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10 Sports Cars That Helped Define 1980s Automotive Style

What's in this article?
  1. How Did The Renault Alpine Gta Differ Itself From Its Competition?
  2. What’s Behind The Renault Alpine Gta’s Import History?
  3. Why Was The Renault Alpine Gta So Aerodynamic?
  4. What Renault Alpine Gta Engine Options Are Available?
  5. How Does The Renault Gta Alpine’s Interior Reflect 80S Sports Car Style?
  6. What Kind Of A Cultural Impact Has The Mazda Rx-7 (Fc) Made?
  7. How Did The Rx-7 Kick-Off Its 1980S Run?
  8. How Did The Rx-7 Alter Its Direction In The Mid 1980S?
  9. What Did Late 1980S Rx-7 Performance Look Like?
  10. Why Is The Lotus Excel Somewhat Forgotten In North America?
  11. What Was Lotus’ Vision For The Excel?
  12. Which Lotus Excel Is Most Valued Among Vintage Collectors?
  13. What Kind Of First Impression Did The 1985 Chevy Camaro Iroc-Z Make?
  14. What Significant Changes Did This Camaro Introduce? 
  15. Are These Camaro’s Good Investments?
  16. What Big Ferrari Problem Did The Testarossa Solve? 
  17. Did The Testarossa Drive As Good As It Looks?
  18. How Did The Testarossa Embody The Spirit Of The 1980S?
  19. What Does The Name Countach Represent In Driving? 
  20. How Did The Lamborghini Countach Compete With Its Market Rivals?
  21. What Kind Of A First Impression Did The Bmw M3 E30 Make?
  22. Which Details Helped Bolster The Bmw M3 E30’S Performance?
  23. Why Significance Does The Audi Quattro Hold Within Racing History? 
  24. How Did The Audi Quattro Street Models Fair Among The Public?
  25. How Many Datsun 280Zx 10Th Anniversary Edition Models Were Made?
10 Sports Cars That Helped Define 1980s Automotive Style

Boxy, angular, and plenty of Italian leather seats. You know the 1980s sports car image. While this sports car aesthetic transitioned into more curvy designs during the 1990s, 1980s sports cars still stand out today with their futuristic designs that blend elegantly with robust performance features like strong horsepower. 

International vehicle imports were outselling U.S. manufacturers in the 1980s and many of the decade’s performance models were rooted in pencil and clay designs. It wouldn’t be long until computers could generate just about any aerodynamic shape man could conceptualize. 

The overstated, poster-ready appearance of 1980s sports cars strongly contrast with the subtle sophistication that 1960s sports cars like the Jaguar XKE possessed. You can occasionally question the build quality of a certain percentage of iconic 1980s vehicles—but you can’t deny their aptitude for turning heads.

We’re here to give a nod to 1980s sports cars whose legends still live on. 

How Did the Renault Alpine GTA Differ Itself from Its Competition?

Peak 1980s French coupe design comes in the form of a Renault Alpine Grand Tourisme Alpine (GTA). Renault’s goal was to pass Porsche with a sporty design that contained healthy amounts of practicality—something that was not often prioritized during this decade. The culmination of this effort was an underrated sports coupe that reflects the spirit of unconventional French engineering. You can find this atypical French engineering approach within modern sports cars like the Bugatti Veyron. 


What’s behind The Renault Alpine GTA’s Import History?

Considered rare from its inception, the Renault Alpine GTA was sold from 1984-1991. You can import every year of this car’s 8-year production run. The lineup’s later turbo models tend to be this lineup’s most sought-after models. Renault almost integrated this car into the U.S. Domestic Market (USDM) inventory until Renault withdrew from the market in 1987 due to Chrysler buying the company’s share in AMC. Only 12 federalized GTA’s were left inside of the U.S. 

The USDM Renault Alpine GTA featured classic 1980s pop-up lights and distinctive bumpers. We’re confident that the Renault Alpine GTA will continue its legacy with Renault’s F1 racing team recently changing its name to Alpine racing. 

