More than any other decade, the 80s is known for style. Shoulder pads, spandex, and neon were all the rage in terms of apparel. Car makers weren’t immune to fads either, primping new vehicle models with flashy features that were more for looks than functionality. Most of them got discarded within a few years—and for that, we’re all pretty grateful. Below, we took a look at some of these classic 80s car features, but beware—they probably look a little wacky to modern eyes.
40. Wood Panelling
Wood panelling used to be highly sought-after, and you could find it on both the interior and exterior finishings of cars. Most commonly, it was seen on station wagons, and became a sort of shorthand for middle class family vehicles. Originally, the cars were panelled in actual wood, but this was too expensive and car companies soon shifted to vinyl. Because vinyl doesn’t last as long, it’s challenging to find a vintage car with wood panelling in good condition today, but if you do, it definitely serves up a look.
39. Automatic Seatbelts
In the early 80s, car companies started introducing automatic seatbelts to meet increasing safety regulations.
Since airbags didn’t exist back then, seatbelts had to do double duty, but the only worked if you put them on. The automatic feature was supposed to ensure that people actually wore them. Did it work? Only if the mechanism did—the main reason this feature went extinct was because the automatic seatbelts often stopped working, and they were a pain to replace.
38. Impact Bumpers
The enhanced safety regulations of the 80s pushed most car companies to get serious with their bumper designs. Without airbags, the front of the car had to take the brunt of any impact in order to protect the people inside.
Hence, the advent of big, clunky impact bumpers. We’re glad we only see these now on the children’s ride at the fair.
37. CB Radios
Citizens band radios became a cultural phenomenon in the late 80s, allowing people to communicate with each other over long distances—even oceans. They revolutionized the trucking industry, and so for a while, popular car makers decided to include them as a feature in regular cars, too. A precursor to the carphone, they didn’t serve much purpose for your average driver, and were eventually forgotten.
General Motors created this removable roof concept on their Corvettes from the 1960s until the mid-1980s.
Then, Ford and Chrysler copied their design, and the television show Smoky and the Bandit made the T-Top famous. But like most design features that were more for style than function, the tops tended to break pretty quickly. Fixing them was costly, but this feature was still fairly common on flashy sports cars until the late 90s.
35. Velour Interiors
So soft, so smooth—velour upholstery was the seating material of the 80s. The fabric was associated with luxury vehicles initially, and then got rolled into everything from Hondas to Chevy pickup trucks. We still see it today, but it’s less popular now because it doesn’t age well, and it’s tricky to clean.
34. Power Antennas
These were antennas that rose up when you turned on the car or radio.
A pretty cool feature when you saw it in action, but there’s a reason most cars went back to fixed antennas by the 90s. The retractable ones broke easily, and they were difficult and expensive to replace. Now, antennas are all but invisible and you’d be hard-pressed to even point them out on most modern cars.
33. Built-In Icemaker
You know, for drinking in the car. Which you weren’t allowed to do in the 80s, in case you were wondering. This feature was a special highlight of the 1984 Toyota Van, meant for family road trips and camping, which explains the concept somewhat. But still, having an icemaker in the car is kind of silly, and that’s probably why you just don’t see this feature nowadays.
32. Door Rub Strips
Keeping the paint job intact is the mission of any car lover, and nobody likes door dings.
In the 80s, car companies decided to put a bar of black plastic across the doors of cars where they tended to get dinged the most. The tradeoff? An ugly black plastic strip covering up your paint job. But door ding pain is real, and that’s why you still see the feature on some cars today.
30. Headlight Wipers
One of the silliest features of the 80s had to be headlight wipers. These were individual wipers for your headlights that kept them free of rain, mud, and whatever else accumulated on the glass—dead bugs, maybe? Reserved for only the coolest of the cool, the specialty appeal of headlight wipers went out of favor faster than you can say “Miami Vice”.
29. Bench Seats
While bench seats are fairly rare today, up until the late 80s however most cars featured bench seating in both the front and the back.
