It seems as if everything was better back in the 80s, from music all the way to automobiles. The 1980s were an amazing decade for car lovers, that’s for sure. The hard-edged exterior design complete with pop-up headlights, paired with a retro-futuristic interior still appeals to lots of car enthusiasts today. Check out 40 of the coolest cars that debuted in the 1980s, ranging from tiny Japanese roadsters all the way to American pickup trucks.
Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
The boxy, third generation of the Chevrolet Camaro debuted back in 1982. The car was nothing like its predecessor, and the souped-up Z28 variant was quickly titled the Car Of The Year by Motor Trend. A dramatic change in exterior design seemed to appeal to buyers, as Chevrolet sold over 170,000 Camaros in 1982.
Three years after the car’s debut, Chevrolet unveiled the IROC-Z trim as an extra option available for the Z28 version of the car. The car featured an enhanced suspension system, as well as decals and wheels unique to the IROC-Z.
The Ford Mustang is perhaps America’s favorite pony car. Back in 1974, Ford unveiled the terrible second generation of the Mustang. Luckily, the second-gen Mustang was quickly replaced with its successor just four years after the initial debut. The third-gen has become a timeless classic that used to be terribly underrated.
The third-gen of the pony car, nicknamed the Foxbody Mustang, was built on Ford’s Fox platform. In its most powerful variant, the Foxbody Mustang packed a 4.9L small-block V8 motor rated at 200 horsepower.
The Buick GNX, a limited production V6-powered muscle car based on the two-door version of the Buick Regal, debuted back in 1987. The American automaker partnered up with McLaren Technologies (also founded by Bruce McLaren, though the company is completely unrelated to the British McLaren) to create this powerful monster, limited to just 547 units.
The beefed-up V6 under the hood was rated at 300 horsepower, though Buick officially claimed the motor peaked at just 276 horses. This iconic muscle car can reach 60 miles per hour in just 4.6 seconds!
Mercedes-Benz 190E Evolution I
This vehicle became extremely popular after Ayrton Senna had won on the Nurburgring back in 1984, behind the wheel of a 2.3L Mercedes-Benz 190E. Four years later, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the more performance-oriented variant of the 190E powered by a 2.5L motor. The German automaker still wasn’t done, though.
In 1989, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the 190E Evolution I. It was the most souped-up variant of the sedan available at the time, powered by a 2.5L flat-four rated at 191 horsepower. Just two years later, the German automaker unveiled the Evolution II which was even crazier at 232 horsepower!
The AMC Eagle was one of the most influential vehicles of the 1980s, that’s surprisingly overlooked today. After all, there’s a great chance that vehicles like the Audi Allroad or the Subaru Outback would not have existed if it wasn’t for this quirky station wagon.
The Eagle debuted in 1980 as a beefy wagon that featured impressive off-road performance. Shortly after the launch of the car, AMC introduced sedan and coupe versions of the boxy vehicle, too. 4 different engine options were available, ranging from a somewhat economical 2.5L flat-four up to a 3.6L turbocharged diesel flat-six.
Chevrolet Corvette (C4)
1984 saw the premiere of the fourth generation of the iconic Chevrolet Corvette, over 3 decades after the debut of the original Corvette C1. The Corvette C4 is an embodiment of the 1980s in all of the decade’s glory, thanks to the car’s pop-up headlights and a retro gauge cluster inspired by sci-fi blockbusters.
Initially, the C4 Corvette was offered with a 205-horsepower 5.7L V8. A year into the car’s production, the powerplant was thrown out in favor of a more powerful 5.7L V8 rated at 230 horsepower. The C4 ZR1 was the ultimate variant of the fourth-gen Corvette, powered by a 405-horsepower V8 under the hood.
Dodge Shelby Dakota
Back in 1989, Shelby modified the first-gen Dodge Dakota, a midsize pickup truck that debuted on the market just a few years before. It was the first time in years that Carroll Shelby had worked on a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, and the final product was simply incredible.
The Shelby Dakota was based on a short-wheelbase version of the two-door first-gen Dakota. Shelby threw out the 3.9L V6 motor fitted in the truck and fitted the 5.2L Magnum V8 under the hood, rated at 175 horsepower. At the time of its release, the Shelby Dakota was the second-best performing pickup truck ever made, outperformed only by the Lil’ Red Express. Only 1500 units were made.