Why Was the Renault Alpine GTA So Aerodynamic?

The Renault Alpine GTA was the market’s most aerodynamic car when it arrived on the 1980s automotive scene, with multiple design elements manifesting its aerodynamic capability. This sports coupe’s impressively low drag resistance is partially a result of its intelligently designed nose. A lightweight configuration didn’t hurt either, as the Renault Alpine GTA was hundreds of pounds lighter than its competitors. 

What Renault Alpine GTA Engine Options Are Available?

1980s drivers were able to choose between two Renault Alpine GTA engines. One was a carbureted 2.9-liter producing 158 horsepower, while the other was a 2.5-liter turbocharged V6 sending 197 horsepower to the rear wheels via a mandatory 5-speed manual transmission. This coupe contained a steel backbone chassis with outriggers and a body that combined glass fiber panels and plastic. The well-known Alpine A110 inspired the Renault Alpine GTA’s sloping roofline and squared headlights. 

How Does the Renault GTA Alpine’s Interior Reflect 80s Sports Car Style?

Climb inside of the Renault Alpine GTA’s interior, and you’ll find an almost overwhelming amount of switchgear, leather seats with cushy headrests, and rear seats that are essentially storage space. One exciting element within the Renault Alpine GTA’s rear is its two prominent speakers. 

Since some of the picks on our list might be more seemingly obvious selections—we felt it was necessary to start with an underdog 1980s sports car that collectors are still pining for today. 

What Kind of a Cultural Impact Has the Mazda RX-7 (FC) Made?

RX is a Mazda staple that made its most significant impact with the RX-7. The Mazda RX-7 has been featured in cultural hits like the Fast and the Furious and Need for Speed video games. 


How Did the RX-7 Kick-off Its 1980s Run?

Mazda produced the Series 2 RX-7 from 1981-1983. Take a look at the Mazda Series 2 RX-7, and you’ll find attractive exterior design components like wrap-around taillights and wide black rubber body side moldings. This model’s four-speed manual was now out of the picture, with a 5-speed manual and automatic transmission options available for buyers. Four-wheel disc brakes found their way into the Series 2 RX-7 GSL package while power levels rose around ten horsepower. 

1980s drivers could satisfy their desire for speed with this Series’ RX-7 Turbo that produced 160 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. Standard horsepower began to rise when the Series 3 RX-7 was introduced with its 135 horsepower 1.3-liter fuel injected engine.

How Did the RX-7 Alter Its Direction in the Mid 1980s?

The RX-7 drifted toward 1985’s sport-tourer trend with its Series 4 lineup. Porsche’s 924 and 944 heavily influenced this Series’ exterior, so the model’s appeal could more easily cater to U.S. buyers. 

Performance enhancements within the Series 4 RX-7 included an independent rear suspension configuration that led to lower levels of understeer and more precise steering generated through a new rack and pinion steering design.

What Did Late 1980s RX-7 Performance Look Like?

Select a late-80s Series 5 RX-7, and you’ll confidently cruise with a naturally aspirated 160 horsepower engine. A turbo engine’s 200 horsepower output could reach up to 215 horsepower in select cases. Style was more of the 10th Anniversary RX-7’s forte. A black-out leather interior, bronze-tinted glass, and special 10th Anniversary floormats helped the 10th Anniversary RX-7 stand out from the crowd.

The RX-7 closed out its strong 1980s run with the GTU. This model mirrored the Turbo RX-7’s inclusion of four-piston front brakes, speed-sensing power steering, and luxury interior features like a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Only 1,100 GTU’s were manufactured in 1989.

Why Is the Lotus Excel Somewhat Forgotten in North America?

Being an underdog is one thing—but being near forgotten is entirely different. We want to give the Lotus Excel the credit it deserves since it was never imported into the U.S due to high emissions regulations that plagued manufacturers like Ferrari and their USDM’s. This Lotus is one of the 1980s most standout GT models with its gorgeous exterior, exceptional suspension, and reliable engines. 

