The 1980s was a revolutionary period for sports cars. It marked the onset of true supercars, while strict emissions regulations forced manufacturers to think outside the box and create more efficient power plants. Many of the era’s sports cars stood out as perfect embodiments of everything that made the ’80s so unique, featuring pop-up headlights, boxy or wedge-shaped designs, and retro-futuristic interior designs. One of the best examples of this ’80s aesthetic is undoubtedly the Lamborghini Countach, which is now worth close to a million dollars and continues to climb in value every year. With 385 horsepower and a 186-mph top speed, the Countach set a bar for sports cars of the decade that was difficult to top.
However, over the years, many ’80s sports cars more than held their own, and some of them even went on to become just as legendary as the Countach. These cars aged like fine wine and only got cooler and more desirable with every passing decade. They could also provide outstanding performance alongside some great styles, similar horsepower to the Countach, and in some cases, even more. If we were given a choice to buy just one of these great ’80s sports cars, we’d buy either of the following ten over the Lamborghini Countach.
10 1987 Buick Grand National GNX
It may not have been the prettiest sports car out there, but anyone with a Buick Grand National GNX didn’t care much once it hit the road. While the 3.8-liter V6 was supposed to get 276 hp, most agree it pushed over 300 and felt more powerful.
The Turbo-HydraMatic 2004R transmission boosted it to get zero to 60 in just over five seconds. That frame made it stand out from the pack, the boxy shape oddly aiding it and making it feel like a powerful ride. It may not have been the flashiest sports car of the ’80s, but the GNX was one of the best.
9 Vector W8
Sadly, the Vector W2 prototype never got off the concept stages, but the W8 was a pretty good follow-up.Its specs were simply unreal for 1989: a 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 with 8 pounds of boost generating 625 hp at 5,700 rpm and 649 lb-ft of torque at 4,900 rpm.
There’s also the wedge-shaped front intended to make it more aerodynamic for a zero to 60 time of 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 218 mph—both stunning achievements. It didn’t last long, but the W8 was a sports car truly ahead of its time.
8 1989 Nissan Skyline GT-R R32
Coming right at the tail end of the decade was a car that set the bar for sports machines in the 1990s. In some ways, the Skyline can seem a bit quaint with the 2.6-liter twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve engine capable of 276 hp at the time.
However, some tuning and turbocharging could get this to 400 hp and joined to light but powerful frame that could let it roar to 156 mph and feel faster. It paved the way for a new wave of JDM classics while standing tall as the last great sports car of the ’80s.
7 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO
While Ferrari had a few good efforts in the ’80s, the 1988 288 GTO is one of the best ever. The 4.0-liter V8 was turbocharged to give 400 hp at 7,000 RPM, 366 lb-ft from 3,800 RPM, a zero to 60 in just 4.9 seconds, and a top speed of 189 mph.
That was great enough without the excellent handling and lush interiors combined with suburb handling. Throw in the low curb weight and this thing could fly down the road, with later models adding to the horsepower and speed. Overall, it’s no wonder it’s still one of the best-regarded Ferraris and a terrific ride today.
6 1988 RUF CTR Yellowbird
One wouldn’t expect something called the “Yellowbird” to be a stunning sports machine, but the 1988 RUF CTR Yellowbird proves them wrong. Somehow ignored, the Yellowbird is one of the wilder cars developed in this time period.
Based on a Porsche 911 Carrera, the 3.4-liter turbocharged flat-six could gain a stunning 470 hp (remember, this was 1988) and felt like it had over 500. It also weighed just 2500 lbs, meaning it was wild to handle to the point it was nicknamed “The Widowmaker.” This Yellowbird soared high as a fabulous sports car.
5 1986 Ferrari Testarossa
Look up “iconic Ferraris” and you’ll see a photo of the Testarossa. Thanks to Miami Vice, this car was the epitome of coolness and is still a genius work. The highlight is the 4.9-liter flat-12 engine producing 385 hp with a zero to 60 time of 5.2 seconds.
That’s great enough without the awesome touches like the radiator slits and a 5-speed gated manual. It handles brilliantly, looks gorgeous, and few cars scream “80s power” like this one.
4 1986 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Any car featured in a James Bond movie is going to be a big deal, but the 1986 Aston Martin V8 Vantage is one of the company’s best efforts in this decade. The Living Daylights had Bond using a souped-up version, but even without rocket launchers or lasers, the Vantage is a delight.
The special “X-Pack” versions had larger wheels, improved suspension, and bumped the V8 engine to over 400 hp. That made it a true British supercar before that term took off. It only lasted three years, but this Vantage is as close to a real-life 007 ride as people would get then.
3 1986 Mercedes-Benz AMG Hammer
It’s harder to find a car that lives up to its name as well as this one does. The Mercedes-Benz AMG Hammer does just what one would expect, it hits hard and fast and nails every aspect of great performance. The already amazing 300 CE was pumped with a 5.6-liter V8 to 385 hp and roared like a beast on the road.
Some would say it’s a pure muscle car, others that it’s a sports machine, but either way, it’s a stunner on the road. It can take the curves with ease, then tear them up on a flat track to hit 188 mph with ease. Thus, however it’s classified, the Hammer strikes hard as one of the best sports cars of the ’80s.
2 1986 Porsche 959
With the public wanting a new era of sports cars, Porsche was there to answer the call. The 959 rocked the industry when it debuted in 1986, the groundbreaking all-wheel-drive system joined to a near-perfect style and frame alongside one fantastic engine. The flat-six could gain 444 hp at 6500 rpm with zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds.
With a top speed of just under 200 mph, this was the fastest street-legal car in the world for its time and the first mass-produced six-speed manual. It still ranks as a genius work that can provide thrills few cars can.
1 1987 Ferrari F40
As classic as a Ferrari can get, the 1987 F40 is still among the most beloved in the company’s history. Enzo Ferrari himself told his engineers. “Build a car to be the best in the world.” They succeeded. Its given speed is 201 mph, but it can be faster thanks to the 3.0-liter turbocharged V8 with 480 hp and stunning handling.
There’s also that gorgeous exterior, setting a new bar for Ferrari to match in the ’90s and still one of the best models they’ve put out. From style to power, this transcends decades to be one of the finest sports cars any company has ever put out.
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