10,000
The Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z was styled to imitate the race cars competing in the International Race of Champions and can be found for under $10,000. Introduced in 1985, it was available for two production years with a 305 V8. The model to look for is the IROC-Z, which was offered with the optional 350 starting in 1987, although it is only available with an automatic. The manual transmission was coupled only to the 305 V8. The base engine 305 V8 generates 155 horsepower while the 5.7-liter produces 230 hp. Impressive numbers for the era, the IROC-Z could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds. An IROC-Z convertible is a challenge to find in good condition, though, and they require a bit more money.
24 1989 Dodge Shelby Dakota - $10,000 Plus
Okay, so this is not a car, but it sure is fast and inexpensive and from the 80s. Dodge produced the limited-edition Shelby Dakota pickup for only one year. From a total of 1,500 Shelby Dakota pickups built, 860 came in red while only 640 were painted in Bright White. Dodge removed the 3.9-liter V6 common to the standard Dakota and replaced it with a 318-cubic-inch V8 producing 175 hp and 270 lb.-ft. of torque.
Carroll Shelby's first rear-wheel-drive creation since the Mustang, the Shelby Dakota accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in just under 8.0 seconds. The owner of an original white Shelby Dakota in Pennsylvania—purchased for $15,985 when new—received bids just over $10,000 for his low-mileage pickup.
23 1989 Ford Mustang LX - $4,450
When Ford introduced the Fox-body Mustang in 1979, it was a welcome improvement to the unexceptional Mustang II it replaced. The new Mustang boasted an improved aerodynamic wedge shape featuring a sloping hood and sculpted roofline. Engine options ranged from the four-cylinder producing an anemic 88 horsepower to a 5.0-liter V8 generating a respectable 140 horsepower.
By 1987, Ford had made additional improvements to the 5.0L engine. It used forged pistons, roller lifters on a steel camshaft, and the newly-designed cylinder-head castings developed in the truck engine program. In 1989, the 5.0L V8 EFI engine produced 225 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. CarGurus recently listed a 1989 Ford Mustang LX 5.0L for $4,450.
22 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS - $6,000
CarGurus listed several 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS cars at an average price of $6,000. Chevrolet created the Monte Carlo SS for NASCAR racing requirements, just as they did with its sibling, the Pontiac 2+2. Featuring a rear spoiler, blackout grille, and unique front bumper, the SS was one of the last naturally aspirated, rear-wheel-drive muscle cars made.
In 1986, Chevy introduced the Aerocoupe, with sloped rear glass and a shorter trunk lid. Limited production over a two-year period makes these desirable for collectors (and they sell for a higher price). The last year of Monte Carlo production was 1988 and Chevrolet would wait over a decade before reintroducing the model to their lineup.
21 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass Hurst – Under $10,000
Oldsmobile celebrated the 15th anniversary of the original Cutlass by reintroducing the Hurst/Olds in 1983. Powered by a 307 cu-in engine that delivered 180 hp, it was painted in silver and black with red stripes. The 442 also featured a rear spoiler, hood bulge, and 15-inch wheels.
The interior was typical Oldsmobile, including plush seating, but the car gets its name from the featured three-stick Hurst Lightning Rod shifter. Changing the gears manually with the high-performance shifter help the Cutlass achieve a remarkable (for that era) 0 to 60 mph time of about 8.5 seconds. While the price for models of the Cutlass Hurst average below $10,000, a low-mileage car will fetch a much higher price.
20 1985 Mazda RX-7 - $13,000
Initial attempts at a rotary-powered coupe like the Cosmo 110 and the RX-3 gained limited acceptance but the when the RX-7 was first introduced in 1978, it was an instant success. The car was equipped with a 1.1-liter, two-rotor version of Dr. Felix Wankel's rotary engine that produced 100 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque. The power was adequate to push the 2,350-pound vehicle to 60 mph in less than 10 seconds, which was acceptable for the day.
Although the RX-7 was praised as the best-steering, best-handing, and most-enjoyable to drive sports car in its class, it needed more power. The additional power arrived in 1984 with Mazda's new 1.3-liter 13B rotary that produced 135 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque. The 1985 Mazda RX-7s resells at an average price of $13,000.
19 1989 Pontiac Firebird, 3rd Generation – Under $10,000
Firebirds with close to 100,000 miles can be found for an average of $7,000, but lower mileage vehicles go for just over $10,000. However, the real gem of 1989 is the Trans Am model, the fastest Detroit production car of the year. The 20th Anniversary version was equipped with a more powerful version of the turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, while the Turbo Trans Am (TTA) was provided to pace the Indianapolis 500.
