Performance cars, most car enthusiasts would agree, are not necessarily defined by a specific category of car, such as a “muscle car” or “two-seater,” but are defined by a feeling: they are cars that feel great to drive.
Generally, this means they are the kind of cars that were designed with the driver in mind and are cars that prioritize the driver’s experience. Though the 1970s had some great performance cars, the 1980s were truly a golden age for such vehicles. In this article, we’ll deep dive into the best performance cars of the ’80s, highlighting those that were an exceptional pleasure to drive.
The Buick GNX makes the list purely based on its then-advanced brand of muscle. Our friends over at Thrillist hilariously describe this car as “looking like a murdered-out version of your grandfather’s grocery-getter,” but the turbocharged V6 engine made this vehicle so much more powerful than the rest in its class. It made well over 300 lb.-ft. of torque, which, in 1987, was impressive, allowing the Buick GNX to reach high speeds.
BMW M3 (E30)
BMW’s E30-generation M3 is considered by many car enthusiasts to be the greatest driver’s car ever made, at least according to our sources over at Road and Track. They write, “It was BMW’s first M-built 3-Series, sporting a high-revving four-cylinder engine making nearly 200 horsepower and a super-balanced chassis.”
BMW claims that the E30 M3 has won more races than any other car in history, which is quite a bold statement, though its many fans would choose to agree with such boasting. The car was such a commercial favorite that it spawned its own line of suped-up 3-Series BMWs, and in recent years, the BMW M3 has even become an icon for collectors.
Ferrari 288 GTO
Like the BMW E30, the Ferrari 288 GTO was built to compete in races, but wound up just being a performance car. It is also considered one of the most desirable Ferraris ever. It featured a 400-hp twin-turbo V8 engine that was placed directly behind the driver. Helping the car reach speeds of up to 189 mph.
The Porsche 959 is a great classic performance car for so many reasons. For one, it was the fastest car being produced at that time, maxing out at around 198 mph.
Secondly, it was also one of the most technologically advanced cars out there, including features like “tire pressure monitoring, a super-advanced AWD system, and Kevlar-composite body panels.”It even had variable all-wheel drive, which was groundbreaking in that day and age.
Thirdly, the Porsche 959 still has diehard fans, including plenty of big-name collectors such as Jerry Seinfeld. But perhaps the most convincing reason is that this car influenced the way Porsche as a company would develop, and its influence is still present in Porsche’s lineup to this day.