Remember OutRun? In this popular Sega arcade game released in 1986, the player had the chance to drive a shiny Ferrari Testarossa Spider. The Testarossa has never lost its appeal and remains a dream car for Ferrari enthusiasts to this day.
The Ferrari Testarossa 512TR debuted for the 1984 model year and quickly became a hit among supercar owners and enthusiasts alike. The car is renowned for its iconic exterior design and exceptional performance. Naturally, the screaming 385-horsepower 4.9L flat-12 mounted behind the driver is worth mentioning, too.
Much like the previously mentioned Testarossa, the Ferrari F40 is an absolute icon of the 80s. The car’s legendary design features everything that a proper 1980s supercar should have, including an obnoxious rear spoiler and pop-up headlights. The F40 was also the last vehicle that Enzo Ferrari personally approved just a year before his passing in 1988.
The F40 is powered by a screaming, twin-turbocharged V8 mounted behind the driver. The car peaked at 471 horsepower. The car can reach 60 miles per hour in only 4.2 seconds. Sadly, the vast majority of F40 owners chose to lock their cars away, rather than drive them.
The Countach is yet another extravagant Italian supercar that’s an icon of the 1980s. Although the car originally debuted for the 1974 model year, the most common variant was released in 1985. The Countach LP5000 QV saw a production run of 610 units, more than any other version of the supercar.
Under the hood, which is located behind the driver, lays a powerful 450-horsepower 5.2L V12 motor. Interestingly, the car’s enormous optional rear spoiler worsened the aerodynamics of the Countach. The 5000 QV can reach 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds.
Chevrolet Camaro Z28
Just a couple of years before introducing the third generation of the Camaro, Chevrolet entered the 1980s with a refreshed version of the second-gen Camaro Z28. Although the Z28 returned to the Camaro lineup back in 1977, the models from 1980 and 1981 are arguably the best-looking ones.
Under the hood, the 1980 Z28 Camaro remains the same as the year before. The 1980 and 1981 model years, however, come equipped with an aggressive-looking scoop on the bonnet of the car. The air induction scooped opened up at full throttle to cool the engine, and made an ideal addition styling-wise, too.
BMW M3 (E30)
The first-ever BMW M3 cannot be skipped. This high-performance coupe based on the regular 3 Series made its debut for the 1986 model year. The E30 generation of the M3 is considered one of the greatest sports cars built by the German automaker in the 20th century.
Under the hood, the regular M3 E30 packs a 197-horsepower S14 flat-four. A revised suspension system paired with a low center of gravity and a lightweight body all made the E30 M3 an exceptional vehicle. BMW only built around 18 000 units of the E30 M3 before shutting down the production line in 1991.
The 1980s were the ideal decade for rally lovers. Back in 1982, FIA introduced the infamous group B. In order to be eligible to partake in this rally class, automakers had to release a number of street-legal units of their racecars. This is how some of the coolest cars of the decade were born, including the legendary Audi Quattro.
The Quattro was first unveiled in Geneva in 1980 and became an instant hit renowned for the vehicle’s innovative all-wheel-drive system. In its most basic form, the Quattro produced 197 horsepower from its 2.1L flat-five motor. The variant used in motorsport, however, was rated at nearly 600 horses!
Without a doubt, the 959 is one of the coolest Porsches in the history of the German manufacturer. As this hardcore, spartan supercar debuted for the 1986 model year, it can easily double as one of the coolest cars of the 80s. Porsche originally developed the 959 to compete in the infamous Group B. The development took a lot longer than originally expected. When the car was finally ready in 1987, Group B had already been canceled.
As if the regular 450-horsepower 959 wasn’t already powerful enough, Porsche took the car a step further, fitted larger turbochargers, and raised the power to 508 horsepower. The vehicle was named the 959S and could reach up to 211 miles per hour!
Ferrari 288 GTO
The 288 GTO needs no introduction. This hardcore supercar, based on the 308 GTB, is one of the greatest Ferraris of all time. The car debuted in 1984, only 272 units were made in total before the production was ceased in 1987.
Despite various rumors, the 288 GTO was not developed to compete in the infamous Group B rally group. The 288 GTO packed a 2.9L V8 rated at 395 horsepower, mounted behind the driver, and only available with a 5-speed manual transmission. A sprint to 60 miles per hour took the 288 GTO just 5 seconds.
