The 80s are known for a lot of things – wild hair, electronic music, and a neon MTV aesthetic – but handsome and powerful cars aren’t one of them. The muscle car market was, temporarily, a casualty of the industry shift to focus on plastic components and style over substance. A few key models did manage to keep that fire burning and, in recent years, there is a rising interest in some of these drag-racing mainstays.
35. 1985-90 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
This version of the Camaro was designed for performance and power, and so Chevy developed this tribute to the International Race of Champions. Maintaining the Camaro styling, Chevy put in a 350 V8 engine with both manual and automatic options for the discerning buyer. It even came as a convertible, the first rag-top in this line for nearly two decades.
34. 1989 Buick Turbo Trans Am
GM tried to downplay this turbocharged Trans Am so as not to outshine the Corvette. The engine block was cribbed right from the supercapable Buick GNX. This 1989 model perfectly combined the muscle car’s power with a sporty contemporary look.
33. 1983-84 Oldsmobile Hurst
Based on the Cutlass platform, this was one of the few rear-wheel-drive designs remaining.
A 307 V8 would demonstrate a speedy performance, and the Hurst/Olds would prove to be popular indeed. It was especially beloved for the Lightning Rod Shifter that would combine the benefits of an automatic with the feel of a manual by having separate sticks for the first and second gears.
32. Ford Mustang GT 5.0
The 80s were key for domestic cars. Ford would base this generation of the Mustang on the Fox platform, and it is now fondly known as the Fox-body Mustang. A powerful 5.0L V8 engine gives it a respectable 300lb-ft of torque and demonstrates the exciting performance that the Mustang name is known for.
31. Dodge Conquest TSI
This joint product of Chrysler and Mitsubishi would launch Diamond Star Motors, a continued collaboration. The Conquest is a reliable and lightweight vehicle, build for speed and style. It balanced elegance with a powerful turbocharged engine for impressive numbers on the track.
30. 1985 Mercury Capri ASC McLaren
No, we’re not talking about the million-dollar supercar. This fun little Capri is a rare sight on the road and a hoot to drive. And hiding the same V8 as the Mustang, it packs a quick little punch as well.
29. 1980 Trans Am Turbo
It’s not unusual for a car company to underrate its HP in order to fulfill limiting regulations. This model launched the decade with a V8 rated at only 200 HP.
Needless to say, the impressive 350 lb-ft of torque suggested that this number was, let’s just say, conservative.
28. Ford Mustang SVO
Like the GT 5.0 before it, this nimble speedster boasted a sleeker silhouette with a powerful turbo engine. The 1984 introduction of the special Mustang SVO maintained this focus on power by ensuring the car was light, small, and sharp. This package turned the muscle car into a capable sports car as well.
26. Dodge Charger Shelby GLHS
The Dodge name will always be associated with American performance, and the Shelby Charger is a great example of why. Despite its front-wheel drive and four-cylinder engine, this little speedster carried loads of power.
They could go 0 to 60 in just 7.5 seconds and remain part of the history of the American muscle car.
25. 1989 Lincoln Continental MkVIII
The Continental Coupe isn’t known for style, and it can be hard to maintain all its internal gadgetry. Nevertheless, this edition of the famous Lincoln hides a speedy secret. It shares the same engine as the Mustang, getting loads of power and strength along with its roomy interior.
24. Dodge Omni Shelby GLHS
The 80s weren’t a very popular time for the American hatchback, and aside from the Golf, you didn’t see many. Dodge and Carroll Shelby had their work cut out for them trying to drop something new and exciting into this field.
Of course, they more than succeeded with the GLH – standing for “Goes Like Heck” – and then later on, the rare and limited GLHS – “Goes Like Heck S’More”.
23. 1989 Corvette
The 89 Corvette might be the peak of the 80s muscle car. They boasted a powerful V8 and a platform that couldn’t be beat. These cars are still highly in demand for collectors and rally racers.
22. Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
People might be torn on the pop-up headlights that this line made famous, but you can’t say they weren’t a signature of the 80s. There were a lot of mechanical similarities between the Firebird and the Camaro, but the devil is in the details, and the Firebird is devilish indeed.
It boasts an improved suspension and aggressive design would push it ahead of the competition in more ways than one.
21. 1983-88 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
The Monte Carlo SS was impressive in style but less so in performance. Its engine, while decent, was hampered by a slow automatic transmission. Still, you can’t beat the iconic design and focus on luxury and style.
20. Buick GNX
The Grand National Experimental was a real achievement for Buick, rocking a 0 to 60 time of 4.7 seconds. These black beauties were known for their turbocharged engines. They broke every muscle car mold and put Buick on the map with the racing likes of Ferrari.
