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1980s Sports Cars That Tried To Be Too Futuristic

Cameron EittreimJuly 23, 2020

Chrysler LeBaron Coupe
Photo Credit: Chrysler

29: Chrysler LeBaron Coupe

The actual Chrysler LeBaron was also a controversial car for its time. This was one of the first production cars that incorporated a talking mechanism into the dashboard. The voice synthesizer was the same product that was used in the popular Speak & Spell toy. A computerized voice would tell you when the door was ajar, fuel was low, and when the car needed service. While this was a futuristic feature, it didn’t do much to boost sales by any stretch.

Chrysler LeBaron Coupe
Photo Credit: Car Domain

Likewise, the styling of the LeBaron was dated even for the period. Convertibles were just coming back into the mainstream and the LeBaron was one of these. The advanced sound was not enough to pursued buyers. The LeBaron was an important car for Chrysler at a time when the company was in a rebuilding phase.

Isuzu I-Mark
Photo Credit: jJalopnik

28: Isuzu I-Mark

Yes, as shocking as it may seem, there was a time when Isuzu sold passenger cars. There was also a time when the company sold cars in the U.S. period. You’d have to think that Isuzu would be making a killing right now in the crossover business. Nevertheless, the Isuzu I-Mark was a futuristic-looking little compact car with a lot of personalities. The I-Mark had notable features such as a digital dashboard and a unique race-inspired design.

Isuzu I-Mark
Photo Credit: Jalopnik

Perhaps the most interesting part about the I-Mark was the advertising campaign, which starred a man named Joe Isuzu. These advertisements were immensely popular and managed to stick around in pop culture long after the I-Mark was a thing. Few cars were as minuscule and yet almost coincidental as the I-Mark was for Isuzu.

1985 Corvette
Photo Credit: Hot Rod

27: 1985 Corvette

Another futuristic car that GM was trying to lay onto consumers was the revised Corvette. The most notable addition was the entirely digital dashboard, which took up the majority of the interior. Another addition to the Corvette is the LT1 engine, which at the time was the top of the line powerplant. The problem is that the engine was plagued by problems with the EVAP restrictions that were placed on it for smog. This technology was still new, and at the time caused the Corvette to lose a lot of performance.

1985 Corvette
Photo Credit: Hot Rod

Aside from that, the 1985 Corvette is notable for incorporating such features as the Targa Top, which was notable at the time. Corvette buyers are generally very particular when it comes to the sports car, and the design is often carefully crafted. But 1985 was a bit more futuristic than buyers were comfortable with. A lot of the interesting design cues have stuck with the Corvette line to this day.

1984 Datsun 810 Maxima
Photo Credit: Car Domain

26: 1984 Datsun 810 Maxima

Perhaps one of the most interesting futuristic cars was the 1984 Datsun 810 Maxima. The standout thing about this car was that it talked, as the Maxima was the first talking car to be sold in America. The commands that could be spoken were fairly simplistic, door ajar, oil change due, etc. But it was enough to try and take passenger cars into the future, albeit a little bit too soon. Even with our advanced computerized vehicles today the talking function never actually caught on with consumers.

1984 Datsun 810 Maxima
Photo Credit: FavCars

There were other aspects of the Maxima that made it a great car though, such as the performance. Nissan was not a new company to the performance circuit, and as such the powerplant being the Maxima propelled it with authority. Most of the technology that went into the Nissan Z went to developing a sedan that could perform adequately. The Maxima was one of the first sport sedans and probably the most futuristic on the market.

AMC Eagle
Photo Credit: AMC

25: AMC Eagle (1980-87)

This off-road wagon was a crossover long before crossover vehicles. Unfortunately, the car was a bit too extreme for the consensus and sales were never much of anything popular. The interesting thing about the Eagle is that it lived on when the Jeep brand was purchased by Chrysler. Many of the Eagle’s parts were used on the Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler utilized this for the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

AMC Eagle
Photo Credit: AMC

Had the AMC brand lived onto our current time, the Eagle might have sold well in modern form. This car is similar to the Subaru CrossTrek of today. You can still find these old AMCs laying around for a good price. The Eagle brand initially featured similar vehicles that were sourced from Mitsubishi.

