8 September 2014

The Class of 1989: Ushering in the newest crop of classics

It was the year that Berlin Wall fell and the movie “Batman” dominated the multiplex. We were listening to Phil Collins and reading Tom Clancy’s newest book, “Clear and Present Danger.” It was 1989.

And if you own a car from that year, it’s now 25 years old, making it eligible for antique status under many state laws and the bylaws of the Antique Automobile Club of America.

Don’t have one from 1989? Here are some of the significant new models from that year. Get ready – you’re about to feel a little older.

BMW 5-Series
These days, products are redesigned every three to five years. So it’s hard to imagine that it took BMW 14 years to redesign the 5-Series. The new body was 3.2 inches shorter and 2 inches wider than the first generation model, but sported a 5.4-inch longer wheelbase. You could buy this model two ways: as the 168-horsepower 525i or the 209-horsepower 535i. A five-speed manual transmission was standard.

Buick Riviera
In an effort to rekindle slumping sales, Buick restyled the Riviera by adding 11 inches to its length, mostly in the rear. Despite being longer than the full-size Electra, the redesigned Riviera didn’t add any passenger space to its cramped cabin. While the restyle did recall the more popular 1979-85 Riviera, the new looks were more baroque. A 165 hp 3.8-liter V-6 and four-speed automatic powered the front-wheel-drive luxury coupe.

Cadillac DeVille/Fleetwood
A disastrous downsizing and lackluster sales led Cadillac to lengthen and restyle the DeVille and Fleetwood to woo back buyers who still equated size with luxury. Coupes gained 5.8 inches in length; sedans added 8.8 inches. The resizing added both legroom and trunk space, and allowed designers to revamp the interiors. A 155 hp V-8, four-speed automatic transmission and anti-lock brakes were standard.

Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1
The limited edition ZR-1, dubbed the “King of the Hill” by Chevrolet, helped re-establish the Corvette’s performance credentials. Its all-aluminum, double-overhead cam 5.7-liter LT5 V-8 was developed with Group Lotus, the British car company then owned by GM. The ZR-1’s V-8 was rated at 375 horsepower, 125 horsepower more than the standard Corvette, and could reach 60 mph in about four seconds.

Ford Probe
In what could be described as some of the worst product planning ever devised, Ford initially designed the front-wheel-drive Probe as a replacement for the rear-wheel-drive Ford Mustang. When word leaked out, Mustang fans’ outrage saved the pony car; the Probe was sold alongside it. Mazda four-cylinder engines powered the Probe, delivering a mere 145 horsepower, or 110 in the base model. Clearly it was no Mustang.

[Video: Generation Gap Cult Classics: Corvair vs. Fiero]

Ford Thunderbird/Mercury Cougar
How’s this for luck? The year that GM killed its popular rear-wheel-drive coupes in favor of new front-wheel-drive models, Ford redesigned theirs while retaining rear-wheel-drive. While shorter than previous models, both cars boasted a longer wheelbase and sleek, handsome styling. Power came from a 3.8-liter V-6 that developed 140 horsepower without a supercharger or 210 horsepower with one. Either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission was available.

Hyundai Sonata
Looking at this bland box, you’d never guess that it was the product of noted Italian designer Giorgio Giugiaro, who also designed Hyundai’s first American product, the 1985 Excel. But unlike the Excel, which was largely a recycled Mitsubishi, the Sonata was engineered in-house. A 116 hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine was standard; a 142 hp 3.0-liter V-6 was optional. An uninspiring start of a nameplate that is now the epitome of midsize car fashion.

Nissan 240SX
When the 200SX returned for 1989, it got a new name, the 240SX, that was meant to evoke the classic 240Z sports cars of the 1970s. Available as a notchback or hatchback, the 240SX returned for the new model year with stunning good looks and much to recommend it, including rear-wheel drive, 140 hp 2.4-liter engine and such options as a head-up display, which projected the car’s speed onto the windshield.

Nissan Maxima
When Nissan’s most luxurious model exchanged its boxy look for new aerodynamic styling, buyers took notice. Of course, it didn’t hurt that this new Nissan was 6 inches longer than the 1988 model and was now considered a midsize car. Front-wheel drive and a 160 hp V-6 from the 300ZX sports car were standard. A head-up display, which projected the car’s speed onto the windshield, was optional.

Pontiac 20th Anniversary Trans Am
It’s an old ploy. To extract maximum profit from an aging model, automakers tart up cars with paint and trim and offer them as limited edition models at a higher price. And while this Pontiac had its share of special trim, including white paint and tan-colored seating, it also got a very special engine under the hood: the 250 hp 3.8-liter V-6 previously used in the Buick Regal Grand National. A four-speed automatic transmission was standard. A mere 1,500 were built.