We can think of a few scenarios where this might have been convenient, but we won’t go into them hear, because we like to keep things family-friendly around here. Again, this is a feature that grew less popular as safety regulation got stricter.
28. Tufted Seats
Another 80s upholstery trend was button tufting. This fashionable flare made your car’s interior seating look plush and soft, until the buttons inevitable wore out and popped. Then, you were pretty much driving a junker unless you wanted to remove a whole seat in order to fix it. Button tufting isn’t very popular anymore, but you do still see it in expensive luxury vehicles.
27. Throttle Body Injection Engines
Somewhere between the carburetor and multi-port fuel injectors came throttle-body injection.
This interim gasoline-delivery technology really came into its own during the 1980s and was considered cutting-edge technology. However, as most car parts improved over time to provide better emissions and fuel economy, the throttle-body injection systems of the ‘80s were soon replaced with more efficient systems.
26. Car Phones
In the 80s, nothing was cooler than having a car phone. It meant you’d made the big time. You’d finally arrived, although, if you were talking on the phone while driving your chances of arriving at your physical destination was reduced. Back then as now, it was distracting and dangerous. But gee they sure did make you look like a player.
25. Wooden Beaded Seat Covers
A holdover from the 70s, these seat covers claimed to be therapetic. Apparently, they massaged your back, improved circulation, and made you more alert while you were driving. Medical miracle or no, these tacky car accessories became a staple in the 80s for everyone from cab drivers to your grandparents. Seat covers aren’t really fashionable anymore, but we hope these have a comeback someday.
24. Musical Car Horns
Thanks to The Dukes of Hazzard, musical car horns became all the rage during the 80s. Having a musical car horn was seen as a status symbol, although we have to assume that they were a sure way to ruin your favorite song through repetition.
Imagine how you would feel about your favorite song if you heard it every time someone cut in front of you in traffic.
22. “Gullwing” Doors
Though they’d been around for a while, the DeLorean in the Back To The Future films made gullwing doors a must-have. They seemed futuristic and high-tech, and soon became a feature of many models besides the DeLorean. Today, some vehicles still have them (ahem, Teslas), but they are pretty impractal, prone to damage, and expensive to install.
21. Talking Cars
This was a marvel of technology at the time, made popular by the TV show “Knight Rider”. Pretty soon, car makers were rushing to add voice technology to their vehicles so your car could tell you where to stick it—the key, that is. This is by no means an obsolete feature.
The talking cockpit has made a comeback with GPS systems and other incorporated software, like Apple and Siri.
20. Smart Suspension
Modern drivers have no clue how bumpy the average drive used to be. Driver comfort is always on the radar of automakers, since the more comfortable the car is, the more time the driver will spend behind the wheel. In the ’80s, suspension was just becoming a thing, but nowadays your suspension can sense driving conditions in advance, warn you about uneven pavement, and ensure smooth sailing.
19. Four Wheel Drive
Of all the novelties that have been bestowed to the automotive industry, four-wheel steering is probably the most unique.
On a sports car, it makes sense that you’d want to have a steering setup like this, but at the time the technology was new. It just wasn’t catching on with consumers as the automakers had hoped for, most likely because the U.S market is predominantly taken up by commuters
18. Computer Navigation
A predecessor to the GPS we’re all familiar with using today, early navigation systems were supposed to take some of the work out of driving. However the early systems were complicated, and you almost had to be a rocket scientist to use them. Based on military technology, that’s no wonder. Since the 80s, of course, computer navigation has improved by leaps and bounds.
17. Technicolor Dashboards
If you were a kid in the ’80s, you probably saw the rise of digital dashboards. These flashy LED dashboards were highly coveted but they were also expensive to fix and even worse to replace. Again, this is one wacky 80s car feature that sacrificed functionality for the sake of style.
16. Electric Cars
Electric cars have actually been around for a long time, and in the 80s it seemed like they were poised to make it big. The problem was that battery technology was still in its infancy and a full-fledged electric car would have been too costly to mass-produce. At least, that’s what the major automakers convinced the government was true, in order to protect their gas-guzzling market share. Ah, well.