AMG Hammer
Photo Credit: AMG

24: AMG Hammer (1986-88)

Mercedes has always had some sort of performance sedan or coupe. During the late ’80s, there was a menacing sedan called the AMG Hammer. The rare and daunting piece of German engineering was powered by a race-prepped 6.3L engine. Even by today’s standards, the AMG Hammer is a serious performance sedan that can still hold its own. These cars were extremely rare.

AMG Hammer
Photo Credit: AMG

There have since been other AMG sedans to come out of Mercedes. But the AMG Hammer was something different for the automaker. This was the pinnacle of sedans you could get at the time. You can expect to pay a pretty penny if you want to get your hands on this Darth Vadar-looking Mercedes.

Audi Quattro
Photo Credit: Audi

23: Audi Quattro (1983-85)

Audi has been dominating the rally circuit around the world. But during the ’80s, the brand was coming into its own and the Quattro was introduced. This squared two-door set the stage for performance cars we see today.

Audi Quattro
Photo Credit: Hemmings

You don’t see these around much anymore, but you’d have to see one in person to truly appreciate the beauty. The car was a marvel of German engineering and something that left a lasting impression on the automotive industry. On top of exhilarating performance, the Audi also had a quiet interior with luxury options.

BMW M3
Photo Credit: Euro Driver

22: BMW M3 (1988-91)

Take a compact BMW and put it on steroids, and that’s how you birth an M3. The car has a lot going for it in terms of styling and functionality. In recent years the M3 has made a comeback and these cars have been priced like gold. Is it worth it? The short answer is yes. The M3 with its short wheelbase and the rev-happy engine was one of the most enjoyable cars that you could drive. With the optional appearance package, it gave out every inclination that this was a true beamer.

BMW M3
Photo Credit: Classic Car

If you can get your hands on the M3 of this generation, you’re in for something special. These two-doors were a blast to drive and still are to this day. Sure, maintenance will hurt, but when these things are running they are the ultimate driving machine. The interior was also quite spacious at a time when space was limited.

Buick GNX
Photo Credit: GM Performance

21: Buick Grand National GNX (1987)

By the ’80s, GM had a lineup of questionable sedans including a Camaro with a four-cylinder and a line of G-Bodies with the 305 V8. So what do you do with a car that could potentially be a dominant force? You create the Grand National GNX, of course. This intimidating two-door was a mixture of driving pleasure and parts bin recycling. There were very few remaining remnants of the Regal it was based on.

Buick GNX
Photo Credit: GM Performance

The GNX wasn’t V8-powered; instead, it was turbocharged. That’s what makes this car so special. Driving the GNX is a different experience in itself. The overall design of the GNX is something many have tried to mimic. In recent years these cars have become hard to come by and there are a lot of clones out there.

1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC via GM
Photo Credit: GM

20: Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z (1985-90)

Chevy was laughed out of the pony car race after the Camaro “iron duke” hit the market. So when it came time to reinvigorate the Camaro, it was given a new set of side skirts and a wing. The IROC-Z was based on the international race of champions. The car had a fuel-injected 350, a stick shift transmission and optional T-Tops.

Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
Photo Credit: GM

Not just any car could take the honors of being the most ’80s-looking. But the Camaro IROC-Z may take that title. So pull out that red leather jacket. To this day, the IROC-Z is the quintessential ’80s muscle car.

Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition
Photo Credit: Hagerty

19: Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition (1980)

For a single model year, there was a model that was known as “Black Gold.” The Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition was a special car to commemorate the company’s newfound success in America. Few sports cars have done as well as the 280ZX, and this was designed to honor that.

Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition
Photo Credit: Datsun

The two-tone exterior and interior were quintessential ’80s. Few cars will captivate you as the 280ZX does. During the 1980s there were quite a few sports cars that tried to replicate the success. But Datsun stayed true to the winning formula with the 280ZX.

DeLorean DMC-12
Photo Credit: DMC

18: DeLorean DMC-12 (1981-83)

We had to include the most “futuristic” car around for obvious reasons. The DeLorean DMC-12 was made famous by the movie “Back To The Future.” Many people thought that this was a movie prop; however, the DMC-12 was a real car. The futuristic styling and stainless steel body were way ahead of its time and coupled with gullwing doors.

