Home Cars 25 Forgotten 1980s Cars Drivers Should Collect While They Still Can

25 Forgotten 1980s Cars Drivers Should Collect While They Still Can

Cameron Eittreim December 9, 2021

The 1980s were an evolutionary time for the automotive industry. New technology was making cars and trucks more efficient, and the size of vehicles was shrinking. Because of the diversity in the automotive industry during this period, there are many hidden gems drivers have forgotten about. These are cars from the 1980s that you might not remember right away, yet may instantly invoke memories nonetheless.

Many of these vehicles like the Pontiac Fiero were fun to drive but had fatal flaws that made them flop. The 1980s were still an important time for the automotive industry, and there were many firsts. Many of these cars have been forgotten, but they still present interesting value. Cars from this era are generally cheap to maintain and fix, and they invoke nostalgia among drivers who grew up in this era. We looked at some of the most forgotten cars from this era that are extremely collectible.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

25: Yugo

The Yugo is an icon in many ways. The Yugo was the cheapest car in America and was also one of the biggest flops. Hailing from Yugoslavia, the Yugo was marketed as a value-oriented compact car. It had a starting price of $3990, which at the time was a great deal. The styling of the Yugo wasn’t bad for the period and it managed to sell well at first (via Library Point).

Yugo GV
Photo Credit: Yugo

It wasn’t until the car’s quality began to unravel that consumers were appalled at how badly the car was built. Everything from exterior pieces to the cheap interior would fall apart on the Yugo. The reliability was also questionable at best but when the car was running, it got great gas mileage. The Yugo is a novelty item from this era, but it’s also one of the rarest cars around and worth collecting.

Photo Credit: Motor Biscuit

24: AMC Eagle

It’s hard to believe that almost four decades ago, the crossover car was born. AMC was the first company to innovate this segment, which has become our modern automobile of choice. The AMC Eagle was an upright station wagon that combined the aspects of a passenger car and an SUV model. The AMC Eagle got a bad rep because of its styling and questionable reliability at the time (via Silodrome).

Photo Credit: Autowp.ru

The AMC company was suffering from financial hardship, and thus engineering was not at the top of the budget. But the cars released to the market were unique and left a lasting impression. The nuts and bolts underneath the AMC Eagle were shared with the Jeep Cherokee. The off-road prowess of the AMC Eagle is immense, and the car can go anywhere that a Jeep can. The Eagle is on the verge of being a collector’s item soon, so now’s the time to collect one.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

23: Dodge Mirada

This is a car that you don’t see often. The styling of the Mirada was attractive. It was the same type of car that you’d see with the Chevy Monte Carlo. The two-door coupe was large and attractive, but it was panned for a lack of performance. Emissions regulations were wreaking havoc on the cars from this era and the Mirada, unfortunately, fell into this category (via Dodge Club).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

That’s not to say the Mirada was a bad car, because the interior was quite upscale. The exterior styling of the Mirada still looks good to this day. There is a lot of potential for the car that can still be done to it. Because the Mirada was relatively unknown, you seldom see them on the roadways anymore. But you can find one for a reasonable price, and the Mirada is worth collecting because of its attractive styling.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

22: Lamborghini Jalpa

Lamborghinis from the 1980s are some of the most collectible exotic sports cars around. The most common is the Lamborghini Countach but there are others. The Lamborghini that gets the least attention is the Jalpa. The Jalpa is by far one of the most intriguing Lamborghini models in many ways. The styling was unlike anything else on the road at the time. Its performance wasn’t the best but it still managed to get the job done (via The News Market).

Lamborghini Jalpa
Photo Credit: Lamborghini

While the Countach got all the glory from the automotive press at the time, the Jalpa was sidelined. But this particular sports car still offered a comprehensive bargain when you factored in the driving characteristics and performance. Because the Jalpa is not as popular as many cars from this era, you can still find one for a great price. And for the price, you get a great-driving car from an iconic era.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

21: Jeep Comanche Pickup

This is a rare automobile. AMC was in dire straights by the 1980s, and the compact pickup truck market was booming. What that brought with it was intense competition from the Japanese automakers. Jeep threw their hat into the race with the Comanche pickup. A truck that offered a great amount of versatility, it was based on the bulletproof Jeep Cherokee (via Auto Evolution).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Comanche had a unique stylistic design and was capable off-road. Because of this, the Comanche fought well against the likes of the Mazda B2200 and the Isuzu Pickup truck. The bed was more than adequate for runs to the hardware store. The off-road capability was unmatched, and the Laredo trim offered a fair amount of comfort. Not everyone was a fan of the styling, but you couldn’t deny the off-road capability and style of the Comanche.