Pontiac produced 1,555 TTA replicas, rating the car at 250 hp, However, in Car and Driver magazine tests the car accelerated from 0–60 mph in 4.6 seconds. The magazine called the 250 hp rating "exceedingly modest," estimating a more realistic output to be "closer to 300 hp." The Firebird TTA sells for over $20,000.
18 1990 Porsche 944S - $13,000
Porsche introduced the high-performance 944 in 1982 as a replacement for the “low-performance” 924. However, the two cars were sold in parallel for several years. Porsche ended 944 production in 1991 and replaced the model with the 968. The 944—offered in the standard trim, 944S, 944 Turbo, and the 944 S2—was a huge success for Porsche throughout the 1980s. The 944 S2, introduced in 1989, was powered by a normally aspirated, dual-overhead-cam, 16-valve, 3.0-liter version of the 944 S engine, the largest production four-cylinder engine of its time.
Acceleration for models with a manual transmission was a respectable 0–97 km/h in 6.0 seconds with a top speed of 240 km/h (150 mph).
17 1989 Mazda MX-5 Miata – Under $10,000
The Miata debuted in 1989 for the 1990 model year. A used 1989 MX-5 in excellent condition sells for just under $10,000. However, higher mileage, race-ready spec Miatas on eBay are going for a low as $5,000. A two-door convertible car, the MX-5 has a front positioned engine and rear-wheel drive. The naturally aspirated, double overhead camshaft, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine develops 113.5 bhp at 6,500 rpm and a maximum torque rating of 100 lb-ft at 5,500 rpm. The acceleration has been measured at a 0-60 mph time of 8.5 seconds with the five-speed manual transmission. At a curb weight of 970 kg, the top claimed speed is 188 km/h (117 mph).
16 1985 Porsche 928 S – Under $13,000
The 1985 Porsche 928 S boasted some significant improvements over the prior year’s model. A new 5.0-liter V8 engine produced 288 bhp, a substantial 54 bhp more than the previous 928's 4.7-liter engine. The result is a top speed up ten mph to 154. The 1985 model accelerated from a standing start to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and reached 100 mph in less than 14 seconds. By comparison, the older car required 6.2 and 17.8 seconds, respectively. The automatic version is a bit slower but nearly equal in performance to the 1984 model. A 1985 Porsche 928 S in good condition can be purchased for less than $13,000.
15 1988 Maserati Biturbo – Under $15,000
Who wouldn’t buy an exotic car from Italy for less than $15,000? Maserati developed the Biturbo primarily for financial reasons. A car company that offered exotic sports, luxury, and racing cars, Maserati entered the early 1980s at risk of collapse. The solution was the high quality, high-volume, and distinctive Biturbo, which was available to customers at a lower price than their high-performance (and high-price) models.
The Biturbo was equipped with a 2.5-liter, twin-turbo V6 engine, the first used on a production automobile. Although the 1984-1986 models used a two-barrel Weber carburetor, they produced a remarkable (for the day) 185 hp and 208 lb-ft of torque. The Biturbo can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 134 mph. In 1987, fuel injection replaced carburation, increasing output to 187 horsepower.
14 1980 Saab 900 Turbo – Under $6,000
The Saab 900 was one of the most distinctive cars produced in Sweden during the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Although Saab gained a reputation for building intriguing and unconventional cars, they included state-of-the-art technology yet to be found on other vehicles. Saab was one of the first automakers to mass market front-wheel drive and turbocharged engines.
While the Saab 900 Turbo is not as fast as most of the cars on this list, it still posts some respectable numbers with an acceleration of 0-100 km/h in 9.0 seconds and a top speed of 195 km/h. Perhaps what makes the Saab most attractive is its price. The 900 Turbo can be purchased for a mere $6,000 or less.
13 1989 BMW 635CSI E24 - $11,000
The E24 6 Series model BMW, with two doors and four seats, sold new from 1987 to 1989 and is available for purchase used for as low as $7,500 (with an average price of $11,000). In traditional BMW style, the 6-Series matches power and comfort with handling performance. The E24 uses a double-pivot McPherson strut front suspension and a semi-trailing arm suspension in the rear. The braking system uses vented discs at both the front and the rear.