Porsche 911 Carrera 4
Known internally as the Type 964, Porsche’s newest iteration of the 911 debuted with four-wheel drive, anti-lock disc brakes and 250 horsepower from its 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine. Although the new Porsche’s look was familiar, the car boasted vastly improved aerodynamic properties. Its coefficient of drag, a measure of wind resistance, dropped to 0.32 from 0.59 on the old 911.

Toyota Cressida
Two years before the debut of Lexus, the restyled Cressida was Toyota’s most luxurious model in the United States. Styling was fairly staid on this rear-wheel-drive sedan. A 190 hp 3.0-liter V-6 used in the Supra sports car powered the Cressida through a standard four-speed automatic transmission. Anti-lock brakes and a CD player were among the options.

Other new or facelifted 1989 models: Buick Century, Dodge Colt, Dodge Spirit, Eagle Summit, Mazda MPV, Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, Plymouth Acclaim, and Pontiac Grand Am.

The best of 1989

Top movies

  1. “Batman”
  2. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”
  3. “Lethal Weapon 2”
  4. “Look Who’s Talking”
  5. “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”

Top TV shows

  1. “Roseanne”
  2. ”The Cosby Show”
  3. “Cheers”
  4. “A Different World”
  5. “America’s Funniest Home Videos”

Top albums

  1. “Don’t Be Cruel,” Bobby Brown
  2. “Hangin’ Tough,” New Kids On The Block
  3. “Forever Your Girl,” Paula Abdul
  4. “New Jersey,” Bon Jovi
  5. “Appetite For Destruction,” Guns N’ Roses

Top singles

  1. “Another Day in Paradise,” Phil Collins
  2. “Miss You Much,” Janet Jackson
  3. “Straight Up,” Paula Abdul
  4. “Lost in Your Eyes,” Debbie Gibson
  5. “Like A Prayer,” Madonna

Sport champions
Super Bowl: San Francisco 49ers
Winston Cup: Rusty Wallace
World Series: Oakland Athletics
Stanley Cup: Calgary Flames
NBA: Detroit Pistons

Top fiction

  1. “Clear and Present Danger,” Tom Clancy
  2. “The Dark Half,” Stephen King
  3. “Daddy,” Danielle Steel
  4. “Star,” Danielle Steel
  5. “Caribbean,” James A. Michener

Top news

  1. Berlin Wall falls
  2. U.S. troops invade Panama to oust Manuel Noriega.
  3. The Chinese government brutally crushes a rising pro-democracy movement.
  4. Earthquake rocks the San Francisco Bay.
  5. Exxon Valdez spills 11 million gallons of crude into Alaska's Prince William Sound.

