Ford’s third-generation Mustang was, by far, the most popular muscle car of the 1980s. Arriving on the Fox body platform, Ford’s iconic muscle car achieved 2,608,812 sales between 1979-1993 despite being loathed for most of the period for its small nimble frame and under-powered engine options. Somehow, the Fox body Mustang continues to increase in value.
Regarding ’80s muscle cars, the likes of Ford, Chevrolet, and Pontiac withstood the entirety of the humiliating ’80s. Although the decade saw brawny American muscle cars reduced to 150 hp shoeboxes, innovation was critical from the Big Three as they sought to rekindle the reputation of their iconic muscle cars during the period. World-class innovation led many vintage ’80s muscle cars to embrace the turbocharger and even accept a V6 engine configuration. But who wore it best?
10 1980 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Turbo
Pontiac ended their legendary 6.6-liter V8 Trans Am model in 1979 due to stricter emissions regulations choking the classic muscle car. What followed was an 18-month project which saw the GM outfit successfully turbocharge their 4.9-liter offering. As a result, the awe-inspiring Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Turbo produced 210 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque; Pontiac’s innovation had ensured the Trans Am maintained 200+ hp at a time when big V8s were being retired.
The Trans Am Turbo is one of the best ’80s muscle cars, as it displayed what was possible for the American icon during the peak of the oil crisis. This vintage icon of a bygone era returned performance figures to the Pontiac lineup with the help of a Garrett TB0-305 turbocharger mated to a newly reinforced 4.9-liter V8. As a result, the Turbo Trans Am outdid the Camaro Z28 and Ford Mustangs of the era, which arrived with 190 hp and 131 hp, respectively.
9 1981 Yenko Camaro Turbo Z
Don Yenko used his mechanical prowess to show Chevrolet what they should have been doing with the iconic Camaro. Using a 1981 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, Don Yenko reworked its internals and took the base car from its measly 175 hp to 220-250 hp.
Yenko only crafted 19 Camaro Turbo Z muscle cars, three of which contained the ‘Stage II’ package, making it the most desirable classic Camaro of the ’80s costing anywhere between $60,000-$80,000.
Don Yenko’s Turbo Z was an ambitious project which involved strapping a water-cooled Turbo International turbocharger to the ‘malaise’ appropriate Camaro and letting the muscle car icon breathe. Furthermore, the Camaro Turbo Z was the last vehicle Don Yenko released via the Yenko company, making it one of the most sought-after ’80s classic muscle cars.
8 1983 Dodge Shelby Charger
Dodge bestowed their atrocious 90-something horsepower Charger upon the world in 1982/ Sporting a 2.2-liter inline-four, the L-body car had an aesthetic appeal many could not resist. However, Carroll Shelby was the man who took the reins of the project and came up with the ’80 classic, the Dodge Shelby Charger.
Some of the rarest Shelby Chargers are the 1984 models equipped with a TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission. Only 1,955 customers optioned the auto-box, leading to its discontinuation post-1984.
Shelby Chargers arrived with a T3 Garrett turbocharger. The tinkering icon also installed stiffer MacPherson coil springs and a quick-rotation power steering system to enhance the iconic muscle car’s reputation. Working with the vehicle’s suspension and incorporating lightweight aluminum alloys, Shelby took the little muscle car up to 142 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque. The Shelby Charger is another ’80s classic muscle car that blatantly highlighted the importance of forced induction. Today, prices for a Shelby Charger average at $27,000.
7 1983 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, arriving in 1983, coincided with legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt’s switch from Ford to Chevrolet. Chevrolet’s marketing team clearly had a field day, as the Monte Carlo SS sold 154,815 units between 1983-1988.
Aside from Dale’s antics on track, what made the Monte Carlo SS special was the L69 block found within. Chevrolet’s 5.0-liter V8 produced 175 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque and skyrocketed the Monte Carlos reputation among the ’80s big boys, such as the Fox body Mustang and C4 Corvette.
6 1985 Buick Riviera T-Type
Buick launched their personal luxury Riviera in the form of the S-Type in 1979. By 1982, the car was renamed the T-Type due to its turbocharged nature. The Riviera featured on GM’s forward-thinking FWD E-body while seeking power from the 3.8-liter turbocharged V6, rated at 185 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque at 2,400 rpm.
