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Infamous ’80s & ’90s Cars Every High School Kid Wanted

Cameron EittreimOctober 25, 2022

Kids in the 1980s and ’90s had it a lot better than the kids of today when it came to cars. There were expensive sports cars, such as the Lamborghini Countach, that were the stuff of legends. With shows like ‘Miami Vice’ in prime time slots, these kids saw cars that were unlike anything else on the road. The 1990s followed that tradition with cars like the Toyota Supra, 300ZX, and the Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Towards the end of the decade, we saw cars like the Honda Civic SI, which became a cultural phenomenon and one of the most stolen cars in the country. So we looked back at the cars high school kids dreamed about during these decades. These were the cars that you’d routinely see on posters and in video games. Many of these cars have become common on the road today, but there was a time when many of them were the stuff of dreams.

Toyota MR2 (SW20)
Photo Credit: Street Mag

Toyota MR2

The MR2 was often referred to as the poor man’s Ferrari and rightly so because their designs were similar. The mid-engined design of the car gave it excellent handling and performance compared to the competition. Other cars on the market were faster than the MR2 but the lightweight design and bulletproof reliability made it preferable (via MR2OC).

Toyota MR2
Photo Credit: Toyota

The MR2 lasted for three generations, with the final generation being the least impressive. First-generation MR2s are hard to come by and expensive. There was a time when high schoolers wanted this car badly because of the interesting styling and the fast performance for its cheap price.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Ford Thunderbird

The Thunderbird was one of the most popular cars the Ford Motor Company ever produced and it was sold in several body styles over the years. The ’80s brought the Ford Thunderbird S/C, which was a supercharged variant of the car. This was also an era where the Thunderbird was dominant on the NASCAR circuit (via Hagerty).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

It was so popular due to its success in the NASCAR world that Ford developed its racing program specifically around the car. The street version of the Thunderbird adopted many of the attributes that the NASCAR models had, such as an aerodynamic design and a powerful V8 engine.

Lamborghini Jalpa
Photo Credit: Lamborghini

Lamborghini Jalpa

There were many Lamborghini models in the 1980s that kids of the era dreamt about driving. The Jalpa was one of these cars because it was more accessible than other Lamborghini models. The simpler design of the car was reminiscent of Porsche and other exotic sports cars from the same period (via Auto Evolution).

Photo Credit: Barrett Jackson

Sales of the Jalpa weren’t good and the car was discontinued a lot quicker than other Lamborghini models of the time. The Jalpa wasn’t popular or fast, which is why consumers turned their backs on it. Today, the Jalpa is one of the most notoriously avoided Lamborghini models on the market.

Honda CRX Si
Photo Credit: Motor Trend

Honda CRX

If you were a teenager in the ’80s, there was a good chance you either wanted or owned a CRX. Honda caught lightning in a bottle with the success of the CRX. The car was compact, lightweight, and fun to drive. The two-seater design was different from your run-of-the-mill Civic model although the two shared a platform (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Bring A Trailer

The CRX was popular so much that the car still commands a high price tag on the used market, and it’s hard to find one in stock condition. There weren’t many compact cars from this generation that could compete with the fun-to-drive demeanor of the CRX. Few cars were as iconic and simple as the CRX ended up being.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Chevy Camaro Iron Duke

GM was changing in the 1980s and the Camaro was the first car to experience this change. Gone were the days of fire-breathing V8 engines and now a four-cylinder variant was being offered. Although the concept of a four-cylinder Camaro was a good one, the execution fell short because it was notoriously underpowered (via AutoBlog).

Photo Credit: BAT

The Camaro Iron Duke was a failure, and the third-generation Camaro was permanently tarnished by the lackluster reputation of the engine. The Iron Duke wasn’t well built and maintenance was problematic. This only served to add on to the fact that its performance was almost nonexistent.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Probe

The Probe had the dubious task of being the proposed replacement for the Ford Mustang. But unfortunately, that never happened. The outcry was so loud that Ford decided to just sell the car alongside the Mustang. The Probe didn’t sell well, and unfortunately, part of that was due to the odd naming of the car (via MotorWeek).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The most popular variation of the Probe was the 24V, which came later in the 1990s. But the car never achieved the type of success Ford had hoped for, and the company invested millions into the design. There were far too many drawbacks to the Probe, and it just couldn’t compete with the Mustang for brand supremacy.