37 Reader Comments

  • 1
    eric United States September 9, 2014 at 17:12
    Oh no, not the Credenza, -that is what my friends and I used to call it. Can't say I ever cared for those very much.
  • 2
    Charles Maryland September 10, 2014 at 15:50
    Boy, looking at this list its clear 1989 was a disastrous year for cars! Those were some dark years indeed. Other than entries from the reliable Germans, not much to get excited about here. The picture says it all!
  • 3
    Dave New Jersey September 10, 2014 at 16:43
    My favorite is the 1989 944 Porsche
  • 4
    steve scott la verne, california September 10, 2014 at 16:49
    How could the Buick REATTA not be part of this list?
  • 5
    Tim Lansing, Mi September 10, 2014 at 16:51
    Michiganders have to wait till January 2015 as a vehicle is not 26 years old. This way SOS gets another bite of our wallets. My car still is $130 a year to register. I have my 89 plate waiting.
  • 6
    Max NY September 10, 2014 at 16:56
    What about my 1989 Chrysler TC by Maserati?
  • 7
    Dave Ohio September 10, 2014 at 17:07
    I have an '89 Coupe DeVille with 36,000 miles and entered it on it's first car show at the Gilmore Museum Red Barns Spectacular in Michigan this summer and came home with a trophy. It was in the non-restored original class. I do have to admit that the '89 styling was much more pleasing than the 85-88 models and with the 4.5 V8, has plenty of pep. Hard to believe it's an antique already!
  • 8
    Bill Gilmore Phoenix, AZ. September 10, 2014 at 17:12
    Great details in this articles cruise down 1989's memory lane. Well researched, it sure created a fact-driven visual for me to remember exactly what was going on back in '89. Thanks for the memories. Hey, how about making this a regular feature reviewing a different 1970s, 80s or 90s years' highlights for us to reminisce on? Eventually you will have a handy archive of 10-year and older vehicle highlights for enthusiasts to refer to and remind them of the most interesting choices from what-ever year or years their interested in. This could be a great resource for Hagerty.com users. Think about it folks, and if you agree, please leave a comment for Hagerty.com to continue these annual year-in review's written to enlighten and inspire car-people everywhere. Especially the younger generation who came of age in the 80s and 90s and are interested in finding a cool (and affordable) car from their "happy day's". -Bill Gilmore, Phoenix, AZ.
  • 9
    howard Baltimore, Maryland 21224 September 10, 2014 at 17:45
    One of the most beautiful and least remembered cars from that year was the Jaguar XJS Convertible. It had a V-12 engine and was Jaguar's first convertible since the XKE. Originally it had come only as a coupe, but a company in Florida began turning the coupes into convertibles, but they had problems because of the lack of body rigidity, so Jaguar built their own with about 500 extra pounds of steel in the frame. It was actually a great car and I still have the one I bought when they first came out in 1989 with 150,000 miles one it. As far as I am concerned, the only color for the car was black, which is what I bought. I will admit that some of the colors never did it justice, and unfortunately, they don't bring the price that they should.
  • 10
    Sean Midland, TX September 10, 2014 at 17:48
    No love for trucks or SUV's back then. I have a 1987 Ford Bronco XLT 4x4 5.8L 351W. Why do you not consider this a classic? Where's the love?
  • 11
    Darryl Canada September 10, 2014 at 18:54
    Actually, while the Cressida was a great car, Lexus made it's US debut in 1989 with the iconic LS 400 which far over shadowed the Cressida. Canada has to wait one more year for Lexus to arrive.
  • 12
    John Lohm West Virginia September 10, 2014 at 18:58
    You failed to mention the 1989 1/2 Ford Mustang. They started to roll out the 25th Anniversary editions in the latter half of 1989 into early 1990.
  • 13
    Chris Washington, DC September 10, 2014 at 18:58
    Not a huge Toyota Cressida fan, but avid follower of the Supra. Have an 89 Turbo now and love her! Just got my classic plates and joined Hagerty. She clean and drives the way she was intended. No rice included.
  • 14
    Jayson Burke VA September 10, 2014 at 19:14
    Ford Taurus SHO?
  • 15
    Brian Tx September 10, 2014 at 19:28
    Sad, sad year!!
  • 16
    Glenn W WI September 10, 2014 at 20:05
    Sigh, a reminder of just how terrible and uninspired that year's cars were. No wonder I drove a 4 x 4 PU then.
  • 17
    Dave Harrid Northbrook, Il September 10, 2014 at 21:46
    The 5.0 HO in the Mustang was the big engine choice at Ford. In 1989, a mass airflow system was added for the ultimate in performance.
  • 18
    Dave Buck Meadows CA September 10, 2014 at 22:32
    Whoo hoo! My Daily driver 89 Corolla Wagon is now a classic car! What? No? C'mon, it's still cute!
  • 19
    Aaron United States September 10, 2014 at 22:49
    The probe wss a true sporting car in the unmentioned gt version boasting a boosted version of the same mazda 4 banger. Also overlooked is it's sister the mx6. It offered a trend settings awd option. Speaking of all wheel drive isn't 1989 the year Pontiac optioned the 6000 in awd? In parting not new but exiting wasn't the Dodge GLH Omni last year 1989?
  • 20
    D. Crockett Houston, TX September 10, 2014 at 23:16
    The Corvette ZR1 was sold first as an 1990 model, making the 1989 Pontiac TTA the fastest domestically produced car that year, capable of mid 13 second quarter mile times and a top speed above 150 mph. That would place the car in rare territory with ram air IV 400s and superduty 455s or F4 ram air LS motors for title of fastest stock Firebird ever. it is also the only V6 powered TransAm ever produced. Good article, brings back a fine time in my life!