Photo Credit: Barn Finds

20: 1988 Chevy Nova Twin-Cam

The little Nova was often deemed a Toyota Corolla clone. Sharing almost all its sheet metal with the Corolla, there was also a special aspect under the hood. The twin-cam four-cylinder, which boasted Toyota engineering, made the Nova an increasingly rare version of the car. The compact Nova didn’t sell anywhere near as well as the Toyota model did (via Curbside Classic).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

While the Nova isn’t the most desirable compact car from this era, the Toyota engineering under the hood makes it unique. The Twin-Cam version of the car is especially sought after thanks to the special-edition paint job and performance. With a little work, this Nova can be a tried-and-true track car.

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19: 1982 Ford EXP

The Ford Escort was one of the most well-known compact cars on the road. The gas-efficient design and cheap price made it popular. While the Escort wasn’t known for being a performance car, there was a rare sports car version. The Ford EXP looked to introduce a bit of excitement into the lineup. The sleek profile of the car made it a lot different looking than the boxy wagon and hatchback (via Barn Finds).

Photo Credit: Car domain

The fuel-efficient engine provided a semblance of fuel economy and decent off-the-line performance. The standard features of the EXP made it a well-appointed car, and that made it stand out from the crowd. The value for the EXP has increased recently, as more interesting in the 1980s cars started to formulate. But you can still find these for a reasonable price and they have a certain nostalgic value attached.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

18: Pontiac Phoenix

Pontiac offered a wide variety of coupes in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Perhaps the least known of these models was the Phoenix. Based on the GM SJ platform, the Pontiac Phoenix was one of the first true compact cars to come out of GM. The styling was attractive, and it didn’t differ from the rest of the Pontiac lineup. Although the car wasn’t as powerful as most Pontiac loyalists would have hoped for (via Curbside Classic).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Even with all the emissions add-ons, the Phoenix was still a stellar car. The design was much better than the previous attempts at a compact by GM. The Phoenix was also a better choice than what was being sold across the river. Nowadays, the Phoenix is a sort of rarity on the streets, but you can also find one fairly inexpensively. Collecting the Phoenix is worth it as the car has a lot of potential.

Chevy Beretta
Photo Credit: GM

17: Chevy Beretta

The Beretta was an experiment by GM in the same way that the Probe was over at Ford. A potential gas-efficient replacement for the aging Camaro line. But in reality, the Beretta wasn’t nearly as much of a car as the Camaro was. For starters, there was no V8 engine option, and the car didn’t have the same personality. On the plus side of things, the gas mileage was much better, and the car was vastly more comfortable to drive (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: GM

The Beretta sold better than GM expected but not good enough to replace the entire Camaro line. In reality, the Beretta could never replace the Camaro with its vast lineage. However, the car has become a sort of collector’s item, especially at the Z34 trim level. There are also rare pace car editions of the Beretta that have also become sought after in recent years.

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16: Isuzu Trooper

The first-generation Trooper doesn’t get the credit it deserves. This was indeed one of the first mainstream SUV models. The Trooper was also immensely well equipped at going off-road. The suspension and setup of the SUV made it a wonderful option compared to the big brawny SUV models we’d seen prior. The styling of the original Trooper is iconic among diehard Isuzu enthusiasts (via Gear Patrol).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The boxy SUV was also the vehicle that put Isuzu on the map in America. The popularity of the SUV was almost unmatched until Consumer Reports published a report on the tipping risks of the SUV. The sales never fully recovered for the brand, and the Trooper is sort of a collector’s item nowadays. The second-generation Trooper is the most common model, but the first generation is truly a prize if you can find one.

Photo Credit: Nostalgic Car

15: Isuzu Impulse

Isuzu as a brand is generally remembered for their Joe Isuzu salesman and their lineup of SUVs sold throughout the 1990s. But there was a time when Isuzu also sold a few passenger car models. The Impulse might look familiar because it shared its sheet metal with the Geo Storm. But when it comes down to it, the Impulse was the rarer of the two cars, and it offered quite a bit for the price (via The Drive).

Isuzu Impulse
Photo Credit: Isuzu

The performance of the Impulse was notable even back then and the styling wasn’t bad either. Thanks to a Lotus tuned suspension, the driving characteristics of the Impulse were impressive for a cheap car. The interior was fairly upmarket and the styling still looks attractive today. Because the car is relatively obscure, you can find one for a great price and they make a great novelty item.

