3 January 2014

Five forgotten ’80s classics

Automotively-speaking, the 1980s were certainly better than the mid-1970s in terms of quality and innovation. Still, few cars from the era have emerged as true collectibles. Here are five of our favorites that we think deserve more attention:

  1. 1988 Pontiac Fiero: The Fiero may have been one of the few instances in the 1980s when the product guys at Pontiac truly stuck it to the man. Hemmed in by bean counters, unimaginative Roger B. Smith-era GM brass and militantly pro-Corvette Chevy partisans who wanted to maintain their division’s monopoly on two-seater sports cars (the stillborn Pontiac Banshee sports car was still a recent memory), Pontiac got the Fiero produced not as a sports car but as a mid-engine, two-seater “commuter car.”  Sadly, with that designation came brake and suspension parts from GM underachievers like the Chevy Citation and Chevette. But like many of the other cars on the list, the last model year was what the designers wanted all along. 1988 Fieros are notoriously good sports cars with upgraded suspension to go with the good looks.
  2. 1987 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe: After an abysmal 1980-82 T-Bird that came off as a fancy Ford Fairmont, Ford once again got serious about its off-and-on halo car. Still based on the otherwise good Fox platform (like the Mustang), Ford came up with a sleek 2+2 coupe body that even the Japanese stole cues from.  From a performance standpoint, the Turbo coupe was the one to have, particularly from the last production year of 1987 when it gained an intercooler that boosted horsepower to 190. Coupled with a five-speed, the ’87 T-Bird Turbo Coupe was a sensational big GT that almost nobody remembers.
  3. 1986 Mercury Capri: Fewer people remember the Mustang’s near-identical twin the Mercury Capri. Those who do often argue that it was actually the better looking of the two, particularly in the last model years when the car gained a new and unique hatch design with a large glass window. Engine options largely followed those of the Mustang. ASC/McLaren Capri coupes and convertibles are rare and quite special.
  4. 1982-85 Buick Riviera Convertible: The Buick Riviera and Cadillac Eldorado from this period were actually very nice. Not quite fully downsized, they had great presence and finally became the size that they probably should have been all along. GM famously got out of the convertible business in 1976 with the Eldorado. Much to the chagrin of ’76 Eldo owners (some of whom resorted to legal action), these cars marked GM’s return to some semblance of top-down glamour.  While not a powerhouse, the V-8-powered Riviera convertible still looks great — on the odd occasion when you actually see one — and deserves far greater attention from the classic car world than it gets.
  5. 1988-91 Buick Reatta: The Reatta was the product of an era when Buick was actually making a play for people not in the market for their last car (see the Regal Grand National).  This thinking was quickly nipped in the bud, but the Reatta was too far along to kill when the wind changed at Buick. As a result, though, the Reatta never really realized its potential as a sporty car. Still, it was a bold move for Buick and was a clean and handsome design that came with some interesting technology for the time in the form an electronic dash with touchscreens. Convertibles are particularly rare.

52 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Scott Hardwick Springfield Missouri January 8, 2014 at 19:11
    I have both types of Capri's mentioned in this article. A 1986 RS that has been completly restored and a 1986 ASC McLaren Eurocoupe which is the of the rarest of the breed. In total there were 21 of the euro's produced by ASC, and 26 were made from parts from ASC but put together at Northtowne Lincoln Mercury in Kansas City. Mine was made by ASC they are wonderful cars to drive and yes I agree nicer than the Mustang in my opinion. The bubble back glass you either love or hate.
  • 2
    Rich Peterson Concord, Ohio January 10, 2014 at 22:27
    I have an '88 Pontiac Fiero GT that I have owned since 1997. It is a sweet little car and a lot of fun to drive. I enjoy the looks that it gets from younger car enthusiasts as they try to figure out what the heck it is. It still looks like new and pretty contempoary.
  • 3
    Dean Maycock Roy, UT January 15, 2014 at 15:08
    How could you leave out the Buick Regal Grand National?
  • 4
    MICHAEL S KOHEL United States January 15, 2014 at 15:36
    As with most things from GMC, short changed and poor quality, they still didn't get the hint from the east, a few good things but overall disappointing. Had a Grand Prix from that era and it waht drove me away from the General, too bad, they once produced fun cars.
  • 5
    Cason Grover Lake Forest, CA January 15, 2014 at 16:03
    Good news for anyone seeking one is that the intercooled T-Bird Turbo Coupe continued into 1988; so it was around for two model years. Of course, the SVO and XR4Ti provide good alternatives, too.