  • 21
    Greg United States September 11, 2014 at 13:48
    The corvette ZR-1 (C4 generation) did not arrive till 1990. This article is about 1989 models.
  • 22
    David united states September 11, 2014 at 02:35
    The Ford Probe wasn't a bad car..
  • 23
    Warren Turner Western Pennsylvania September 11, 2014 at 04:21
    The '89 Probe matched up well with the Mustang. the 4 Cyl came with a turbo in the GT which gave it about the same performance as the V-8 Mustang. The 145 hp was a low ball number - the people who tested it found it had much more than that. Most people think the 145 hp listing was so the next year the V-6 (dropped the turbo) would not appear like it had lower HP. I had one - great car until the PA rust killed it.
  • 24
    Matt Hagen Morehead City, NC September 11, 2014 at 20:06
    Two things Hagerty... 1st... Hello? Heard of a Cadillac Allante? It gets the 4.5 V8 replacing the dreaded 4100. You missed it. 2nd... Its September of 2014... The 2015 models are out... Most 1989 models are now 26 years old! You guys are supposed to be car guys. GET WITH THE PROGRAM!
  • 25
    Lisa Pennsylvania September 11, 2014 at 09:08
    Purchased my first new car in 1989 - Thunderbird SC. Loved the car, beautiful design, but needed to ride a bit lower to the ground so I had it dropped 2". Took the car to Watkins Glenn two times for track days. Had to replace the Super Charger at just under 60,000 miles, that one was on Fords dime. Second time was at my expense, finally left the car go at about 140,000 miles. Enjoyed it greatly! RIP
  • 26
    Stephen Alberta September 11, 2014 at 11:49
    I'm surprised that the technically innovative 1989 Shelby CSX didn't make the list. The first use of a variable nozzle turbo and composite wheels on a production car, with only 500 made.
  • 27
    tom elliott nw Pa. September 11, 2014 at 12:57
    Readers will suggest others but how did you not include Ford's SHO? I put 100k+ miles on mine, two clutches and surprised many other "sporty cars". Best part, it was new 10k off sticker price 'cause folks wanted an automatic trans!
  • 28
    Dave Cumming, GA September 12, 2014 at 17:22
    Rejoice Concours d` LeMons participants! Another year of horrible mind numbing 1980's crap cars are ready for the show.
  • 29
    Bob M Bellaire Michigan September 12, 2014 at 18:09
    Great auto . with the top up or down . Only 39000 miles. It can go past any thing but a gas station.
  • 30
    Tim Kamsas September 13, 2014 at 09:07
    Ford sho all the way
  • 31
    Tony P St. Petersburg September 13, 2014 at 21:31
    A sad year some say here?? The '89 Turbo Trans-Am ran an equal 0-60 with the Lamborghini Countach that year at 5 sec. (source Car & Driver road tests) And it's a damn good looking car. The zr1 did not come out till '90.
  • 32
    Peter R. B.C., Canada September 14, 2014 at 00:07
    This was the era I grew up in and naturally, the cars from this period are the ones I cherish the most. Although it's the European exotic cars I would like to have, cars like the Ferrari Testarossa and 328, Lotus Esprit and Lancia Delta Integrale. I mentioned in the comments of the recent Hagerty collecting seminar in Monterey this year that I'd love to have a BMW Z1... Now that's a cool collectible car!
  • 33
    Matt B Oxford, MI September 16, 2014 at 10:46
    My first brand new car was a 1989 Dodge Daytona ES...with the exception of the ground effects, it was a bare bones car with 5-speed manual, non-turbo, crank windows, manual locks, etc. It was still a fun car and I drove it to my first duty station with the Navy in CA.
  • 34
    Bobby Bluegrass September 18, 2014 at 19:03
    Just because it didn't have tail fins or a gigantic chrome bumper doesn't mean it's not classic to those of us born a little later than others. Great article! Have to agree this should be a regular featuring 70s and up. I remember drooling over a few of these as a youngster. I might have offered a limb for a Super Coupe or Beemer.
  • 35
    fano Miami, Fl October 3, 2014 at 17:49
    Can anyone please tell me if a 89-93 Cadillac Deville Steel wheel rim can be placed with no problems on a 85 Cadillac Deville base? The off set for the my 85 Cadillac is 42, does anyone know the off set for the 89-93? The reason is I want to put vogue tires on my Caddy but they don't make 14 inch tires and my stock tire size is 205/75 R14..so in order to get the 15 inch vogues I need to put a 15x6 wheel (factory rim) from a 89-93 Cadillac Deville, makes sense?
  • 36
    Paul B Albany, NY November 17, 2014 at 19:37
    Always love all the people who get so butt hurt their personal cars don't make the list. "How could MY car not be on here? Don't you guys know ANYTHING?? HELLO???" Anyway, great story. I had the Plymouth Acclaim as my first car, as a 1990 model. Not necessarily something anybody would get too excited about, but it was a fantastic little car that I drove for 7 years. Still miss it sometimes.
  • 37
    Paul B Albany, NY November 17, 2014 at 19:39
    Always love all the people who get so butt hurt their personal cars don't make the list. "How could MY car not be on here? Don't you guys know ANYTHING?? HELLO???" Anyway, great story. I had the Plymouth Acclaim as my first car, as a 1990 model. Not necessarily something anybody would get too excited about, but it was a fantastic little car that I drove for 7 years. Still miss it sometimes.

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