Chrysler TC by Maserati
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14: Chrysler TC

Chrysler had a bunch of notable cars that hit the market in the 1980s. But the car that flopped the worst was built in partnership with Maserati. The Chrysler TC was a luxury coupe that competed in the same space as the Cadillac Allante. The problem with the TC was that it was nothing more than a shortened LeBaron. The Chrysler TC looked like an expensive luxury coupe but the quality wasn’t there (via Motor Trend).

Chrysler TC by Maserati
Photo Credit: Chrysler

It was a paltry sports car at best. However, the TC is a piece of Chrysler history and has become a sort of collector’s item. The value of these sports cars has remained affordable. If you enjoy collecting classic Mopars, the Chrysler TC might be worth considering.

Dodge Omni Shelby GLH/GLHS
Photo Credit: Hagerty

13: Dodge Omni

The Omni was a one-trick pony that Chrysler marketed as an economy car. The styling was about as bland and ugly as you could get. The same goes for the platform mate the Plymouth Horizon. Both of these compact cars were unassuming and had paltry performance. But the sales numbers were impressive enough that Chrysler kept these cars on the road for a decade before they were discontinued (via Hagerty).

Photo Credit: Car Domani

The Omni will quickly become a classic as the next generation of automotive enthusiasts explore these cars. You can find Omnis fairly cheap and without much effort, especially if you live in a large city. The Omni has extensive parts catalog available, and the repairs are not that expensive. You can easily break out a Chilton repair manual and repair the car with ease.

Photo Credit: Maserati

12: Maserati Biturbo

Nowadays, drivers equate Maserati cars with high-end buyers and celebrities, but in the 1980s these cars were more exclusive. You had to be part of the in crowd to buy a Maserati sports car. The Biturbo was the product of these exclusive cars. The styling didn’t resonate with every buyer, but it wasn’t as extreme as a Lamborghini. The performance was spirited and offered a lot of pep for the price (via Grass Roots Motors).

Photo Credit: Mecum

The interior was luxurious and spacious considering the outer dimensions of the car. Although the Biturbo doesn’t look like much from the outside, the car was practical for its time frame. As with most high-end luxury cars, the Biturbo has depreciated quite a bit over the past few years. You can find one of these for a cheap price and get a lot without breaking the bank.

Photo Credit: Motor Week

11: Renault Fuego

The early 1980s were a tough time for AMC. The company was hemorrhaging money and there weren’t many resources to devote to R&D. This caused them to invest in a merger with French automaker Renault. The result was many unique cars that came to fruition. One of these vehicles was the Fuego compact car, which was marketed as a sport hatchback (via Motor 1).

Photo Credit: Renault

Upon entering the market, the car got generally favorable reviews. The French driving characteristics proved popular compared to what else was on the market. But that didn’t help the sales along, and the car ended up being a flop. You’ll seldom see one of these on the road anymore, but the Fuego is sure to be a classic at some point.

Photo Credit: Bring A Trailer

10: Dodge Rampage

Although it was released long after the El Camino, the Rampage was a unique car-based pickup truck. The compact design made the Rampage a fuel-efficient vehicle. A car-like design proved popular with people who needed the versatility of a truck. The fact that it sported a Dodge badge also made it popular among Dodge diehards. You see the Rampage every once in a while and it’s a popular project car (via Hagerty).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The parts are common and cheap to come by, and the Rampage hasn’t become an expensive classic yet. You can find one of these for a little bit of nothing and turn it into the compact truck. The Rampage is destined to become a classic as cars from the 1980s start to appreciate more and more.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

9: 1983-1987 Dodge Charger

There was a Charger sold in the 1980s yet it wasn’t as popular as the muscle car of the past. The compact Charger was supposed to attract buyers who wanted a compact car that was fuel efficient. The styling of the Charger wasn’t anything amazing, in fact it was similar to the Chrysler Conquest of the same time period. There were some unique things about this generation of the Charger though (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Mecum

It was the only Charger to be based on the L-Body platform and it had four-cylinder power. The design of the car was exactly what was needed at this time. The gas efficient Charger showed that four-cylinder sports cars could be sold for a reasonable price. This iteration didn’t compete with the Charger models of yesteryear, but this is sure to become a classic because of the nameplate alone.

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8: Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe

Believe it or not, this generation of the Ford Thunderbird is still under-appreciated. This was the generation of the Thunderbird, which was not only rear wheel drive, but also a V8 engine. The S/C had a turbocharged V6 that still offered a great amount of power for the price. The car was extremely spacious inside and offered many luxury features in terms of interior comfort (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

If you’ve never had the pleasure of driving a Thunderbird before, the tenth generation is a great introduction. The styling is timeless, and there are many aftermarket modifications that you can get for this car. There are very few cars that have become as synonymous with performance as the Thunderbird did.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

7: Eagle Premier

One of the first Eagle cars introduced with the new brand was the Premier. Chrysler needed a way to get buyers into Jeep showrooms after they acquired the brand from AMC. Eagle was a great way to offer captive imports that offered seemingly more agile driving characteristics. The Eagle cars from this period were an interesting start for the brand, which was being positioned by Chrysler as an alternative (via Autoweek).

