5. Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe
A Thunderbird isn’t the car you usually consider a muscle car. But in the 1980s, Ford introduced a couple of Thunderbirds that could have that designation. They were an interesting addition to the performance car scene in those days. Although the T-bird was available with a V8 engine, the best performing version was the ’87 Turbo Coupe.
The TC received a Mustang SVO, a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a manual transmission. It delivered 190 HP with a top speed of 143 mph. The relative lightness of the car and aerodynamic shape of the ninth generation Thunderbird delivered quite impressive performance.
4. Pontiac Trans Am 20th Anniversary Model
In 1989, Pontiac celebrated the 20th anniversary of its favorite muscle car, the Trans Am. They decided to introduce a limited run of 1,500 cars to commemorate the occasion. But they wanted their anniversary edition to be special, not just another decal and paint job. So Pontiac decided to install Buick’s 3.8-liter turbo V6 from the GNX to create the fastest Trans Am of the decade.
It turned out to be extremely rare and expensive. The white commemorative edition could accelerate 0.1 seconds faster than the GNX from 0 to 60 mph at 4.6 seconds. The reason was simple. It had a better weight distribution and gearing from a Pontiac gearbox. Today, these are rare and highly-prized collectors’ editions.
3. Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe
Ford introduced the 10th generation of the venerable Thunderbird in 1989. It had a redesigned platform and a more elegant, sleeker body. Again, this was a luxury coupe with no sporty ambitions. However, the Ford engineers created an interesting performance model car fans considered a muscle car in the Thunderbird Super Coupe.
Just like the Turbo Coupe, the SC had a smaller engine. But this time they supercharged it to achieve higher performance. The 3.8-liter V8 got a supercharger and intercooler and a high-tech motor management system delivering a respectable 210 HP.
Customers praised the SC for its handling and braking capabilities. It reached high top speeds thanks to its aerodynamic shape and clever engineering. Its 0 to 60 mph acceleration time was just 7.5 seconds.
2. Pontiac Fiero
In the 1980s, everybody expected another GTO from Pontiac. However, they got a small sports car that was something Italians would build. It was a bold move for Pontiac to introduce a compact rear-wheel-drive car with the engine positioned in the center and pair it up with a five-speed manual transaxle gearbox.
For the standards of the day, this was the most advanced American production model. Car customers were hyped by the appearance of the Fiero with its cool, modern design and advanced technology. The initial response was more than they expected, as in 1983, sales figures were over 130,000 cars.
Unfortunately, Pontiac didn’t develop the Fiero, and early models were badly put together. The engine power was not that great and the interior was cramped. GM responded by upgrading the car, and by the end of the ’80s, the Fiero was a solid sports car with 150 HP from a 2.8-liter V6 engine.
1. Shelby Dakota
The Dakota was a compact pickup truck sold between 1987 and 1996. It was dependable, tough-looking, and came with a wide arrange of engines and trim levels. But Dodge wanted more, so in the late ’80s, the company conceived a performance version made by the legendary Carroll Shelby.
Shelby took the regular production Dakota and installed a 5.2-liter V8 engine with 175 HP. Despite the fact the power output was relatively small, the Dakota was light and had lots of torque. This meant this compact truck delivered a convincing performance. Shelby also dressed up the Dakota with special paint, trim, a rollbar, and wheels, which made this compact muscle truck stand out on the streets.