What Was Lotus’ Vision for the Excel?

With a front-placed engine and rear-wheel drive configuration, the introductory Lotus Excel made a splash in 1982 with its near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Like many sports cars of this decade, the goal behind the Lotus Excel was to manufacture a vehicle that looked good and performed equally as well. 

Lotus was able to create the Excel as a successor to the Eclat thanks to a partnership with Toyota. This fruitful collaboration led to Lotus utilizing many of Toyota’s mechanical components within the Excel that subsequently led to a lower price tag that didn’t sacrifice quality. Larger taillights and an expansive big-wing spoiler are two exterior components that helped Lotus differentiate the Excel from the Eclat. The Excel’s most powerful engine made its appearance in the mid-1980s and provided its drivers with 180 horsepower and high cornering power that easily beat out the time’s competition. 

This 1980s Lotus shines with its smooth nose and wide body that embodies the spirit of 1980s sport design. The inside of the Lotus Excel revealed luxurious upholstery, a low-set driving position, and a three-spoke steering wheel. Lotus engineers supplied the Excel with coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers that led to a planted ground positioning. 


Which Lotus Excel Is Most Valued among Vintage Collectors?

The most desirable Lotus Excel among collectors is most likely the 1984 edition that features flared wheel arches. With just over 2,000 total models made, all eyes will be on you if you roll up to an auto show with one of these sleek-looking GT models.

What Kind of First Impression Did the 1985 Chevy Camaro IROC-Z Make?

Chevy’s IROC-Z Camaro landed itself a spot-on Car and Driver’s coveted Ten Best list for 1985. A sporty redesigned exterior and exceptional handling made the IROC-Z even more appealing to potential buyers. This Camaro became an instant hit with its 5.0-liter 215 horsepower engine, 15-16 mpg in the city, and a 0-60 mph time of seven seconds. These performance specs paved the way for ample amounts driver modifications that led to tons of drag racing.


What Significant Changes Did This Camaro Introduce? 

An anti-roll bar, front frame rail reinforcement, and door decals display the 1980s IROC-Z’s ability to look and play the part of a true 1980s sports car. This fantastic Camaro addition was considered an upgrade from the Z/28 with its improved suspension, 16-inch wheels, and spinal decal package. 16-inch wheels may seem small today, but they were virtually unknown when the IROC-Z made its way onto the scene in the. 1980s.    

Previous Camaro speedometers contained a double-pointed needle that measured mph and km/h. Chevy switched the IROC-Z’s speedometer to a standard single-pointed 85-mph design and made additional alterations that included a refreshed nose, the integration of a mean-looking spoiler, deeper valances, and halogen fog lights. The IROC-Z was lowered by 5-inches and was available in five different colors. An RPO California IROC-Z was made exclusively for California citizens. Chevy manufactured 500 total RPO California IROC-Z models—250 red and 250 black. 

It was clear that Chevy was breaking new ground with its IROC-Z. GM tried lots of new manufacturing techniques that manifested new design elements like a 62-degree sloped windshield—the steepest windshield that Chevy had done at the time. Drivers could receive this automotive innovation for only $659 more than the original Z/28. 

Are These Camaro’s Good Investments?

This classic Camaro is one of the best 1980s classic models that a person can invest in. IROC-Z Camaros in quality condition have been up an average of 50% in value since 2011 and can sell for as much as $30,000. It can be challenging to find IROC-Z’s that haven’t been worn out by its. previous street racing sessions. Most IROC-Z’s will cost around $11,000, with some going for as low as $3,000.

What Big Ferrari Problem Did the Testarossa Solve? 

Ferrari’s Testarossa was essentially a wider, more comfortable version of its predecessor, the Berlinetta Boxer. The Italian manufacturer widened the Testarossa to make space for a new cooling system that addressed the complaints of the Berlinetta Boxer’s hot cabin. These elevated interior temperatures were a result of the hosing from the car’s front-mounted radiator. This new cooling system additionally made room for the Testarossa to offer a decent-sized front travel front storage space. 


