GM was on fire in the 1980s, churning out what seemed like a classic on every occasion. GM was stuffed with money and the market was leaning towards them. The rise of SUVs, the return of muscle cars and the new economy small car market have created an ideal market for America’s largest automaker.
While the 1970s were frowned upon for poor performance and the 1990s were seen as a drop in quality for GM, the 1980s seemed like the sweet spot. The new rise of performance cars combined with the quality of GM’s old days called for truly formidable automobiles. While no car or car brand is perfect, we really think GM made its mark in the 1980s.
From the bread-and-butter Chevrolets to the executive Cadillacs that graced TV screens across America, here are GM’s greatest creations of the 1980s!
9 Cadillac Allante
The Allante was a step in the right direction for Cadillac. Until then, Cadillac had lost the elegance and performance that had made the brand so popular in the 50s and 60s. Hard to call a massive square with a slow V8 a sophisticated and sporty machine, is not it ?
The Allante was actually put together by the famous Italian design house Pininfarina. The V8 engine lineup made between 200 and 300 horsepower, and the suspension had a sportier ride compared to most ’80s Cadillacs. Hit ’80s TV Show dallas chose the Allante as the main character’s car as a testament to its popularity.
8 Oldsmobile Hurst
The G-Body was the platform of choice for many of GM’s performance cars, and it’s one of three that made it onto this list. Oldsmobile enlisted Hurst’s help in building its flagship performance car. The Oldsmobile Hurst featured new body panels, sleek paint, a three-lever shifter, and a high-output 307 cubic-inch V8.
The Hurst Olds came with all the ’80s goodies anyone could want, including a T-top, plush upholstery and a cassette player. The Hurst Olds could hit 60 in under 8 seconds, not bad for a car coming out of the Malaise era. Around 5,000 units were produced between 1983 and 1984, so it might take a bit of hunting if you want one for your collection.
seven Pontiac Fiero
Pontiac wanted to offer a mid-engined sports car to people, especially buyers sensitive to the buy-American theme prevalent in the 1980s. The Fiero used either a 2.5L Iron Duke inline-4 or the 2.8L V6 found in cars like the S10 and even some courier trucks. The top-rated engine was only good for 140 horsepower. Pontiac, however, never wanted the focus to be on the power plant.
The main focus of the Fiero was the drive itself. Stiff suspension, mid-engine setup and the Muncie 4-speed transmission made the Fiero an absolute pleasure to drive. A 1984 Pontiac Fiero even had the honor of being the race car for the Indianapolis 500. Over 300,000 cars have been produced, so there’s no shortage of them waiting to be parked in your hall. If it were up to us, the Fiero would be back!
6 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Another G-Body car, this time from Chevrolet. The Monte Carlo started life as a personal luxury car, more in the vein of the Buick Riviera and Ford Thunderbird. After the Chevelle was discontinued, Chevrolet needed a car to use in NASCAR, and the Monte Carlo SS was the only car that fit the bill.
To meet homologation regulations for NASCAR, Chevrolet fitted aerodynamic body panels to the top trimmed SS model and used it as free advertising for its racing program. The SS came with the 305 cubic inch V8 and was only offered with a 3-speed automatic, which many consider the Achilles heel of an otherwise excellent car.
5 Chevrolet/GMC C/K1500 OBS
The OBS generation Chevy/GMC pickup may be known as the truck of the 1990s, but it was first produced in the 1980s. Chevrolet revolutionized the truck game with the C/K of 4th generation, bringing sports features. The look was seen on the 4th generation OBS which set the tone for Chevrolet truck design to this day.
The 4th generation C/K could be fitted with a range of engines, ranging from gas-efficient V6s, stump-busting diesels and even the legendary 454 cubic inch V8. Many have been made with thousands of option combinations, so there is an OBS to suit everyone’s needs.
4 Chevrolet S-10/GMC S-15
Another pair of trucks from Chevy and GMC, this time the full-size 1500’s little brothers. The S10 and S15 were the first US-built mini trucks, with Ford switching to an American design two years after GM. Dodge never built an American mini-truck, importing Mitsubishi trucks throughout the 1980s.
SUV versions were produced, dubbed S10 Blazer for Chevy and Jimmy for GMC. A range of engines were offered, from the Iron Duke I4 to the bulletproof 4.3 Vortec V6. V8 swaps are also popular, a Chevy 350 engine will bolt right on with little to no hassle. Some versions were also equipped with rugged 4×4 systems, making the S10 and S15 the truck for off-roaders and hot rodders. We would call these little trucks true American icons.
3 Chevrolet Corvette C4
After a break in 1983, the Corvette returned in 1984 with the 4th generation. A new design motif and new fuel-injected engines made the C4 a massive upgrade over its predecessor. The 1982 Corvette C3 would only produce 200 horsepower compared to the C4’s 245. At the end of its run in 1996, the C4 was pushing 400 horsepower.
The C4 is generally considered the cheapest Corvette on the market, but you’re still buying a Corvette no matter the price. Depending on options, a C4 could hit 60 in under 6 seconds and reach a top speed of 151. Parts are cheap and the hood opens like a clam to give mechanics plenty of room to work. If it’s good enough for Michael Jordan, it’s good enough for us!
2 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
The Chevrolet Camaro ruled IROC racing throughout the 1970s and 1980s, so Chevrolet sold the IROC-Z trim to commemorate the real race car. The IROC-Z can be equipped with a high output 305 cubic inch V8 or a 350 cubic inch V8. The 350 would power the car in 6.7 seconds 0-60.
Besides just a bigger engine, the IROC-Z had bigger injectors, beefed up suspension and enough decals to please Radwood fans for generations to come.
1 Buick GNX
The Buick GNX (Grand National Experimental) was the most capable car in GM’s lineup until angry Chevrolet executives demanded that the horsepower be cut to protect Corvette sales. The Grand National started as a trim for the Buick Regal, giving the car a 3.8L V6 turbo and a sporty appearance. The car’s pedigree increased as Buick began winning in NASCAR throughout the 1980s.
The rear-drive Regal the GNX was based on was going to be phased out in late 1987, so Buick decided to send the car with a bang. Buick sent a regular Regal Grand National to McLaren for tuning, which included a bigger turbo, new injectors, larger intercooler, high-flow mufflers and an upgraded ECU. Final power figures were around 300 horsepower. The GNX clocked a 1/4 mile faster time than the Ferrari F40 and Porsche 918 and could still crush some modern sports cars…pretty impressive for a Buick with a V6. Just for the record, the last quarter mile was 12.7 seconds.