15. Blind Spot Monitors
Blind-spot monitors have become the norm in most modern vehicles, but in the 80s this technology was brand new. The earliest blind spot monitoring systems would simply beep when the vehicle was too close to something. They’ve evolved to include motion sensors, correct steering when the wind is strong, and help you parallel park.
14. Ventilated Seats
Nobody likes sitting in a sweltering hot seat in the middle of the summer. Ventilated seating promised to fix all that, but it was expensive to install and didn’t really work all that well. In fact, car makers still haven’t come up with a solution to this problem. Guess we’ll just have to make do with air conditioning for now.
13. In-car Entertainment
Although these are common now, in the ’80s, you had to have a van or a limousine to enjoy a fully-fledged entertainment center. They would usually be a TV screen, sound system, and VCR installed facing the backseat of the car.
If you were really somebody, you might also have a record player or a disco ball.
11. Off-road Crossovers
Crossover vehicles are the bread and butter of the automotive industry today, but in the 80s, they were new and considered pretty special. One of the first crossovers was the AMC Eagle, a rugged, supercharged off-roading wagon. With its high ride height and aggressive look, the Eagle was an interesting and caught on with consumers. Since then, it seems like every other new car release is meant for off-roading.
A lot of the muscle cars that came out of the ’80s were turbocharged, even cheaper low-end models. They were fun to drive, and they were fun for automakers to produce as they sought to get the most performance out of four-cylinder engines.
Chrysler was one of the first domestic automakers to embrace lightweight turbocharged cars, squeezing more power and performance out of a cheap, lightweight engine. The turbocharged engine trend is still part of the automotive landscape today.
8. Targa Tops
Targa tops crowned some of the flashier sports models of the 80s, such the Corvette and the Fiero. The Targa top gave you the feel of a convertible without affecting the overall ride quality of the car. Lately, Targa tops have been making a comeback on some specialty sports cars hitting the road right now, modelled after the original Corvettes that featured them.
7. Retro Design
Automotive design seems to move in cycles, like everything, and in the 80s there was a resurgence in the retro aesthetic.
Stealing features from cars of the previous decades, these cars promised old-school looks with state-of-the-art insides. It’s similar to how 80s design features are making a comeback today, especially in sports cars and electric vehicle design.
6. Station Wagons
Station wagons are making a comeback now, but for a while in the 80s they were incredibly popular. Deemed the family car of choice, these characteristic autos were made for picnics and hauling. Of course, when SUVs grew in popularity in the 90s, the station wagon started to make less sense. However, people still like them enough to seek out the vintage models.
5. Pop-up Headlights
For many years, the pop-up headlight was one of the most prominent features of 80s sports cars. Tightened safety regulations are the reason you don’t see them anymore. Basically, the pop-ups were deemed too dangerous because they could do extra damage in accidents, especially to pedestrians.
3. Jump Seats
Is this even safe? Maybe by 80s standards. Jump seats, which were typically in the beds of pickup trucks and bolted to the floor, served a purpose at one point. Nowadays, it’s not legal to carry passengers in a truck bed, so there’s not really any point in having seats back there.
2. Self-Cleaning Ashtrays
Equipped with electric lighters and ashtrays inside the dashboard, 80s cars were designed with a certain bad habit in mind.
If you were a non-smoker, those in-car ashtrays were still great to keep coins in. However, these days you rarely see them in newer car models. You’ll just have to keep your change in your Hello Kitty change purse, like the rest of us.
1. Hi-Fi Sound Systems
One thing we can all agree on is that the 80s were packed with good tunes. So no wonder, people wanted an excellent sound system in the car. Hi-fi was all the rage at one point, with huge subwoofers and speakers blasting the lates hits for everyone including the neighbors to hear. As smaller speakers got better and better however, there was soon no reason to panel the interior of your car with them.