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40 Unforgettable Sports Cars Of The ‘80s and ‘90s

Cameron EittreimSeptember 3, 2020

1991 Pontiac Firehawk
via: Hot Rod

24: Pontiac SLP Firehawk

The Firebird during the ’80s and ’90s was being differentiated from the Camaro to give consumers a choice in GM F-Body cars. To further differentiate the Firebird, the SLP Firehawk was brought to the fold. SLP has been customizing F-Body cars for GM since as far back as the brands have been competing. The Pontiac SLP Firehawk had a lot of enhancements to its engine and drivetrain that gave the car a more performance than the Formula model.

1991 Pontiac firehawk
via: Autoweek

In addition to that, the interior had special touches such as Firehawk stitching in the seats and on the dashboard. The 0 to 60 time of 4.6 seconds is impressive even to this day. The fuel-injected motor performed beautifully with upgrades from SLP. This was a limited-production vehicle and generally, SLP built these vehicles to order. The Firehawk lived on until the Firebird was discontinued for the 2002 model year.

Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R
via: Hot Rod

23: Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R

Ford has done a great job of invigorating new life into the Mustang brand when times get tough. The fox body Mustang had a nice run. But when it was time for the next generation, opinions were mixed. To remedy this for Mustang diehards, Ford went to the SVT division to create a monstrous performance car. The 1995 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R is a track-ready vehicle and one of the most impressive sports cars to come out of the ’90s.

SVT Cobra Type R
via: Hot Rod

With a supercharged engine and a 300 Horsepower rating, the SVT Cobra R stands out from the crowd. An aggressive ground effects kit was installed to give the car a lowered look, and the factory alloy rims were well-designed. There was also a factory dual exhaust system and the car has a gnarly natural tone few vehicles on the road can replicate.

1985 Camaro IROC Z
via: Hot Rod

22: 1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z

While the Pontiac division was doing special packages on the Firebird, the Camaro was also getting its own special treatment. The IROC-Z was a stellar vehicle with a lot going for it, and it became synonymous with the ’80s and ’90s. The car was named after the International Race of Champions and was separate from the Z/28 in a lot of aspects. A ground effects treatment and a spoiler gave the IROC-Z its own unique identity.

1985 Camaro IROC-Z
via: Hagerty

The base motor put out 210 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 285 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm. This was more than adequate power at the time, but you could upgrade it further. Very rarely, some IROC-Z models didn’t feature T-Tops. You could also get a convertible IROC-Z later in the production cycle.

1987 Buick GNX
via: Hot Rod

21: 1987 Buick GNX

What we have here is the holy grail of turbo-powered sports coupes from the ’80s and ’90s. The Buick GNX was designed to stand out from the crowd at a time when GM was having an identity crisis. Too many of the vehicles across the brand portfolio were just rebadged versions of the same car. While this was common practice during this timeframe, GM decided to switch things up and the Buick GNX was born. The car is not only one of the fastest cars of the ’80s and ’90s, but it is also one of the most desirable.

1987 Buick GNX
via: Hot Rod

Recently, an 85,000-mile Buick GNX sold at auction for $200,000. That’s astronomical considering the car’s age and what era it’s from. These are going to be classics very soon as the muscle car marketplace continues to evolve. If you are a fan of the GM G-Body cars of the ’80s and ’90s, the GNX is something worth investing in.

Escort RS Cosworth
via: Bing

20: Ford Escort RS Cosworth

The Ford Escort RS Cosworth is a car you wouldn’t think of when you think of performance cars of the ’80s and ’90s. But that’s because the Cosworth isn’t something you take to the race track; far from it, in fact. This is a rally car similar in design to the Subaru WRX. The Escort RS Cosworth dominated the rally circuit for a good deal of the ’90s.

Ford Escort RS
via: Bing

The car performed admirably compared to its competition and its overall design was more than stylish. These cars are very rare, complete with the “whale tail” fin on the decklid of the car. Resale value on these cars has continued to rise dramatically. The unique stylistic choices of the car and the naturally aspirated engine made the Cosworth a stellar buy. If you’ve ever been interested in hot hatches, this is one to check out.

