Ah, the 80s. A decade of bad hair, questionable clothing design, and a slow recovery from the Malaise Era of automobiles. While there were some truly poster-worthy cars, like the Ferrari 328, Porsche 944 Turbo, and Renault 5 Turbo, they were bright spots in an otherwise uninspiring automotive desert. Especially early in the decade, you mostly had a choice of underpowered, underwhelming econoboxes or downsized luxury cars that lacked presence and panache.
By the end of the decade, automakers had finally figured out how to pair performance with economy, and joyful transportation was back for the average driver. Even so, there were plenty of forgettable rides in the 80s—and a few that didn’t deserve that fate. Here are five of the worst and five of the best. See if you remember a single one.
10 Renault Fuego
Of all the awful, forgettable cars of the 80s, the Renault Fuego may be the awfulest, forgettablest of them all. On paper, it seemed like a good idea, following a formula that many have used with success: a front-wheel-drive hatchback with sporting pretensions and a wind-cheating shape.
But in reality, the Fuego was slow—the turbo version still took more than 10 seconds to go 0-60—handled poorly, had mediocre reliability, and even worse parts availability. It certainly didn’t help that the Fuego was sold through AMC dealerships—a brand that was circling the drain in the 80s and would be dead before the end of the decade. But this isn’t a list of one because there was also the...
9 Cadillac Cimarron
With the Cimarron, Cadillac, once the standard of the world, had become the laughing stock. This thinly disguised Chevy Cavalier tried to deliver eco-friendly luxury but failed at both. Despite being propelled by an anemic 4-cylinder engine instead of a more traditional V8, it still only managed around 20 mpg combined, city and highway.
In exchange for that mediocre gas mileage, you got derivative styling, a cramped interior, poor performance, and a complete lack of style. So… not much. Maybe that’s why the Cimarron is generally accepted as one of GM’s worst cars—and ideas—ever. But wait. The list of forgettable 80s iron continues with the...
8 Sterling 825
What do you get when you cross Japanese reliability with British style and old-world craftsmanship? Hint: it’s not the world-beating car with the best of everything that you would expect. It’s the Sterling 825—the first unreliable Japanese car to hit the U.S. market.
Basically a reskinned Acura Legend, the Sterling should have been a legend in its own right with leather seating, burled wood trim, and an overall air of elegance that the Japanese version lacked. But British Leyland, owner of Rover and, therefore, Sterling, had quality issues. Paint problems and trim that wouldn’t stay attached might not have been a death-blow for this upscale brand, but the electrical issues were. We’ve all heard the jokes about Lucas electrics; the Sterling seems to be the poster child. From a high of 14,000+ sales in 1987, fewer than 6,000 cars found buyers in ‘89. On the other hand, there’s the...
7 Chrysler TC
Another failed, forgettable attempt at upscale motoring comes from the unlikely pairing of Chrysler and Maserati. Start with a Chrysler or Mitsubishi motor, send it to Italy for a mostly-hand-crafted body and interior, then send the whole thing back to the U.S. for sale at select Chrysler/Plymouth dealerships.
So what could go wrong? Well, the car was underpowered and didn’t live up to the Maserati hype—except in price. And, since it looked so much like the Chrysler LeBaron that was half the cost, it never sold well. With only 7,300 made over three years, you may never see one. Which means you’ll miss its coolest feature—the Maserati trident logo nestled inside the Chrysler Pentastar. But let’s not overlook this other forgotten not-quite-gem, the...
6 Nissan Pulsar NX
Not a bad car, the Pulsar NX is still one of the forgotten ones. Bland styling and meh performance are likely to blame. But maybe it shouldn’t have been forgotten as the Pulsar had a secret. It was the first truly modular compact car.
