Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The 80's: Performance and Style Strike Back

Driving through the Poconos last summer we were passed by a well-preserved BMW M6, probably about an '87. I got to thinking about how much I wanted one of those beautiful machines at the time and started rolling across some internal list of my favorite cars from that decade.

The 1980's saw the rebirth of automobile performance. From hot hatches to the reigniting of the Pony Car Wars, to the advent of the modern supercar, performance cars were finally worth lusting after again. Let's start at the begining...

From the days of the Model T enthusiasts have been making cars go faster, and high performance cars from the Stutz Bearcat through Bugattis and the Mercedes SSK always existed, But this route to power and fun was the world of either the garage mechanic or the wealthy. For average folk cars were simply transportation. Performance was not a particular critieria. And then beginning in the late 1950's, automotive performance for the masses began growing in leaps and bounds.

I don't actually know what car started it, whether it was the popularity of small British and German sports cars, the first Corvettes and T-Birds, or simply the growing power in family coupes and sedans like the '55 Chevy Bel Air. But suddenly performance as a desirable element of consumer-focused automobiles was a thing. By the mid 1960's the GTO, Mustang, and Camaro had burst performance wide open. Families were going to the movies pulled by fire-breathing V-8s.

But all good things come to an end. By the early 1970s air pollution concerns, oil prices, and perhaps sanity took hold. The era of the muscle car (and muscle station wagon too!) came to an abrupt end. To be honest, the 1970s were agonizing for auto enthusiasts. Remember the Mustang II? Even the mighty Corvette fell victim, with the 25th anniversary edition featuring an anemic 185 HP  and no available manual transmission. Heavy sigh.

My vote for the low point. 
Sure there were a few points of light. The 1970s saw some nice Alfa Romeos, the birth of the Lamborghini Contach, the 2002 and 3.0 BMW's. And certainly Porsche never really fell victim to the malaise. But overall it was a grim time. Little did we know, us high school kids of the '70's, that help was right around the corner.

It probably began with the VW GTI, the first Fox-bodied Mustang, GM F-body coupes, and the C4 Corvette. I noticed the change in college, the stirrings of faster cars. By the mid-1980s the Pony Car Wars were back in full swing and great cars like the 3-Series BMW, Audi Quattro coupe and sedan, Toyota Supra (and even MR2), made performance and design relevant again.

For me, the pinnacle of the 1980's automotive rennaissance was the M6. The car was powerful and beautiful. From the shark front grill to the that wonderful inline 6 through the driver-focused cockpit to the tip of its rear dual exhaust, The M6 was everything that a car should be.

The list of great 1980's cars is long and wonderful...

Porsche 944 Turbo And S2
Audi Quattro (particulary the 200 turbo 'cause I had one)
VW GTI (Gen 1 and the late 80's 16 valve Gen 2 models)
Ford Mustang GT
Chevy Camaro and Firebird
C4 Corvette (Gen 2)
Mazda Miata
BMW 325is and M3
Porsche 3.2 Carrera and Turbo

Some of my favorites from the decade never made it to the US...

Lancia Thema 8.32
Lancia Delta Integrale
Peugeot 205 GTI
Ford Sierra Cosworth
Nissan Skyline R32

Come to think of it, the 80's may be the greatest decade of all time!

So, what's your vote for the best car of the 80's?

No comments:

Post a Comment