6. Ford Taurus SHO
Back in the late 1980s, Ford caused a revolution with the introduction of the Taurus model. This was the first truly modern American sedan. Ford ditched the heavy ladder-type chassis and big engines. They went in a different direction with a sleek and aerodynamic body, new technology, and front-wheel drive. The Taurus sold in volumes but the most interesting is the famed Super High Output (SHO) version.
The SHO wasn’t a muscle car by any means since it was a four-door sedan. Still, it delivered a significant amount of power so it belongs on our list of the best 1980s performance cars. It featured a Yamaha-sourced 3.0-liter, high-revving V6 with 220 HP.
Today, this doesn’t sound like much, but for 1989, it was a lofty figure. Performance was outstanding with just 6.7 seconds to 0 to 60 mph acceleration times. On the outside, Taurus SHO looked like any other regular Taurus and only the badge on the back revealed its true nature.
5. Dodge Shelby Charger
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.
4. Sunbeam Lotus
Introduced in 1977, the Sunbeam was a compact, modern-looking hatchback to compete with the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Escort. It had rear-wheel drive and a low weight, which made it perfect for modification. So, in 1979, Sunbeam approached the famed sports and racing car manufacturer Lotus to build a hot hatch that could go racing.
Soon, they presented the Sunbeam Lotus, and it was a fast car for the day. It had a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine delivering 152 HP, a specially tuned suspension and ZF close-ratio manual gearbox. With rear-wheel drive and Lotus-tuned driving dynamics, this car was a capable driving machine. In fact, it even won the World Rally Championship in 1981.
3. Mazda Familia GTR
The early ’90s were the perfect time for the introduction of those rally homologation specials. In fact, many European and Japanese companies did just that. They called it the Mazda Familia GTR for the Asian market and 323 GTR for the European market. It was a competent and fast version of the popular Mazda compact car. But the GTR meant more than just a cool nameplate.
The Familia GTR was a highly tuned version of a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with special all-wheel drive. The power output was high at 205 HP, and the AWD system helped this little compact handle like a dream. Today they are rare, so hurry up and snap up this obscure piece of rally history.
2. Toyota MR2
Back in the mid-80’s, Toyota shocked the automotive world by introducing the MR2, a small mid-engine sports car. It offered a great performance, superb road handling and an affordable price. In those days, as well as today, consumers considered Toyota as a dull manufacturer of economy models without any interesting cars for enthusiasts. But the MR2 changed that since it was different from other Toyotas. It appealed to all fans of spirited driving and dynamic handling road machines.
They presented the first generation MR2 in 1984. It featured 1.5-liter or 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine mounted centrally behind the driver, between the cabin and rear axle. This gave the little car fantastic handling. Look for the 1.6-liter supercharged model – the Supercharger (SC) that delivers 145 HP and 140 lb-ft of torque.
Although those power output figures don’t sound like much today, the MR2 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just seven seconds, which is still respectable. The prices for well-preserved examples are still affordable. The MR2 is tons of fun, so if you are looking for a small, nimble sports car from Japan with sublime handling, this is it.
1. Maserati 222 BiTurbo
Although most people have probably never heard of it, they can become the owner of an almost classic Maserati for as little as $10,000. For that money, you can buy a decent Maserati BiTurbo, which they introduced in 1981 and produced until 1994. The BiTurbo lineup of cars started with the 222 model. It was a handsome two-door coupe, and Maserati continued with the 420 and 430 sedans built on the same chassis. There was even a beautiful convertible the Zagato design house built, but it is expensive and rare.
They intended BiTurbos to be entry level Maseratis at a more affordable price for consumers. Under the hood was a new generation of turbocharged 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter V8 engines offering a high-power output. In fact, it went from 180 HP all the way up to 270 HP in later years. The interiors were luxurious and fitted with all kinds of creature comforts.
You are probably wondering what the catch is and why these fantastic looking cars from an exotic brand like Maserati are so affordable. The reason is simple: people considered the BiTurbo generation to lack reliability and prone to mechanical issues. Maserati made over 40,000 BiTurbos in a 13-year period, but just a small fraction of them are still on the road.
However, modern technology and aftermarket components can improve the quality of these gorgeous looking, but mechanically-flawed BiTurbos. Some owners are reporting they have made these cars more dependable. So, if you want an Italian exotic, but are on a budget, the Maserati BiTurbo could be your solution.
You can forget the expensive 911s, because these are the best-underrated performance cars you can buy. No matter what your taste in cars is, there is a gem on this list just for you. But, you’d better be quick, because their prices are on the rise.