Corvette ZR-1 Via Motor Trend
Corvette ZR-1 Via Motor Trend

19: 1990 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1

The Corvette has endured a lot of transition during its historic run. Nowadays the “Vette is a mid-engined supercar. But during the ’90s the ‘Vette was closer to its roots, creating a pleasurable touring experience. The 1990 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 changed things up a bit with a track-inspired sports car that drew from supercar origins. The standard 380-hp 5.7-liter LT5 DOHC V-8 engine boasted a top speed of 175 MPH.

Corvette ZR-1 Via Motor Trend
Corvette ZR-1 Via Motor Trend

The performance was not the only strong part of the ZR-1, as the suspension was upgraded as well. There have been a lot of nicknames for the Corvette during the ’80s and ’90s, including the “King of the Hill” and with good reason. The car pushed the boundaries of what the Corvette was capable of, and the brand needed that boost after a lackluster run. If you love Corvette heritage, the ZR-1 is worth taking a look at.

1984 Ford Mustang SVO
via: Car And Driver

18: 1984 Ford Mustang SVO

In today’s world of high-performance sports cars, the turbo-powered four-cylinder is all the rage. But when the 1984 Ford Mustang SVO hit the market, there were questions that surrounded how the car would perform. Luckily, the SVO lived up to the expectations and is known as one of the most fun-to-drive Mustangs on the road. The design of the car set out to differentiate it from the rest of the Mustang lineup.

1984 Mustang SVO
via: Car and Driver

While this wasn’t a 5.0 liter-powered beast, the 1984 Ford Mustang SVO did create a bit of a stir. The 2.3-liter I4 turbo is one of the most durable and well-performing engines Ford has released. Aside from the road manners, the Mustang SVO also got high accolades for the way it drove. There is no denying that the Mustang SVO is one of the most influential sports cars to come out of the ’80s and ’90s.

1989 Firdbird Trans Am
via: Hot Rod

17: 1989 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

Not unlike the Firehawk models of the ’80s and ’90s, the Trans AM itself was a popular aspect of the Pontiac lineup. When you think about influential ’80s sports cars, GM F-bodies can’t be ignored. The Firebird differentiated itself from the Camaro in a lot of aspects during this generation of the car, and first and foremost was the unique dashboard. Carbon fiber styling made its way throughout and other touches gave the car its own unique identity.

1989 Firebird Trans Am
via: Hot Rod

The performance was in line with the Camaro, but the rest of the car had a smoother more modern look to it. It is often said that the Firebird was the better looking of the F-Body cars but that’s up for debate among enthusiasts. The Firebird was also produced in lower numbers than the Camaro so these cars are becoming increasingly rare as pieces of nostalgia from the ’80s and ’90s.

1999 Ford Contour SVT
via: Hot Rod

16: 1999 Ford Contour SVT

If you’ve never seen the 1999 Ford Contour SVT, you’re missing out on something special. This was a car that was a bit of a pet project for the SVT division. They had already released a V8-powered Ford Taurus and the updated SVT Lightning F-150. Now it was time to dress the Ford Contour SVT up and set it out for battle. The car was and still is amazingly fun to drive, and part of the enjoyment came from the fact that no one knows what it is.

Ford SVT Contour
via: Car Domain

The Contour SVT has a cult-like following and the car has steadily held its value. Being the distant cousin of the SVT Cobra has some definite advantages to it. The Contour has excellent driving characteristics that make the car a blast to drive on twists and turns. The interesting thing about the Contour SVT is that the car has European roots, which makes for an interesting domestic model of the ’80s and ’90s with a touch of pizzazz.

1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 via GM
1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 via GM

15: 1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

The fourth generation of GM F-Bodies was even more special than outgoing models. There were a lot of reasons for this, but the foremost was the new sleek design that was ahead of its time. This was during a design boom period for GM and the new Camaro and Firebird were both long and sloping with roomier interiors. Aside from that, there was also a dramatic increase in horsepower, as the car now shared the LT1 engine of the ’80s and ’90s with the Corvette.