Photo Credit: Eagle Cars

There were no other performance captive import brands on the market at the time. Eagle had a compelling advertising campaign and a large dealership network already built in. The Premier never sold well enough and the car was discontinued. Nowadays, the car has become a sort of collector’s item and the price will surely go up in the future.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

6: Dodge Raider

Dodge sold a two-door SUV in the late 1980s as part of a partnership with Mitsubishi. The Raider was a notable SUV with a lot of off-road capability. The design of the SUV was boxy, but it still had the functionality drivers expected. There was even a version of the Raider with a removable top like the Jeeps and Suzuki’s of the time period (via Dodge Forum).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Raider is rare yet its value has remained steady. Unless you bump into a real price gouger, you can find one of these for a low price. The body on frame design made the Raider an incredible beast on dirt trails. The high ground clearance from the factory makes adding a pair of aftermarket wheels an easy task.

Cadillac Cimarron
Photo Credit: Auto Wise

5: Cadillac Cimarron

A Chevy Cavalier-based Cadillac actually happened, and it was known as one of the biggest mistakes to come out of General Motors. The Cimarron had an upgraded interior and ride quality over the Cavalier. Obviously being a luxury car, there had to be some improvements over such a basic platform. The consumer reviews for the Cimarron were devastating when the car was originally released (via The Drive).

Photo Credit: Motor Biscuit

When the Cimarron was brand-new, the car was a travesty for what it was being sold for. But nowadays, the Cimarron is an interesting concept. You can find one for a relatively inexpensive price and it’s quite easy to work on. In recent years, there has been an increased interest in this Cadillac model.

Photo Credit: GM

4: Pontiac Le Mans

Another interesting compact car from the late 1980s was the Pontiac Le Mans. It was based on a Daewoo model sold overseas. The Pontiac Le Mans was panned because of a lack of quality in the interior pieces. There is no denying the car was cheaply built, but so were the other compacts from this generation. The performance of the Le Mans was also quite questionable at this time (via Autoweek).

Pontiac LeMans GSE
Photo Credit: Car Domain

But nowadays, the fact that you can get a Pontiac hatchback from this era is a unique attribute. The Le Mans had many unique features at the time, including notable touches, such as vents on the back windows. The later models had a smoothed front fascia and a smoother looking exterior.

Photo Credit: Autoblog

3: Chrysler LeBaron Town and Country Convertible

This LeBaron was notable for a few reasons, one of which was the talking interior. That’s right, this convertible will talk to you throughout the driving process. Using the same voice synthesizer as the Speak & Spell toy, the Le Baron will tell you when you need an oil service and various other statements. The styling of this convertible was also very upscale at the time, which attracted many new buyers (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The interior was quite upscale for the time, and the wood exterior trim was also attractive. Although the performance of the four-cylinder engine wasn’t the best for a convertible, it stood the test of time. The LeBaron still provides a fun driving experience to this day, and the styling doesn’t look dated at all.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

2: Buick Reatta

There were a few unique Buick models that came out of the 1980s and the Reatta was one of them. The compact sports car had a unique style that still looks unique to this day. The performance of the Reatta was more impressive than many drivers gave it credit for. The interior was upscale and there was a lot of new technology incorporated into it. A digital dashboard and a new HVAC system were some of the new tech Buick included (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Perhaps the most notable thing about the Reatta was the short wheelbase and decent performance at the time. These cars didn’t sell well enough and were eventually discontinued. The resale value hasn’t exploded on these Buicks yet, and you can find a decent one for a reasonable price.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

1: Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2

Perhaps the least known GM G-Body car of the bunch is the Grand Prix 2+2. The styling of the Grand Prix was the most notable thing about the car. The pointed nose and elongated body made the Grand Prix an attractive sports car. The performance of the V8 engine gave the Grand Prix impressive off-the-line performance. The aftermarket community for these G-Body cars has exploded in recent years (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Pontiac

While the price of the Monte Carlo and Buick Regal has risen, the Grand Prix 2+2 is one of the more affordable models. You can find these from time to time with low mileage, and the engine is fairly easy to work on. The Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 is a well appointed muscle car from this era and it’s sure to be a classic as time goes on.

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