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Top 10: Iconic 80s cars
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be; that seminal 80s TV hit, Miami Vice is set to hit the silver screen this summer but one vital ingredient will be missing, Crockett’s white Ferrari Testarossa.
The show, its stars, cars and pastel clothes became a symbol of that most debauched of decades where greed was good, excess was best and braces had to be red. Surprisingly for an era obsessed with style over substance, it did produce some interesting cars, although few of them could be called subtle. MSN Cars looks at ten cars that sum up the ten years that taste forgot.
The suave Sonny Crockett originally drove a droptop Ferrari Daytona – actually a fake based on a Corvette – but when Ferrari North America witnessed the popularity of the show, they willingly handed over the famous white Testarossa. Very low and very wide, nearly two metres, the car got its name, "redhead" from the red-painted cylinder heads on its 4.9-litre, 390bhp flat-12 engine, similar to the one in the 512BB. But the Testarossa featured twin, side-mounted radiators in comparison to the 512’s single nose-mounted unit which necessitated those dramatic side-strakes that define the car’s iconic look. The Testarossa also had its engine mounted above the gearbox which gave it an unusually high centre of gravity and led to a reputation for tricky on the limit handling. Despite this the car with a couple of revisions stayed in production from 1984 to 1996 and over 10,000 were built.
MKII Golf GTI
MKII Golf GTI
Who could forget model Paula Hamilton binning her mink, her man and her ring but keeping the keys to her GTI? The original Golf GTI Mk1 created a new breed of car, the hot hatch and its successor helped define a new breed of person very peculiar to the 80s, the Sloane Ranger. The female Sloane was characterised by her Alice bands, pearls and court shoes, the male by his brown brogues, cords, pastel shirts and jumper slung casually over his shoulders. Both sexes were instantly recognisable by their braying laughter. Acutely aware of their social standing but not wishing to be too obvious about it, the Golf GTI was the perfect Sloane transport. The MkII GTI was discreetly powerful with its 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, twin headlights and red-rimmed grille and carried just the right amount of cachet without being nouveau. The GTI also offered entertaining handling, it was happy to cock an inside rear wheel in the air and offered superb feedback through the wheel.
If the GTI defined the Sloane, the whale-tailed 911 is almost inseparable in most people’s minds from an even less likeable 80s phenomenon, the Yuppie. Porsche had to some extent put the 911’s development on the back burner in order to concentrate on what was intended to be its successor, the 928. But they suddenly realised that their, in the words of PJ O’Rourke, "ass-engined Nazi slot car," was selling better than ever and almost entirely to pin-stripe suit wearing merchant bankers with red braces. Ideally the 911 would be painted in Guards Red to match and with the pose rather than performance related options of the whale-tail spoiler and wide wheelarches from the frankly terrifying turbo model, front airdam and black Fuchs alloy wheels. Even the interior featured pinstripe upholstery and in 1983 Porsche introduced the city boy’s wet dream, a full convertible 911.
De Lorean DMC12
De Lorean DMC12
The De Lorean DMC12 was the undoubted star of the Back to the Future Trilogy, alongside a very young looking Michael J. Fox. It was the brainchild of GM executive John Z De Lorean who persuaded the British government to part with millions in return for a plant in Northern Ireland manufacturing a stainless steel, mid-engined sportscar with gullwing doors. The engineering work was carried out by Colin Chapman and featured the chassis and suspension of the Lotus Esprit. Unfortunately the stainless steel body was ridiculously heavy, as well as badly put together, and although it didn’t rust it would scratch in little more than a stiff breeze. A Renault sourced V6 strangled by American emissions regulations meant it couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding and the raised ride height, again for the US, meant the handling was dreadful. And then John De Lorean got arrested trying to do a drug deal to save his ailing company. Just over 8,500 were built between 1981 and 1983. Mind you, I still want one, just to see what happens when I accelerate to 88mph...
Ford Sierra RS Cosworth
Ford Sierra RS Cosworth
Big wings seemed to be a theme of the 80s if the 911 and especially the Cossie are anything to go by. Perhaps they were the automotive equivalent shoulder pads and if so the fast Ford was the Joan Collins of the motoring world. Ford roped in the skills of legendary engine builders Cosworth to create a super saloon based on the unpopular three-door Sierra bodyshell. Unprepossessing but very stiff, this bodyshape allowed Cosworth to drop in a 2.0-litre DOCH four cylinder which with the addition of a Garrett turbocharger fed 204bhp to the rear wheels. Unique alloys, a bodykit, flared wheelarches and of course that rear wing helped put other road users in no doubt that you were behind the wheel of something quick. Just over 6,000 were produced before it was superseded by the 224bhp RS500 special edition version to mark the end of the three-door bodyshape. It was superseded by the Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth which used the saloon bodyshell and was altogether much more sensible looking if just as tail happy. Find one that hasn’t been TWOC’d and you’ll have a blue chip, blue oval classic.
