There are plenty of reasons why the best classic cars must have been made in the 1980s. Decent electrics, galvanised chassis, automated production lines for better quality. Compared to every preceding decade, 80s car manufacturers got their act together. And compared to subsequent decades they weren’t weighed down by complicated safety equipment and electronic gizmos.
So the 1980s should be classic car nirvana and in many ways the decade of big hair and shoulder pads is exactly that. But there is a problem. In the 1980s not a lot of great cars were made. Perhaps the manufacturers were blinded by all the dayglo leg warmers or too busy listening to Falko. Whatever the reason, the evocative makers were still churning out updated 70s models like the Alfa GTV while the more mundane were launching Maestros and Montegos on an unprepared world.
Amongst the dreadful Austins and dull Vauxhalls, however, the 80s did give us a thin smattering of gems. Currently undervalued but excellent classic car buys because of the improvements in manufacturing, these cars are well worth buying now. Here are our favourite real-world cars of the 80s – and our top buying tips.
1. Ford Capri
On many levels the humble Capri is a bit silly to modern eyes. It’s more macho than a factory full of Brute, it has a silly power bulge on the bonnet and two be-permed blokes off the telly drove one. But that is why it is so good. The Car You Always Promised Yourself is an excellent, neatly styled car in final 2.8 and 280 guise and practical too with space for four and a decent boot. It’s cheap to own with good parts supply and a reliable old thing thanks to Ford mechanicals. This is the sort of car that nobody makes any more, a burbling, lusty coupe that is a joy to drive. Buy one now – prices have doubled in 18 months but £3,000 will still get you into a decent 2.8.
2. Audi Quattro
In many ways the Quattro is the Capri’s clever big brother, the swotty high achiever in a sharp suit. Rally bred with of course 4WD, the Quattro is a complicated but brilliant drivers car. It also looks good with its chunky Teutonic lines and blocky dashboard. Sure, it will be expensive when it goes wrong, but it doesn’t do that much thanks to robust engines and German engineering. Good cars are £20,000 plus but Quattros can still be picked up for under £10,000. Buy now before that changes. Phew, all that and we didn’t use the words ‘fire up’…. Dammit…
3. BMW M635
In the 1980s BMW found its mojo. Across the nation managing directors traded their Jaguars for cramped 5-Series while their top sales reps shoehorned themselves into 3-Series. Despite Ford and Vauxhall loading their offerings with every conceivable 80s-tastic option, Britain’s professional achievers donned their automotive hair shirts and picked Beemers, cars which came with wheels as standard and not a lot else. At the top of the brand-driven automotive tree was the M635, the shark-nosed coupe with the BMW M1 engine. A stunning car to look at and drive, it was a worthy successor to the lightweight CSL Batmobiles but with a sharper, more sober suit suitable for the Goldman Sachs car park. Well built and rare, the M635 is worth seeking out now – prices have already begun to skyrocket but there are bargains out there. Or opt for a Highline – you lose the M motor but get everything else that makes this car brilliant.
4. Saab 900 T16S
Of course, I am wholly biased. I love the 900. For the unconverted, look beyond the socialist dentist image and see a genuinely brilliant hot hatch. The 900 is more than just a stretched 99 – well built, ingenious, practical, good to drive and very, very fast. According to Saab the full pressure 900 Turbo was the most powerful front wheel drive car you could buy and faster than a 911 in the critical 40-70 overtaking zone. All this for £2,000 today. Those prices are going up quickly but there are plenty about.
5. Ford XR3
Even in the 80s Ford’s original hot hatch was a bit of an afterthought. After the Golf GTi took off in Britain it took the major manufacturers years to stick plastic wheel arch extensions, Recaro seats and boot spoilers on to their humdrum hatches. Most of them, to be honest, put style ahead of substance. The MG Maestro Turbo torque-steered into oblivion, the Astra GTE brought the missing link, a Speak and Spell dashboard, to the game. Ford did what Ford does best – created an attractive, well-priced car and marketed it well. The XR3 sold in droves, despite initially being more ‘hatch’ than ‘hot’ and never being the last word in dynamics. The under-rated RS1600i and RS Turbo moved the game on, despite still not being very good drivers’ cars. Nobody really cared as the XR3 had colourful seats and a rev counter. Today there are few original XR3s left and values are quietly exploding.
6. Ford Sierra Cosworth
There are several Fords on this list with good reason. They are good classic buys because they’re reliable, once ubiquitous but now rare and their values are driven by nostalgia. The Cossie was the weapon of choice for blue collar entrepreneurs, the Subaru Impreza of its day. Quick, technically advanced and rally-bred the rather brilliant Cosworth was the super car that sales reps in their Sierras could relate to. Most were TWOC’d and crashed and the rest were generally thrashed to death but the few that remain are blue blooded classic Royalty. Like Quattros, prices have already begun to rise but will likely go further.
7. Lancia Delta Integrale
You may spot a bit of a theme here. Humble manufacturer makes high performance version of everyday model. Lancia arguably did it best and to the greatest extreme with the Integrale. Essentially a rally car in a boxy hatchback suit, the Integrale continuously evolved over its life, becoming closer and closer to a super car with every evolution. Early cars are quick, late cars devastatingly so. Only available in LHD the Integrale is a typically fragile Italian but utterly brilliant to drive. Late cars are now expensive but early cars are cheap and worth a punt.
8. Rover SD1 Vitesse
I’ve owned one of these and there is a lot not to like. The appalling build quality (genuinely worse than you can actually imagine), the horrible driving position. But the SD1 Vitesse looks so good and sounds so great that you have to forgive it these shortcomings. After all, most classics sit in garages being polished and swooned over and with its Daytona-esque lines it is as an object d’art at which the Vitesse excels. It’s the last great British saloon and with most having rotted away or simply fallen apart, the few remaining cars are surely due to appreciate.
9. Peugeot 205 GTI
Another hot hatch but then the 80s is synonymous with them. This is definitely the best of the breed, a simply brilliant sports car by any criteria – quick, nimble, practical and easy to own. Sure, it’s built from old Coke cans and is still stuck in a chav-infested world of sports exhausts and spoilers, but an unmolested 205 is a thing of utter joy. I prefer the sweeter, lighter 1.6 over the 1.9 but either car is near perfect. Early 205s had pretty rubbish interiors so go for a later car. There are lots and lots of 205s out there but very few decent low mileage cars. Find one and buy it now before prices go stratospheric – £2,000 will get you a reasonable one (that would have been £1,000 a year ago). But beware – 205s can make you drive like a looney. I have owned two and both were written off very quickly (but not by me).
80s cars haven’t quite established their classic credentials yet. Think of the 60s or 70s and it is easy to create a list of the top 10. So we’ve left the 10th slot on our list free so that you can tell us which car or cars we’ve missed. Or tell us the cars we should have consigned to the classic dumper instead.
Many of the cars above would not make ideal hire cars – unless sleepless nights are your thing – but we have tested a few of them on the Great Escape fleet. Some are still available to hire. We continue to look for new 80s cars to hire so if you have a suggestion just let us know via http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.