Did the Testarossa Drive as Good as It Looks?

A dry-sump 4.9-liter flat-12 engine supplied the Testarossa with 380 horsepower, 361 lb-ft of torque, a top speed of around 180 mph, plus a 0-60 mph speed that registered just over five seconds. 1988 Testarossa models had nice-sized 16-inch wheels to further boost these enhanced driving dynamics.

How Did the Testarossa Embody the Spirit of the 1980s?

This original 80s supercar entered the mainstream instantly with plenty of exposure on TV’s Miami Vice. An overdramatic side profile allowed the Testarossa to communicate the 1980s ethos of glam and excess that simultaneously served practical purposes. These cheese grater sides gave the car’s rear more stability and cooled the engine. Brilliant design elements like these are a driving force behind the Testarossa’s rising value. 

The Testarossa had its rear wheels powered by a rear-mounted, five-speed manual transmission featuring a twin-plate clutch. A complete disc brake configuration, precise rack-and-pinion steering, and a lightweight tubular steel united frame helped this Ferrari cruise past the competition. 

While black looks excellent on this Ferrari, most will agree that red is the Testarossa’s best color choice. This widely held opinion comes as no surprise considering Testarossa is Italian for “redhead.” Slide behind the wheel of a Testarossa, and you’ll be greeted by a suave tan leather interior, a Ferrari-gated shifter, and a surprising amount of space. 

True to its time, the Ferarri Testarossa is a masterclass on how an auto manufacturer can balance form and function. 

What Does the Name Countach Represent in Driving? 

You knew it was coming. The Countach made its first appearance at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show, hit the streets in 1974, and experienced a gradual evolution throughout the 1980s that solidified its premiere status. It’s no surprise that the word Countach is loosely translated to “wow!”. Lamborghini was aiming to produce the most spectacular car ever made and subsequently accomplished their goal with the Countach’s abstract, futuristic design. 

Wind the clock back to 1979, and you’ll find Lamborghini Countach upgrades that include fresh low-profile Pirelli P7 tires, extended glass-fiber wheel arches, and a more aggressive exterior aesthetic. The Countach’s signature V-shape rear wing was made available for the first time within the LP400S lineup so drivers could experience increased high-speed stability. 

The LP400S was the slowest Countach with its higher drag that led to a 353-horsepower output. Lamborghini refined the Countach’s performance by enlarging its V12 to a 4754cc in 1982. 5000QV models took the Countach’s performance one step further with an upgraded 5157CC engine containing four valves per cylinder that produced 455 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. American versions of the 5000QV featured 420 horsepower. You’d have no problem taking a 5000QV from 0-60 mph in less than 5 seconds and hitting top speeds exceeding 165 mph. 


Lamborghini retired the Countach after its Anniversary Edition that ran from 1988-1990. The Anniversary Edition Countach made an impression with engine and brake overheating improvements and a more driver-friendly cockpit that featured adjustable seats and power windows. 

How Did the Lamborghini Countach Compete with Its Market Rivals?

The Countach offered 1980s drivers more than looks and speed. Accurate steering, superb traction, and precise balance helped this Lamborghini hold its own and even exceed the performance of rival models like the Porsche 911 Turbo, Aston Martin Vantage, and Ferrari Testarossa. 

An aluminum body mounted over a tubular frame is the essence of the Countach’s street-legal racing prowess. One of this Lamborghini’s only downsides was the visibility it provided during parking. Drivers have said that the best way to park a Countach is for a driver to open their scissor door, lean halfway out, and keep an eye on the car’s rear while carefully working the pedals. Imposed 1980s U.S. automotive regulations didn’t solely apply to the Countach’s performance. The U.S. made Lamborghini integrate bumpers into its design for additional safety. These bumpers were unattractive and superfluous to say the least. Luckily these downsides don’t make much of an overall impact on the Countach’s lasting legacy. 

