Top Ten Cars Of The 1980’s


The M3 name has become synonymous with performance sedans and has long set the benchmark for that segment. The M3’s roots began in the 1980’s with the first generation being based on the 1986 E30 3 Series. It was only available in coupe and convertible bodies, and was produced from 1985 until 1992.

BMW’s first M3 used a BMW S14 engine that produced just shy of 200bhp, however power was increased to 213bhp in 1989. An Evo model came with a number of changes including larger wheels, thinner window glass, lighter bootlid, an additional rear spoiler and 217bhp.

The Sport Evolution (or EVO3) came later with an increased displacement of 2.5-litres and 235bhp. Other changes included enlarged front bumper openings and an adjustable multi-position front splitter and rear wing. The front fog lights were also replaced by brake cooling ducts. BMW produced 600 of these, with an additional 786 convertible models also produced.

The BMW M3 was one of the most successful motorsport cars of the time. It was entered in everything from DTM to 24-hour racing and the WRC. To keep the car competitive, BMW produced a number of homologation special cars. These included the Evo 1, 2 and Sport Evolution.

0-100 km/h was done and dusted in 6.9 seconds and the top speed was 235 km/h for the original M3. Performance increased with different iterations of the car, with the 2.5-litre Sport Evolution being the fastest. The Sport Evolution could go from 0-100km/h in as little as 6.1 seconds and on to a top speed just shy of 250 km/h.

The E30 M3 was replaced by the E36 M3 in 1992, setting the standard for performance sedans to come.

Lancia Delta Integrale

Lancia’s may be met by ridicule by the general population, however real car enthusiasts will know that the Italian car maker produced some of the finest examples of motoring machinery ever produced, even if they did rust away on your dive way.

Following the ban of Group B after the 1986 season, Lancia showed that it was in the best position to capitalize on the rule changes. Utilizing the Delta HF 4WD and Delta Integrale, Lancia dominated the rally scene with a car that had the best balance of all round power, weight and 4WD system. Impressively, the Lancia Delta won four driver and six manufacturer championships between 1987 and 1992, making it the car with the most number of titles.

While the Delta S4 was the most mental of the Delta range (with its supercharged and turbocharged engine), the Integrale is perhaps the most fondly remembered version. Following on from the success of the Delta HF 4WD, the Integrale originally launched with an 8v 4 cylinder turbocharged engine that produced 185 hp.

A 16v Integrale was soon to follow and was developed specifically for the rally scene. This featured a 2-litre 16v engine that produced 200 hp. Following on from this Lancia produced the Evoluzione versions of the car, which were more capable, faster and aggressive.

The Delta Integrale has become a real classic, with the later versions of the Integrale fetching some eye watering sums.

Ferrari F40

In many ways, the Ferrari F40 was the last true stripped out, balls-to-the-wall Ferrari with no other purpose than pulling as many g as possible and soiling your pants. With the weight of a hatchback (around 1100kg) and that beautiful 484 hp 2.9-litre twin turbo V8 engine, the F40 was ferociously fast. It was as simple as it gets compared to its competition at the time and has that pin up, poster car look that many supercars fail to achieve today.

Pininfarina developed the carbon fibre, aluminium and Kevlar body. Anything deemed unnecessary was thrown out, this included the carpet, audio system and even the door handles. The ferocious weight saving and high power output of the engine meant the F40 could get to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and have 100 mph done in 7.6.

It was built to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the company and was the last car Enzo Ferrari personally approved. Originally planned with a production run of 400, the Italian car company manufactured over 1,300 in total.

Nissan R32 GT-R

The R32 GT-R might not have started the GT-R namesake but it was the first modern all-wheel-drive variant. Nissan canned the GT-R name in 1973, but brought it back when they needed a new car for Group A racing homologation rules.

The R32 GT-R was a wildly different beast to the previous GT-R. It featured a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, a powerful 2.6-litre twin-turbo engine that produced 276 hp, and a weight of just over 1,400kg.

A Nismo edition was launched in 1990 with a total production run of 560. This featured some aerodynamic changes, removal of the ABS system, and weight saving. It was also only available in a gun metal grey colour.

The R32 GT-R was branded with the Godzilla name when it dominated the Australian motoring scene. The car was so dominant in Australia it tore apart Group A racing in the country and got itself banned in the process.

Audi Quattro

How could we do this list without including one of, if not the most iconic rally cars of all time. The Quattro was first shown at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show and was the first car to take advantage of a four-wheel-drive system in the rally scene. To commemorate the success of the Quattro, Audi branded all subsequent four-wheel-drive cars in their range with the ‘quattro name.

While road going versions were available, the Quattro gained fame by mudslinging on rally tracks all across the globe. The first car had an engine that produced approximately 300 hp and in 1981, Michele Mouton become the first female driver to win a world rally event with the Quattro.

In response to the new Group B rules Audi introduced the A1 and A2 evolutions of the Quattro. It won its first title for the German manufacturer in 1982 and in 1983, Hannu Mikkola was the best driver with the car. In 1984 Audi took both the drivers and constructors trophies with Stig Blomqvist at the wheel. From the A1 and A2, Audi developed the Sport Quattro S1 and S2, with the most powerful making a staggering 591 hp.

Lamborghini Countach

Lamborghini’s have always been regarded as the ultimate poster car due to their extreme styling and distaste for practicality. While modern Lamborghini’s have competition from many other manufacturers, the 80’s and 90’s were where Lamborghini was the king of children’s bedroom walls.