1993 Chevrolet Camaro pace car via GM
1993 Chevrolet Camaro pace car via GM

The Z/28 was perhaps the most unique of the bunch, complete with factory racing stripes and an aggressive stance. The Z/28 was an official NASCAR Pace Car among other honors, as well as one of the fastest production sports cars on the market in the ’80s and ’90s. While the fourth-generation cars had their detractors, the overall consensus was a positive one.

Syclone
via: GM

14: 1991 GMC Syclone

While it’s not a sports car on paper, the GMC Syclone was iconic in a lot of ways. This little truck was faster than most sports cars of the ’80s and ’90s. The 1991 GMC Syclone was a limited-production vehicle designed to show what the platform could do. Right on the heels of the 454 SS, the Syclone fit right alongside the drag racing Chevy. Its 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds rivals some sports cars of the ’80s and ’90s, and the no-frills design of the Syclone is cheap to maintain.

Syclone
via: GM

GM put a lot of design into this platform and the truck is very durable. Unfortunately, the Syclone was only released in a two-door single cab configuration. But GMC later released the Typhoon SUV based on the Syclone. This truck is every bit an important piece of GM history, and if you’re a fan of the GMC lineup, the Syclone should be at the top of your wish list.

Dodge Viper
via: Chrysler Corp

13: 1997 Dodge Viper

The Viper was originally released as a “halo” car for the Dodge brand. What began as more of a publicity stunt turned into one of the best-performing sports cars of all-time. The 8.0 L V10 produces a massive 450 hp, creating a car that was a monster right out of the box. While these horsepower numbers are minuscule by today’s performance standards, during the ’90s, this was the car to have. The Viper sold in respectable numbers and 1997 is one of the most iconic versions of the car.

Dodge Viper
via: Autoweek

Everything about the 1997 Dodge Viper was quintessential ’90s Dodge, down to the blue paint job and the silver stripes. The Viper is what you’d expect a dream car to be when you are a child, except this is a life-sized replica you can enjoy. There’s no denying the influence that the Viper had on the automotive world in the ’90s.

via: Hemmings
via: Hemmings

12: Plymouth Prowler

Chrysler was on a run during the 90s with radical designs that pushed the automotive market into the future. It would appear as though the company was looking to position themselves as a sort of “retro-themed” car company. The Prowler was a unique design that brought us a modern two-door roadster. Stylized like a rat rod, the Prowler is a unique-looking ride even to this day. Performance from its 3.5 L V6 was not exhilarating, but provided enough excitement to build on.

via: Motor 1
via: Motor 1

When you drive a Prowler, you won’t see anything else like it on the road. The car was never a sales success for Chrysler but it did manage to gain a cult-like following. Similar to how the Viper was marketed, the Prowler was more or less a dealership toy to entice buyers onto the showroom floor. These cars are rare and exceptional to own if you can find one in clean condition.

Chevrolet Corvette
via: GM

11: 1987 Chevrolet Corvette

As GM progressed through the ’80s, the Corvette line was at an impasse. The problem was new EPA regulations choked the engines’ performance. The 1987 Chevrolet Corvette was a step in the right direction. The car was modernized in a lot of aspects to create a more driver-centric vehicle. GM still managed to stick to the original formula that made the car fun to drive in the long run. Corvette owners are particularly fond of this generation because of the unique digital dashboard and other features.

Corvette Timeline
via: GM

The Corvette evolved a lot with this generation, and that especially benefitted the 1987 model year. There were options such as a Targa top and a unique set of wheels. Much of the later Corvette lineup was sterilized after this vehicle. The 1987 Chevrolet Corvette is not the fastest car of the ’80s and ’90s, but it’s an important piece of Chevrolet history. You can’t go wrong owning a Corvette from this generation if it has been maintained properly.