What Kind of a First Impression Did the BMW M3 E30 Make?

Motorsport inspiration played a central role in the BMW M3 E30’s immediate success. BMW’s vision for the M3 E30 was to make a racing sedan that operated in street-legal fashion. The German manufacturer realized their vision by applying the best BMW Racing Parts shelf components to their initial model. 1986 was when the public was introduced to the M3 E30’s ABS disc brake system, competition-based damping and suspension, and manual transmission that communicated its presence through a race-like design. BMW was able to supply the first M3 E30 engine with 200 horsepower without needing six cylinders or a turbocharger. 


Group A racing regulations stipulated that a minimum of 5,000 road-legal copies of the E30 M3 had to be sold in a year to be approved for racing. The 1986 BMW M3 quickly made an impression with its light, high torque, and durable M3 engine. A 1987 racing version of the BMW M3 was soon developed and would win national championships in England, France, and Italy with its 300 horsepower. The most powerful 2.5-liter cubic capacity M3 racing model produced 360 horsepower. 

Which Details Helped Bolster the BMW M3 E30’s Performance?

The M3 E30 produced improved dynamics with its slim car weight and C-pillar that was wider and flatter than its two-door 3 Series counterpart. With only a bonnet in common with its sister variants, the BMW M3 E30 featured widened fenders that supported its larger wheels and tires. The trunk lid was raised, a rear spoiler was installed, and the rear windscreen was re-angled for more optimized airflow. Swing to the front of an M3 E30, and you’ll find a deep front spoiler and extensive fitted side sills. 

Hop inside of an M3 E30, and you’ll find a 3-spoke steering wheel and electronically controllable door mirrors that are a standard offering. BMW’s USA-approved version of the M3 E30 contained slightly altered headlights, eight speakers, third brake light, and leather upholstery. Production of the BMW M3 E30 began in the Summer of 1988. An electric hood came standard, while a removable hardtop served as an available option.

Special variants of the M3 E30 include the 1988 Evolution that contained 220 horsepower. The 1988 Evolution M3 E30 is one of the rarest vintage cars available, with only 600 models made in total. BMW sold over 18,000 M3 E30 examples. 

M badges on this BMW’s front grille and tailgate prominently communicate a no-nonsense approach to driving performance.

Why Significance Does the Audi Quattro Hold within Racing History? 

Audi helped kick off 1980s sport automotive styling with its Ur-quattro that captured the spotlight at the 1980 International Geneva Motor Show. This all-new Audi featured a classic 1980s boxy shape, 200 horsepower, and a new all-wheel-drive system that dominated rally racing throughout the early 1980s. Audi was the first manufacturer to bring all-wheel drive into the world of rallying. 


While many deemed Audi's use of all-wheel drive within racing as too weighty and complicated—the Quattro won its first rallying entry and went on to capture race victory after victory over the next two years. Rallying ultimately proved to be the best platform for Audi to display its all-wheel-drive capabilities. Audi's rallying takeover continued until other manufacturers decided to give all-wheel drive a try in their competition vehicles. It's sufficient to say that the Audi Quattro was one of the most successful motorsports models of all time. Later street-legal Quattro examples featured race-like elements like a power-shift gearbox.

How Did the Audi Quattro Street Models Fair among the Public?

The public’s demand for Quattro’s led to the Ur-quattro being released as a production model that experienced continual upgrades. Significant Quattro alterations included a new dashboard, a sloping front grille, and an upgraded 2.2L 5-cylinder engine that produced 220 horsepower in 1987. The initial Ur-quattro model contained a 2.1-liter inline 5-cylinder engine that manifested 200 horsepower. Hop in a 1984 Audi Sport Quattro, and you could access 306 horsepower levels on-demand. Any Audi with ‘quattro’ in its name with a lowercase ‘q’ is a designation for an all-wheel-drive configuration. 

