Although Chrysler had a near-death experience in the late ’70s and early ’80s, they made a miraculous recovery. One reason is that they redesigned all their model lineups according to the current car industry trends. That meant switching to the front-wheel-drive platform with smaller four-cylinder engines and downsizing their cars.
In fact, it was the success of the compact Dodge Omni that showed the way. So for the 1981 model year, Dodge presented the 400. It came in a two-door coupe, a four-door sedan, and for the first time after 1976, a convertible. The 400 convertible was the first domestically-produced convertible after the discontinuation of the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. It was an upscale compact model featuring two four-cylinder engines, a 2.2 liter and 2.6 liter. Interestingly, Mitsubishi produced them in partnership with Chrysler. But even though the Dodge 400 was the right car for the times, sales were sluggish. Unfortunately, the model lasted just two years, because in 1984 they merged it with the Dodge 600 series.
During the ’80s, Ford attempted several approaches in order to revive its performance image. And one of them was the introduction of the Merkur XR4Ti model. This was basically a British Ford Sierra they packed with a special aero package, a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and various other improvements.
Ford envisioned it as a hot hatch with rear-wheel drive, racing credentials, and better driving dynamics than front-wheel-drive competitors. Unfortunately, the Merkur XR4Ti proved to be unsuccessful since it was expensive and the American market just didn’t understand Ford’s vision.
The Spectrum, which was produced from 1985 to 1988, was another compact car Chevrolet rebadged and sold as its own. Designed by the famed Italian designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Spectrum was, in fact, an Isuzu Gemini. Under the hood was a 1.5-liter four-cylinder producing 70 HP or a turbocharged version of the same engine that produced 111 HP.
The turbocharged engine brought more performance to otherwise ordinary Spectrum. However, after Chevrolet discontinued it, the Spectrum appeared as a Geo, another lost GM economy brand sold until 1990.
Although the Mercury Capri from the ’80s was just a Fox-body Mustang with a different grille, there was a special version that deserves more attention. In those days, the American Sunroof Company (ASC) was famous for its convertible versions of various production models. So they teamed with Ford to produce two-seater roadster variants of the Mustang and Capri.
But Mercury also had a deal with McLaren, so in 1984, they introduced a special model called the ASC McLaren Capri. The cars were available as coupe or convertibles with many improvements over the standard model. The 5.0-liter V8 delivered 210 HP, which was a significant increase over the other models. There were different details, fog lights, special wheels, and body kits. The overall production was low so they ended the ASC McLaren line in 1986.
Dodge was always big in the SUV and truck market with various model offerings over the years. Since the Ramcharger SUVs and Ram trucks were popular, well-received cars, it is strange that the company decided to clone the Mitsubishi Pajero as a Dodge Raider in 1987. They produced the Dodge Raider in Japan, importing it to the U.S. as a Dodge.
In fact, the only real difference between the Raider and the Pajero are the badges. It was available as a shorter, three-door version with a 3.0 V6 engine. As expected, the Dodge Raider handled and drove identical to the Pajero, but the sales results weren’t that good. So in 1989, they discontinued the model and people soon forgot it.
Today, almost all American luxury brands have downsized their lineup, offering more affordable and compact versions of their big sedans. But, back in the early ’80s, this move was something still unheard of and hard to understand. In those days, Cadillac had somewhat of an identity crisis, so they sought a way to reinvent themselves to fight their foreign competitors.
After long meetings involving their product development managers, they decided to introduce a small Cadillac with a lower price to attract more customers. The problem was that Cadillac didn’t have a small platform, so they turned to Chevrolet. They borrowed the modest Cavalier chassis along with the small, slow four-cylinder engine. Although Cadillac dressed the Cavalier with unique trim, new colors, and a new name, the Cimarron wasn’t enough. Sales were poor and Cadillac was under fire from their brand loyalists for ruining their image. All over the industry, the Cimarron was a laughing stock and remained until this day one of the worst examples of downsizing ever. For that reason, most people believe this model should remain forgotten.
The late ’80s Dodge Dynasty is an obscure Dodge model for a reason. It was nothing special with a front-wheel-drive platform, compact dimensions, boxy styling, and three engine choices. Under the hood, buyers could get a 2.5-liter or 3.0-liter V6 by Mitsubishi or a 3.3-liter V6 engine. The Dynasty was a mid-size model that replaced the Dodge 600 series yet it didn’t have much to offer to the customers.
Dodge introduced it in 1988 and discontinued it in 1993. Interestingly, the Dynasty appeared at a strange time during Dodge’s history. It was the end of the â80s, so Dodge was ready to introduce many new models for the upcoming decade. But even though the Dynasty was an economy car with some luxury details, it failed to hit the mark.
When you think of Pontiac Le Mans, the first thing that probably pops into your mind are the glorious mid-size models from ’60s and early ’70s with V8 power. This means that the Le Mans had a solid reputation as an entry-level muscle car with great potential. But fast forward 20 years to the late ’80s, and the Le Mans’ reputation was in ruins. The reason was the introduction of the compact front-wheel-drive sedan or hatchback with less than 100 HP.