GMC Typhoon
via: GM

10: GMC Typhoon

The supercharged sibling of the GMC Syclone, the Typhoon had a lot of unique features. This was one of the first performance SUVs drivers could get, and it could make a run at a Porsche with ease. The Typhoon is owned by such notable celebrities as Clint Eastwood. The color scheme for the SUV is quintessential ’90s, especially in the teal green and silver color combination that is quite rare.

'80s and '90s
via: GM

When you think of rarity in the automotive world the Typhoon is about as rare as you can get. The supercharged engine does 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, which is an impressive number. The five-passenger seating is still very practical, even for a growing family. The low profile of the Typhoon gives it a nice stance from the factory. With a few modifications, the Typhoon can be a stellar daily driver or a collectible.

'80s and '90s
via: Motor Week

9: Ford F-150 Lightning

The Lightning is not a sports car but it could hang with the best of them from the ’80s and ’90s. The Lightning needs no introduction because it introduced the world to the performance truck. This truck was designed after the success that GM had with the Chevrolet 454 SS. The 5.8 L V8 could deliver a whopping 240 HP coupled with a five-speed manual transmission. The F-150 Lightning was a monster of a truck and was initially released in limited numbers. The truck was only released in a single cab configuration in its original form.

F150 Lightning
via: Motor Week

Still, to be able to drive a supercharged Ford truck is a unique experience. The Lightning is one of the rarest pickup trucks drivers can get. You can expect to pay a pretty penny for one of these but the complete package is perhaps one of the best pure sports cars around. Not to mention the fact that the F-150 of the ’80s and ’90s is a solid platform to build on.

'80s and '90s
via: Motor Week

8: Ford Taurus SHO (1998)

There were a few different SHO models during the ’90s but the latest model is perhaps the most notable one. Powered by a Yamaha V8 engine, the thought of a V8 in this generation of the Taurus might be laughable Yet the result was something that drove amazingly well. The 3.4 L V8 handled business on the track and around town. With a pair of dual exhausts, the sound was resonating. The body was also a bit smoother with enhanced lines to give the car a finished look.

'80s and '90s
via: Motor Week

Coupled with leather interior and chrome rims, this is not your grandma’s Taurus. These cars were rare and there was also an issue with reliability as it pertains to the Yamaha motor. The key is to find a 1998 SHO that has been well maintained, particularly an original owner car that you’ll be able to enjoy.

'80s and '90s
via: Ford

7: Ford Thunderbird SC

The final years of the Thunderbird were a mixture of sales successes and letdowns. As the onslaught of SUVs began to flood the market, the appetite for a large two-door coupe was minimal at best. But before the Thunderbird said its final goodbyes, the car had an interesting option, the SC. Known as the “Super Coupe,” the supercharged Thunderbird was designed to be a blast to drive. The MN12 platform which the Thunderbird is built on has a cult following because of its exceptional performance.

'80s and '90s
via: Motor Week

The 3.8-liter V-6 is a supercharged marvel of engineering that can produce a 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds. While this number might not seem all that impressive, it’s a very respectable number when you consider just how heavy a stock Thunderbird is. Overall, the Ford Thunderbird is one of the last iconic two-door coupes ever sold in the ’80s and ’90s, and the SC is going to be a collectible.

Monte Carlo Z34
via: Motor Week

6: Monte Carlo Z34

GM had a couple of unique two-door coupes on the market during the ’90s, but perhaps none got as much flack as the Monte Carlo Z34. The car, affectionately called the two-door Lumina, by some had a fairly decent run on the NASCAR circuit. On the consumer side of things, GM needed to shake up the sales, and thus the Monte Carlo Z34 was launched. With a sleek paint scheme and flowing lines, this was an aerodynamic coupe. The 3.8 L V6 was not a performance motor, but it did manage to move the Monte Carlo with authority.

'80s and '90s
via: Motor Week

The Z34 from this generation might not be the first car from the ’80s and ’90s that comes to mind. Finding one of these in clean conditions can lend a collector a decent piece of GM history. The Monte Carlo from this generation is known for a stellar NASCAR run as previously stated and the design is still handsome to this day.