The Porsche 944 was developed to follow in the footsteps of the 914, an affordable roadster built by the German automaker back in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Porsche saw a clear demand for an entry-level sports car more affordable than the iconic 911, and the 944 was made to fill the gap. The car debuted for the 1982 model year.
The 944 saw massive success, with over 160,000 units sold during the car’s 9-year long production run. In fact, it was Porsche’s best-selling sports car ever up until the introduction of the Boxster in the late 1990s.
The MR2 first went on sale in 1984. It quickly stole the hearts of buyers and journalists alike, before winning the Japan Car Of The Year award the same year. A quick look at this stylish, affordable sports car is enough to understand its appeal. Let alone taking one for a quick ride.
The original MR2 handled like an absolute champ, largely due to its mid-mounted engine and a lightweight body. The American version may have only produced around 110 horsepower, yet it was sufficient and did not feel underpowered.
Mazda MX-5 NA Miata
Although the vast majority of the first-generation MX5s were built in the 1990s, this small roadster debuted back in 1989. The tiny sports car quickly became one of the all-time favorite Japanese cars. Like any proper car from the 80s, the first-gen MX5 featured pop-up headlights!
The MX5 is renowned for its exceptional handling, largely due to the car’s extremely lightweight body and low center of gravity. As fun to drive as this car is, the Miata can be underwhelming in terms of horsepower. Its 1.6L flat-four motor only made 115 horsepower.
Dodge Omni Shelby GLH-S
It is no secret that equipping a small car with a powerful engine is the perfect recipe for success. Back in 1986, Shelby spiced up the not-so-exciting Dodge Omni. The Omni customized by Shelby was named the Dodge Omni Shelby GLH-S, which stood for Goes Like Hell S’More. That is a very 1980s name, indeed.
Under the hood, the tiny Dodge Omni Shelby GLH-S packed a 2.2L turbocharged flat-four rated at 175 horsepower. The car was able to sprint to 60 miles per hour in just 6.5 seconds, while the top speed was 135mph. Only 500 units were built.
The iconic DeLorean was a dream car for practically anyone who watched Back To The Future. As cool as the car appeared in the movie, the DeLorean sadly turned out to be a lot worse in real life.
Apart from the absolutely beautiful exterior design, the DeLorean did not offer much. Despite looking like a space ship, the sports car only made 130 horsepower from its V6 motor. Reports of bad quality did not boost the sales, either. Ultimately, the vehicle was discontinued merely a year after its debut. DMC filed for bankruptcy in 1982.
The M635CSi was a precursor of the high-performance V10-powered BMW M6 from the mid-2000s. Unlike its successor, the M635CSi was not fitted with a humongous V10 powerplant. Instead, the German automaker picked a rather reasonable 3.5L flat-six for this coupe.
Don’t let the lack of the M6 badge fool you, as this car was immensely fast for its time. BMW claimed the coupe could accelerate to 60 miles per hour in just 5.8 seconds. The automaker even offered a US version, which was rebadged as an M6. However, the US-spec needed an entire additional second to reach 60mph.
Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition
Although the legendary 280ZX debuted a decade before the 1980s, Nissan unveiled the limited 10th Anniversary Edition of the car for the 1980 model year. This special edition saw a short production run limited to just 3000 units in total!
The limited 10th Anniversary Edition can easily be distinguished from the base model by its extravagant color scheme. Customers could choose from two-tone black and gold or black and red paint jobs for this sporty coupe. Out of the 3000 units made, only 500 came with the black and red paint job. As one can guess, these cars have become very sought-after by automobile collectors today.
Mazda RX7 (FC)
The second generation of the Mazda RX7, internally referred to as the FC, was quickly overshadowed by its successor from the 90s. Nonetheless, this Japanese sports car is an incredibly cool car that debuted for the 1985 model year.
Mazda offered four different engine options for the second-gen RX7, all of which were the legendary Wankel rotary powerplants. The base model featured a naturally-aspirated 162-horsepower 1.3L, while the most powerful variant came fitted with a turbocharged 1.3L engine rated at 203 horses. You cannot go wrong with the exterior design of this vehicle, especially the pop-up headlights.
Mazda 323 GTX
Back in the late 1980s, Mazda took their bland 323 hatchback and turned it into a full-on powerful hot hatch. Although performance-oriented hot hatches are common today, they were nowhere near as popular back in the 1980s. In fact, the first-gen Volkswagen Golf GTi considered the world’s first-ever hot-hatch, had been released a mere decade earlier.
