Home Cars 1980s Sports Cars That Drivers Want To Stay Forgotten

1980s Sports Cars That Drivers Want To Stay Forgotten

Cameron Eittreim November 15, 2021

The 1980s were a time of advancement for the automotive industry. Carmakers had to adjust with the times by making smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles. The end result meant drivers experienced a plethora of unique vehicles, especially in the sports car arena. When drivers think back to 1980s sports cars, they probably think of a red Ferrari. However, there were quite a few other notable sports cars that came out during the decade.

Unfortunately, not every sports car that came out of the 1980s was a success. There were quite a few that fell short in more than one area. The Fiero is one such sports car that was an absolute disaster, as was the Ferrari Mondial. We took a look at sports cars that were notoriously bad back in the ’80s, and you won’t be surprised that they are still awful today. Buckle up, because these are some of the worst sports cars you probably remember.

Toyota MR2 (SW20)
Photo Credit: Street Mag

20: Toyota MR2

The MR2 is often referred to as the poor man’s Ferrari. In many ways, that statement is true, although the value of the MR2 has skyrocketed. The MR2 was a fascinating car with a grand design until it got to the mechanicals. The engine would routinely overheat, and the car also had many issues with its transmission (via MR2OC).

Toyota MR2
Photo Credit: Toyota

Although the design was similar to the Pontiac Fiero, there were not many reported engine fires. But the MR2 was a car that took a ton of maintenance to keep it on the road. The design would improve as time went on until the car was discontinued. Overall, the MR2 isn’t one of the prouder moments for Toyota.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

19: Ford Thunderbird

The tenth generation of the Ford Thunderbird was sort of a confused car. The styling was both sporty and reserved depending on which body you picked. The S/C version of the car took a supercharged engine and performance to the next level. The interior was where things started to go flat as the lack of quality was evident (via Hagerty).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Thunderbird had many positives, but its reliability was questionable at best. This was also during the time when the Ford brand suffered from many quality issues. The base-level Thunderbird model was reduced, and the design lacked any substance. When it was compared to other coupes on the market, the design was bland.

Lamborghini Jalpa
Photo Credit: Lamborghini

18: Lamborghini Jalpa

Lamborghini was at the top of its game in the 1980s. The brand was more visible than ever, and there were many hits for the automaker. But as with any automaker, there were also a few duds. The Jalpa had mid-engine performance and a futuristic look, but this wasn’t enough to satisfy performance enthusiasts (via Auto Evolution).

Photo Credit: Barrett Jackson

The car was basically a compact Lamborgini Countach, and for many buyers, that car itself was feeling a bit outdated. There were also many reliability issues associated with the car. The repairs were expensive in a car that was already quite an expensive vehicle.

Honda CRX Si
Photo Credit: Motor Trend

17: Honda CRX

Don’t take this the wrong way as the Honda CRX was not a horrible car at all. But we are talking about the shortcomings the car had, and there were many. You see, the premise behind the CRX was simple, to cram high performance in a lightweight package. But the problem was that the car lacked a lot of the other comforts you’d expect (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Bring A Trailer

The CRX lacked a back seat, which was a bummer if you wanted passengers. The car was also void of any real options. In fact, there was even a base model with no A/C. What the car lacked in substance it made up for in performance. But by today’s standards, the CRX was about as barebones as you could get.

Photo Credit: Mecum

16: Chevy Camaro Iron Duke

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see a muscle car with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. But back in the 1980s, these engines were severely underpowered. Take the Iron Duke for example. Perceived as one of the worst Camaro models of all time, the Iron Duke was unreliable and paltry in terms of performance (via AutoBlog).

Photo Credit: BAT

The third-generation Camaros were already fairly cheaply made with interior rattling and pieces falling off straight from the factory. However, drivers were willing to forgive all these faults if the four-cylinder engine hadn’t been such an unsatisfactory state of affairs. The car is still universally mocked to this day due to its lack of performance.

Photo Credit: Ford

15: Ford Probe

Just the Probe’s name brings back sad memories. The Probe was positioned to be the Mustang replacement at one point in time. That is until Ford discovered that the Mustang has some of the best brand loyalty in the automotive industry. Thus, the Probe went on well into the 1990s as an alternative sports car (via MotorWeek).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The initial design for the Probe looked like something out of a 1980s sci-fi movie. The car was the quintessential epiphany of Ford around this time frame. From a quality standpoint, the Probe was lacking in almost every area. Reliability was questionable at best when keeping the car on the road was important to consumers.

