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.
Back in the late 1980s, the ex-Yugoslav car manufacturer, Crvena Zastava, made a brave attempt to enter the American market with the compact model they called the Yugo. The Yugo was a nice-looking three-door hatchback they built on a Fiat 127 base with improvements in design and technology. Under the hood was a 1.1-liter four-cylinder engine with electronic fuel injection. But for the U.S. market, the buyers got updated equipment, radio, and even air conditioning as an option. From today’s standpoint, the Yugo was a basic and even primitive car. However, for the middle of the ’80s, it was a decent proposition as well a solution to the economy car dilemma. The Fiat mechanics were relatively common in the U.S. since Fiat had just left the American market in the early ’80s. So why did the Yugo receive such bad reviews from Consumer Reports back in the day? The reasons were simple: driving dynamics and quality.
Both were horrible, even by the standards of the day. The engine sent 65 HP to the front wheels over a badly-assembled five-speed manual gearbox. The performance was painfully slow, but that was not the worst thing. The fit and finish were bad. And to make things worse, Yugo importer, Malcolm Bricklin didn’t import enough spare parts. So, if your Yugo broke down, the spare parts had to travel for months from Yugoslavia to America. Despite all that, the Yugo was a sales success because they sold more than 40,000. The price of $4,000 was one of the reasons. The Yugo was the most affordable automobile on sale in America when they introduced it.
The Spirit was a compact, front-wheel-drive model Dodge introduced in 1989. In its base form, it was popular with consumers since it had a modern design. It was also good quality and had up-to-date features at a somewhat affordable price. However, the R/T version was far more interesting. It’s a shame most people have forgotten about it except for the most dedicated Dodge fans. Since the performance and power output of the base Spirit was nothing to write home about, Dodge decided to introduce a hot rod version. They called it the R/T to resurrect a famous moniker they used in the muscle car era.
The base 2.2-liter four-cylinder motor only produced 90 HP, so they gave it a turbo upgrade. After that, it produced an impressive 224 HP and 218 lb-ft of torque. For the 1991 model year, this was a hefty power level from an economy car and raised performance to a new level. In fact, the Spirit R/T could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds, which made it enter Corvette territory in 1991. At over $17,000, it was expensive but offered fantastic driving dynamics and performance for an economy sedan. Unfortunately, the market didn’t understand this car, so Dodge made less than 1,500 in the two years the Spirit R/T was available. Today, most people have forgotten them, but if you find one for sale, you’ve found an interesting piece of Dodge’s performance history.
Conceived in the late ’70s, the Eagle was AMC’s answer to the rising popularity of AWD vehicles and SUVs. AMC decided to combine their compact sedan and wagon lineup with a tough and proven Jeep AWD system. The result was a surprisingly capable vehicle with the comfort and luxury of a sedan and compact dimensions. It came in a relatively low weight with extremely good offroad characteristics.
The Eagle was one of the first crossover/all-wheel-drive station wagon models in the world. Only today do most people see how important and influential this car was. As expected, the Eagle was a relatively popular car, especially in areas with harsh climate and long winters. Unfortunately, AMC was losing money elsewhere and went out of business in 1987, which meant the death of the Eagle as well.
The 1980s were interesting times for the Chrysler Corporation. Because they were under new leadership, the company flourished. The introduction of the Chrysler Voyager, the first minivan, brought the company a great amount of money. It also inspired them to try something new. First, Chrysler bought AMC and later discontinued it, keeping the Jeep brand alive. Then, later in the decade, they struck a deal with Renault, introducing a new brand to the U.S. market. Also, they presented the Eagle in 1989. It was supposed to be a fresh start for Chrysler, who wanted to produce new, affordable cars with an import car flavor.