2001 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning.
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5: Ford F-150 Lightning (Second Generation)

There’s no doubt that Ford was having fun during the ’90s in terms of creating fun-to-drive projects from the SVT division. Another one of these projects was the second-generation Ford F-150 Lightning. This stylish-looking single cab truck was tremendously faster than the first generation. Its styling is iconic after it was featured in the original Fast & Furious movie.

Ford F150 Lightning
via: Ford

The Ford F-150 Lightning had a powerful presence on the street and the track, making for a stellar pickup truck that could double as a sports car. The truck didn’t change much over its short production run, although there were subtle horsepower increases over time. The truck was available with an automatic transmission and a bench seat, but there wasn’t an extended cab version. Overall, the Ford F-150 Lightning in its second generation is a truck worth considering for any collector.

'80s and '90s
via: Motor Week

4: Mercury Cougar

The Ford “New Edge” design scheme was seen across quite a few vehicles. The Cougar is one of the final cars to wear this new design aesthetic. The car was designed by Darrell Behmer and the goal was to attract female buyers into the showroom. Performance-wise, the car got its powerplant from the Ford Contour and it managed to perform admirably in most circumstances. There were two engine choices for the Cougar, a 2.0 L 4-cylinder, or the 2.5 L V6.

'80s and '90s
via: Car Domain

Both of them performed very well, and the optional leather interior gives the car an upscale look inside. The Mercury Cougar is sure to become a collector’s item because this was one of the last two-door Mercury vehicles ever created. The brand has since folded and the Mercuries you’ll see on the road will become lesser.

'80s and '90s
via: Car Domain

3: Pontiac Fiero

The Pontiac Fiero was one of the most underutilized and most scrutinized sports cars to come out of a GM factory. The first problem was the fact that the car had suffered from engine compartment fires early on. This created a media frenzy for GM and there was a recall on the car, but aside from this, the Fiero was an excellent car to drive. The unique look of the car had some of the aggressive stylings some Pontiac models had seen. The only direct competition for the Fierro was the Toyota MR2.

'80s and '90s
via: GM

Finding a mid-engined sports car for as cheaply as you can get the Fiero is a hard thing to do. With the design elements and the capability to do an engine swap, the Pontiac Fiero is an excellent platform to build on. Not to mention that cool-looking ’80s styling that makes the Fiero reminiscent of a better time.

Shelby CSX
via: Car Domain

2: Shelby CSX

The Dodge Shadow was an unassuming compact car for the duration of its life, so when Carroll Shelby decided to supercharge it many in the automotive community were interested. The Shelby CSX was the Dodge Shadow but on steroids, and it had a lot going for it during the ’80s and ’90s. Power was derived from an intercooler Turbo II 2.2 L inline-four, producing 175 hp (130 kW) at 5300 rpm. The power was just right for a car that was this small, and results were exceptional when it came to performance.

Shelby CSX
via: Hagerty

The car wasn’t much to look at but, the ground effects helped give it an updated look. The CSX is perhaps one of the most unique parts of ’90s automotive culture. The distinct design and signature performance was a high point for a compact car that had these dimensions. Rarity and hot hatches are not what they used to be, but the CSX is a car that’s worth considering.

Dodge Spirit R/T
via: Car Domain

1: Dodge Spirit R/T

Finally, we have one of the most underrated and potentially iconic sports cars to ever grace the automotive landscape. The Dodge Spirit R/T was the fastest four-door sedan mass-produced in 1991 and 1992 according to automotive historians. The car was amazingly fast and rivaled sedans even produced to this very day. Built on the K-Car platform. the Spirit was the last bit of fun for Dodge before the cab-forward cars took over.

Spirit R/T
via: Motor Week

The Spirit R/T is a rare sedan in today’s automotive market, but you can find one from time to time. The trick is to find an original-owner model that has been well maintained. With the right care and maintenance and the fact that the K-Car platform is so universally used by Chrysler, the Spirit R/T is an easy car to build upon.

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