Photo Credit: Copart

Pontiac Firebird

The Firebird was always the alternative to the Chevrolet Camaro, and it had its customer base. The Firebird was different in many aspects, from the styling to the marketing of the car. The interior of the third-generation Firebird was also different than the Camaro, and there were interesting aspects, such as carbon fiber styling (via Car Buzz).

Photo Credit: Copart

The Firebird staked its fame in the 1980s after it was featured in the TV show, ‘Night Rider.’ The ‘Kitt’ car, as it was called, was based on the third-generation Firebird and kids everywhere went crazy. There was something uniquely cool about this generation of the Firebird and the car became an instant success for the company.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Pontiac Fiero

The Fiero was a great car that wasn’t vetted enough before it hit the market. The car was positioned to compete with the MR2, but it had many reliable problems. Engine fires were the most notable problem that negatively affected the car and GM issued numerous recalls to try and remedy the problem (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The problem with the fixes that GM was doing to the Fiero is that they were too little, too late, and by the time the design of the car was perfected, it was already being discontinued. But the styling of the Fiero was iconic, and this was one of the cars that high schoolers in the 1980s envied and wanted.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Buick Somerset

The N-Body platform birthed some of the most unique compact cars that have ever come out of Detroit and the Buick Somerset was one of these cars. As the Buick brand pivoted from the car of yesteryear it was time for there to be new blood brought into the brand. That was where compact cars like the Somerset came into the picture (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Many high schoolers in the 1980s owned the Somerset at some point in time, as the car was a cheap, safe choice for parents who wanted to get their teens a great first car. Sales of the GM N-Body cars were what the company hoped for, and the car was discontinued shortly after the original release.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Ford EXP Sport Coupe

The Ford Escort wasn’t necessarily the first car that came to mind for teenagers in the 1980s, but it was just about everywhere on the road. The rapid success of the Escort was largely due to the cheap price tag and ready availability. Ford introduced the EXP Sport Coupe as a compliment to the Escort that appealed to young drivers (via The Truth About Cars)

Photo Credit: Hagerty

The EXP Sport Coupe wasn’t a traditional sports car, but it was cheap and fun. The styling of the EXP was very similar to the Escort and the car didn’t sell well. Its performance was lethargic at best, and as was the case with most Fords from this generation, its build quality was lackluster.

Photo Credit: Motor Week

Renault Fuego

Before the company collapsed and sold to Chrysler, American Motor Company sold Renault-branded vehicles in the US. One of the most notable vehicles from this period was the Fuego. The Fuego was the first car that was sold in America with a remote keyfob, and if that wasn’t historic enough, the styling was also very unique (via Jalopnik).

Photo Credit: Motor Week

Teenagers who wanted a unique hatchback in the 1980s couldn’t go wrong with the Fuego, because it had French styling and reasonable driving characteristics. Of course, the Fuego wasn’t a Mazda RX-7, but it was a reasonably equipped hatchback. The 2.2-liter Douvrin four wasn’t an impressive engine by any means, but it got the job done to make the Fuego perform decently overall.

Photo Credit: Bring A Trailer

Mitsubishi Starion

The Starion marked Mitsubishi’s introduction to the American sports car market. It had some stiff competition. The interesting thing was that the Starion was a twin-turbo-powered sports car just like the 300ZX and Toyota Supra, but it wasn’t as well known. The Starion was a refined sports car with aggressive styling and a lot of luxury features for the price. For some teenagers in the ’80s, the Starion was a dream car in every sense (via Classic).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The handling on the Starion was phenomenal but that was only one of the positive attributes that the car had. The curb weight of the car was just 2,860 lbs. and that made it lightweight enough to handle just about anything. Even though Mitsubishi had a small dealership network at the time, the Starion was reliable enough that consumers didn’t complain. The price tag of the Starion was also more affordable than what the competition was offering at the time.

