Icons from 30 years ago - some within reach, others a little less so.
We all have our dream rides from years gone by. The 1980s were, of course, a glorious time for aerobics, leg warmers, skateboards, and of course the motorcar. It was in this decade in which supercars evolved into hypercars, hot hatches came to the fore, and sports sedans began to reach the peak of their driver focus. Movies increasingly featured hero cars as their stars, as did TV shows like Magnum PI and Knight Rider. But, what if you think of buying a hero car from the 1980s now? How much would your dream car from the 1980s cost? We’ve selected ten of the finest from both local manufacturers and those abroad, and we’ve found out just how much you’d need to bag one.
Aside from the Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari 288 GTO, the Ferrari F40 was the car to have on a poster on your wall. The turbocharged halo car succeeded the 288 GTO and brought a touch more insanity to the road than anyone ever expected. The 2.9-liter twin-turbo V8 developed 478 horsepower, sending it all to the rear wheels through a manual shifter. There was no traction control, no nanny, and it was as feared as it was revered. There aren’t many for sale, but when they do crop up, prices range from $1,250,000 to $690,900 – though something as rare as an F40 GTE has been spotted on sale for $5,000,000.
The original BMW M3, the car that defined the era of compact sports sedans was an incredible machine in its day and remains the benchmark in an ever-growing segment. It was compact, nimble, rear-wheel drive, and featured a highly strung 4-cylinder motor with exceptional power to weight. Just short of 5,000 E30 M3s were sold in the US, and nowadays most of them range from $63,000 to $129,000 for the Evo 2, substantially more than the $34,945 new price in 1986. Pricey, but with numbers dwindling and prices soaring, it’s a classic set to see its value skyrocket.
The idea of fewer cylinders with turbos in their place seems new, but it’s been around since the 1980s, with many manufacturers testing out turbos with V6 and inline-4 engine configurations. One such example is an American classic of its era, the Buick Grand National. Released in 1982, the top-spec GNX model featured a 3.8-liter turbo V6 with a claimed 276 horsepower. Many, however, believe the real output was closer to 300.
Tracking one down today usually entails heading to an auction, those for outright sale are rare as hens’ teeth. We did manage to find one GNX for an astonishing $109,995 in Tennessee with just 7,460 miles on the clock.
The Porsche 911 is the iconic sports coupe, the benchmark against which all others are measured. Despite the ‘wrong’ engine layout, Porsche has somehow managed to make it the quintessential sports car of the 20th century, with dynamics second to none. If there was one 911 to have during the 1980s, it’d be the 930-generation 911 Turbo. It was a hair-raising experience if you owned one and lived to tell the tail, with the turbocharged 3.3-liter flat-six developing 330 horsepower with a peaky delivery prone to sending the 930 spinning. Prices have come down now, with less than perfect examples priced at around $70,000, but if it’s a mint one you’re looking for, be prepared to fork out up to $200,000.
Hot hatches nowadays have the performance to rival super-sedans, but way back in their day they were simple, affordable machines with well-sorted chassis, enough power to have fun with without getting into too much trouble, and with an exploitable nature comparable to that of a go-kart. The Mk I Golf GTI is the iconic hot hatch – though not the first – and debuted in 1976, with production running right through the 1980s. The 110-hp hot hatch can now be found for anywhere between $7,000 and $10,000, though most need at least a little work. Still, it’s an affordable way to hop into a hero car of the 1980s.
The all-American sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette celebrated iconic styling in the 1980s with the birth of the C4 Corvette. The C4 came at a time when the C3 was dated and in desperate need of replacement and the C4 delivered. It had its flaws, like a slow transmission and stiff suspension, but it was instantly a hit amongst track enthusiasts. Power ranged from 205 hp to 405 hp in varying incarnations, though engine swaps are an easy and oft-occurring modification. Nowadays, you can find a C4 Corvette from as little as $5,000, though the better deals are those around the $8k region.
At the tail-end of the 1980s, the iconic Pontiac Firebird returned with stunning looks and a big, reliable powerplant under the hood. It was a classically styled piece of American sports car engineering that left many of us in awe. These days, you’ll find them in various states of disrepair all over the internet, but for just $8,000 you can pick up a decent condition Firebird Formula, though like any classic you’ll need to put in the effort to keep things running smoothly.
How many of us wish we could go back in time and sort out the mess that was DeLorean, even if only to save the DMC-12 – one of the most iconic 1980's machines to ever grace the silver screen? Wedge styling, gullwing doors, and Lotus involvement for a time, plus the pop culture boost from the Back to the Future franchise made the DMC-12 a true 80's icon. When new, the DMC-12 was priced at a rather steep $25,000, but these days their value has gone up substantially, with buyers needing to fork out anywhere between $40,000 to $100,000 for one, depending on their condition and mileage. There’s also the trouble of sourcing parts for the stainless steel body, and dealing with their notorious reliability issues.
Though there was limited Lotus involvement with DeLorean, it was never close to being a true Lotus. The lightweight British sportscar manufacturer had a real gem in the 1980s in the form of the Esprit, which made its own movie cameo in 1990’s Pretty Woman. With a range of 4 cylinder engines, some of which were turbocharged, variant depending, and low weight, the Esprit X180 was a rapid machine with phenomenal handling characteristics. Though they arrived at the tail end of the decade in 1987, they made an impression, and today an X180 Esprit can be yours for between $40,000 and $60,000.
Recent news that Nissan and Mercedes may partner to continue the legacy of the Nissan Z-car has been music to our ears. After all, the Z-car was the Japanese sports car built because the American market needed it! The 280Z had been a great follow-up to the original 240Z but had a few troubles. Thankfully, the 300ZX arrived in 1983 to sort out just about all the issues, turning a dull sports coupe into a sweet handling sports car with serious clout. These days, a cleanish example will cost anywhere in the region of $12,000 to $18,000, though if you’re looking for a project, you can find non-runners for a hell of a lot less.