The 323 GTX quickly became a renowned vehicle in the rally world. The small hatchback packed a 185-horsepower motor under the hood, mated with an AWD-drivetrain and a lightweight body. The Japanese manufacturer took it a step further and made the 323 GT-R, rated at 210 horses!
VW Rabbit (Golf) GTI
Many car enthusiasts are unaware that the original, first generation of the Volkswagen Golf hatchback was actually sold as the Volkswagen Rabbit in North America. Although the Golf/Rabbit was first introduced in the US in 1975, it wasn’t built here until 1978. Then, in 1983, the performance-oriented Rabbit GTI debuted for the US market.
The Volkswagen Golf/Rabbit GTI is considered to be the world’s first-ever hot hatch. The lightweight hatchback packed a 1.8L motor rated at 100 horsepower, which was plentiful for a car this size. We’d likely never have modern hot hatches if it weren’t for this car!
The Starion was a small, stylish sports car introduced by the Japanese automaker for the 1983 model year. Unfortunately, the US variant came equipped with a turbocharged 2.6L G54B flat-four, and not the iconic G63B 2.0L turbocharged flat-four motor. What’s more, the Starion was also rebadged by Chrysler and sold as the Dodge, Plymouth, and Chrysler Conquest.
The styling of the Mitsubishi Starion is a pure embodiment of the 1980s. The boxy design featured stylish pop-up headlights and a large rear glass. The base model made 150 horsepower, while the top-level trim was rated at 197hp.
Back in 1989, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the R129 generation of the 2-door Mercedes-Benz SL sports car. This small roadster quickly became one of the most stylish vehicles made by this German automaker at the time.
Under the hood, the entry-level SL R129 packed a 2.8L flat-six motor. Without a doubt, the most extreme variant of the car was released in the early 1990s. The SL 73 AMG was fitted with a monstrous 7.3L V12 motor under the hood, rated at a whopping 518 horsepower. It is the same motor that can be found in the Pagani Zonda hypercar!
Jeep unveiled the second generation of the Cherokee SUV, dubbed the Jeep Cherokee XJ, for the 1984 model year. Jeep introduced the XJ in both 2-door and 4-door body styles. The vehicle is extremely capable both on smooth surfaces, as well as off the beaten path. Today, the XJ Cherokee is renowned for its reliability, practicality, and impressive performance.
The base model Cherokee came powered by a 2.5L flat-four that made between 105 and 130 horsepower, depending on the model year. The top-of-the-line XJ was fitted with a 4.0L flat-six under the hood, rated at 190 horsepower in the most powerful variant.
Although the Acura Integra first debuted for the 1986 model year, the car has always been overshadowed by its successor from the mid-90s. The original Integra is arguably just as cool as the second-gen, if not better.
The first-gen Integra was available in both 3 and 5-door body variants. Even the base model offered plenty of smiles per hour, the lightweight car was powered by a 1.6L flat-four that produced 118 horsepower. The car weighed less than 2500 pounds and handled like an absolute champ.
Porsche 911 930 Slantnose
The Slantnose is a limited version of the Porsche 911, based on the 930 generation of the German sports car. Back in 1982, the co-owner of luxury Swiss timepiece manufacturer, Tag Heuer, commissioned Porsche to build one roadgoing version of the Porsche 935 race car.
Porsche enthusiasts and buyers around the world were amazed by Porsche’s one-off creation, hence the automaker decided to introduce a similar vehicle in 1986. The Slantnose, or Flachbau in German, was essentially a Porsche 930 with a completely redesigned front end. The design team even fitted this rare vehicle with pop-up headlights! Only 984 units were made in total.
Porsche 911 964
1989 has gone down as one of the most significant years in the history of the iconic Porsche 911. That year, the German automaker introduced the revolutionary third generation of this rear-engined, air-cooled sports car. You may remember this vehicle from the TV show Californication, as Hank Moody drove a beat-up 964 convertible.
The third-gen 911 was very high tech back in the late 80s. It was the first 911 ever to feature ABS and power steering. The 3.6L flat-six boxer engine mounted behind the driver and cooled by air, was rated at 247 horsepower for the base model.
