As promised, we have a part two for our list of 1980s performance and sports cars. If you haven’t checked out our first part, be sure to check that out as well. Or don’t. I’m not your supervisor.
1 – Buick Grand National (1984-1987)
Starting off our list, we have probably one of the most unique muscle cars of the 1980s. Instead of the usual V8 that powered most of America’s iconic powerhouse cars, Buick instead opted for a turbocharged 3.8L V6 putting out 200hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Even though two cylinders were “missing”, the Grand National still fit into the torquey muscle car niche.
Those of you a bit more knowledgeable of the Grand National probably noticed that I didn’t include the 1982 model in the production years. This was completely intentional, as I’m talking about the more refined Grand National. Returning in 1984, the more refined Grand National ditched the old school carburetor in favor of fuel injection, gained computer controlled ignition, and ditched the charcoal grey paint for a nice black coat. Yea, that last one isn’t really a performance enhancement, but what’s the point in winning races if you don’t look your good doing it?
And while the Grand National is impressive in its own right, the real big dog is the “Grand National Experimental”; otherwise known as the motherf@#king GNX. This lovechild of Buick and McLaren was pumping out 300hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, largely thanks to an upgraded turbo setup and other aspiration goodies that McLaren shoved under the hood. This work equated to a Buick that could go from 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds and ran the ¼ mile in 12.7 seconds. The GNX was a Buick that was faster than the Ferrari F40 of the same year and that is f@#king insane!
2- Porsche 944 Turbo (1986-1991)
I know this front-engined little four banger isn’t what most people would think of when they think of Porsche performance, but it is still a very important part of 1980s performance car culture. This was basically the Cayman/Boxster of the 1980s, fitting it into a nice entry level of price and performance. If you wanted to dip your toes into the luxury performance waters in the late 80s, then this is probably the car you’d buy.
While not exactly fast by today’s standards for premium turbocharged four-cylinders, the first rendition of the 944 Turbo put out 217hp and got from 0-60 in around six seconds. Pretty good, but not the best that Porsche could do. With the introduction of the 944 Turbo S in 1988, the horsepower increased to 246hp and could reach 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. Pretty significant improvement that managed to make the 944 Turbo S the fastest production four-cylinder car of the time. But if you’re buying a Porsche, it isn’t all about straight line speed and power.
In addition to the Turbo S’s acceptable power, it had stiffer suspension than the standard 944, front and rear Brembo four-piston brakes taken from the 911, a limited slip differential and a high friction clutch setup. This kind of stuff is to be expected out of a luxury performance manufacturer like Porsche, but it is still nice to see it on the entry level coupe and not just the 911.
3 – Mazda RX-7 Turbo II (1985-1992)
This one is a little personal favorite of mine. I’m absolutely in love with the idea of a performance car that has an engine that sounds like a hive of angry wasps. Plus, the FC RX-7 is an absolutely stunning car, so that doesn’t hurt either.
This wasn’t Mazda’s first experiment with putting turbochargers on rotary engines, but it was by far the best of the time. The first models of the Turbo II (the Series 4) were putting out 182 hp, which is about a 10.4% increase from the first generation RX-7 Turbo’s 165 hp. Mazda wasn’t one to leave things as well enough, so in 1989 they introduced the Series 5 RX-7 Turbo II, which cranked out 200 hp. While it isn’t as impressive as the final generation RX-7’s power output, which topped out at an impressive 276 hp, it was a fairly successful stock car and an excellent template for tuners to work with.
Along with the power upgrade from the first generation, handling was obviously improved as well. Mazda ditched the less effective (albeit more fun) live rear axle, upgraded to rack and pinion steering, and implemented their Dynamic Track Suspension System (DTSS). DTSS is more or less a passive rear-wheel steering, which is similar, but not identical, to the four wheel steering found in Mazda’s MX-6 (which is a car I’ve become addicted to mentioning once an article now.)
4 – Merkur XR4Ti (1985-1989)
For any of our European readers who aren’t sure what this, don’t worry. This is literally just our version of the Ford Sierra. There aren’t very many major differences aside from the alphanumerical clusterf@#k of a name.
As noted above, the XR4Ti was the North American market’s car on the Ford Sierra platform. Unlike the Euro Sierras, which were powered by a 2.8L V6, Ford/Merkur opted to use the turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder engine that was found in the Thunderbird Turbo Coupes. Five-speed manual versions of the XR4Ti put out 175 hp, but the three-speed automatic got only 145 hp. As if we needed more incentive to only buy our sports cars in manual…
Unfortunately, the XR4Ti never really caught on in the US and was dropped before 1990. It is one of those cars that is loved in Europe, but doesn’t sell as well in the states due to not having an ungodly amount of horsepower or not being a couch on wheels. We just can’t keep nice things, because we’re too dumb to appreciate them while they’re here.
5 – Toyota Supra A70/MK 3 (1986-1993)
Since I got a little negative at the end of the Merkur portion, let’s go to something that everyone loves to talk about: Toyota Supras. It’s just a car that it is super hard not to like and I feel like we can all agree that it belongs here.
The A70 Supra actually started off fairly standard for a Japanese sport coupe in the 80s. It initially put out 200 hp in its introductory year in 1986 and didn’t really have a turbo option for that extra push. Things did improve in 1987 though with the introduction of the 7M-GTE, Toyota’s 3.0L turbocharged inline-six, which put out a more respectable 232 hp, manifesting in around a 7.0 second 0-60 time. The big move that changed Supra forever would happen in 1989 though, and that change was named “1JZ-GTE”.
If you know about Supras, you probably know about the bulletproof engine found in the A80/MK 4, the 2JZ-GTE. Well, the 1JZ-GTE is basically the 2JZ’s dad. The 1JZ-GTE was the kick in the ass that the Supra name needed at the time. It raised the top horsepower from 232 to a fairly impressive 276 hp, which decreased the Supra Turbo’s 0-60 time to a solid 6.5 seconds. Not the best, but significantly better than before the 1JZ-GTE.
Unfortunately though, the Supra Turbo with the 1JZ-GTE never actually made it to the US. Any A70/MK 3 Supra Turbo that you find here is likely sporting the 7M-GTE, which is still an acceptable engine. Well, it will have the 7M or have a built up 2JZ-GTE and cost more than it would cost to just buy a new Supra.
That’s gonna be the end of our part two for the performance cars of the 1980s. There’s a lot of fantastic cars from the 80s and I know I probably didn’t list someone’s favorite. So, if I didn’t cover one that you want covered, let me know in the Facebook comments or article comments. If you aren’t a massive douche about it, I might include it in a “commenters edition”, which will be an article of only your suggestions.