Photo Credit: Copart

14: Pontiac Firebird

The third-generation Firebird was just as bad as its corporate cousin, the Camaro. The interior of the car was so cheap that you’d think you were in a bucket. Between the rattling of the interior and the lack of fit and finish, this generation of the Firebird wasn’t well-regarded. The four-cylinder version of the Firebird was equally awful (via Car Buzz).

Photo Credit: Copart

The car had some of the worst reliability ratings of any sports car. Overheating is a major problem for these cars, especially with the 305 V8 engine. The best answer you can get from a mechanic for one of these cars is “they run hot,” a typical example of tragic GM engineering from this time period.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

13: Pontiac Fiero

If the Fiero looks familiar, it’s because the car’s general design is the same as the Toyota MR2. A compact mid-engined sports car with a lightweight design. Sounds like the formula for fun right? Not the case with the Fiero. The car was notorious for engine fires, which ended up becoming a massive media headache for GM (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Fiero had a notoriously bad reputation after the engine fire incidents. Although GM made safety changes to the car, it was too little too late. Owners of the Fiero were loyal and still are to this day, but the reputation preceded itself. The car was also vastly underpowered with the initial versions, and only later became more powerful.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

12: Buick Somerset

Marketed as a luxury subcompact, the Somerset was supposed to be the compact car of the future. There were all kinds of technological advancements put into the car. The digital dashboard and interactive buttons throughout the cabin were a nice touch. Unfortunately, the high tech coupe only looked the part of a fast car and nothing else (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Underneath the hood was the horrible 2.5-liter Iron Duke four-cylinder with just 92 hp of fun and excitement. The car was a flop, and GM would end up moving on from the N-Platform fairly quickly. While the car was praised for its high standard technology, its lackluster performance fell completely flat.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

11: Ford EXP Sport Coupe

What happens when you make a Ford Escort a sport coupe? You get the ill-fated Ford EXP. With styling that looks like it came out of an ’80s science fiction movie, the EXP was a car no one wanted. The styling was awkward and boxy, and performance was mediocre at best (via The Truth About Cars)

Photo Credit: Hagerty

Ford was again trying to mess with a formula the Mustang had already set. The engine of choice was the 1.9-liter inline-four. It wasn’t a formidable engine by any means but it did the job. Nevertheless, when an automaker is trying to sell a sports car, there should be something a little better under the hood.

Photo Credit: Motor Week

10: Renault Fuego

Although it’s not a common nameplate, the Fuego was indeed sold in the United States from 1980 to 1986. This was part of the company’s partnership with American Motors Company, and the car had a French flair. The problem was that AMC was doing poorly at this point, and the marketing for the Fuego was limited at best (via Jalopnik).

Photo Credit: Motor Week

The car had a lot of potential. It was a lightweight hatchback with tremendous driving characteristics. Compared to everything else on the market, the Fuego was a stand-out car in every sense of the word. But the performance was lackluster and build quality issues hampered what little reputation the vehicle had garnered.

Photo Credit: Bring A Trailer

9: Mitsubishi Starion

Before we got the 3000GT and before the fame of the Eclipse, there was the Starion. The car also had a corporate twin in the Chrysler Conquest. But it was the Starion that introduced performance buyers to a brand known as Mitsubishi. The curious thing about the car is that it had a twin-turbo powered coupe (via Classic).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The downside was that Mitsubishi was still a new company in the states, and the car had some quality issues to overcome. Reliability was not the greatest in the early Starion models, and electrical problems were also prevalent in the car. For the most part, the Starion was a failure but it got buyers acquainted with Mitsubishi.

Photo Credit: Honda

8: Acura Integra

The original boxy-looking Acura Integra is an icon in the automotive community. But the car also had a lot of shortcomings. At precisely 2500 pounds, the Integra was lightweight and that isn’t always a good thing. The cheap feeling of the car was not in line with the premium appeal that competitors like Lexus brought to the table (via Motor Biscuit).

Photo Credit: Honda

Perhaps the bright spot to the Integra was the fact that the 16-valve 1.6-liter four-cylinder was a pleasure to operate. The engine is still highly coveted today and is one of Honda’s best power plants. All in all, the first Integra was a bland dud, but the next generation of the car made up for it.

