The 1980s. A decade that brought us the Walkman, shoulder pads, Pac-Man and Duran Duran. Some remember it fondly, others not so much, but what is certain about the 80s is that they introduced an amazing selection of cars.
From the Lamborghini Countach to the original Ford Fiesta, motoring came of age in the 80s, with a huge range of cars available for all wallets and tastes. Never had it been easier for Brits of all ages to own a car, and many petrolheads consider it the definitive decade for driving.
But what are the very best cars of the 1980s? Read on to find out.
Although the Ford Escort was originally launched in 1968, its popularity peaked with the arrival of the third-generation hatchback, built between 1980-86. Standing proud on driveways across the country, the Escort was one of the most popular cars of the decade, with over 4 million units sold. The car was replaced by the equally popular Focus in 2004, but not before Ford had squeezed out estate and cabriolet versions, as well as the legendary Escort XR3.
Anyone who passed their test in the 1980s should remember the MG Metro; it was the car of choice for first-time drivers. Small and cheap, the Metro was billed as the replacement for the iconic MINI, but it never quite captured the same fanbase. Still, the Metro was hugely popular, and several variations were produced right into the 90s. In 1990, the name ‘MG Metro’ was replaced by ‘Rover 100’, but most of us still think of it as an MG at heart.
Few cars capture the spirit of the 80s like the Audi Quattro. First introduced to the World Rally Championship in 1981, the car took the racing world by storm with its ground-breaking all-wheel-drive system setting the new benchmark in performance. This racing pedigree translated into big sales on the road too, cementing Audi as a go-to brand for fast, German-made cars. It even appeared in 80s-inspired TV drama Ashes to Ashes, such was its reputation.
The Vauxhall Astra may not have the pin-up appeal of the Quattro, but it’s still a beloved car of the 1980s. We’re guessing plenty of you got a lift to school with your mate’s mum in an Astra; it was a cheap, boxy hatchback that gave the Ford Escort a run for its money as Britain’s favourite family car. Voted the What Car? ‘Car of the Year’ in 1980, the Astra is still built at Ellesmere Port today, and is now on its seventh generation.
Ford Sierra Cosworth
The Ford Sierra Cosworth is, in our book, the definitive car of the 1980s. Built to replace the earlier Cortina, the standard Sierra was popular for its range of trim levels and aerodynamic appearance – so it was the ideal car for Ford to ‘soup-up’. Developed by the Motorsport arm of Ford, the Cosworth was originally built only for racing, but the manufacturer would later produce 5,000 for private sale. Today, an original Cosworth in mint condition will set you back over £50,000, and it’s easily one of the most collectable cars to have emerged from the 80s.
While Ford, Vauxhall and MG spent the 80s building everyman cars, over in Italy, Ferrari was doing what Ferrari does best. One of the best cars to roll off the Ferrari production line in the 1980s was the iconic Testarossa, a powerful V12 supercar designed by Pininfarina. With a huge 4.9l flat 12 engine, aggressive side air intakes and ubiquitous red paintwork, the Testarossa was one of the shoutiest cars Ferrari had ever built – a reflection of the big, bold and brash 1980s. Still, this was a Ferrari, and the Testarossa became the ultimate bedroom wall poster car for car fans across the country.
Put your hand up if you owned a Ford Orion at some point in the 1980s? We’re guessing that’ll be quite a few of you. Built for 10 years between 1983 and 1993, the Orion was one of the decade’s most popular saloon cars, and proved a huge hit for Ford, with over 3.5 million units sold. The Orion was the first in a new generation of family saloons, with Fiat and Vauxhall releasing similar models shortly after. In the 1990s, the Orion was replaced by the Mondeo, which hasn’t done too bad for itself either.
BMW E30 M3
The original BMW M3 is up there with the most cherished cars of the 80s, and few real petrolheads would pass up the opportunity to drive one. Reminiscent of listening to Kraftwerk on a German autobahn, the M3 was one of the coolest, most European cars of the decade, and it didn’t do too badly on the track either, taking on the mighty Sierra Cosworth and Mercedes 190E in the Group A Touring Car Championship. Today, an original M3 would set you back nearly as much as a new one, but we wouldn’t say no to taking one round a test track.
Although Ford originally launched its first supermini in 1976, the Fiesta found its feet in the 80s, and many people see this as its decade. We wonder if Ford knew just how popular their first small car would be when it first rolled off the production line? After all, it’s Britain’s best-selling car, and overtook the mighty Escort in 2014, with 4.5 million sold. Much of the Fiesta’s popularity came from the XR2, which was released in 1984. This sporty Fiesta arguably kick-started the ‘boy racer’ image, and cemented hot hatchbacks as the go-to for young drivers who wanted a little more grunt without a premium price tag.
Volkswagen Golf GTI MK1
While we’re on the topic of hot hatchbacks, we couldn’t not mention the Golf GTI MK1 – the one that started it all. Although a little on the pricy side and beyond the means of the average 80s boy racer, the Golf GTI is still considered by many to be the definitive hot hatch of the era. Like the BMW M3, the GTI had a certain German appeal that made it hugely popular throughout the 80s, and it still sets the benchmark for performance in its class. A mint-condition GTI MK1 will set you back a pretty penny, but then again you would be owning a piece of authentic motoring history.
Although Porsche will always be remembered for its magnificent 911, the German car brand has made some other exemplary models besides, including the 944. Launched in 1982, the 944 saw Porsche taking a whole new approach – perhaps as a means of showing the world that it had more up its sleeve than the 911. The 944 was a front-engined, water-cooled cruiser, with a 2.7-litre turbocharged engine under the bonnet. It was smooth, handsome and perfect for eating miles on the Autobahn, which was why it proved such a big hit for Porsche in the 80s, and is seen as an absolute classic today.
Lamborghini Countach LP500 S
Have you ever seen a car that looks more like the decade in which it was produced? Launched in 1982, the Lamborghini Countach LP500 S seemed to capture everything that was so great about the 80s – colour, angles and sci-fi. The bedroom poster of choice for many young petrolheads, the Countach was something totally different, like an alien spaceship, time machine or a rocket to the moon. It cemented Lamborghini as the go-to car maker for outlandish supercars.
Do you agree with our list? What was your favourite car from the 1980s? Let us know and join in the conversation at the Redex Club Facebook group.
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