DeLorean DMC-12
Photo Credit: DMC

Nowadays the DMC-12 is being remanufactured and reborn. A common modification is to put a modern engine in one. Performance is greatly improved and you have a car that will never lose its novelty appeal. All in all, the performance of the DMC-12 wasn’t anything amazing, but the novelty of the car is worth owning it.

Dodge Omni Shelby GLH/GLHS
Photo Credit: RM Sotheby’s

17: Dodge Omni Shelby GLH/GLHS (1984-86)

This car was part of the string of cheap performance cars that Carroll Shelby designed for Chrysler Corporation during the ’80s and ’90s. The car had a lot going for it thanks to its lightweight design. But, when things came down to quality, the Omni was lacking.

Dodge Omni Shelby GLH/GLHS
Photo Credit: RM Sotheby’s

Fortunately, the Omni with its shaded graphics and the over-the-top paint job was totally ’80s. These Shelby models are very rare, and you can expect to pay a pretty penny if you want a pristine econobox in your collection.

Ferrari F40
Photo Credit: Ferrari

16: Ferrari F40 (1987-92)

This sports car looks more like a fighter jet than an actual sports car, which is the look that Ferrari was going for. The Ferrari F40 had a powerful engine and a low force of gravity. The car handled amazingly through twists and turns, and the giant wing on the back made the car look like an F1 racer.

Ferrari F40
Photo Credit: Ferrari

Although it tried a bit too hard to be futuristic if you want one of the best track cars on the road you can’t go wrong with the F40. Ferrari has been in the sports car business for a long time and the F40 is a stellar choice for a track car. The product line of the F40 didn’t last very long as it was a niche product.

Ferrari Testarossa
Photo Credit: Ferrari

15: Ferrari Testarossa (1984-91)

The Testarossa is the ultimate way to floss an ’80s sports car. The car had iconic styling that Ferrari has yet to replicate to this day. The performance was derived from one of the purist motors that Ferrari has ever built. The center of gravity that the Testarossa was made the car handle beautifully.

Ferrari Testarossa
Photo Credit: Ferrari

Style-wise, the Testarossa tried way too hard to be ahead of its time. The clean lines and overall shape was enough to give the car a standout look. The lines up the sides and some of the extra ’80s stuff was a little bit too much. There have been many sports cars that have tried to replicate the success of the Testarossa, only to fail miserably.

Ford Mustang GT 5.0
Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

14: Ford Mustang GT 5.0 (1987-93)

While the overall design of the legendary fox body Mustang was exceptional, the body cladding was over-the-top. Ford had this same car in production for over a decade, so naturally, things were going to get a bit tired. The 5.0 GT in particular was home to home of the most heinous body cladding ever seen on a Ford. The ground effects and the wing gave the car an aerodynamic look, but it was anything but pretty.

1982 Ford Mustang GT
Photo Credit: Car And Driver

The next generation of the Mustang was a much smoother vehicle altogether. The ’90s were a time when most automakers got away from the square ’80s look. While the SVO and many other Mustang models utilized this same body, the 5.0 seemed to get the worst of the body cladding. Over the years there have been aftermarket effects you can get for the 5.0 to help alleviate the cladding.

Lamborghini Countach
Photo Credit: Lamborghini

13: Lamborghini Countach (1974-90)

When you think about a Lamborghini that’s quintessential ’80s, it’s the Countach. The car has every inch of what you’d expect an eighties sports car to have. From the giant wing to the crazy look of the car the Countach had it all. Performance-wise, the Countach was a blast to drive, but the awkward looks of the car made it stand out like a sore thumb. Even today this car garners massive attention. Comedian Jay Leno removed the wing from his Countach, but the majority still have all of the effects.

Lamborghini Countach
Photo Credit: Top Speed

The ’80s were an impressive time for automotive design, and the Countach was at the forefront. These sports cars of this era were amazingly futuristic but went a little bit overboard. There is no denying that the Countach was ahead of its time in terms of design and styling.

