Can a 1980s sports car still be as desirable to own as its modern equivalent?
'80s nostalgia is as strong as ever, moneyed Millennials and Generation Xers are now able to actualize those childhood fantasies of driving around Miami in a white Ferrari. It's all about retro, and the fascination with supercars of this era has seen classic car prices rocket skywards year after year. But are they really that great when compared to today's technology-packed offerings? Can a 30-year-old Porsche or Lambo really be that much more desirable to own or are they really just a bunch of old cars thriving on the popularity of a nostalgic generation?
Let's start off with one of the most iconic cars of the '80s, the Ferrari Testarossa. Those side strakes and wide rear track look just right even three decades on and while it may only offer 390-hp from its 4.9-liter flat-12 engine, the way it wails to the redline as you click-clack through the classic steel manual gaiter makes the experience feel just about perfect. The 0-60 mph time of around 5 seconds is still quick but your lasting memory will be the sights, smells and sounds from every drive.
The 812 Superfast is the most advanced GT Ferrari has ever produced. It uses a development of the F140 V12 used in the LaFerrari but in this application, does not use any electric assistance. There is little need as it produces a simply astounding 800 hp from 6.5-liters, a naturally-aspirated record and twice the amount of the Testarossa. Road testers have confirmed what you may already suspect, it is a ballistic missile on the road with handling to match. This massive power output and very direct responses can make it a bit more twitchy and nervy on the long trips that a GT is meant for. Perhaps there is such a thing as too much power.
Porsche has been building the 911 since 1963 and due to a lack of funds and a plan to axe the range entirely, the 1980s Carrera was not much more than a mildly updated model. Yet, despite its decidedly outdated interior and tail-happy handling, customers refused to let it die. The constant fettling made the final Carrera 3.2 models the most rounded but all have a unique character that is distinctly missing from modern sports cars. Many have been modified and restored in recent years and prices are continually rising.
A lot has happened at Porsche since the '80s. the latest 911 is now water-cooled and turbocharged and most are fitted with dual-clutch automatic transmissions. No longer can you swap parts between the various generations, as was the case right up to the last 993 models, but the levels of performance are on another level. The base Carrera makes 370 hp and gets to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. That's a fair bit quicker than the '80s 930 Turbo and it won't hurl you into the scenery around every corner either. Yet this very refinement and capability robs the new 911 of that raw excitement that punctuated each spirited drive in the old cars.
Lamborghini is all about raw excitement. Its early cars were essentially engines wrapped in some pretty bodywork and the angular and aggressive lines of the Countach must have looked simply amazing at its launch in 1974. The ones most people remember though are the updated '80s variants, the LP500s with their huge wings and aero add-ons. They may be difficult to drive slowly, hard to see out of and uncomfortable on long trips but you won't care once you experience the intoxicating noise from that big V12 as it gulps gallons of gas through its carbs with each prod of the throttle.
The Aventador is the latest in a long line of flagship Lamborghini V12. The engine may be an all-new design but it has stuck pretty close to the recipe that made the Countach such a success in the first place. It looks like a jet-fighter, doesn't bother with turbochargers and you still can't see out of it properly. It is a whole lot easier to drive though and blue flames come out of the exhaust too. This is the modern supercar for the nostalgic older connoisseur who just doesn't have the leg strength to operate a Countach's clutch anymore.
American sports cars have long been dismissed as straight-line specialists, equipped with big engines that could smoke the rear tires at every traffic light but hamstrung by chassis that were better suited to wafting than cornering. The Corvette C4 was one of the first cars to challenge this stereotype. Early models were perhaps a bit underpowered with only 250 hp on offer but the introduction of more powerful engines and the superb ZR-1 in early 1990 made the updated C4 a formidable competitor. During the '80s however it was mostly those sharp looks and decent handling that made them popular.
The latest Corvettes have moved the game on massively and the C7 is now a superbly balanced sports car with acceleration to match and oftentimes beat anything from Europe. The top supercharged ZR-1 makes 755 hp (compared to the C4 ZR-1's 375 hp) and can lap race tracks faster than much more expensive exotics. The old car may have the more elegant looks but even the most jaded '80s sportscar fan will have to admit that in this case, the modern Corvette is the one to have. Now if we were talking about a C1 or C2, then things may have turned out different…
BMW may have built a lot of sports cars in its time but actual supercars are rather thin on the ground. The mid-engined M1 has been the sole attempt so far, its 3.5-liter inline-6 and finely balanced chassis gave it the ability to frighten the established players in its day. The i8 is arguably the next step in the evolution of the supercar and its hybrid powerplant is superb but it does take some getting used to. The upcoming M8 is perhaps a more traditional take on the genre, until then, the ultra-rare and gorgeous M1 will do very nicely.
Mercedes made a few stabs at the supercar segment, the jointly designed SLR Mercedes-McLaren and its own SLS were pretty impressive. Back in the '80s though, the 190 E Cosworth was one of Mercedes' sportiest small sedan offerings. The updated 2.5-liter models made 204-hp, which was plenty for its time, and have today become desirable modern-classics. A base 241-hp Mercedes C300 will easily outrun the old-timer these days though and the 503-hp C 63 S is quick enough to take on actual supercars. It is also superbly comfortable and safe but in terms of retro charm and rarity, the 190E has it beat. The choice is yours.
The Urus may have upset traditionalists when it was recently announced but not many people remember that Lamborghini has been here before, in the form of the LM002. In some ways, that crazy army-derived original with its Countach V12 and massive off-road tires seems more acceptable 30-years after it was introduced and perhaps we will look at the Urus in a similarly fond way in the years to come. For now, though, the thought of a sporty Lamborghini SUV still takes some getting used to, however fast it may be. The LM002 remains is still the winner here.
In the rarefied world of high-value supercars, practical considerations like outright performance, daily usability and the latest safety and tech features are outweighed by more whimsical attributes like how it makes you feel. When viewed from that perspective, even those not swayed by nostalgia will concede that the prospect of heading out on an early Saturday morning drive in a rare Lamborghini Countach is that much more special than doing the same in a modern equivalent. So, the new batch of supercars may be miles better on paper, but it's the old-school cars that provide the more memorable experience on the road.