The naturally aspirated, inline-six engine produces 217 bhp at 5,500 rpm and a maximum torque of 232 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm. The power is transmitted to the road via a five-speed manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive, accelerating the vehicle from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 7.4 seconds.
12 1983 Datsun 280ZX Turbo – Under $10,000
The 280ZX was a complete redesign of the original Z sports car. It retained only the L28 inline-six engine and other driveline components from the 280Z. Datsun clearly stated that the ZX was designed as a GT car and not a pure sports machine like the original. The 280ZX was heavier, much softer, and focused more on comfort and refinement than pure driving.
Despite the emphasis on comfort, the 280ZX Turbo posts some impressive numbers: According to automobile catalog Profess (ProfessCars), the Datsun can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and reach the quarter mile in 14.8 seconds. Used 1983 Datsun 280ZX cars are dirt cheap and even the Turbo version sells for under $10,000.
11 1987 C4 Chevrolet Corvette – Under $9,000
Corvette enthusiasts are quick to point out that the Corvette was first introduced in 1953 as a convertible. Many criticized Chevrolet for the absence of a convertible option after it had been discontinued at the onset of the 1976 model year. However, Chevrolet made critics and Corvette fans happy once again when it reintroduced the topless model in 1986.
Chevrolet made several engine modifications to the C4, increasing horsepower for 1987, including the addition of rollers to the hydraulic lifters. The result was an increase of ten horsepower, making the engine’s overall rating 240 hp and 345 lb-ft of torque. Surprisingly, one of these high-performance C4 convertibles can now be purchased for less than $9,000.
10 1982 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 – Under $12,000
An editor from Motor Trend wrote about the 1982 Camaro Z28: "If you're making up your personal shopping list of great road cars and you don't have a Z28 or Trans Am on it, you need a new list."
Although the 1982 Camaro Z28 is not as quick as other cars on this list, its performance was good enough to receive the 1982 Motor Trend Car of the Year award. They tested the Crossfire Injection version of the 305-cubic-inch V8 that produced 165 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. The automatic-equipped Camaro CFI accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 9.4 seconds, reached 80 mph in 17.10 seconds for the quarter mile, and stopped from 60 mph in 149 feet. The Camaro Z28 CFI can be found for less than $12,000.
9 1986 Jaguar XJ-S Convertible V12 – Under $12,000
Manufactured by Jaguar from 1975 to 1996, the front-engined, rear-wheel-drive 2+2 is a luxurious grand touring automobile. Jaguar offered the XJ-S in coupé, fixed-profile, and full convertible body styles. The model was highly successful, selling a total of 115,413 cars over a 20-plus-year period.
In 1986, the full convertible version modified by Hess & Eisenhardt in Ohio was available through a limited number of dealers. Under a contract from Jaguar, Hess & Eisenhardt coachbuilding company built 893 of the convertibles before 1988 when the official Jaguar-built XJ-S full convertible arrived.
The Jaguar XJ-S V12 had a maximum speed of 150 mph, accelerated from 0 to 62 mph in 8.1 seconds, and reached the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds. Traveling in convertible Jaguar style with respectable performance can be obtained with a mere $12,000.
8 1986 Alfa Romeo Series 3 Spider – Under $10,000
Who can forget the character Benjamin, played by Dustin Hoffman, driving his Alfa Romeo from Los Angeles to Berkeley California and listening to the music of Simon and Garfunkel in the classic 1967 film, The Graduate? Alfa Romeo produced a unique model exclusively for the US in honor of the film. It first appeared in 1985 and continued until 1990.
Alfa Romeo introduced the Quadrifoglio Verde model in 1986, with many aesthetic refinements over the previous year’s model, but it was mechanically indistinguishable from the standard Spider Veloce, with a 2.0-liter, DOHC, four-cylinder engine. The Graduate model was a less expensive basic Alfa. However, it used the same engine and transmission as the Veloce and the Quadrifoglio.
7 1989 Nissan 300ZX – Under $6,000
The Nissan 300ZX, produced from 1984 to 1989, replaced an aging 280ZX that had experienced strong sales. The basic engine design had originated in the 1960s and traditional style was becoming dated. Nissan was also feeling strong competition from other car manufacturers in Japan.
The 300ZX continued the 280ZX's emphasis on luxury more than performance: more grand tourer and less pure sports car. However, the formula for Nissan was very successful, as demonstrated by an upward trend in sales for every model change. The 300ZX boasts power and torque figures of 222 bhp at 6,400 rpm and 198 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. The used price is remarkably low, at $6,000 for such a stylish vehicle.
