There are few automotive eras that identify with excess and success quite like the 1980s. Global economies were strong, the first blips of digitisation were brewing and fashion, fun and travelling were about showing off without much in the way of subtlety.
The coolest cars of the 1980s were no different, with manufacturers from Europe and Japan really flexing their creative muscles to produce some fascinating sports and luxury cars. Whether designed to be the ultimate gentleman’s personal express to romp between Stuttgart and Munich on the Autobahn at 200mph or a slinky supercar for central Tokyo, the 1980s have plenty of hidden gems that have yet to be celebrated in the way they deserve.
Here are five standout cars from the era that have future icon written all over them.
The Porsche 928 was a large V8-powered coupe designed and engineered by Porsche in the late 1970s that was in production right up until the mid 1990s. Designed specifically to replace the rear-engined 911, it never really caught on with buyers, failing to coerce customers from Porsche’s traditional icon, despite being at the cutting edge of design and construction.
Yet it’s this relative disinterest that has made well-kept versions so desirable. Many have fallen into disrepair over the years, and thanks to those complex electronics, 928s have long been considered to be more trouble than they’re worth to keep in top condition.
Now, however, well-maintained 928s are extremely sought-after, especially in 928 S specifications from the early 1980s. And you can see why, with their bulbous rear end, extreme supercar-like tumblehome (the angle of the side windows relative to the doors) and plate wheels. Few cars, new or old make such a statement.
Nissan Skyline GT-R (R32)
While Europe and the USA were enjoying the fruits of the 1980s, Japan’s tech-boom was fostering its own era of success that was also prominent within its car industry. One model that resonated worldwide was the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R, which just snuck into production at the end of 1989. Japan’s iconic all-weather supercar was not only faster and more exciting to drive than almost anything else on the road at the time, it also created a new era of performance cars that’s long resonated with car enthusiasts, but rarely hit the mainstream.
The GT-R itself wasn’t a bespoke model, rather a variant of the existing R32 Skyline, yet it was the hardware that initially made this otherwise undramatic looking coupe such an icon. Utilising the iconic RB26 in-line six cylinder engine and clever all-wheel drive system, its potential was taken further by tuners, making original cars rare and sought after.
If you can find one, there are few cooler expressions of the Japanese sports car.
The AMG we know and love today might be responsible for most of the gurgling V8 noises bouncing off central London’s stone facades, yet AMG’s early cars were actually even more sinister, with models from the mid-1980s like the iconic Hammer offering more power and performance than just about any contemporary rival, supercar or otherwise. Back then, AMGs were semi-official, receiving their upgrades far from the main production line instead being sent to AMG’s own facility in Affalterbach.
Under the 1986 Hammer coupe’s flared bodywork sits a bored-out 6-litre V8 engine, making it faster in every measurable aspect than contemporary supercars like the Ferrari Testarossa and Lamborghini Countach. Today, the Hammer is also considerably rarer than these more obvious icons of the road, with the added accolade of being part of the origin story for AMG itself.
Toyota Land Cruiser J60
Eighties excess is all about supercars and shoulder pads, right? Well, here’s a car for our list that might buck that trend. The Toyota Land Cruiser has long been one of the coolest cars in the world on account of its resilience and off-road capability, but it’s also fascinating to see how popular the 1980s era model (internally called the J60) has become over the last few years.
Right now, tuners and restomod companies are scrambling to find the few remaining original examples to turn them into high-priced runarounds for the rich and famous, but like the Porsche 928 and GT-R above, the J60 Land Cruiser’s contemporary appeal is not based on specialness in the same vein as a limited build supercar, but the slim chances of finding one in sound and original condition.
Peugeot 205 T16
While the Germans and Japanese were busy appealing to the corporate elite with their expensive GT and supercars, the French had other priorities in the 1980s, such as competing for the World Rally Championship – one of the most extreme and exciting motorsports eras of all time. Peugeot was one such French manufacturer, fighting against Audi and Lancia for class honours with this, the 205 T16.
Like all rally cars, this mid-engined super hatchback had to be homologated for use with the sale of a few road-legal production models, which Peugeot did to the tune of 200 examples. This extraordinary car was hand-built by the race team, and shared the rally car’s engine and all-wheel drive system, making it a beast to drive as well as to look at.
Yet while it was sure to have been snubbed at fancy valet hotel car parks when new, we’re sure no one would think twice as to the T16’s speciality when this otherwise small Peugeot hatchback rolls up.