Volvo 740 Turbo
The 740 first appeared on the market in 1984, originally as a lower-end, more affordable version of the upscale Volvo 760. Although it was sold in the United States, the most exciting variant of the 740, named the Volvo 740 Turbo, is a rare sight in the US today.
The turbocharged version of the 740 was intended for the Italian market, as the country introduced additional taxes for large-displacement motors. The Turbocharged variant was rated at 160 horsepower, 10 more than the naturally-aspirated version of the car. The boxy design of the 740 Wagon has remained iconic ever since.
The CRX may very well be one of the most fun to drive, front-wheel-drive sports cars of the 20th century. The car first debuted for the 1984 model year and was an instant hit. Depending on the trim level, the CRX could be anything from a reliable daily driver all the way to an exciting, affordable sports car.
The base model CRX came powered by a fuel-efficient 58-horsepower 1.3L flat-four. The most powerful engine available in the CRX was a 1.6L flat-four rated at 135 horses, which was plentiful for a coupe that only weighed around 1800 pounds.
The Z32 generation of the Nissan 300ZX is a great-looking sports car that debuted for the 1989 model year. Although the car was released at the end of the 80s, its exterior styling already reflected the 1990s design language. Gone were the boxy hard edges and, sadly, pop-up headlights. Nonetheless, the Z32 300ZX looked spectacular.
Under the hood of the 300ZX laid a 3.0L V6 powerplant, both naturally-aspirated and turbocharged versions were available. The naturally-aspirated variant peaked at 222 horsepower, while the turbocharged one was rated at 300 horses.
Nissan Pulsar NX
The second-generation Nissan EXA, sold in the United States as the Nissan Pulsar NX, is perhaps one of the quirkiest Japanese cars of the decade. The vehicle was introduced for the 1986 model year. Unlike its predecessor, the new Pulsar NX was only available in one body style. Instead, Nissan offered a highly customizable rear end that could transform the car into a Coupe, Targa, Cabriolet, or even a Station Wagon (marketed as the Sportbak).
The rear glass canopy of the Pulsar could be swapped out to turn the vehicle into a station wagon. The removable roof meant the car could quickly be transformed into a Cabriolet or a Targa, too.
If we had to pick one Japanese sports car that would be the perfect representation of the 1980s, it would likely be the Subaru XT. This sporty coupe ticks all of the boxes, including a hard-edged exterior design, a crazily futuristic interior, and pop-up headlights.
The XT was first introduced for the 1985 model year. One of the highlights of this small car is its extravagant interior design, which looks as if it belongs in a retro sci-fi movie. The designers were inspired by aircraft cockpits when creating the interior of the Subaru XT. Even the shape of the steering wheel is quirky and unusual!
Toyota Celica Supra
This may very well be the most underrated generation of the Toyota Supra out there. While the A60 Supra, also known as the Toyota Celica Supra, is indeed a great-performing budget-friendly sports car, it was quickly overshadowed by the popular fourth-gen Supra from the 1990s. Here is why the Toyota Celica Supra deserves your attention.
The A60 Supra was praised for its exceptional handling and stylish design. Its low center of gravity and lightweight body made up for the lack of power. After all, early models of the A60 Supra only produced 145 horsepower from a 2.8L powerplant under the hood.
1986 was a revolutionary year for the Toyota sports car lineup. The Japanese automaker decided to separate the Celica from the Supra completely and offered them as two unrelated models from that year onwards. What’s more, Toyota also unveiled the brand-new third generation of the Supra that same year, internally referred to as the A70.
The powerplant was replaced in favor of a more powerful, 3.0L flat-six that peaked at 200 horsepower, mated with either manual or automatic transmissions and a rear-wheel-drive drivetrain. The new Supra featured an updated design inside and out. Luckily, the pop-up headlights remained on the vehicle.
Saab 900 Turbo
Much like the previously mentioned second-gen Chevrolet Camaro Z28, the Saab 900 Turbo originally debuted before the 80s, back in 1978. Over the next years, the Swedish manufacturer kept refreshing the model and adding new features. Hence, the arguably best version of the 900 Turbo is the one released in 1984.
1984 saw a new engine variant available for the Saab 900 in Europe. However, the most exciting new feature was a new optional body kit. The kit, marketed in the US as the Special Performance Group or SPG for short, allowed the turbocharged 900 to reach 130 miles per hour.