6 1985 BMW 325i (E30) – Under $10,000
Like its E21 predecessors, the E30 offered both coupe and convertible body styles. However, a four-door sedan and a five-door estate wagon were added as options. Initially, the E30 models used the 1.8-liter straight-four and the 2.7-liter straight-six engines, also like its E21 predecessor. During the production run, the 1.8-liter M10 was replaced with the M40 1.8-liter and M42 1.8-liter. A six-cylinder diesel M21 2.4-liter was added later to the powertrain line, in both naturally aspirated and turbocharged forms.
The 325i accelerates from 0- 60 mph in a respectable 7.8 seconds. Although the BMW 325i does not have the high-performance specs of the M3, it doesn’t have the high resale price, either.
5 1987 Pontiac Fiero - $8,500
Introduced in 1984, the Fiero was a four-cylinder, two-seat, mid-engine sports car that made Car and Driver's Ten Best list for 1984. The same year, the Fiero beat out the new 1984 Chevrolet Corvette as the Indianapolis 500 Official Pace Car.
Power for the 1987 Fiero arrived at the rear wheels via a 2.8 V6 engine with multiport fuel injection mated to a five-speed Getrag/Muncie manual transmission and stopping was enabled using four-wheel power disk brakes. Remarkably the used price for the mid-engine two-seater with fully independent suspension is less than $8,500 (though the original MSRP was under $8,000).
4 1984 Mercedes-Benz 380SL – Under $15,000
The Mercedes-Benz 380SL is a stylish roadster with excellent handling characteristics, luxurious comfort, and exceptional reliability—and it can be purchased for less than $15,000. The 380SL, equipped with an eight-cylinder, 233-cubic-inch engine and weighing 3,560 pounds, accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in a modest 9.8 seconds. The top speed of an SL with an automatic transmission is 127 mph. Although these performance figures are not exceptional, driving a 1984 380 SL in excellent condition designates the owner as someone interested in quality and sophistication.
The mechanical systems of the SL are reliable and long-lasting, but the interiors can deteriorate with prolonged exposure to the sun. Purchasing a convertible without cracked dash tops, cheap dash covers, or improperly reupholstered seats will make the most of the $15,000 investment.
3 1987 Buick Grand National – Under $16,000
Some experts claim that the highest performance muscle car in the 1980s didn’t come from Chevy, Ford, Dodge, or Pontiac—it came from Buick! The 1985-1987 Buick Regal Grand National & GNX were throwbacks to the late-1960s era muscle cars. The Grand National began as a mid-size Buick, the 1978-vintage Regal coupe equipped with a turbo V6.
While the initial version was distinguished mostly by suspension tuning and a full blackout exterior, engine developments (including more precise sequential fuel injection) resulted in the production of 245 horsepower and an acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in under 5 seconds. The GNX is even faster. Although a GNX sells for more than six figures, the similarly looking—albeit less powerful—1987 Grand National sells for a fraction of the cost.
2 1985 Audi Coupe – Under $10,000
The Audi Coupe is not a Quattro since it only has front-wheel drive. However, it is powered by a five-cylinder engine like the Quattro, but in the normally aspirated form. As a result, the performance is not as high, but the Coupe, with a 2.2-liter engine pumping out 110 bhp, still scoots down a straightaway at an impressive pace, accelerating from 0-100 km/h (62.1 mph) in a nimble 8.8 seconds.
In 1985, Car and Driver selected the Coupe GT as the best Sports Coupe of the year in the US, calling it the year's biggest surprise. The Audi Coupe can be found for well under $10,000 (one with 195,000 miles recently listed for $6,800).
1 1990 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC - $5,995
OK, so this is not an 80s car, but the price is so attractive we couldn’t help add it. Besides, 1990s cars usually arrived in 1989, so technically it qualifies. The following advertisement describes the best features of this 1990 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC:
“This was the flagship car in 1990 with an original MSRP of $75,300…a very clean car that still has extremely comfortable leather seats. The dash, door panels, carpet, and headliner as you can see are all still in awesome shape for the age of the car. We cannot say enough about how nice a car this truly is. Under the hood is that beautiful 5.5 Liter V8 engine that was capable of doing 150 MPH and for 1990 that was hauling the mail in a 4-door sedan…”
Sources: Motor Trend, Carfolio, Motor 1, Car and Driver, and Auto Trader