RX-7
Photo Credit: Classic Car

12: Mazda RX-7 Turbo II (1987-91)

Nearly every incarnation of the RX-7 was ahead of its time. The rotary engine is regarded as one of the best engines ever built. But the 1987 models took the cake for having an interesting design. The flat popup headlights and the squared body was almost reminiscent of a Chrysler Conquest. This seemed to be a going trend for automakers around this period.

MAzda RX7
Photo Credit: Mazda

To this day, the RX-7 still commands a strong asking price, and these models were available in a convertible and coupe. It is one of the more futuristic-looking sports cars to hit the market during this decade. The RX-7 was a powerful car that could handle twists and turns with the best of them.

Merkur XR4Ti
Photo Credit: Car Domain

11: Merkur XR4Ti (1985-89)

You’ve probably seen these cars from time to time. The ZR4Ti was lauded by journalists for its styling and driving characteristics. The car was often referred to as a domestic Audi and could put down matching performance numbers. Sadly, the cars were a little bit too ahead of their time.

Photo Credit: Murkur

Futuristic cars were a thing of the ’80s and the Merkur was at the top of the list. Perhaps if the styling had been a little bit subdued, the brand would have lasted a bit longer. And no, this wasn’t an offshoot of Mercury. If you’ve ever seen the ZR4Ti then you’ll know what we’re talking about.

Mitsubishi Starion
Photo Credit: Fast Lane Cars

10: Mitsubishi Starion (1983-1989)

The Mitsubishi brand started out importing cars for Chrysler during the late ’70s and into the ’80s. Eventually, the company wanted to start selling vehicles under the Mitsubishi brand name, and the Starion was part of a trio. While the other two vehicles fell into obscurity the Starion was a great seller for the company. The Chrysler Conquest was also based on the Starion but didn’t sell as well.

Mitsubishi Starion
Photo Credit: Fast Lane Cars

In the long run, the Mitsubishi Starion was a bit of overkill due to the way the body was styled. But if you could get past the exterior of the thing the performance and drivability were exceptional. Sports cars of this era were fun to drive and well-designed examples of automotive design.

Nissan Pulsar NX
Photo Credit: Car Domain

9: Nissan Pulsar NX (1987-1990)

Nissan hit it out of the park with the 280ZX. But the rest of the lineup was lackluster at best. The Nissan Pulsar NX was one of many compact cars that Nissan was hammering out during the ’80s. The car had a recognizable look with boxy corners and popup headlights. The look and feel of the car were quintessential ’80s, and its performance was decent.

Nissan Pulsar NX
Photo Credit: Car Domain

The car was competing internally with the Nissan Sentra and it was causing a problem for the dealership network. Datsun was also being phased out around this period and the NX suffered a similar fate to the brand. The NX managed to sell well for the company and lasted for only a few years.

Porsche 944 Turbo
Photo Credit: Autoweek

8: Porsche 944 Turbo (1986-1989)

Porsche was at a standstill during the ’80s, as the brand was in a state of despair. The cars were unimaginative and the automotive market was changing. The Porsche 944 Turbo did a great job of creating a one of a kind vehicle. The lines of the sports car were extremely futuristic, but Porsche was at the forefront with some extreme designs. The 944 was a comfortable car to drive with a decent backseat.

Porsche 944 Turbo
Photo Credit: Porsche

The Porsche 944 probably isn’t going to be at the top of your list when it comes to ’80s sports cars. But, if you want a glimpse into a futuristic sports car that screams the 1980s, the Porsche 944 is the way to go. There was also an optional V8 version of the car that performed well.

Porsche 959
Photo Credit: Autoweek

7: Porsche 959 (1986-1989)

The Porsche 959 is among the most notable renditions from the famed automaker. The design was long and sloping. The car was designed to churn out an impressive performance whether you were on the race track or the city streets. There’s no denying that the 959 might have been way ahead of its time, and this is why the car turned a lot of buyers off.

Porsche 959
Photo Credit: Autoweek

The Porsche 959 was maybe just a little bit too much. Still, if you want to experience one of the most unique Porsche’s ever designed, the 959 is it. The design is unlike anything that you’ll see and it’s quintessential Porsche. Every automaker was trying to jump on the design bandwagon in the ’80s.

