Contrary to what some might think, the 80s had their fair share of fast cars - not all are remembered properly, though

We get it, it’s easy to forget about a car built 20 or 30 years ago. It’s also true that some cars get superstar status and some don’t, despite the fact that they might deserve it. On that note, we took a hard look back at the 1980s and picked some of the spiciest, somewhat underestimated cars that came to be during that timeframe.

Buick Regal GNX

1982 - 1987 Buick Grand National Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Buick built just 547 units of the GNX to celebrate the Grand National’s retirement. Why? Well, the initial number, as Car and Driver reports, was 200. Then they upped the ante to 500 in a homage of sorts to the Indy 500 and Daytona 500. The final number - 547 - came to be due to special dealership incentives.

It goes without saying, the GNX was one of the few muscle cars of the 80s.

But what a muscle car it was. Each one was priced at $29,290, which sounds like a bargain now given the performance capability of these things, but back then, the Buick GNX was quite costly. Each one packed a 3.8-liter V-6 tuned in cooperation with ASC/McLaren to produce 276 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 360 pound-feet of torque from as low as 2400 rpm.

10 Awesome But Underrated Muscle Cars
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0-60 time: 5.4 seconds
Top speed: 124 mph

Lotus Esprit Turbo

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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The Esprit Turbo is the last car built under the supervising eye of Lotus founder Colin Chapman.

The Esprit is also a car that saw no less than 24 iterations over the course of its lifetime, one being the Turbo.

Powered by a 16-valve, 2.2-liter turbocharged gasoline mill imbued with Bosch K Jetronic fuel injection, the Esprit Turbo cranked out 215 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 192 pound-feet of twist at 5000 rpm. The engine redlined at 7000 rpm. It helped, too, that in typical Lotus fashion, the Esprit was a light car on its feet. Some complained about the cramped cockpit, but seriously, did that even matter when the car looked like a supercar and handled like heaven?

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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0-60 time: 5 seconds
Top speed: 148 mph

Read our full review on the Lotus Esprit Turbo

Porsche 911 964 Carrera 4

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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Back in August 1989, Car and Driver described the 964-gen 911 Carrera 4 as “Germany’s new low-flying four-wheel-drive bahn bomber” and “possibly the most technically advanced Porsche ever.”

Obviously, things have changed since then as Porsche did its best to churn out even more impressive bits of machinery, but the 1989 Carrera 4 was, at that time, nothing to play with. It came with four-wheel drive and a 3.6-liter flat-six engine good for 247 horsepower and 228 pound-feet of torque. Sure, it was fast, but it was also stable and easy to drive. Speaking of fast, it could go from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds according to Porsche in manual guise (although it could do it in 5.1 seconds given the right driver and conditions) and top speed was a cool 163 mph (Tiptronic versions could ‘only’ do 159 mph).

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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0-60 time: 5.5 seconds
Top speed: 163 mph

Audi Sport Quattro

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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The Audi Sport Quattro led an all-wheel-drive revolution both on the streets and on rally courses.

Funny when you think of it, because although the Sport Quattro got the approval of Audi’s head honchos at the time, nobody saw it as a big seller, but it sold in 11,452 examples made (partly by hand on a dedicated production line) between 1980 and 1991.

Each Sport Quattro packed a 2.1-liter, five-cylinder engine fitted with a turbocharger and an intercooler. Output was 197 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque sent to all four corners via, you’ve guessed it, Audi’s Quattro permanent all-wheel-drive setup. As a result, the car could zap from naught to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds and reach a Vmax of 137 mph.

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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0-60 time: 7.1 seconds
Top speed: 137 mph

Ferrari 288 GTO

1985 Ferrari 288 GTO High Resolution Exterior
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People when berserk when Ferrari introduced the F40. They, again, went berserk when Maranello dropped the F50. Not so much about the 288 GTO, and that’s a shame.

With a body designed by Pininfarina and Scaglietti - true, based on the existing 308 GTB - the 288 GTO was a big deal on the performance side, mainly because it was developed as a homologation model for the racing madness we know as Group B - only 268 were made (some say the number is 272 and even 273). Each one had a 400-horsepower, 336-pound-feet 2.9-liter twin-turbo (also intercooled) V-8 that allowed a 0-60 mph sprint time of five seconds and a top speed of 190 mph with the help of a five-speed manual.

0-60 time: 5 seconds
Top speed: 190 mph

Read our full review on the Ferrari 288 GTO

Porsche 944 Turbo

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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Porsche unveiled the 944 Turbo - the range-topper in the 944 lineup back in January 1985. While changes were rather subtle, they made a lot of difference. For example, the body was aero-tweaked courtesy of a redesigned front apron which not integrated the fog and high-beam lights. A rear diffuser was added, while the 2.5-liter turbocharged engine made 220 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque (or 250 horsepower in the Turbo S, released in 1988 with a larger turbocharger).

Performance-wise, the 944 Turbo could zap from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds according to Porsche, but this was a rather conservative estimate, as some media outlets managed to squeeze a 0-60 sprint times of 5.5 seconds out of the 944T. From the factory, the 944 Turbo could reach a top speed of 162 mph.

