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The Generation X Top 40/40/40: The 1980s
By Jeff Sabatini
January 17, 2012
40 Collector Cars, Built In the Past 40 Years, That Cost Under $40,000
Editor’s Note: As Gen X-er Jeff Sabatini confronts his fifth decade on the planet, he’s having something of a minor midlife crisis. What better panacea for age-related angst than compiling a list of the top 40 cars for Generation X collectors from the past 40 years? Here’s the third installment of this four-part series, in which Sabatini tackles 10 cars from the 1980s. (For more, click here.)
For those of us who lived through it as teenagers, the 1980s might have seemed awkward, but the auto industry was in the midst of its own crisis. As the rumble of truly global competition and increased regulation presented overwhelming challenges, car companies responded the only way they could: by trying to craft the cars of the future, whether the technology was ready or not. Vehicles would use onboard computers for the first time, while the automakers simultaneously tried to bring design and manufacturing into the digital age. The results were uneven and often sophomoric. Some manufacturers just persisted in building the cars of yesterday, barely updated for the times. Others did both: Oldsmobile sold a ’60s-vintage, rear-drive Cutlass Supreme alongside the modern, front-drive Cutlass Ciera throughout the 1980s.
It’s no wonder that this chaotic time produced a scant number of interesting cars at any price point, and it’s probably safe to say that collectible cars from the 1980s are fewer in number than those from any other decade. But as bad as the era was, there were still some standout models, cars that have begun today to separate themselves from the pack. Increasing demand from collectors who are now coming of age has caused some models from the 1980s to appreciate in price, seemingly against all odds.
- 1978-1994 Porsche 928
Developed as the successor to the iconic 911, the 928 employed a front-mounted, water-cooled V-8 with a rear transaxle and 2+2 seating. While there may be an alternate universe where this most unusual Porsche was hugely successful and is now a desirable collectible, we don’t live there. But that’s good for the enthusiast on a budget, because this luxury GT is still quite affordable. And in today’s world (which can feel like an alternate universe itself), in which Porsche builds a four-door Panamera, the 928 no longer seems so odd. As the car was in production during three decades, several variants were spawned, with the sweet spot for value being the 5-liter, 320-hp S4 from 1987-1991. Hagerty Price Guide has the 928 listed at prices ranging from $16,700-$48,500 for a #1 condition car.
- 1981-1983 DeLorean DMC-12
Never has there been a car that was a more complete failure that’s become as highly regarded posthumously as the “DeLorean.” While we can all thank Robert Zemeckis for his singular contribution to the car hobby, John Z. DeLorean deserves at least some credit for hiring Giorgetto Giugiaro to pen the futuristic DMC-12. If the rest of the DeLorean package, especially its underwhelming PRV V-6, couldn’t cash the check that John Z. wrote, at least the car has aged well. Even some 30 years on, those stainless body panels are as striking as the Gullwing doors are exotic — just don’t expect much out of the driving experience. But if attention is what you’re looking for, there are fewer more sure-fire ways to get it than bringing one of these time machines to a local cruise night. Hagerty Price Guide has the DMC-12 listed at prices ranging from $37,500-$40,400 for a #1 condition car.
- 1982-1988 Lamborghini Jalpa
The Countach and Diablo will forever be six-figure cars, so what’s a child of the heavy metal era to do if he wants to plant his acid-washed backside in a car from Italy’s second-most-famous exotic marque? Surely you would not cruise the Sunset Strip in an Urraco? That leaves the Jalpa, Lamborghini’s V-8-powered “baby.” While the 252-hp Jalpa only offered about 7/10 the performance — or looks — of its contemporary older brother, it’s actually more rare than the Countach, with only 410 produced over its relatively short life. Based on the Urracco and Silhouette that preceded it, the mid-engine Jalpa inherited a well-sorted chassis and has developed a reputation for being fairly robust and easier to drive than its supercar sibling. Hagerty Price Guide has the Jalpa listed at prices ranging from $33,000-$46,500 for a #1 condition car.
- 1983-1984 Volkswagen GTI
There’s something to be said for being the progenitor, but the VW GTI isn’t on this list just because it was the first “hot hatch,” but because in many ways it is the best. With just 90 horsepower from its 1.8-liter engine, if it were to have the slightest pretense at being sporty, almost by definition the little front-driver had to eschew most modern conveniences. Every GTI since — and every souped-up five-door that’s laid claim to the original GTI’s cute descriptor — has been more of a car but offered less in the way of driver engagement than this original. With a close-ratio five-speed manual and wide, low-profile tires, the handling of the first GTI was exceptional for the time. Today, a car like this cannot possibly compare to modern machinery, but that’s exactly the point. Unfortunately, as an inexpensive driver’s car, early GTI’s in excellent shape can be hard to find. Hagerty Price Guide has the GTI listed at $10,300 for a #1 condition car.