To make things even funnier, the bosses at General Motors decided to import the Korean-built Daewoo Le Mans which was, in fact, an Opel Kadett from Europe. Since Opel was a GM-owned brand and GM had stakes in Daewoo at the time, this looked like the perfect solution. GM even offered the Pontiac LeMans in Europe. And that meant car buyers could choose between the Opel Kadett from Germany or the same Opel Kadett from America with a different badge. Needless to say, Le Mans from the late ’80s wasn’t a big success, so it is a forgotten model today.
In the early ’80s, domestic convertibles were basically extinct. Apart from several conversion jobs, none of the car manufacturers offered a true convertible. So, in 1982, Buick decided to turn its Riviera in a highly exclusive, expensive convertible with the help of the American Sunroof Company (ASC), the outside contractor that did most of the fabrication.
The Riviera Convertible was the first open-top Riviera model but it was almost $10,000 more than the regular coupe. Despite the significant effort in producing and marketing this model, car buyers were reluctant to buy it. So, by the end of production in 1985, they only built 3,800 of them.
The ’80s Lincolns are not exactly the most sought-after car by collectors, but there is one car that deserves respect and recognition. And that is the late ’80s Mark VII LSC. Although they envisioned this car as a comfortable coupe with a cushy ride and no performance aspirations, the LSC was a bit of a hot rod from Ford.
The acronym, “LSC” stood for luxury sport coupe and this Mark VII was just that. Under the hood was a 5.0-liter V8 delivering up to 225 HP straight from the Fox-body Mustang GT. The performance was slower than the Mustang but the LSC was a great touring car. Better yet, they loaded with lots of options, special seats and luxury items. So although most people don’t remember the LSC, it still represents a great value and classic American car.
Most domestic car buyers were surprised when Pontiac introduced an interesting 2+2 package for its popular luxury coupe in 1986. It was a muscle car the company lacked since the late ’60s. But, best of all, it was an interesting version of the Grand Prix, which was a boring car in the ’80s.
Similar to the Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe, the Grand Prix 2+2 used the same platform, rear glass and rear spoiler they intended for NASCAR races. Unfortunately, Pontiac didn’t provide the 2+2 with an exciting performance for street use since all cars got the 305 V8 delivering 165 HP. However, the Grand Prix 2+2 handled much better than the Aerocoupe. That was because it had gas-filled shocks, stiffer springs and sway bars, as well as high-performance tires, which were all a part of the standard package. Pontiac produced this model for two years in which time they made 1,225 cars.
It seems like everybody forgot about the sleek Buick Reatta. But when they introduced it in the late ’80s, the Reatta was Buick’s halo car. It was a cool looking two-seater coupe or convertible they built on a shortened GM E platform. Under the hood was a 3.8-liter V6 they teamed up with an independent suspension with disc brakes all around.
All Reattas were highly optioned cars. Despite dating from the late ’80s, it featured board computers and lots of modern electronic systems. The production lasted four years and they built over 21,000 of them.
Ford constructed this interesting car with the help of the well-known McLaren racing team at their American operation office in Michigan. The whole idea behind the project was to take a 2.3-liter turbo engine from a regular Mustang and transform it into a street racing beast. And they did just that by adding a race-tuned suspension, lightweight body, and a host of other modifications.
But best of all, McLaren and Ford added a tuned turbo engine that delivered 190 HP. And that was a big number for the day, especially coming from 2.3-liters. With all that, they totally changed the looks of the Fox Mustang.
The Dakota was a compact pickup truck from Dodge they sold between 1987 and 1996. It was dependable and tough-looking and came with a wide arrange of engines and trim levels. But Dodge wanted more and in the late ’80s, so the company envisioned a performance version. They enlisted the legendary Carroll Shelby to help since he was working with Chrysler Corporation at the moment.
Shelby took a regular production Dakota and installed a 5.2-liter V8 engine with 175 HP. But even though the power output was relatively small, the Dakota was light and had lots of torque. And that meant this compact truck delivered a convincing performance. Better yet, Shelby dressed up the Dakota with a special paint job, trim, roll bar and wheels, which made this little truck stand out on the street.
The venerable K-Car platform saved Chrysler from bankruptcy in the early ’80s so the company used it for most models in its lineup. They even built minivans and compact sedans on it since it was inexpensive and easy to produce. However, in 1986 Chrysler decided to introduce a luxury convertible they named the Le Baron.
Unfortunately, the 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine wasn’t the best choice for this car. On top of that, the Chrysler stylist gave the Le Baron faux wood panels on the sides to mimic those classic ’50s and ’60s station wagons. Sadly, many buyers were turned off by the crazy and ludicrous mix of styles they featured on this car. As a result, Chrysler sold less than 2,000 of them.
The third-generation Ford Mustang appeared as a 1979 model. It brought necessary modernization to the Mustang. The so-called ‘Fox-body’ Mustang was sleeker, more modern and aerodynamic. It was also somewhat lighter and more nimble, which reflected in the performance.
