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.
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