The Dodge Rampage could very well be the least popular vehicle on this list. The automaker’s attempt to provide a rival to the Chevrolet El Camino proved unsuccessful, to say the least. The Rampage was a unibody pickup based on the Chrysler L platform, that debuted for the 1982 model year.
To keep the price tag down, Dodge decided not to fit the Rampage with a V8 motor and opted for a weak 2.2L flat-four instead. Although the car’s design was rather appealing, it simply lacked any kind of power. The Rampage was pulled from the lineup 2 years after its release, with only around 30 000 units sold.
Volkswagen Golf GTI – 1976
It doesn’t get any more iconic than the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The very first GTI hit the streets in 1976 and became the original “hot hatchback.”
This was a small, 2-door hatchback with a hot engine, subtle styling accents, and performance-tuned suspension that could run with the best sports cars of the day. The OG Golf GTI was a featherweight at only 1,786 pounds, and its 1.6-liter engine produced 108 horsepower. But it wasn’t power that was the GTI’s party-piece, it was the way the car drove. The GTI was a car that proved cheap hatchbacks could deliver a thrill, handle as well as elite sports cars, and still carry a ton of stuff.
Alfa Romeo Montreal – 1970
Alfa Romeos hold a special place in every petrolhead’s heart. They’re beautiful, the engines sound amazing, and they are ruinously temperamental. That appalling reputation for reliability made owning and driving an Alfa that much more exciting.
But you don’t buy an Alfa Romeo as a replacement for a Toyota Camry, you buy it because it’s an objet d’art. And one of the best looking cars in the 1970s was the Montreal. Powered by a 2.6-liter V8 making north of 200-horsepower, the Montreal used the drivetrain from a sports prototype race car and the chassis from the iconic Guilia GTV.
Citroën SM – 1970
The French do cars differently. They don’t copy anyone and occasionally that means that incredibly innovative and ground-breaking vehicles come out of a country better known for art and food than cars. One such masterpiece to emerge in the 1970s from the French manufacturer Citroën was the SM.
This was the sporty coupe version of the revolutionary DS sedan, a vehicle that didn’t look like anything else, didn’t drive like anything else and certainly didn’t feel like anything else. The SM was chock-full of technology that is commonplace now, but in the 1970s was positively space-age. Self-leveling suspension, self-leveling headlights that turned with the wheels, and a variable power-assisted steering system are just a few of its features.
Lancia Stratos HF – 1973
The Lancia Stratos HF is a near-mythical automobile. It’s a car born for a singular purpose, to win the World Rally Championship. Impossibly wedge-shaped and powered by a 2.4-liter V6 designed and built by Ferrari, the Stratos took the world of rally racing by storm and captured the championship in 1974, 1975, and 1976.
The extremely short wheelbase, mid-engined layout, and up to 320-horsepower in race trim made for an incredibly effective rally weapon. Styling of the car was done by Marcello Gandini, possibly the most influential car designer of the late 1960s and 1970s. Only 492 were made, making the Stratos extremely rare and desirable today.
Porsche 928 – 1977
In the 1970s, Porsche was searching for a replacement of the 911 range of cars. The thinking, from the German marque, was that a GT luxury coupe would have wider appeal than the aging 911. The first 928s rolled off the production line in 1977.
Powered by a 4.5-liter water cooled V8, mounted in the traditional position, up front, it couldn’t have been more different than a 911. Power was respectable at 220 horsepower, and the 50/50 weight distribution made for an excellent handling car. Production of Porsche’s grand tourer continued until 1995 with many variants and changes coming throughout its lifetime. The 1993-95 928 GTS is the last and best with over 354-horsepower on tap.
Lamborghini Countach LP400 – 1974
Few cars are as instantly recognizable as the Lamborghini Countach. It was the ultimate supercar of the 1970s and 1980s. Its wedge shape defined an era of automobile design. Penned by Bertone’s designer, Marcello Gandini, the Countach debuted in 1974 with a mid-mounted V12 engine displacing 3.9-liters and churning out a wild 380-horsepower at 7,800 RPM.
The scissor doors, which have now come to define Lamborghinis, were first introduced on the Countach. Low, wide, impossible to see out of, and with a sonorous V12 that could push the Countach to a top speed of 180 MPH made the Lamborghini Countach one of the most desirable cars of the time. They’re highly coveted today and one of the greatest supercars ever built.