Buick manufactured 29,060 Riviera T-Types between 1979-1985, including the initial S-Type models. The Riviera is an American icon by right, yet the ’80s T-Type is one of the best muscle cars to come out of that decade. Thanks to its unique FWD format and acceptance of a turbocharged V6, the Riviera set the tone for the Buick GNX, the most incredible muscle car of the ’80s.
5 1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
Chevrolet manufactured the Camaro IROC-Z in 1985. The vehicle takes its name from the 1974 International Race Of Champions, and of course, the Z comes from the Z28 performance variant, which serves as the IROC-Z’s foundation.
Chevrolet powered the IROC-Z via a 5.0-liter V8 and included an optional TPI package from the Corvette. The Tuned Port Injected option took figures from 190 to 215 hp on the IROC-Z. A figure that would eventually reach 230 hp as Chevrolet uprated the block to 5.7 liters for the legendary muscle car’s twilight years.
Today, the Camaro IROC-Z costs an average of $24,156, which exposes punters to an affordable ’80s classic that put the Camaro muscle car back on track.
4 1987 Buick GNX
Buick’s reputation for reserved luxury was shattered during the 1980s by their immensely successful Regal model. By 1987, Buick commemorated the G-bodied Regal with the most iconic muscle car of the ’80s, the GNX or Grand National Experimental. The project saw input via McLaren UK and ASC (American Special Cars) as Buick powered their malaise monster with their familiar 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 producing around 276 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque – on paper.
According to enthusiasts, the iconic GNX had actual power figures closer to 300 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, allowing it to perform 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds. As a result, the GNX is more powerful than the 1987 C4 Corvette! And more importantly, the fastest production car in the world for a brief period.
The GNX is one of the best muscle cars of the ’80s; the vehicle was innovative, record-breaking, and shockingly sinister. Buick produced 547 GNX models for the 1987 production year, all sporting an exclusive black paint color, and today, a 1987 Buick GNX costs an average $167,089.
3 1987 Ford Mustang 5.0
1979 saw Ford debut the ‘Fox Platform’ as they sought to tackle the ongoing emissions regulations plaguing the North American market. Jack Telnack launched the third-gen Mustang, now known as the ‘Fox body Mustang,’ in 1979. The Fox body Mustang achieved over 2.6 million sales between 1979 and 1993, making it the most popular muscle car of the 1980s.
By 1982, Ford equipped the Fox body Mustang with a 4.9-liter V8 engine on the returning GT trim, later known as the Mustang 5.0. Ford had taken the limping icon from 120 hp to 175 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque overnight, and bear in mind the 1982 Mustang weighed just 3,070 lbs. Furthermore, the Ford Mustang 5.0 returned a reasonable 0-62 mph time of seven seconds. While the figures flatten to deceive by today’s standards, they were incredibly refreshing for the limping pony during the era, as the Blue Oval resuscitated their muscle car icon.
2 1987 Oldsmobile 442
Oldsmobile returned to iconic 442 nameplate in 1985, featuring on GM’s G-body platform, which provided a silhouette that epitomized the ’80s muscle car today. The 442 returned for three model years from 1985-1987, and around 11,400 units rolled off Oldsmobile forecourts.
The returning 442 was a full-bodied muscle car littered with luxury elements from GM’s entry-level luxury brand. Buick had been innovative with their G-bodied Regal by embracing a turbocharged V6 setup. In contrast, Oldsmobile harnessed the past and stuffed the 442 with a high-output 5.0-liter V8 slurping gasoline through a four-barrel Quadrajet carburetor. The result is a hefty ’80s classic producing 180 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque. A 1987 Oldsmobile 442 costs an average of $20,005 today.
1 1983 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe
Ford released the ninth-generation Thunderbird in 1983 and the model has since become one of the best Ford muscle cars of the period. The top-of-the-line ‘Turbo Coupe’ hit the ground running with a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 142 hp, which would increase to 190 hp by 1987 thanks to the introduction of an intercooler. Ford also equipped the Thunderbird with a five-speed manual box and a ‘Traction-Lok’ system, essentially a limited-slip differential.
Ford produced 885,745 Thunderbird models between 1983-1989. While the Mustang was the most popular muscle car of the ’80s, its dancing partner, the Thunderbird, had far more creative freedom, resulting in a stunning classic.