The Lamborghini Countach was the poster child for the 70’s & 80’s and with just one look you can understand why. Starting out as what appeared to be a wedge of cheese, Lamborghini added all kinds of wings, vents, slits and angles to make one of the most iconic looking supercars of all time.

Lamborghini produced the Countach from 1974 until 1990, making it one of the Lamborghini’s longest-serving models. The Countach continued the mid-engined layout and popularized the “cab forward” design concept which pushes the passenger compartment forward to make room for a larger engine.

A number of different Countach models were produced, with all featuring a V12 engine with varying displacements. The fastest model was the 25th Anniversary Countach with a 5167 cc V12 that could do 0-100kn/h in 4.7 seconds and reach 295km/h.

Porsche 959

Another car that was born from the mental Group B era was the Porsche 959 which was considered the most technologically advanced car ever built at the time of its launch. It was also the fastest street-legal production car with a top speed of 314 km/h (195 mph).

The 959 can be considered the forerunner of all current supercars and was one of the first high-performance motorcars with all-wheel drive. It provided the basis for the first all-wheel drive Carrera and convinced Porsche’s executives to make AWD standard on 911 Turbos.

Powering the 959 was a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder boxer engine that was coupled with a unique manual gearbox that offered five forward speeds plus a “G” off-road gear, as well as reverse. Porsche managed to squeeze 444 raging horses from the compact boxer engine and combining that with a 1,450kg weight, meant that the 959 could go from 0-100 km/h (0-60 mph) in 3.6 seconds.

Unlike Porsche’s other production cars, the 959 featured an aluminium and Kevlar composite body with a Nomex floor. The technology cram didn’t stop there though, with Porsche developing specialized aerodynamics and an automatic ride-height adjustment system.

The Porsche-Steuer Kupplung (PSK) AWD system was considered the most advanced AWD system ever produced and gave inspiration to the engineers at Nissan who designed the R32 GT-R. The PSK system was capable of changing the torque distribution between the front and rear wheels in both slippery and normal conditions.

Porsche’s 959 set the standard for all supercars to come and compared to its much loved rival, the Ferrari F40, was much more advanced. Without the 959 we may not have had some of the incredible cars we have today. It was a true game changer.

Ford RS200

The RS200 was born and bred in the mental world of Group B rallying. It was short lived with production only running from 1984 to 1986 before it was succeeded by the MKV Escort Cosworth.

Ford’s RS200 was the result of the abandoned Escort RS1700T project. Rather than leaving the Group B scene all together, Ford decided to make use of the lessons they learnt from the RS1700T. This lead to Ford developing a new four-wheel-drive rally car that could compete with the likes of Audi and Peugeot.

Ford enlisted the help of British automaker ‘Reliant’ to help with the fiberglass composite body and the chassis was the work of former Formula One designer Tony Southgate, and Ford’s John Wheeler. A double wishbone suspension setup with twin dampers on all four wheels aided handling and helped give the car what was often regarded as being the best balanced platform of any of the RS200’s contemporary competitors.

A 1.8L turbocharged Ford-Cosworth engine producing 250bhp was mounted in the middle of the car. In race trim, the RS200 put out an impressive 450 raging horses and one even managed to hit 750+bhp with a 2.0 litre turbo BDTE Cosworth Evolution engine.

Despite the unique design of the RS200, it had limited success in the Group B scene before the rally series was banned. It was also involved in some of the most dramatic accidents in WRX history, with it claiming the lives of three spectators during the Rally de Portugal.

Peugeot 205 T16

Another insane creation from the Group B era, the Peugeot 205 T16 only competed in two full seasons, but it certainly showed why it was one of the greatest rally cars ever produced in that short time. Appearing in 1984, the T16 won 2 manufacturers and 2 drivers titles with Timo Salonen and Juha Kankkunen in the cockpit. The 205 T16 ended its WRC career with 16 wins after Group B was banned.

With well over 400 hp, the Peugeot 205 T16 was one of four cars (Lancia Delta S4, Audi Quattro, Ford RS200) that set the performance standard for rally cars. The T16 was so successful the car was used to win the Paris Dakar rally, not once but twice.

Despite the appearance being similar the T16 had almost nothing in common with its sibling, the 205 GTi. The T16 featured a 1.8L four-cylinder turbocharged engine that could find its roots in the diesel variant of the XU engine family. It also featured a complex all-wheel-drive system and weighed in at under 1000kg.

While the Peugeot 205 T16 is almost comical with its massively flared wheel arches and short stature, it remains a truly significant piece motorsport history. We think that the 205 T16 is about as cool as they come (and nearly as rare).

Ferrari 288 GTO

Definitely less well known than the likes of the F40, the Ferrari 288 GTO is no lesser car. Intended as a Group B racecar, the 288 GTO was left without a home when the racing series was cancelled. It found its way onto the road where it became the fastest car on the road from 1984-1986, only being bested by the mighty Porsche 959.

It was an exotic homologation of the Ferrari 308 GTB and featured a 3-litre V8 400 hp engine. At the time it was blisteringly quick with a 0-60 mph time of around 5 seconds and a top speed of 189 mph. Apart from being the fastest car at the time, it was also the first street-legal production car to reach 186 mph (300km/hr)

Only 272 cars were made making it one of the rarer Ferrari’s ever produced. The classic looks and the sublime performance make the 288 GTO one of the all-time greats, even if nobody remembers it.



  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

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