Fiat X1/9 – 1974
If you wanted Italian style, a mid-engined layout, and fun-to-drive characteristics but didn’t have Ferrari or Lamborghini money in the 1970s, then the Fiat X1/9 was the answer. Designed by Bertone and using the wedge-shape esthetic of the time, the small Fiat provided a ton of fun in a compact package.
Initially powered by a 1.3-liter engine that made just 74-horsepower, the X1/9 had a top speed of slightly over 100 MPH. Later cars came with a 1.5-liter engine that upped the power to an eye-watering 85-horsepower. The important thing to remember about the diminutive Fiat is that this wasn’t a car for the drag strip, it was a car for a twisty road on a summer day. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Saab 99 Turbo – 1978
Saab likes to do things their own way. Their cars, prior to GM ownership, had always been known for their uniqueness and quirkiness, with 2-Stroke and V4 engines, the ignition key located between the seats, and ergonomics that Saab says is patterned after their fighter jets.
Saab’s iconic 99 model originated in the late 1960s, but it was in 1978 that they fitted a turbocharger to the backward-facing 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and dropped it in the distinctive 3-door body to create a legend. Mid-range thrust is where the 99 Turbo really shines, and it was every bit the match for its competition. So good was the car that Saab won the Swedish International Rally in 1979 with rally superstar Stig Blomqvist.
BMW 2002 Turbo – 1973
Like Saab’s 99, BMW’s 2002 had been introduced in the late 1960s. The small 2002 is arguably the car that put BMW on the map of driving enthusiasts in the US and cemented the company’s reputation for building well-engineered, fun-to-drive cars.
In 1973, BMW fitted a 2002 Tii with a single turbocharger, flared the fenders, and added a deep chin spoiler and bespoke graphics to create the 2002 Turbo. At the time, it was one of the very first cars to come with a turbo, behind only GM in the 1960s. The legendary M10 four-cylinder engine, which was the basis for BMW’s 1400-horsepower F1 engine program, produces 170-horsepower, easily making it the fastest in the 2002 range.
Lancia Stratos Zero – 1970
Sometimes a concept car comes along and defines an entire era of car design. Bertone’s masterpiece, the Lancia Stratos Zero, penned by super-designer Marcello Gandini, is that car. This design inspired the Lancia Stratos HF, the Lamborghini Countach, the Fiat X1/9 and pretty much every other wedge-shaped car of the 1970s.
Gandini and Bertone combined cutting edge automotive design with architectural and industrial design that defined the aesthetic of the 1970s. The Stratos Zero is impossibly low and is powered by a 1.4-liter V4 engine plucked from the Lancia Fulvia. If 1970s car design could be summed up in one concept car, it might be the Stratos Zero.
Nissan 126X Concept – 1970
Chock full of wedge-y goodness, Nissan’s 126x Concept was a huge departure from the designs of Nissan’s road cars. Debuting at the 1970 Tokyo Motor Show, the 126X is often referred to as one of Nissan’s greatest concept cars.
The design is a mix of 1960s Batmobile, space-age and the wedge styling of the time. The 126x was actually a four-seat vehicle with gullwing doors and a mid-engine layout that featured a 3.0-liter V6 driving all four wheels. The 126x Concept was never road-worthy and currently lives in Nissan’s design studio.
Ferrari 512 S Modulo – 1970
The 512 S Modulo is one of Ferrari’s most famous and outrageous concept cars. Designed by Pininfarina, the Modulo may look like a Star Trek shuttlecraft but is in fact built on one of Ferrari’s most famous race cars, the 512 S.
The 512 S was a sport prototype racing car specifically designed to win Le Mans and international racing championships. The Modulo uses the chassis and drivetrain from the race car and thanks to some tuning, produces 550-horsepower from the 5.0-liter V12. That amount of power in a car this small is going to make for “exhilarating” performance. Top speed is 220 MPH and the Modulo can hit 60 MPH from a standstill in 3 seconds flat.
BMW Turbo Concept – 1972
The early 1970s was an interesting time for car design. Most concept cars being exhibited by manufacturers featured similar themes and design cues: wedge shape, non-traditional doors, impossibly low and wide, innovative engines, and incredible performance.
BMW’s Turbo Concept of 1972 checked all of those boxes. Fitted with gullwing doors and powered by a modified version of the 2002 Turbo’s engine mounted behind the driver, it had the makings of a perfect BMW supercar. The design of the Turbo Concept would go on to influence the M1 sports car, the 8 Series Coupe and the Z1.