- 1983-1986 Audi Quattro Coupe
If the GTI invented a niche, the all-wheel-drive Audi Quattro redefined the whole notion of what a car could be. Born out of the company’s competition arm, the Quattro Coupe dominated rally racing in the U.S., marrying turbocharged performance and four-wheel-drive in a combination that’s still providing automotive bliss some three decades later. With just 160-horsepower, the U.S.-spec versions of these cars were not terribly powerful, but that just made them easier to drive, as the engine could hardly overpower the traction provided by the sophisticated all-wheel-drive system. With clean lines that still look good today, the limited production (fewer than 800 sold in North America) Quattro Coupe is one of the few collectible cars from the 1980s that seems to have a bright future when it comes to valuation.Hagerty Price Guide has the Quattro Coupe listed at $28,000 for a #1 condition car.
- 1984-1986 Ford Mustang SVO
A turbocharged, four-cylinder Mustang? That’s right, this little bit of heresy was the top-of-the-line ’Stang for just three model years, but it spawned Ford’s SVT line that’s still alive some 25 years later. The SVO may have only had 175 horsepower, but it is arguably the most radical Mustang design extant. With 16-inch wheels, adjustable Koni shocks, four-wheel disc brakes, and a quicker steering rack, it was a veritable track day star in an era in which Detroit had all but given up on sports cars. With the popular Fox-bodied hatchback serving as its base, the SVO packed a fuel-injected and intercooled version of Ford’s 2.3-liter turbo four underhood, and an upgraded interior with sport seats. The SVO was the whole package, indeed, and could post 0-60 times under 8 seconds, which made it quicker than its contemporaneous, V-8-powered Mustang GT. Alas, when Ford added fuel injection to the 5.0 in 1985, the SVO lost its performance edge and we haven’t seen a small-displacement Mustang since. Hagerty Price Guide has the SVO Mustang listed at $13,900-$14,500 for a #1 condition car.
- 1984-1987 Buick Grand National
Ford wasn’t the only manufacturer to put boost to good use in the ’80’s. All three of the domestics had performance cars with turbochargers in their lineups, and so did the Japanese. But nobody made a car as bad as the black Buick with a name torn from NASCAR. With a turbocharged, 3.8-liter V6 making 200 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, the Grand National could rip off a 0-60 mph time of 7.6 seconds. While there were quicker cars, nothing on the road in 1984 was more menacing than the monochrome black Buick. With the addition of an intercooler in 1986, horsepower climbed to as much as 245 and 0-60 times dropped to 6 seconds flat — or lower with a bit of tuning work. While the Grand National didn’t corner and its interior was almost as bad as any other mid-’80s Buick, fast-as-stink-in-a-straight-line was good enough for its era and more than enough to keep the car relevant today. Hagerty Price Guide has the Grand National listed at $26,850-$40,500 for a #1 condition car.
- 1986 Shelby GLHS
While Chrysler’s turbo fours made a whole host of forgettable K-car derivatives into budget performance cars, it was only the legendary Carroll Shelby that could force the world to take seriously a four-door Dodge Omni marketed as the second coming of the Shelby Mustang GT350. But the “Goes Like Hell Some-more” could do 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds on the way to a 14.7-second quarter mile, thanks to 175-horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque from an intercooled, 2.2-liter four. Adjustable Konis and a Shelby-tuned suspension combined with 50-series tires allowed the front-drive compact to pull .88 g on the skidpad, a healthy number for any car of the era, let alone this econobox. While there were certainly better cars built during the 1980s, there is perhaps no better sleeper than a GLHS.
- 1988 Pontiac Fiero GT/1988-1989 Toyota MR2
Back in the late 1970s, both GM and Toyota were asking the same question: How can we build a fuel-efficient, inexpensive, but still fun to drive commuter car? That they came up with nearly the same solution foreshadowed Toyota’s eventual rise to unseat GM as the largest car company in the world. While the Fiero is often ridiculed for the lackluster performance of early base models, Pontiac finally got the recipe right in 1988, the car’s final model year. With its 135-hp, 2.8-liter V-6, the Fiero GT would never be a muscle car, but its mid-engine design and low curb weight (2,700 pounds) served as a great basis for 1988’s revised suspension, which finally turned the inexpensive Pontiac into the sports car everyone had always wanted it to be. The Fiero’s main competitor was the similar Toyota MR2. The supercharged version boosted the 1.6-liter four-cylinder’s power to 145 horsepower, giving the 2,500-pound MR2 the trump card against its rival. Regardless of predilection, the choice of either of these cars will be rewarded in the driving. Hagerty Price Guide has the Fiero GT listed at $14,800 for a #1 condition car. We saw a clean, supercharged 1989 MR2 sell on eBay recently for $7,625.
- 1988-1991 BMW M3
It’s fitting that it wraps up the 1980s list, as the E30 M3 was the best version of the BMW 3 Series, which was arguably the best car of the decade. But the original M3 had little in common with BMW’s standard two-door sedan, and was rather a homologated race car. It had unique body panels and running gear, and the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine employed an exotic cylinder head adapted from the BMW M1 supercar. It made 192 horsepower and was mated to a 5-speed manual that sent power through a limited-slip rear differential. Even the wheels on the M3 used a different bolt pattern than the standard 3 Series. With a curb weight of just under 2,900 pounds, the M3 was not blazingly fast, but it could do over 140 mph and was regarded as one of the best steering sports cars money could buy. Hagerty Price Guide has the E30 M3 listed at $24,300 for a #1 condition car.
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