Fewer than 550 of these were ever made.
19. 1987 Buick Regal Grand National
Though we’ve talked a lot about the famous GNX, we shouldn’t overlook other explorations of the Grand National model. This 1987 model delivered a substantial 276 HP with a V6, numbers that were very impressive at the time. It was rare, coveted, and a benchmark of the industry in the 80s.
18. 1989 Ford Thunderbird SC
The Thunderbird brand didn’t do very well in the 80s, partly due to uncreative design choices. In 1989, however, the SC model did well enough to redeem the Ford muscle car. It delivered respectable horsepower with the expected Ford style and handling.
17. Shelby Dakota
A rare example of a muscle truck, the Shelby Dakota was a performance version of the dependable Dodge Dakota pickup, designed by – guess who – Carroll Shelby. The production Dakota got a V8 engine that delivered relatively small HP but astonishing torque. Special paint, trim and wheels made Shelby’s version instantly recognizable.
16. 1980 Plymouth Volare Road Runner
This wasn’t Chrysler’s most successful revival, but the 1980 Road Runner still produced a decent amount of power. It was reportedly a fun drive, rated at up to 155 HP. Not a revolution, but still a darn good ride.
14. Oldsmobile 442
It’s easy to see why the 442 was revived in 1985. Also based on the Cutlass platform, this rear-wheel drive was famous for comfort and handling.
Though it wasn’t very exciting in performance, it was peak driving luxury.
13. Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2
The Grand Prix wasn’t an especially exciting model on its own, but the 2+2 package for the luxury coupe brought some influence from its muscle cars. It kept the spoiler and platform from its NASCAR models and ensured that the standard package came with high-performance tires. It couldn’t inject the same racing performance in a design meant for street use, but it was still an interesting and well-reviewed drive.
11. Pontiac Trans Am GTA
See? We told you. There’s a reason the Trans Am shows up a lot on this list, and the 1987 GTA version was top of the line. It was known for impressive power and an engine block reminiscent of the Corvette, using the same TPI fuel injection system.
The WS6 handling package offered incredible braking, control, grip and suspension.
10. Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe
The T-bird isn’t usually considered a muscle car, but the 1980s included a few that could meet that standard. The excellent 87 Turbo Couple had a turbocharged four-cylinder engine combined with a manual transmission. It was light and aerodynamic but with a roar that packed a punch.
9. Pontiac Trans Am 20th Anniversary Model
Whoever came up with this model deserves a medal. What better way to commemorate the legendary Trans Am than a limited run of cars equipped with the equally legendary turbo V6 from the Buick GNX? We’ve already raved about this engine but let’s just say, the combo of engine power and Pontiacs weight distribution actually made this rare edition greater than the sum of its parts.
8. Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe
The 10th generation of this car tucked a supercharged engine under the hood of this elegant luxury coupe. A top-line motor management system helped this V8 deliver an impressive 210 HP.
The Super Coupe offset this boosted power with the T-bird’s trademark excellent handling and braking.
7. Pontiac Fiero
Can we really say that we “miss” a car that never quite existed? Try and stop us. Pontiac combined the design of a small Italian sports car with the advanced technology of a GTO and the industry was excited, with sales numbers over 130,000 before production. Unfortunately, early prototypes didn’t live up to expectations and GM took it back to the drawing board, redesigning from a muscle car to a sports car with much more success.
5. 1982 Chevrolet Camaro
This was a dependable, albeit unremarkable, vehicle. The 80s didn’t deviate from the Chevy-Ford rivalry that had kept both brands competitive for decades. Despite being a little boring, the 82 Camaro still beat sales of the Fox-body Mustang.
4. Mercury Capri
It stands out in design with a bubble-style hatchback and blunt nose, but the Capri is basically the twin to the Mustang. It delivers performance equivalent to the GT as well as comparable suspension, power, and handling. Loads of options for engine, appearance and wheels made this baby sister a force in its own right, though it didn’t stick around past 1986.
3. 1982 Dodge Challenger
This specific model delivered a muscle-car feel, but in a foreign car body. The 1982 Challenger was, essentially, a rebadged Mistubishi coupe. It didn’t sell very well, maybe since the target audience wasn’t clear.
2. 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
Pontiac followed the “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” design philosophy by combining two beloved models into this 1982 car. It produced serious performance and power in its field, although it was smaller than either of its parent models.
A worthwhile overhaul indeed!
1. 1989 Pontiac Firebird Formula 350
We just don’t talk about the Formula 350 enough. It gets overshadowed by its big brother, the Formula 400, but delivers comparable power at around half the price on the used car lot. It’s a shame this old ‘Bird gets overlooked.