Peugeot 205 GTI
Peugeot 205 GTI
Volkswagen had claimed the hot hatch crown for itself with the Mk1 Golf GTI but Peugeot snatched it in 1984 with the diminutive 205 road rocket. Based on a stiffened 205 shell, the original GTi used a 1.6 105bhp four-cylinder engine which may not sound much but was plenty in such a lightweight body particularly as it still came with rear drum brakes. The handling, while immensely rewarding in the right hands could also land owners in trouble as it had a nasty propensity for lift off oversteer which saw many pugs heading off the road backwards. The 130bhp 1.9-litre model at least had disks all round but carried more weight up front so was even more tail happy. Probably one of the cutest hot hatches, the 205 came with plastic wheelarch extensions and deeper bumpers plus attractive alloy wheels and part leather trim in the 1.9. You can pick up a MOT’d heap for a couple of hundred quid today whilst mint examples go for around £3,500. Just try and find one that hasn’t visited the scenery.
A TVR wouldn’t be a TVR without some odd bit of folklore behind it and the Tasmin is no exception as it was apparently named after the girlfriend of the company’s then owner, Martin Lilley. A break with previously curvaceous TVR coupes and droptops, the 1980 Tasmin was a severe interpretation of the square edged style popularised by the Lotus Esprit and Aston Martin Lagonda, clothing a steel space frame chassis playing host to Ford running gear including the cologne 2.8-litre V6 producing about 150bhp. A cheaper two-litre four cylinder model was also produced but was severely underpowered with just 100bhp at its disposal. With little development potential in the Ford V6 it was dropped in favour of the classic Rover V8, producing 190bhp in 3.5-litre form, which cut the 0-60mph dash to six seconds in the renamed 350i. Continuous development saw the V8 grow a litre in capacity and add over 100bhp, cutting the 0-60mph time to the low five seconds. TVR even produced a limited number of SEAC cars with Kevlar bodyshells but these proved difficult to manufacture to production switched back to glassfibre.
Any car wearing a BMW M-badge is going to be a mighty machine but let’s face it, most of them are going to be seen prowling round Streatham wearing big wheels rather than pounding the Nurburbring. The very first one however was built solely with racing-winning in mind. BMW needed to homologate a car to compete in the FIA Group A touring car championship so it slotted a 2.3-litre four cylinder, 195bhp engine into its compact 3-series coupe. This being the 80s of course it also gained massively flaired wheelarches, a deep front airdam and a big wing on the boot. It annihilated its main opposition, the Mercedes-Benz 190 2.3-16V, winning the Group A championship in 1987 and the European Touring Car Championship the following year. Even though only 5000 needed to be built for homologation purposes, BMW kept updating the car and a bewildering 13 different versions were eventually produced.
Admit it, you’ve always wanted an oscillating red LED on the front of your car and a turbo-boost button to allow you to leap over things haven’t you? KITT for short, was the undoubted star of TV series Knight Rider, alongside a terrifyingly permed David Hasselhoff. Based on a Pontiac Trans Am, the car was, according to creator Glen A. Larson, known as the Knight 2000 and was separate to the sarcastic onboard computer known as KITT, short for Knight Industries Two Thousand. Designed by the sinisterly named Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG), KITT boasted a bullet proof Molecular Bonded Shell, a hydrogen powered turbine engine capable of whisking it to the far side of 200mph, the ability to drive itself and a neat line in camp wisecracks. KITT often found himself being fitted with new gadgets which by an amazing coincidence would allow Michael Knight to extricate himself from a tight situation later in that very same episode. The show ran from 1982 to 1986 and is basically responsible for all those irritating emails you get about 'The Hoff'.
From the sublime to the ridiculous in nine easy steps. The C5 probably shouldn’t be on this list as it wasn’t actually a car but then again I’m not sure what it was or what on earth they were thinking. If you had a tiny, open electric trike that you thought might be the future of public transport, would you launch it in January? Sir Clive Sinclair would, having invested £12million on bringing it to the market and revealing it to the world on January 10 1985. After the world had stopped laughing it realised that the C5 was being made by Hoover and had roughly the same level of performance. Top speed on a very flat surface was 15mph but any sort of incline reduced this to a glacial crawl plus cold weather seriously sapped the battery life, ideal for the British climate, although the 'driver' could add pedal power which had the dubious added benefit of keeping them warm I suppose. Just 17,000 were sold between January and August 1985 and I’m surprised there were that many idiots in the country.
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