  • 6
    Rose Matthews Fort Worth, TX January 15, 2014 at 16:36
    I have a 1985 Buick Riviera but it's not a convertible. I have fully restored it and I love it! I agree. Buick Rivies in the 1980's were awesome!
  • 7
    Dave Dodson Painesville, Ohio January 15, 2014 at 16:54
    I have a 86 GT Fiero. I bought it because it was cool. I pulled up in my 70 LT14 convertible Vette and the Black Fiero GT gets more comments and admiration from young and old. LOL.... I was right again on buying a classic !
  • 8
    Lee Richart Redford , MI January 15, 2014 at 16:58
    I had an 88 T'bird turbo coupe, which was actually the last year for that model.It was a great car with a number of firsts. I also had an 83 Capri Turbo RS, which was also a great car.
  • 9
    Nick Candee Boston, MA January 15, 2014 at 17:05
    1991-1994 Mercury Capri XR2 was the INSPIRATION for the Mazda Miata, and I think is more interesting than the earlier Capri! Ford elected to sell this Australian Ford via Mercury dealers -- with front drive, seats for 4, and a trunk big enough for golf clubs, this baby Mustang might have had a chance with the compacts pumped through Ford stores. Fun, faster than Miatas -- and easy to service as a sporty car.
  • 10
    Bill Grosse Ile, MI January 15, 2014 at 17:45
    I have an 88 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, basically the same as the 87 but the last year made. I love the car, but not very powerful by the standards of today. It is nice to get lots of looks because you don't see many around, especially when people realize it is a factory 5spd.
  • 11
    Dave California January 15, 2014 at 17:53
    A close second to the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe (and better in some ways) was the '88 T-Bird Sport. It had most of the interior bits of the TC (bucket seats; floor shift; full instrumentation) and most of the suspension upgrades (no adjustable shocks; smaller wheels/tires) but with the 5.0 EFI engine and automatic out of the regular 'Bird. I owned one back in the day and just did a few upgrades, mainly larger wheels and a better rear axle ratio (the factory one was a 2.73 if I remember correctly). Kind of a Mustang GT with some luxury mixed in. As rare as the Turbo Coupes are on the road these days, I never see the Sports anymore.
  • 12
    Douglas Grunnet Streator, Il. January 15, 2014 at 17:53
    I raced the Fiero (1984 Dole Fiero) ok, it wasn't the road car but a Tube Frame Kevlar Body built by Huffaker Eng., It was SPECIAL.... Wish like Hell I still had it. You are very correct, working with Pontiac as we did, this car was sold as a "Grocery Getter". It made a WONDERFUL RACE CAR.... Google "Dole Fiero"
  • 13
    Vince Jacobs Rogers, AR January 15, 2014 at 17:55
    The Buick Reatta is cousins to the Pontiac Sunbird/Sunfire. I had an '87 Sunbird that I wish I still had.
  • 14
    BobMan East TN January 15, 2014 at 18:14
    I own an '88 Fiero GT since new. As a matter of fact, it is the only new car that I actually ordered. Two days after GM announced they would stop production, I ordered mine. It arrived about 2 weeks from the line shutdown. It's a fun car to drive and now that it's 25-years old it's interesting to hear the comments by others. It's a good garage mate for my other GM orphan...my '69 Corvair!
  • 15
    Car Collector Chronicles United States January 15, 2014 at 18:15
    Owned an '85 Rivi. You are correct, they do look good. I have had many 6-cyl engines that performed as well or better than the weakly 307!
  • 16
    Brian Ga January 15, 2014 at 18:21
    Over the years, I've softened on some of the 1980's cars such as the Pontiac Sunbird/Chevy Cavalier/Buick Skyhawk/Olds Firenza, Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable, Chevy S-10 Blazer, Olds 88 AND 98, etc. I still have not brought myself to find "likeability" in the Chrysler minivans - I've just never understood why these things are supposed to be better than a station wagon????
  • 17
    will good hamburg mi January 15, 2014 at 18:54
    the 85-86 turbo coupes should be the collectible years, updated interior,engine upgrades(water cooled turbo different intake manifold etc..) updated styling of the 83-84. the 87-88 had so-so styling and troublesome suspension, and ford did sell an hop up kit for the 85-86 (intercooler kit) still looks good today, anyone have a silver or light blue 5 speed 85-86 for sale?