AMG Hammer
Photo Credit: AMG

7: AMG Hammer

Initially, the Hammer was a smart idea as it attempted to take a Mercedes Benz and turn it into a muscle car. The car had excellent manners, sound performance, and a high price tag. Everything drivers would want. Well, until the car started to age. Hammers are notoriously unreliable. When you aren’t at the race track, you’ll be in the shop (via Car Fan Blog).

AMG Hammer
Photo Credit: AMG

The V8 engine performed marvelously in such a lightweight car, which still holds true today. But keeping one of these on the road is not an easy task. It takes a loyal Mercedes enthusiast to own one of these cars and not pull their hair out. The AMG Hammer might just be one of the worst sport sedans that we remember.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

6: Audi Quattro

Known as the “rally sled,” the Quattro was about as unconventional of a two-door hatchback as you could get. The Quattro had performance that was unmatched at the time for a car in this class. The German engineering behind Audi cars shined, especially with the driving experience of the Quattro (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Quattro stood out from the crowd for its strikingly different appearance, but that wasn’t always a good thing. When it came down to it, the car was expensive to maintain and lacked the luxury car appeal that some car buyers wanted.

Photo Credit: Mecum

5: DeLorean DMC-12

The DMC-12 is one of the most iconic cars in the world, but that isn’t always a good thing. The car was plagued by problems in quality and reliability. On the silver screen, the DMC-12 was the car of the future. In reality, not too much. Apart from the out-of-this-world styling, the car was indispensable underneath.

Photo Credit: Mecum

The performance isn’t as exhilarating as the car would give the impression of. Car shoppers weren’t flattered by this either, and the car ended up being a flop. It didn’t help that John DeLorean was going through significant legal troubles at the time. To this day, there is still a fiercely loyal following for the DMC-12.

Photo Credit: Road & Track

4: Dodge Omni Shelby GLH/GLHS

What happened when Carroll Shelby and Dodge got together in the 1980s? Drivers got the Omni with racing stripes. The Shelby GLH was a turbocharged variety of the Omni that you’d sometimes see making its way down the freeway. The problem is that the car was still basically an Omni with ugly styling and an outdated interior (via Silodrone).

Photo Credit: Road & Track

There was a time when the Omni was popular, but by the late 1980s, this wasn’t the case anymore. Consumer tastes had evolved, and there were other more appealing small cars entering the market. Still Caroll Shelby stood behind this car, and there was plenty of press coverage that surrounded it.

Lamborghini Countach
Photo Credit: Motor Trend

3: Lamborghini Countach

The Countach was the car you may have had a poster of on your wall if you were a kid in the 80s. The car was everything you envisioned was cool was back then. But aside from the obscene wing and the effects of the car, the Countach was just an oversized boat. The car is mountainous, and by today’s standards, its performance isn’t that great (via The Car Guide).

Lamborgini Countach
Photo Credit: Motor Trend

This was from an era where supercars used loud and fast motors, and the Countach is anything but refined. You’ll still hear this car coming from a mile away, and you can’t miss it either. Many famous people own this obscene-looking car, including star car afficianado Jay Leno.

Mazda 323 GTX
Photo Credit: Mazda

2: Mazda 323 GTX

Mazda had many notable cars in the 1980s, yet the Mazda 323 GTX was something else. It was a hopped-up hatchback with a faster engine than the run-of-the-mill 323. While the effects of the car weren’t much, its performance made up for it. The problem was that the price tag was outrageous for what the car was.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

You could get a comparably priced sports car that would offer more performance and display for the same price. Where the 323 GTX did shine was in the rally circuit, where the sports car won numerous awards and accolades around the world.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

1: Merkur XR4Ti

Ford tried something different with the Merkur brand when it brought the cars over from Britain. The problem was that the observations of the cars were polarizing and the prices were high. Consumers didn’t want to plunge down the money on a car model unknown at the time. Which meant sales for Merkur cars suffered tremendously (via Classic).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Although the styling and performance was widely acclaimed, the cars simply didn’t catch on with consumers. At the end of the day, the Merkur XR4Ti is sort of a relic of a time when Ford was trying to innovate. Sadly, the car didn’t last that long, but you’ll still encounter one on the road every now and then.

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