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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0-60 time: 5.5 seconds
Top speed: 162 mph

Read our full review on the Porsche 944 Turbo

Ruf CTR Yellowbird

1988 Porsche 911 Turbo 'Ruf CTR'
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It’s based on a 911 chassis but it’s not a 911. The CTR Yellowbird saw official daylight at the 1987 Geneva Motor Show. There, it flaunted wider (and lighter) body panels, a roll cage, tweaked suspension and braking setups, as well as a massively tuned version of the 3.2-liter flat-six Porsche used for the regular 911 - which now displaced 3.4 liters.

Power: 469 horsepower. Torque: 408 pound-feet. All courtesy of the said tweaks and a pair of KKK turbochargers and twin intercoolers. Gearbox: five-speed. Manual, of course. This was the Ruf CTR on paper.

1988 Porsche 911 Turbo 'Ruf CTR'
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0-60 time: 3.6 seconds
Top speed: 210 mph

Read our full review on the Ruf CTR Yellowbird

Isdera Imperator 108i

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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The Isdera Imperator 108i shared some DNA with the Mercedes-Benz CW311.

It was introduced at the 1984 Geneva Motor Show with a 235-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8 sourced from AMG, but later models saw displacement jump to six liters. Top speed was rated at 176 mph while the 0-60 sprint took five seconds flat. Plus, it had gullwing doors, a fiberglass body, and a periscope on the roof. And a five-speed manual!

Other than the impressive specs, the Isdera Imperator 108i’s story is a pretty interesting one. It was built and developed by former Porsche and Mercedes-Benz designer engineer Eberhard Schulz. He founded Isdera, which stands for Ingenieurbüro für Styling, DEsign und RAcing. The company assembled just 30 units between 1984 and 1993, so don’t expect to see one passing by you anytime soon.

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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0-60 time: 5 seconds
Top speed: 176 mph

Ford RS200

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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The Ford RS200 had about 2,900 components. According to Evo, 900 came from street Fords. The others were built with race performance in mind.

The rally version of the Group B RS200 cranked out 444 horsepower but the street car (200 of those were ever built) had to make do with just 246 horsepower coming from a 1.8-liter single-turbo Ford-Cosworth engine.

However, the RS200 tipped the scales at just 1,180 kilos (2,601 pounds), so it could zap from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds flat on its way to a top speed of 150 mph.

It helped that power went to all four wheels via three viscous coupling limited-slip diffs (to such extent that the rally car blasted to 60 mph from a standstill in 2.8 seconds). And that unmistakable kevlar body? That’s the work of Ghia Design Studio’s Filippo Sapino with some input from Ian Callum.

The Fastest Cars of the 1980s That You've Forgotten About
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0-60 time: 5 seconds
Top speed: 150 mph

What Was the Fastest Car for the 80s?

The fastest car of the 1980s was the 1987-1993 Ferrari F40 with a top speed of 201 mph, followed by the 1987-1989 Porsche 959 at 196 mph, and the 1984-1986 Ferrari GTO which could hit 189 mph.

  • 1987-1993 Ferrari F40 – 201 mph
  • 1987-1989 Porsche 959 – 196 mph
  • 1984-1986 Ferrari GTO – 189 mph
  • 1976-1981 Ferrari 512 BB – 187 mph
  • 1969-1989 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato – 186 mph
  • 1985-1988 Lamborghini Countach LP5000 QV S – 185 mph
  • 1988-1990 Lamborghini Countach 25 Aniversario – 183 mph
  • 1982-1985 Lamborghini Countach LP500S – 182 mph
  • 1984-1991 Ferrari Testarossa – 181 mph
  • 1972-1982 Lamborghini Countach LP400S – 180 mph

Were Muscle Cars Fast in the 1980s?

The 1980s were ripe with new emissions regulations that led to engine downsizing and massive reductions in power output, which is why exotics like the Ferrari F40 and Lamborghini Countach dominate lists of the fastest cars in the 80s. There were a few fast muscle cars, though, including the 1986 Buick Regal Grand National. It was the fastest car made in America to 60 mph with an official time of just 4.9 seconds. The 1987 Buick GNX is second on the list with a 4.7-second sprint to 60 mph, which was beat by the 1989 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. That car had a turbo V-6 so the term “muscle” is used loosely here, but it looked the part and could get to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds.

What was the Fastest Car in the World in 1986?

The fastest car in the world in 1986 was the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, with 300 horsepower and a 4.5-second sprint to 60 mph. It was followed by the 285-horsepower Jaguar D-type with a 4.7 second sprint and the 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo and RSK, which could both get to the benchmark in five seconds flat.

  • Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa – 4.5 seconds
  • Jaguar D-Type – 4.7 seconds
  • Porsche 911 Turbo – 5.0 seconds
  • Porsche RSK – 5.0 seconds
  • Ferrari 365 GTB – 5.1 seconds
  • Ferrari Countach 5000S QV – 5.2 seconds
  • Lotus Turbo Esprit – 5.6 seconds
  • Porsche 911 Cabriolet – 5.7 seconds
  • Honda Jackson Turbo CRX – 5.7 Seconds
  • Ferrari 328 GTS – 6.0 seconds
Tudor Rus
Assistant Content Manager - Automotive Expert - tudor@topspeed.com
Tudor’s first encounter with cars took place when he was only a child. Back then, his father brought home a Trabant 601 Kombi and a few years later, a Wartburg 353. At that time, he was too young to know how they worked and way too young to drive them, but he could see one thing – each of them had a different ethos and their own unique personality. As time went on, he started seeing that in other cars as well, and his love for the automobile was born.  Read More
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