Porsche 911 Turbo (930) – 1975
The ’70s was also a time of manufacturers experimenting and putting into production turbocharged performance cars. Today, the technology is commonplace, but back in the 1970s it was pretty rare on a street car.
Porsche’s 930 Turbo is the poster child for turbocharged performance cars. Today, it’s a benchmark by which most sports and GT cars are measured against, but when it debuted in 1975, it was a difficult handling performance machine with gobs of turbo lag and frightening speed. Big fender flares, a big wing, a big turbo, and big performance define the car that would go on to be a legend from the German marque.
Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS – 1973
The Porsche 911 might be the single most recognizable car on the planet. It is THE sports car that everyone knows and is largely considered to be the benchmark for sports coupes. Every new sports car that comes along inevitably gets compared to the Porsche 911.
The engine may be in the wrong place and early cars had fearsome reputations for trailing-throttle oversteer, but despite those issues, the 911 is probably the single most successful racing car in the history of motorsport. One of the pillars of Porsche is the 1973 Carrera RS, a lightweight, stripped-down 911 meant for racing. And with the ducktail spoiler, it’s an icon of 1970s sports car design and engineering.
Ferrari Studio Cr25 – 1974
In 1974, Ferrari and Pininfarina collaborated to create a unique and high tech concept car. The result was the Cr25, a long and low concept with a focus on aerodynamic performance.
The Cr25 had a drag coefficient of just 0.256, which was one of the best in the world, at that time. Pininfarina didn’t stop at making the car slippery, the front bumper has an integrated spoiler for downforce and the car could seat four people. The Cr25 proved that lightweight construction and highly efficient aerodynamics could boost a vehicle’s top speed as well as a powerful engine could.
Chevrolet Aerovette – 1976
The origins of the mid-engine Corvette date back to the 1960s, but the concept that was initially approved for production was the 1976 Aerovette.
The concept started life being powered by a 4-rotor Wankel engine, similar to the now-famous Mazda rotary engines, which produced 420-horsepower. But we all know that it just isn’t a Corvette without a V8 and in 1976 the rotary was ditched in favor of a 400 cubic inch Chevrolet V8. Unfortunately, plans to put the Aerovette in garages across the country were canceled and we had to wait 44 years to see what a mid-engine Corvette was capable of.
Mercedes-Benz C111-11 D – 1970
The Mercedes-Benz C111 was a test bed vehicle for experimenting with new engine technologies, chassis technology, and luxury interior parts. It was never meant for production but remains today as one of the great cars that Mercedes-Benz produced.
The first C111 was produced in 1969, but the other 15 cars were all made in the 1970s, so we think this is really a ’70s car. 13 cars were fitted with 3 and 4 rotor Wankel engines, 2 cars were fitted with diesel engines and the final C111 was built with a monster twin-turbocharged V8 that produced over 500 horsepower. That final car, the V8 beast, set a speed record at the Nardo Test Track when it averaged 250.958 MPH over a single lap.
Nissan/Datsun 240Z – 1971
In the late 1960s Nissan/Datsun wanted a small sports car to compete with the established European brands. The car that Nissan designed was the 240Z, a front-engine, rear-drive sports coupe that was both good to look at and good to drive.
A 2.4-liter straight six engine with 151 horsepower mated to a four-speed manual transmission made sure that the 240Z performed at a high level. The “Z” was certainly easy on the eyes, with a long hood and a sloping rear hatch that made it a stylish sports car in line with the best modern European cars. It’s easy to see why they have become collectible in recent years.
Jaguar XJS – 1975
In 1975, Jaguar presented the follow-up to the mighty E-Type, the XJS. Based on the XJ sedan, the XJS was initially offered as a coupe with a convertible version finally arriving in the 1980s. Series 1 cars were all powered by a 5.3-liter V12 engine with 242-horsepower. The venerable Jaguar straight six-cylinder engine wasn’t offered in the XJS until 1983.
The XJS is a fairly conservative but stylish design that’s aged exceptionally well. The most notable styling feature is the flying buttresses, an element added for aerodynamic efficiency. The big Jag Coupe is less of a sports car like the E-Type and more of a “gentlemen’s express.” This is a long-distance GT car made for comfort and style.