What marked the late 80s? Was it the corny television sets or the beginning of the end for the Soviet bloc? Ask a petrolhead and you might hear something just different. It was the onset of a phase that is gradually reshaping as the new fad as we speak. Yes, the good ol’ Japanese automotive revolution.
The decade began with a muscle revival, thanks to Buick’s turbocharged V6s and Ford’s V8 powered Mustangs. This later shifted to white-painted hatchbacks and fully realized performance cars spilling out of Europe like the Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa, and the cutie Volkswagen GTI.
After the sad-sacked 70s marked the end of the post-war performance boom, the 80s signalled a fresh wave of original thinking. This is when the industry discovered how to make emissions-friendly power, experimenting heavily with turbocharging, and went all-out on all-wheel-drive systems.
So here is a look-back of the 80s metal that we think wins all the right trophies.
5. Mazda RX7 Turbo II
The RX moniker has seen plenty of favouritism and glory. For its time, it was a truly potent car that the rest of the world wanted just like Japan. But a lot of us weren’t that lucky.
Its second generation, however, told a different tale. The first generation RX7 engraved its potential into people’s minds, but the second generation was a whole other bag. The RX7 purposefully served for the ones who didn’t have Porsche money.
Hence, the team designed the 1986 to 1991 generation RX7 by taking major inspiration from the Porsche 924 and its elder sibling 944 and faithfully inherited plenty of design as well as dynamic cues. Things, however, got even more interesting after Mazda slapped a turbo on the second-gen, earning most of the top 10 lists that year.
The second-gen RX7 was defined by a complex rear suspension with passive steering, a twin-scroll turbo alongside an asymmetrical hood scoop that fed an air-to-air intercooler. On the tarmac, the second-gen churned out 182hp that placed it in a perfect spot between a potent grand tourer and an apt sports car.
4. Acura Integra
No, we are not talking about the Type R. The Type R entered the motoring landscape in the late 90s, but what caused it was the first generation Integra. Unlike many glorious Japanese monikers, the first-generation Integra was not the most celebrated model to wear the badge. But it was loads of fun that came in three-door as well as five-door packages.
The standard 16-valve 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine offered all kinds of joy, putting out a maximum of 118hp alongside 1133kg of curb weight. But that’s not what makes it cool, is it? We mean the ageless design of course.
Another reason for its speciality is because it was the first car to establish Honda as a legitimate purveyor of performance, coming online when Big H was starting to kick out tasty jams like the Prelude Si, Civic Si, and CRX Si.
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3. Mitsubishi Starion
In the early 70s, Mitsubishi was popular for its contributions to the Japanese air force, credited with building some of the most insane planes that wreaked havoc on the USA.
A few years post the war, the company was building captive imports for Chrysler but wanted to ground its own flag in the American market. Hence, in order to make a striking entry, Mitsubishi used its most powerful trident; the Tredia, the Cordia and the Starion.
While the first two disappeared into oblivion, Starion kept powering through with its famed performance. Missing out on the fun was the US market which, unfortunately, did not get the legendary 4G63 engine and instead had to make do with the 2.6-liter Astron engine, a large-displacement four-banger with a turbo strapped to it.
2. Subaru XT
One look at the XT and you know that the car was way ahead of its time. Unlike any other car of its generation, the XT stood with a futuristic wedge design and chamfered surfaces. The thin taillights, flush door handles, and wraparound rear glass further amp up the Blade Runner look.
Subaru ensured the interior was equally wild by way of a two-spoke steering wheel and a gauge cluster pod that moved with it; a digital dash was of course optional. The top-of-the-range engine was a turbocharged flat four that could be mated to an all-wheel-drive system and a manual transmission (standard models used a flat-six), and the XT even could be had with fancy features like adjustable air suspension.
1. Toyota Celica
Toyota’s most popular moniker, Supra, finds its roots in the Celica. The first generation Celica was introduced in 1979. However, it was the A60 model, built between 1981 and 1986, that birthed the Supra.
It was iconised with its flip-up headlights, flared fenders, and a rear window so flat that Toyota offered an external louvred window shade to keep rear occupants’ heads from frying in the sun. The A60 also became known for front seats so sweet that it became a hot commodity not only for drivers but for car thieves as well.