There are certain things that define a period in time and, alongside fashion, cars are one of the big ones.
In this series, we’re looking at the cars that really stood out from around the world from the 1950s to the 1990s. The 1980s were a decade of excess, of new money and of affluence. But it was also a time, for some, of unemployment and deprivation.
Some might also say that it was the decade that taste forgot, but some of our most memorable classics came to life in the 1980s. If you’re in the market for a 1980s classic, check out our for sale section.
If the Escort captured the imagination in the 1970s, the Sierra certainly did in the 1980s. Sure, it was a tough choice as to whether to feature the 1980s iteration of the Escort here, but we thought that the Sierra deserved some attention – and one in particular.
The Sierra was a family car that launched in 1982 and would survive until the coming of the Mondeo in 1994. It replaced the Cortina and, in comparison, its design was ahead of its time, with an aerodynamic looks to it that hadn’t been seen before.
The most famous one, though, was the RS Cosworth. Ford dabbled with fast Sierras before this, including the XR4i, but it was the Cossie that captured people’s imaginations.
With a 2.0 turbocharged Cosworth engine, developing 201hp, it made fast cars accessible to the masses and it once had the dubious honour of being the most-stolen car in Britain, sending its insurance premiums through the roof.
The RS500, which produced 222hp, came along in 1987 and the Sierra also saw plenty of success in rallying and touring car racing. Today, you can pay anything from a little over £1,000 for a bog standard car to £30,000 for a Cosworth.
OK, so this one might be one of the less cool 1980s cars – or one of the most cool, depending on your point of view – but it’s one that everyone remembers.
With something of the mid-life crisis about it in the 1980s, the Manta was a rear-wheel-drive sports coupe that actually began life in 1970, lasting right through to 1988.
The one we’re looking at is the Manta B, made from 1975 and, even more particularly, the facelifted 1982 model. Said facelift adorned it with such things as a plastic front spoiler, sideskirts, a rear wing and air intakes on the grille. All very 1980s. And the one that really stood out – and the one that you most likely remember – was the GT/E, which had quite a bit of presence.
Some models got all the bits – Recaro seats with red cloth, grey faux-leather interior and the full body pack, made up of twin round headlights, front and rear spoilers and sideskirts. It also enjoyed a bit of motorsport action in rallying and today cars are hard to find in good, original condition, and so have become more valuable over recent years.
Mantas can be had for as little as £2,000, although the GT/E will cost at least £5,000.
BMW 3 Series
For some, the 1980s 3 Series is the 3 Series. The E30, as it was designated, lasted from 1982 until 1994 in two-door and four-door saloon style, as well as a convertible and an estate.
A range of four-cylinder and straight-six engines powered the E30, but it is most special because it was the first to see the M3 model. The M3 got a high-revving four-cylinder petrol, making 235hp, and it was the beginning of a legend that continues to this day.
Another notable first for the E30 was the 325iX model, which was the first 3 Series to have four-wheel-drive. Values now range from around £2,000 to £10,000.
We could have gone for the obvious choice, that being the sublime and wonderful F40, launched in 1988 to mark 40 years of Ferrari.
But we won’t do that, instead we’ll go for 1980s flash personified, the Testarossa. It was a proper Ferrari, with a 12-cylinder engine, and it lasted from 1984 until 1992.
Rear-engined and rear-drive, it was a real driver’s car, too. Design-wise it was instantly-1980s to look at, but it certainly wasn’t ugly and certainly was a Ferrari.
And it’s a desirable one now, with prices beginning at around £100,000 and going on from there.
Here’s a cheeky little French fancy to round things off.
Even in standard form the little Renault 5 is hard not to love. It actually spanned two decades, being produced from 1972 until 1996, as was often the case with super-popular Gallic motors of the time.
And it was super-popular, with close to 5.5 million of them built by the end of its run. Like the Citroen 2CV of a generation before, it was cheap, fun and loveable. It led to it achieving cult status, but no more so than the Renault 5 GT Turbo. Introduced in 1985, this was a real hot hatch of the highest order.
Its turbocharged four-cylinder gave it 113hp, which, coupled to its weight of just 850kg, made for lots of fun, with 60mph up in just 7.5 seconds.
And it looked awesome.
The Turbo was also a successful rally car – its victory in the 1989 Rallye Cote d’Ivoire remains the only outright World Rally Championship win for a Group N car. Basic cars can be had for as little as £1,000. The Turbo, meanwhile, will set you back in the region of 10 times that.