Cars from the 1980s don’t get much love. One article from the Chicago Tribune reads, “It seems unlikely that people will ever collect 1980s American cars, short of a National Auto Losers Museum.”
There’s also a scathing piece from The Street that proclaims: “Meanwhile, many of the midsize vehicles of the era (the 80s)—with the exception of perhaps the Honda Accord and its hidden headlights—looked and performed as if they should be dropped off by the truckload at retirement villages across the county.”
While those articles may reflect the way some purists feel about 80s cars, many members of Generation X and older Millennials (like myself), who now have the funds for car collecting, want the 80s vehicles they remember from their youth.
At the same time, the number of 80s cars available through Craigslist and similar outlets is dwindling because, well, these vehicles are over 30 years old. The majority have met their demise and been recycled, and are now living second lives as refrigerators and garbage cans.
That’s why, as a member of the generation who grew up playing with toy cars in the 80s (while pining for the real thing), I say now is the time to buy a 1980s automobile before it’s too late.
4 Reasons Why Everyone (Including You) Should Own an 80s Car
The Automotive Dark Ages, the 1970s, saw the introduction of emissions regulations and fuel economy standards that left American automakers floundering. Vehicles rolling off assembly lines were underpowered, unreliable, and generally, quite hideous.
Because cars from the disco era were so terrible, the next decade almost had to be better. And it was—for the most part.
Sure, vehicles from the 80s are gutless compared to newer models (a 2020 Dodge minivan makes more power than a 1985 Corvette). But 80s cars reflect the age of MTV, Ronald Reagan, and shoulder pads (not necessarily in that order).
And to me, that makes it all worthwhile.
Still not convinced? Let’s consider a few reasons why you might want to own an 80s vehicle, despite what some car-collecting traditionalists have to say.
1. Cars Started to Get Smart in the 80s
By the mid-1980s, automakers began to realize that they needed to do something different to comply with changing emissions regulations. As a result, cars began to move away from outdated mechanical devices (e.g., carburetors) and on to computer controls.
That transition to more modern technology is part of what makes cars from the 80s so intriguing. You get vintage styling alongside the electronics that paved the way for the vehicles of today.
Many cars from the late 1980s, including my ‘87 Chevy Cavalier Z24, are sophisticated enough to have onboard diagnostics (OBD1) that can communicate with a scan tool. By the end of the decade, nearly all vehicles also had fuel injection, and some had traded their distributors in for coil packs.
The result was greater reliability and improved performance. Plus, the switch from carburetion to fuel injection meant a driver could start their car without having to pump the gas pedal dozens of times.
2. You Get Styling from the Age of Big Hair and Spandex
Regardless of whether you hate it or love it (I love it), the 80s had a distinct style. Women wore leg warmers, men wore parachute pants—and everyone had big hair.
The cars of the 80s also had a, shall we say, unique style. Wedge-shaped body lines were trendy, as were sweeping ground effects kits and Knight Rider-style digital dashes.
As tacky as that may sound, many of the cars were actually pretty cool. Consider, for example, the Dodge Daytona Turbo Z with its hatchback roofline and outstretched hood. Or the Chevy Camaro IROC-Z and its quintessential 80s look that’s still popular today.
Yep, I’d rock an 80s car any day of the week.
3. Buying a Modern Classic Won’t Break the Bank
If you want what most people consider a real classic (i.e., a 50s cruiser or a 60s muscle car), you’re going to need to take out a second mortgage. But most cars from the 1980s—the modern classics—are still reasonably priced.
Even everyday drivers can afford awesome 80s cars, such as the Pontiac Firebird Formula and Chevy Monte Carlo SS. What’s more, if you’re willing to settle for objectively awesome, you can get cars like the Pontiac Fiero and Mitsubishi Starion/Chrysler Conquest that cost even less.
4. There are Some Hidden, High-Performance Gems
There’s no denying the fact that early 1980s cars were abysmal in regards to performance. The later part of the decade, however, is a different story.
Widespread use of fuel injection and computer controls gave rise to cars that were both fun to drive and (somewhat) emissions-friendly. Prime examples include the Buick Grand National, the Ford Mustang GT, and the previously mentioned Camaro IROC-Z.
Get ‘Em While You Still Can
Just a decade or so ago, there was plenty of 1980’s sheet metal for sale at “buy here, pay here” used car lots and on Craigslist. As I mentioned, though, these old cars are disappearing quickly.
Furthermore, as baby boomers age out of car-collecting and younger generations take their place, vehicles from the 80s are beginning to increase in value. Certain models are already commanding big bucks. Take, for example, the 1988 BMW M3, which Hagerty now values at up to $139,000 in mint condition.
In other words: If you’ve ever dreamt of owning a Mustang GT, a Camaro IROC-Z, or even a Yugo (no judgment), now is the time to buy. As supply goes down and demand goes up, finding these cars at a decent price is going to become increasingly difficult.
As for me, I’ve already added a pair of Chevy Cavalier Z24s (an ‘87 and an ‘89) to my car collection.
And I don’t plan on selling them anytime soon.