Renault and Mitsubishi, as two of Chrysler’s foreign partners, provided the technology while Chrysler invested their money and effort. The first model was the Eagle Premier, a big, four-door sedan with front-wheel drive and luxurious features. It was the Chrysler vision of an import premium model for American car buyers. The car had good driving dynamics and decent power. The main selling points were its smooth V6 engines and loads of interior space. However, despite those, the market didn’t respond well to the new brand and model. They discontinued the Eagle Premier in 1992 and the Eagle brand itself in 1999. Today, the Premier is a rare, mostly forgotten car.
The infamous John Z. De Lorean founded his car company in the late 1970s. Soon, they marketed his De Lorean as the next big thing in the sports car world. For a short time, it looked like America got a sports car brand that could rival Europe’s finest companies. De Lorean presented an interesting concept of a sports car with Gullwing doors, a modern design, and a stainless steel body.
However, they delayed production so when they finally revealed the car, it turned out to be slow, underpowered, and riddled with quality problems. Due to its prominent appearance in the “Back to the Future Movies” and numerous music videos, the DMC 12 is still a popular car. There’s still no doubt that it’s one of the coolest automotive symbols of the 1980s.
To be honest, the LM002 is somewhere between a truck and an off-road SUV/truck since it has four doors, a double cab, and a truck bed behind it. This crazy creation debuted in the mid-’80s as Lamborghini’s attempt of entering the world of luxury SUVs and widening its appeal. The LM002 uses a special chassis, suspension, and Lamborghini’s famous V12 engine. The 5.2-liter engine with 400 hp was the same one you’d find in a legendary Countach. For buyers who thought 400 hp was not enough, the factory could supply the LM002 with a 7.3-liter monster V12 engine from a racing boat.
Nicknamed “The Rambo Lambo,” this truck was a rugged and desert-going version of the supercar Lamborghini is well-known for making. Despite the enormous power and tough looks, the LM002 was a failure since it was hard to drive on the road. It had an enormous thirst for fuel and problems with offroad stability. It was also extremely expensive. Just to have your tires changed on your Lambo LM002, you will need $20,000. As you could imagine, production for this strange vehicle was not high. Only 301 models left the Lamborghini factory, still, a considerable number knowing all the facts.
Back in the mid-80s, Toyota shocked the automotive world by introducing the MR2. It was a small, mid-engined sports car with great performance and superb road holding at an affordable price. However, in those days as well as today, people think of Toyota as a dull manufacturer of economy models without any interesting cars. But the MR2 changed all that since it was different from other Toyotas, appealing to fans of spirited driving and dynamic handling.
They debuted the first generation MR2s in 1984. They featured a 1.5-liter or 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine they mounted centrally behind the driver, between the cabin and the rear axle. That is what gave this little car fantastic handling. The second generation lasted into the â90s and was more modern-looking with better technology and sharper handling. But the version drivers should look for is the 1.6-liter supercharged model they named the SC for supercharger delivering 145 HP and 140 lb-ft of torque. Although those power output figures don’t sound earth-shattering today, the MR2 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just seven seconds, which is quite respectable.
The 1985 to 1987 Nissan MID 4 is a solid and competent mid-engine sports car concept that unfortunately didn’t become a production model. Even though it is mostly forgotten today, it is still an interesting piece of engineering that deserves a closer look. The MID 4 had a mid-mounted 3.0-liter V6 engine producing around 200 HP.
Nissan equipped it with specially-designed all-wheel drive and an almost perfect weight balance. Nissan envisioned it to fight sports cars from Ferrari and Porsche. Unfortunately, the company pulled the plug at the last moment, leaving the MID 4 as a concept that influenced the Honda NSX.
If you don’t know what the Sterling 825 is, nobody can blame you. Once marketed as the next big thing in the luxury car segment, Sterling is now a forgotten brand in automotive history. However, Sterling was a British company that began in the late ’80s with Honda capital and Rover styling.
The finished product was attractive with a stylish interior and decent power coming from the Honda V6 engine. But after the introduction in 1987 and the promising sales numbers in the first few months, problems showed up. The Sterlings were poorly constructed, the electronics were troublesome, and some cars even developed rust issues. Honda tried to improve the production process, but by the early ’90s, Sterling was gone.