However, the biggest news was the introduction of the turbo engine, a state-of-the-art device at the time. Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) department introduced a special Mustang SVO for 1984. It featured a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 175 HP, a lot of power for a small engine. This engine in a light car made the 1984 Mustang SVO highly popular. The package included four-wheel disc brakes, a stiffer suspension, and sharper steering, transforming the little Mustang into a capable sports car. For 1985, SVO upped the power to an impressive 205 HP, attracting the motoring public to the third-generation Mustang.
After taking a few years off, Oldsmobile introduced a new limited-edition Hurst/Olds model for the 1983 model year. The Cutlass was the only mid-size rear-wheel-drive platform that could serve as the basis for a muscle car after Oldsmobile’s smaller offerings switched to front-wheel drive.
Under the hood was a 307 V8 with 180 HP that delivered a relatively swift performance and 0 to 60 mph times of under eight seconds. The secret was the famous Oldsmobile Lightning Rod shifter. It was an automatic with three levers, one main and two separate sticks for manual shifting of the first and second gears. The 1983 Hurst/Olds proved to be a popular car and Oldsmobile sold 3001 examples. They didn’t change the car for the 1984 model year and production rose to 3,500 units. Today, both model years are highly-prized collector cars.
Despite being in production for just two short years, the Aerocoupe is one of the most interesting 1980s muscle cars. Basically, it was a regular Monte Carlo SS with a few design tweaks. Chevy introduced the Aerocoupe in 1986 and even homologated it for NASCAR races. The GNX featured a panorama-style back window with a back spoiler.
The new rear glass provided a slight fastback profile, improving the aerodynamics on NASCAR superspeedway tracks. Mechanically speaking, the Aerocoupe had the same 180 HP 305 V8 engine as the regular SS. The production for the 1986 model year was just 200 examples. This was enough to homologate the car, but for 1987, Chevrolet produced an additional 5,852 cars.
Dodge combined two of the greatest names in the American performance portfolio in the 1980s – Shelby and Charger. With front-wheel drive, a Dodge Omni platform, and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Shelby Charger wasn’t your typical muscle car. However, it provided strong performance as well as decent power and acceleration times.
Based on the Dodge Omni GHL, the Shelby Charger shared the drivetrain and 2.2-liter turbo engine which pumped 175 HP. For such a small, light car this was loads of power. The Shelby Charger could accelerate to 60 mph in just 7.5 seconds, making it one of the fastest accelerating American production cars for 1987. Despite the famous name and good performance, this edition of Chargers aren’t that collectible, but they deserve recognition and respect. After all, they are a part of the American performance portfolio from the ’80s as well as a budget-friendly way to obtain a genuine Shelby car.
The early ’80s brought some much-needed downsizing to American sedans. Those enormous cars with monster engines were a thing of the past. Lincoln responded by presenting the popular Town Car they built on Ford’s venerable Panther platform. They powered it with a 5.0-liter V8.
The Town Car was a recognizable boxy shaped sedan with a big chrome grille and bumpers. A comfortable ride, it was a typically-styled luxury model and buyers loved its proportions, soft ride, and plush interior.
The introduction of the third-generation Mustang had a big influence on Mercury. This is because the brand got its own version in the form of the Capri in 1979. But from 1970 to 1977, Mercury sold the Capri. It was a model they imported from Germany with four and six-cylinder engines.
However, in 1979, thanks to the Mustang, the Capri was new and featured a unique front-end design. Since it was a Mercury product, it was more upscale than Ford. But other than a few aesthetical changes, it was identical to the Mustang. As the performance version, Mercury introduced the RS model featuring a 2.3-liter turbocharged engine delivering just 135 HP. Performance was expectedly bad, but the car looked cool with a big air intake on the hood, RS badges, and a rear spoiler. Today, those RS models are quite rare although not that valuable or sought-after by car collectors.
The Chevrolet Citation X-11 is an interesting car. It is a compact, front-wheel-drive hatchback Chevrolet produced from 1980 to 1985. But it had a somewhat powerful V6 engine and muscle car looks. This car was a fine line between an American hot hatch and a compact muscle car since it featured aspects of both segments.
The Citation was a modern model that Chevrolet needed to fight the import models. And it came in a wide arrange of flavors. The X-11 featured a 2.8-liter V6 engine and 135 HP. Despite the fact it doesn’t sound like much today, it was solid power for the time. But the X-11 had a few more features, such as a sports-tuned suspension, sharper steering, and better brakes. From the outside, you can differentiate the X-11 by its special bulged hood and trim details. However, the magazine testers of the day spoke highly of the X-11. In fact, they said it was much more than just a stronger engine and appearance package.
The Plymouth TC3 and its twin brother, the Dodge Omni 024 are forgotten Mopars. And they came from the time when American performance was a pale shadow of its former self in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
The idea behind this car was to offer a compact, modern-looking sports model with a small engine and cool features. Unfortunately, the engine displaced only 1.7-liters. And it had the diminutive power of just 63 HP. This meant the TC3 was a slow, forgettable model.