  • 18
    Greg Ross East Coast Canada January 15, 2014 at 19:02
    I'm not usually credited with being this forward thinking! I happen to have two '88 Reattas, the first of which was my daily driver for about 22 years. She's semi-retired now with over 600,000 kilometers on the clock. From the comment above " As a result, though, the Reatta never really realized its potential as a sporty car" I thought differently, after driving the car for several years what the car lacked I set about making right. 150 factory horsepower in a 3400 pound automobile/ combined with so-so brakes were where I directed my interest. I bought a next generation "Series I" 3800 crate engine, collected all the peripherals to arm it with a S/C (Pontiac GP era) and backed it up with a Getrag Model 284 5-Spd. manual transmission. By that time as well there were bolt-on brake options such as Olds Aurora 11" brakes. There were ECM/ PROM issues to be sorted out but that was the easy part once I got connected with a Tuner. Absolutely a joy to drive, enough power to get out of it's own way and brakes to match. http://i1282.photobucket.com/albums/a540/gmrossjr/Bugatti/4658670001_large_zpsc7d0ec4c.jpg http://i1282.photobucket.com/albums/a540/gmrossjr/Bugatti/76857d1296058948-reatta-glamour-shots-flint-viewing_zpsd3d373e7.jpg and http://i1282.photobucket.com/albums/a540/gmrossjr/Bugatti/76858d1296058948-reatta-glamour-shots-super-charged-full-view_zps142c88a8.jpg Reatta Number 2 came a few years ago, southern car that was garaged all it's sheltered life. Came to me showing 40,000 miles and it's literally :showroom fresh including original paint. I'm probably going to ask Mr. Hagerty to take that one on!
  • 19
    Jeffrey Chase Metro Detroit January 15, 2014 at 19:18
    None finer than an 84--85 Eldorado drop top and an 80 to 85 Seville!
  • 20
    Rick Borecky Hinckley,Ohio January 15, 2014 at 19:19
    I own a one off Prototype Fiero made in 1983 through Pontiac Motor Sports and DGP [diversified Glass Products] who made many other bodies for GM like the Monza Spiders and Iroc Z's.
  • 21
    Dominic Zanella Joshua, TX January 15, 2014 at 19:29
    I have an 87 and an 88 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. I consider these cars one of the best blends of Luxury, Performance and Economy of the time. With the Technology that surpassed many cars in its price range, it was a perfect combination. While it was not quick off the line, it was fast at top speed with a tested speed of over 143 Mph, which set it as the 4th fastest American production car of the time. What really sets this car apart is the styling still looks fresh after all these years. It also still performs well even with 147k miles on it. I still enjoy spreading her wings and letting that bird fly and surprising a few V8's in he process.
  • 22
    David Hixson Eugene OR January 15, 2014 at 19:31
    Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. I bought one new in '87 and, for the most part, it was a nice car. It sure looked the part with the functional hood scoops and unique-to-the-Turbo front fascia. However, it was a real dog off the line unless you let the turbo spool up by giving it gas and stepping on the brake pedal. Under way, shifting down a gear and nailing it was a pretty good experience. It handled quite well as I remember, with the active suspension doing what was advertised: soft for cruising, getting stiffer when cornering. It was a fine highway car. Great mileage at 70 on cruise control and the Turbo let you pass easily. The only thing that I would have changed was to have the clutch pedal de-activate the cruise control.
  • 23
    Michael Costik Brentwood, TN January 15, 2014 at 20:07
    Boy did you blow it! There is no better and forgotten classic than the 1981-1983 Imperial!! Most people have never seen one, and if they have, it's the only one!
  • 24
    Andy Wisconsin January 15, 2014 at 20:20
    What about the Turbo Dodges of the 80's GLH Turbo anyone?
  • 25
    DWIGHT WILSEY GREENVILLE, MI January 15, 2014 at 20:22
  • 26
    Rick Hataburda Lemont, Il January 15, 2014 at 20:32
    1980-1984 Excalibur isn't a classic?
  • 27
    Gary Siefert Battle Creek, Michigan January 15, 2014 at 21:00
    I bought a mint '88 Reatta, 64k miles, a few yrs ago for only 5.5k. Not a speck of rust, factory paint, etc. I get more enjoyment in driving it every day, than by looking at it in my garage; get comments about it's new appearance yet. A LOT of people don't even recognize it! "What is that????" Then: "dang!" I got the '88 with the computer touch screen, because that feature is more unique than a 1990 or '91 Reatta convertible. With a production run of some 21,000, parts are plentiful too. Wikipedia has a nice article about it. Also, too much fun to drive.
  • 28
    Desalle Bui Gilbert, AZ January 15, 2014 at 21:22
    You guys keep leaving out the Mercedes 500 SEC AMG & Porsche 911 SC out of the 80's era. Guys from Generation X fantasized about these two cars.