Photo Credit: Honda

Acura Integra

Honda developed the Acura luxury division in the early ’80s to compete with European luxury brands. There were 60 dealerships that initially opened to the public and the Integra and the Legend were two very popular cars. The Integra shared a lot of its components with the Honda Civic but other aspects of the Integra felt slightly upmarket compared to the Civic (via Motor Biscuit).

Photo Credit: Daves Classic Cars

The DOHC engine was one of the best that Honda released with excellent reliability and acceleration. The Integra was a surprise hit with consumers and it lasted well into the early 2000s as a focal point of the Acura lineup. While the Integra wasn’t as refined as the offering that came from Lexus, it was a value-packed, exciting car to drive. The naturally aspirated engine was rev-happy and the car was economical enough for young professionals.

AMG Hammer
Photo Credit: AMG

AMG Hammer

Few cars incited the emotions of teenagers in the ’80s more than the AMG Hammer. The Hammer was the epiphany of the “Scarface”-style vehicles that were popular in pop culture throughout the decade. Whether you were a fan of Mercedes or not, there was no denying the performance that the Hammer brought to the table. The styling was subtle and aggressive at the same time, making the Hammer the ultimate sleeper (via Car Fan Blog).

One of 13 North American 1988 Mercedes-Benz AMG Hammer Coupes Is Up for Sale
Photo Credit: The Drive

When it came to a well-appointed German sports car, the Hammer was very seldom mentioned, except by true enthusiasts. The engineering and build quality of the Hammer was something that wasn’t seen very often in cars of this caliber. Recently a new generation of enthusiasts has gained an interest in the AMG Hammer, but the car was so rare that it’s fairly hard to come across one, especially in highly preserved condition.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Audi Quattro

In the ’80s the Audi brand was dominating the rally car circuits around the world. In America, their cars were getting better as well. There has always been something special about Audi cars and the way that they perform. An Audi isn’t like any other luxury car on the road, it drives differently and it has been engineered differently. The Quattro was the car that cemented Audi’s exceptional reputation in the rally racing world (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Quattro was synonymous with the performance that the Audi brand perfected in the 1980s and the car was smooth as silk. The design of the Quattro was understated and attractive with a comfortable luxurious interior and a reasonable amount of features. Audi sold the Quattro alongside several other iconic cars in the 1980s but this was the car that most high schoolers wanted the most.

Photo Credit: Mecum

DeLorean DMC-12

If you were a kid in the ’80s, then there’s no doubt that you wanted the DMC-12, the car that was made famous in the ‘Back To The Future’ movie franchise. The car was designed by John DeLorean, who also designed the Pontiac GTO. His knack for designing stellar sports cars was carried over into every aspect of the DMC-12 as there was nothing else like it that was on the road at the time (via Bring a Trailer).

Photo Credit: Mecum

The DMC-12 wasn’t the fastest car on the road by any means, but the futuristic design made the car instantly eye-catching. The vehicle was made massively famous after the ‘Back To The Future; movies became instant successes, although the sales of the DMC-12 were never that great. Teenagers in the 1980s dreamed about getting a chance to drive the DMC-12 at least once in their lives because the car was unique.

Photo Credit: Road & Track

Dodge Omni Shelby GLH/GLHS

Carroll Shelby had an interesting relationship with Chrysler Corporation in the ’80s and the Omni Shelby was one of the most interesting fruits of this partnership. The Omni GLH was a turbo-powered car that was very similar to the likes of the Volkswagen GTI. The intimidating look of the Shelby GLH was unlike the traditional Omni that you’d see driving around in the grocery store parking lot at the time (via Silodrone).