Saab 900
Photo Credit: Saab

6: Saab 900 Turbo (1978-1993)

The 900 Turbo was the pinnacle of Saab design during the ’80s. The car had a look all its own, from its harsh corners to the interesting roofline. If you’ve ever driven a Saab, then you’ll know that this look was quintessential. The automaker never really veered far away from this styling, and at the time it was very futuristic.

Saab 900
Photo Credit: Saab

Nevertheless, if you haven’t had a chance to drive a Saab before, this is a must-drive. The Saab 900 Turbo was way too futuristic looking back then, but now it looks chic and trendy, a good thing when it comes to buying an older car. Cars were traditionally boxy while the Saab was a sleek and international-looking car.

Subaru XT
Photo Credit: Car Domain

5: Subaru XT (1985-1991)

The Subaru XT was back in the ’80s what the Cybertruck is now. The sharp-bladed styling of the two-door made it look like nothing you’ve ever seen. The performance was also quite decent. This was before Subaru had become the trendy automaker it is today. Other Subaru coupes came after the XT, but to this day the XT has some of the most daring styling.

Subaru XT
Photo Credit: Subaru

The company wasn’t afraid to innovate around this period and the XT is evidence of that. Whether you just wanted a car like in the movie Mad Max or you are a Subaru fanatic, the XT is a unique proposition. Subaru also had a sedan around this time that had a flat engine coupled with the spare tire in the same compartment.

Toyota Supra Turbo
Photo Credit: Automobile Mag

4: Toyota Celica Supra (1982-1986)

The Toyota Celica has gone through a lot of changes over the decades. One such thing that it would take on was the appearance of a muscle car, a sports car, and finally a compact. The Celica Supra was a mixture of futuristic styling and everything you wanted in a sports car. Surprisingly the car was very similar to the Mitsubishi Starion, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Toyota Celica Supra
Photo Credit: Automobile

Performance-wise, the Celica wasn’t going to win any races off the line. But the car had satisfactory handling and performance for a long ride. This is what most people are looking for in a sports car anyway, agility and reliability. The Celica was one of the building blocks for Toyota that we see today.

Toyota MR2
Photo Credit: Toyota

3: Toyota MR2 (1985-1989)

Few cars have as much of a cult following as the MR2 doe. This little mid-engined car was one of the most unique things to come out of Toyota. The car wasn’t very powerful on paper, but the driving etiquette of the MR2 is top-notch. These cars are even used to create kit cars of Ferraris and other well-known models.

Toyota MR2
Photo Credit: Toyota

The later MR2’s still adapted the same extreme styling. But the ’80s rendition was perhaps the most notable. Cars like this and the Pontiac Fiero were a great way to experience mid-engine driving on a budget. The styling was a bit blocky and over-the-top, but the result was a great driving experience.

Pontiac Fiero
Photo Credit: Automobile

2: Pontiac Fiero (1984-1988)

The Pontiac brand was at an impasse during the ’80s. This mid-engined car had a very futuristic look tht was ahead of the time. Where the MR2 was a small mid-engined car the Fiero was in the same league, but GM was opting to put more power into it. The Fiero was notorious for having engine fires due to cramped engine bay design.

Pontiac Fiero
Photo Credit: Automobile

There were some cool moments with the Fiero though as it was the official Indianapolis 500 Pace Car. Had Pontiac perfected the engine bay problem the Fiero would have been one of the most desirable mid-engined cars on the market. After a series of lawsuits and bad press, the Fiero was redesigned but it was far too late for the car.

Yugo GV
Photo Credit: Yugo

1. Yugo GV (1985 – 1992)

Finally, we have a car that is notoriously the worst car ever made according to the automotive press. The Yugo was the cheapest car in America, but also the worst. The cars were notoriously unreliable right out of the factory, with issues ranging from overheating to interior build quality. The plan for the Yugo was to create the cheapest car on the market, and that happened.

Yugo GV
Photo Credit: Barn Finds

The Yugo tried to be the future of the automotive industry and instead went down in flames. Very few cars have failed as miserably as the Yugo did. This was one of the most memorable stories in the automotive industry. Unfortunately, there was no thought process behind the design.

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