  • 29
    Ken Rivers Edge TC January 15, 2014 at 21:32
    The Fiero was the brainchild of Hulke Aldicachi(?) of Pontiac. The successor model was an outstanding design but cancelled at the last minute due to economics. The Buick Reatta was done by Design Staff as an answer to the PininFarina designed Cadillac Allante. It came up for review several times before it was approved due to the efforts of then GM president Jim McDonald and Buick General Manager Lloyd Reuss.
  • 30
    Trish British Columbia January 15, 2014 at 21:37
    Our 1985 Fiero Pontiac is a dream and will match that 1988 for sure. Glad to see that Hagerty is recognizing that the Fiero was and is a classic!
  • 31
    David McGlasson United States January 15, 2014 at 21:46
    The last T-Bird Turbo Coupe was in '88, not '87. That slightly-revised (from the 84-86 version) and much prettier body had a two-year run before the all new and non-Fox '89 model came out. I do remember Capris. I disagree with you about the bubble hatch, which I thought was hideous, but the way Mercury handled the fender flares was awesome. I always wished Ford had taken those fenders when the Capri was killed off, as I would have liked them on the Mustangs I have since owned (five Foxes so far.)
  • 32
    Mark Smith Indianapolis January 15, 2014 at 22:56
    I've owned both the original '85 T-Bird Turbo Coupe and an '86 RX7 Cougar Turbo version. Both cars were fun to drive, striking styling for their day (during the "box-car 80's") and got great highway mileage to boot! (I routinely drove my T-Bird on 12-hour runs from mid-Missouri to Detroit and got 25+ MPG). Great road cars for their day - though a bit long for any really spirited driving through tight curves.
  • 33
    Kamil Skawinski Milwaukee, WI January 15, 2014 at 23:20
    I do question why the Chrysler LeBaron GTS did not make this list. It was a car that actually was exported to Europe, and was a credible sport sedan properly outfitted.
  • 34
    Jay Meilstrup Reno NV January 15, 2014 at 23:28
    These have been forgotten for good reason, The US hasn't put an attractive car on the road since the early 70s. Calling these classic is classic.
  • 35
    Manny Elgarresta Miami Beach, FL January 15, 2014 at 23:52
    x2 on the Capri. I had an 85 Mustang GT and always thought the design was butt-ugly but for a driver, it was the best car for the money back then. Tail happy fun with the 5 speed. The Riviera is also one of the best kept secrets in the car world!
  • 36
    Hugh Brown Houston, Texas January 16, 2014 at 13:08
    As far as I'm concerned, all '80's cars are best left forgotten. Except when it comes to the area of dealing with emissions control, I absolutely disagree that '80's cars top '70's machines. I view the '70's as the 'sweet spot' in automobiles. You can get the performance of the earlier era cars along with the refinement and creature comforts of later generation cars.
  • 37
    David Kancsar United States January 16, 2014 at 03:03
    Kudos to Hagerty for posting about the Fiero. Maybe we've finally gotten past the media hype that blamed a great little car for exhibiting problems when a few brainiacs tried running their's WITHOUT OIL IN THE ENGINE. Once the '88s arrived and added decent suspension to the V6, even the press that was quick to dismiss earlier models was asking why GM would kill the car just as soon as they had "gotten it right". Hopefully, word will get around about this car being ahead of its time.
  • 38
    Dave West Geauga, OH January 16, 2014 at 08:38
    When you discuss forgotten cars of the 80's, please include the Buick LeSabre T-type. RPO code "WE2", this model had a limited run from 1987 - 1989. Although not a muscle car sporting a normally aspirated 3.8 , this coupe featured front & rear spoilers, F41 suspension, steeper final gears GN inspired interior, backlight red analog gauges, GN steering wheel, and Lear Seigler bucket seats. Many other features abound like the clam shell hood and composite fenders for 1988. The forerunner was the 1986 LeSabre Grand National, a NASCAR qualifying production car for which no more than 117 were built. The Lesabre T-type still enjoys a strong following from a limited group of enthusiasts who know & thoroughly enjoy the car to this day!
  • 39
    Rich Stouff Palmer, AK January 16, 2014 at 09:41
    I had a black '87 T-bird Turbo Coupe with the five speed manual. It was literally a luxury sports car with an incredible engine and suspension. It was fast, comfortable, and one of the best looking T-birds ever. Lots of great driving memories...