Photo Credit: Road & Track

There’s no denying that Shelby designed some sleeper cars during his partnership with the Chrysler Corporation, as cars like this one and the Shelby CSX were quite literally groundbreaking at the time. The fact that such a plain economy car could be made into such a beast was a true estimate of the skills that Shelby and his team of designers had. The Omni GLH was by far one of the most underrated cars of this period.

Lamborghini Countach
Photo Credit: Motor Trend

Lamborghini Countach

Every kid in the ’80s had a poster of this car on their wall at some point in time because it was unlike anything else that was on the road. Even today, the Countach is one of the most controversial and extreme-looking Lamborghini models on the road. The Countach wasn’t awe-inspiring in its look, it could perform as well. The massive spoiler on the back of the car was just a small piece of the massive amount of attitude (via The Car Guide).

Lamborgini Countach
Photo Credit: Motor Trend

There was no other car on the market at the time that looked like the Countach, it was truly one-of-a-kind. The Countach was excellent off the line and the exterior styling was perhaps the most beautiful Lamborghini design of the 1980s. There were other sports cars from this era that didn’t hold a candle to the styling of the Countach.

Mazda 323 GTX
Photo Credit: Mazda

Mazda 323 GTX

Few cars were as noticeable in the ’80s as the 323 GTX, because this car was one of the first hot hatches on the market. The 323 GTX wasn’t a car that you saw every day it was a special edition. But the rally-inspired hot hatch was popular and its sales were respectable (via Bring a Trailer).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The 323 was sold well into the 1990s and continued to be a popular option for budget-minded shoppers. As more teenagers grew into their first cars, the 323 GTX was a great option. Mazda perfected the formula for delivering a fun driving experience wrapped in a simple package.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Merkur XR4Ti

Merkur was a small experiment by the Ford Motor Company to bring European-inspired cars into the United States. The XR4Ti was the first car in the lineup and it was very different. The styling of the car was European, and some teenagers wanted these cars. The performance and styling were more unique than anything else on the market (via Classic).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Unfortunately, the Merker brand didn’t last long as sales numbers weren’t promising. Ford discontinued the brand, the XR4Ti has become a sort of collector’s item. There was no denying the Merker brand had a lot of potential, but it didn’t resonate with most consumers.

Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX
Photo Credit: Car Domain

Mitsubishi Eclipse

The 1996 Mitsubishi Eclipse was a game-changer and a car teenagers couldn’t get enough of. Maybe it was the factory turbocharged engine or the snappy design. Either way, the second-generation Mitsubishi Eclipse became one of the best-selling cars of all time (via KBB).

Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX
Photo Credit: Car Domain

The car was so popular that it was featured in dozens of movies and video games. The design was simple and cheap to repair, which made the car ideal for young drivers. The performance of the second-generation Eclipse was much better than the price tag of the car suggested.

Photo Credit: Motor1

Acura Integra Third Generation

Acura had a hit with the final incarnation of the Integra. The car was more modern and fun to drive. Its rev-happy engine was popular with consumers who wanted fun driving dynamics. The interior was available with a few luxury options, such as leather seating and a wrapped steering wheel (via KBB).

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

The Type-R and the GSR models were the most popular at the time and became legendary. The design of the Integra was unlike anything else at the time. The car proved you didn’t need an expensive or luxurious design to be successful.

Photo Credit: Auto Evolution

Toyota Supra

There wasn’t a more popular sports car in the 1990s than the Toyota Supra. It was a car that had the best Toyota engineering and design elements all wrapped up into one car. The performance was phenomenal and the Supra is still highly regarded today, not to mention a pricey investment (via Cars).

Photo Credit: Super Cars Net

The Toyota Supra Turbo was the most popular option and the car commanded a high price tag. The design of the Supra was more modern than almost anything else that was released in 1993. Toyota pulled out all the stops to build a performance car that was satisfactory and legendary in the racing world.