Equipped with T-tops, it quickly converted for open-air motoring. But that’s nothing new. What was new was the ability to remove the rear hatch and replace it with your choice of 1) nothing, or 2) a sportbak that turned the car into a 2-door wagon. Sure, the cargo capacity only went from a-little-more-than-none to slightly more than that, but it was a fun idea. As long as you didn’t keep the sportbak on permanently because, man, that thing was ugly. Now, let’s turn the corner to forgotten but actually kind of cool. To start off, we’ve got the...
5 AMC Eagle
The AMC Eagle wasn’t the first production AWD car—the Jensen FF nabbed that title—but it was the first American AWD car, and the first to achieve mass production. Partially developed by Ferguson Research, which was the same company that developed the FF’s AWD system, the Eagle married a newly restyled unibody to a raised suspension with power at all four corners.
It’s been said the Eagle is actually the first crossover (CUV), and with a coupe, sedan, wagon, or even a convertible to choose from, it crossed over in more ways than anything since. At the time of this article being written, there was a solid half dozen for sale in the U.S., so if this is a car you’d like to un-forget, get searching! And now, let’s look at the...
4 Pontiac 6000 STE
For a brand that claimed, “we build excitement,” the 80s weren’t all that. There were really only three cars from the entire decade that could be considered to live up to the tagline: The Trans Am, of course, late versions of the Fiero—the Formula was actually a pretty good car—and the 6000 STE.
STE stood for Sport Touring Edition. And that meant the car had different suspension tuning—including air suspension in the rear—and a revised steering rack that made it a more spirited handler than other GM sedans. It also had a higher output V6 delivering 135 hp (the standard was 112 hp, and at these numbers, every horse counts, right?) that you could pair with an optional 5-speed manual. The STE wouldn’t live up to even the lowliest econobox today, but times and technology have changed, and for its time it was about as good as it got. Ready for another car time forgot? Check out the...
3 Ford LTD LX
Ford had a winner with the Fox-body Mustang, but there was another, much rarer car that used the same formula: the LTD LX. Only built for a short time smack in the middle of the decade of bad taste, this mid-size sedan rode on the Fox platform and leveraged the same, famed 5.0 V8. In essence, if you bought this car you had a 4-door Mustang. And probably many fewer tickets, because who would expect a sleepy LTD to be anything but slow?
Further enhancing its performance chops were a limited-slip differential (that's Traction-Lok in Ford-speak), anti-roll bars at both ends, and the high-performance tire of the day: 205/70/14 Goodyear Eagle GTs. If you wanted anything from FoMoCo that would perform better, you’d be looking at a...
2 Merkur XR4Ti
Pronounced “mare-coor” (German for Mercury), the Merkur XR4Ti was a European success that Bob Lutz envisioned bringing to the US. Powered here by a turbocharged 4-cylinder backed by a 5-speed stick (or optional 3-speed auto), the Merkur had performance that was on par with the best you’d find anywhere shy of an exotic.
But what really made the XR4Ti stand out was the wild, bi-plane rear spoiler. This signature appendage looks like it would create massive downforce. But, in reality, it was only meant to reduce drag, and it helped the car achieve a Cd of .32. Not bad for the time, but nowhere near what modern cars reach. Only one more pretty cool, yet forgotten car of the 80s to go and it’s the...
1 Cadillac Allanté
After the debacle that was the Cimarron, Cadillac had quite a hole to climb out of. And climb they did… most of the way. Still, a forgotten child of the 80s, at least the Allanté truly deserved to wear the crest—even with all the problems that came from rushing it to market.
Styled and partially assembled in Italy by Pininfarina, the Allanté had an even more complicated birthing process than the Maserati TC. Major components like the chassis, electronics, and A/C were made in the U.S. and shipped by 747 to Italy where they were joined with bodies, interiors, and convertible tops... which, it turned out, leaked. Then, the still unfinished cars were shipped back home for sub-frames, engines, transmissions and other mildly important things like wheels. With a crazy system like this, it’s no surprise there were quality issues. And that’s what killed this otherwise pretty nice car. How do you say, “too bad” in Italian? It’s probably Allanté.