Look at the Audi Coupé, and you’ll see that it shares many similarities with the Audi Quattro. These commonalities include both parts and body components. Overall, the Audi Quattro experienced few modifications during its storied production run. 1985 led to the advent of the ‘Facelift’ Quattro model that famously changed the previous Quattro’s headlights, badging, and headlights, and more. 

Audi’s Quattro sold within the U.S. during the model’s entire production run from 1980-1991. A total of 664 Quattro models were purchased in the U.S. within this time frame. Former International Sports Car International Magazine placed the Quattro at number four in their list of the 1980s best sports cars. We heartily agree with this ranking, given the Quattro’s ability to single-handedly pioneer the use of all-wheel drive within rallying.

How Many Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition Models Were Made?

Most Japanese sports car fans would love to own one of the 3,000 Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition models ever made in 1980. Each of the 3,000 Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition examples manufactured contains a numbered dash plague that increases their desirability among car collectors. 500 Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition’s featured a black and red two-tone color scheme while the other 2,500 contained a black and gold exterior design configuration. Most vintage car enthusiasts prefer the black and gold Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition over the black and red version. 


Datsun decided to make the 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition’s model as luxurious as possible at a standard level. Leather upholstery, a high-quality four-speaker stereo, and a tinted T-bar roof helped the Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition distinguish itself from other competing sports car standard models. Commemorative wreath decals on the Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition’s front fenders and a golden Z hood badge scream 1980s sports car design. 

Like the Audi Quattro, the Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition came into the picture in 1980. This timing led to the Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition containing 1980s-style boxy portions and sharp corners that were balanced by some late 1970s exterior design influences. The inside of this limited-edition sports car reveals features like electric windows, power steering, and gold floor carpeting. A 2.8-liter inline-6 with 132 hp and 144 lb-ft of torque gave Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition drivers a solid amount of performance that complemented the car’s show-stopping looks. 

What Media Attention Did the Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Get?

We love the commercial below for the Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition for its ability to highlight the car’s limited availability and a wide array of standard luxury additions in the most 1980s way possible. A mint-condition Datsun 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition was on sale for a starting bid of $42,000 on eBay in 2019. 

Would you place a bid?

What Innovation Did the Porsche 911 964 Carrera Bring to the Table?

Porsche’s 911 had earned itself a daily driver reputation when the 911 964 Carrera 4 made its debut in 1989. This model is significant given that it’s the first 911 to feature an all-wheel-drive system. In an intelligent marketing move, Porsche initially released the 911 964 Carrera as an all-wheel drive offering before later integrating different drivetrains into their 911 964 Carrera sale lineup. You can acquire just about any Porsche in all-wheel drive today. 


A 3.6-liter naturally aspirated flat-six engine supplied this 911 with around 250 horsepower and an average 0-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds. Newly incorporated struts suspension helped the 911 964 Carrera 4 easily handle corners while a powerful engine sound added to the fun.

If you’re looking for a vintage 911 with exceptional aerodynamics, look no further than the 911 964 Carrera 4. A few design elements that fostered this 911’s refined aerodynamic abilities were introductory front and rear sections and an automatically extending rear spoiler. This rear spoiler would extend when a driver exceeds 50 mph. 

What’s inside of the Porsche 911 964 Carrera?

Look inside of the 911 964 Carrera 4, and you’ll find a splash of the previous generation’s design approach. A 911 964 Carrera 4 driver sits low as supportive seats encompass and adapt to their figure. Overall, this 911 cabin is airy and even more attractive with optional linen leather. This model’s power steering is well-weighted and responsive so drivers can get the feedback they would expect out of a 911. 

The front and rear aprons of this Porsche were made from deformable plastic, while a tail-light panel featured a red-reflective Porsche logo and red rear direction indicators nearby. The main difference between these two 911 generations is the cars’ safety systems.

What’s Your Favorite 1980s Sports Car?

We know that there are plenty more iconic 1980s sports cars that our list is leaving out. Help us fill out the blanks by commenting one or more of your favorite 1980s sports car models on A1 Auto Transport’s social media feeds. 


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Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing. 

After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood. 

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