Photo Credit: Hot Rod

Ford Mustang

Although some people in the automotive industry thought the Mustang was going extinct in the 1990s, that wasn’t the case. The Mustang was more popular than ever during this decade. Even with the dated design, the Mustang captured an entirely new generation of buyers (via Cars).

Photo Credit: Hot Rod

The Mustang Cobra was also released during this decade and proved to be more popular than ever. By the end of the decade, the Mustang New Edge was also on the market. The Mustang proved it didn’t take an entire redesign to attract a new generation of car shoppers.

Photo Credit: Ford Trucks

Ford F-150 Lightning

Performance trucks were all the rage in the ’90s and the Ford Lightning got a second-generation design. The second incarnation of the truck was still only available in a single-car configuration. The supercharged engine was the fastest engine Ford had ever put into a production pickup truck (via F150 Online).

Photo Credit: Net Car Show

The F-150 Lightning was dominant in the Nascar truck racing circuit as well, proving that a new design made all the difference. The sales of the F-150 Lightning were excellent, and the truck was popular among teenagers. Ford continued to sell the second-generation Lightning until 2004 when the truck was discontinued.

Photo Credit: Rich Mccoy

Camaro Z28 Fourth Generation

The Camaro Z28 was redesigned for the 1993 model year and the design was completely different. The car was now more aerodynamic than ever and there was also a Corvette-derived V8 engine under the hood. This was by far the best-performing generation of the Camaro for the price and proved to be popular (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Auto WP

The Camaro was ultimately discontinued in 2002 but the car had a good run. Even all these years later, the Camaro is still a popular choice for teenagers on the used car market. But in the 1990s, it was not uncommon to see this generation of the Camaro on almost every high school parking lot you came across.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

Pontiac Firebird Fourth Generation

Like the Camaro, the Firebird was also redesigned with a new modern look, and the new Corvette LT1 motor was under the hood. The Firebird was differentiated from the Camaro in several ways. The styling was different and the dashboard was completely different as well. In many ways, the Firebird was the most popular car with teenagers (via Skyway Classics).

Photo Credit: Motor 1

The fourth generation Firebird was also released in the WS6 trim as well as the Firehawk package. It was these special editions of the car that proved to be more popular than ever. The Firebird was also discontinued in 2002 and the brand was never revived by GM. But in the 1990s, this was one of the most popular cars on the road.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Volkswagen Cabrio

The Volkswagen Cabrio was one of the most popular compact cars with teenagers in the ’90s. The cute design of the convertible proved to be especially popular during the summer months. The Cabrio was cheap to repair and easy to maintain, which made it the ideal car for a teenager (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

The Cabrio was sold well into the 2000s, and it continued to be a popular car with consumers. Its compact design and easy driving dynamics brought German engineering to a completely new market segment.

Photo Credit: VW

Volkswagen New Beetle

When the New Beetle hit the market in 1998, it was one of the most popular cars ever released. The retro-inspired design brought back the memories of an entire generation of drivers. Teenagers at the time were fond of the car because of the cheap price tag and the adorable styling. The New Beetle was no slouch at driving either, as the performance was decent (via Edmunds).

Photo Credit: VW

The New Beetle was one of the cars responsible for saving Volkswagen during a very trying period. The car was a refreshing design that led to other automakers following in the retro-themed fad of the late 1990s. Cars such as the PT Cruiser and the 2005 Mustang were all influenced by the success of the New Beetle.

Photo Credit: Hagerty

1999 Honda Civic SI

It could be debated that the 2000 Honda Civic SI was the most popular car of the decade in 1999. The completely refreshed styling and performance of the SI made it a sales success. These things were flying off dealership showrooms and teenagers and college students alike snapped them up (via KBB).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

The Civic SI was an extremely common sight in almost every high school parking lot in the ’90s. If you were lucky enough, your parents bought you one of these when you were a teenager. However, it wasn’t all good. The Civic SI became one of the most stolen cars ever in the ’90s also. The car is a symbol of one of Honda’s best periods ever, and the car is ’90s nostalgia that will never be forgotten.

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