  • 40
    Al Weatherly Macomb, Michigan January 16, 2014 at 10:18
    I am the proud owner of a beautiful 1982 Riviera convertible. It has 31,000 miles on it and is all original paint, chrome, interior and engine. I've owned two other hardtop versions of this same 79-85 body style and agree that its lines are indeed classic. From 79-85 more of this body style Riviera were built than any other RIV configuration. These cars started as hardtops built in New Jersey and then were transported to American Sun Roof (AFC) in Lansing Michigan where they were (convert)ed into Convertibles. These cars were thew higest priced GM car in 1982 when they first arrived. The convertible was about $10,000 more than the hardtop version. They had a fully loaded list price of over $25,000 in 1982. Watch out for rusted out door bottoms. The car has over165 structural improvements and was hand assembled on a line where an average of 4 cars a day were completed. They are beautiful top down cruisers and though they have a 307 V8 under the hood with the overdrive trans they get over 18 MPG in the city. I love my RIV and it's insured by Haggerty of course. 1,248 were built in 1982.
  • 41
    John Leese Grand Rapids January 16, 2014 at 11:53
    I have had a yellow '88 Fiero GT since it was a year old. It's amazing the attention the car gets when I drive it. Many people think that it's an Italian sports car. I figured that this one was a keeper and so I did. Just turned 12,000 miles!
  • 42
    Ray Jacksonville, FL January 16, 2014 at 12:03
    IMHO There are so few US '80s classics because the big 3 seem to have produced the longest run of the most hideous and undependable cars in the history of the US car industry. It is the time during which the MBAs took over from the car guys and tried to squeeze dollars out of manufacturing to maximize stock dividends. Short term vision manifested in shoddy materials, shortcuts and poor QC.
  • 43
    Jake Jacobs Fairfield OH January 17, 2014 at 08:04
    I have a loaded 88 Fiero GT that I installed a 99 Cadillac Northstar engine with 300HP & torque (conversion kit from Design1) with coil overs in the back 10+ years ago. I have 85,000+ miles on the engine swap. It is my daily driver. World Class car on a beer budget. I have no desire to drive a different car. GM missed the boat. They had a convertible scheduled 89; the year the Miata was introduced. So Sad.
  • 44
    Dave A. sacramento January 17, 2014 at 21:23
    Maybe some cars were meant to be forgotten!! And they are listed above
  • 45
    Don NC January 17, 2014 at 23:33
    I recall the Mercury Cougar as the stablemate of the Mustang, not the Capri. The Mercury Capri was a small (but cute) import which shared Mazda Miata running gear.
  • 46
    tom sturgis michigan January 18, 2014 at 17:51
    As much as the thunderbird was improved as a turbo car . To leave out the GM G-body coupes That gave way more bang for the buck. Take your choice Buick Grand National GNX, Pontiac 2+2, Monte Carlo SS, Olds 442 and H/O models I have a 2plus since 1989 and would not trade it for a turbo 4cyl turbo coupe If I was to get a turbo car it would be another 80 trans am they at least put their turbo on a 8 cyl
  • 47
    SteelheadSteve Troutdale OR USA January 24, 2014 at 03:57
    What a bunch of duds. If you think this junk is going up in value as a true collector I have some slightly dirty mud for sale. Fiero ? maybe with a all aluminum hillborn injected chevy and some McLaren M8F suspension you might have a chance.
  • 48
    Joe Wis. April 12, 2014 at 09:28
    I bought a 81 Merc. Capri new. It had the 4 cyl. and auto. trans. It was a good looking car ,but under powered. It had a weak cam, went out at 60000, and the rack and pinion steering was replaced. I drove it for 10 years.
  • 49
    jeff NorCal November 20, 2014 at 13:26
    Don, the Cougar was the stablemate to the Mustang until 1974 when it changed to the Mustang II. It then became another version of the Ford LTD, with even a 4-door version in the mid 70s. When the new T-Bird came out in 83, the Cougar was on the same chassis and was its twin, except that it had a flat rear window while the T-Bird was sloped in the rear. Same drivetrain and chassis.
  • 50
    don sc December 10, 2014 at 21:57
    My brother bought an 85 Tbird 30th Anniversary new. Large, framed picture in trunk. All were a steel blue color, all had a throttle body 5.0. Maxed out electronics for the time. Rendered any turbo coup irrelevant and invisible. Sadly, it got totaled.
  • 51
    Mike Mt. Prospect, IL 60056 April 1, 2015 at 23:27
    Looking for front fenders for 1985 Riviera Coupe. Help !
  • 52
    mike Jackson N.J January 29, 2016 at 14:03
    I have an 1988 Ford turbo coupe.5spd only 34k, yep 34k .Just pick it up a week ago.The car was sitting in a climate control garage since 1998 .No rust.Spotless.Just a lot of dust. I believe it has every option accepted a sunroof.I bought it off the original owner.The title only reads 12 miles.

Join the Discussion