GM was on fire in the 1980s, producing what appeared to be a classic at every chance. GM was full of cash and the market leaned towards them. The rise of SUVs, the comeback of muscle cars and the new market for cars in the small economy 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 decline in quality for GM, the 1980s seemed to be the sweet spot. The re-emergence of performance cars, combined with GM’s quality of the past, called for some really great cars. While no car or car brand is perfect, we really think GM made progress in the 1980s.
From the bread-and-butter Chevrolets to executive Cadillacs that shaved TV screens across America, here are GM’s greatest creations from the 1980s!
9 Cadillac Allante
The Allante was a step in the right direction for Cadillac. Until then, Cadillac lost the elegance and performance that made the brand so popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Hard to call a huge square with a slow V8 a refined and sporty machine, isn’t it?
The Allante was actually assembled by the popular Italian design house Pininfarina. The range of V8s made anywhere from 200 to 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 proof of its popularity.
8 Oldsmobile Hurst
The G-Body has been the platform of choice for many of GM’s performance cars, and this is one of three that made its way onto this list. Oldsmobile enlisted Hurst’s help to create their flagship performance car. The Oldsmobile Hurst featured new body panels, a sleek paint job, three-speed gear shifters and a powerful 307-cubic-inch V8.
The Hurst Olds was offered with all the ’80s goodies anyone could wish for, including a T-top roof, soft upholstery and a cassette deck. The Hurst Olds were able to hit 60 in under 8 seconds, not bad for a car coming out of the slump era. Approximately 5,000 units were produced between 1983 and 1984, so it may take some searching if you want one for your collection.
7 Pontiac Fiero
Pontiac wanted to bring a mid-engine sports car to the people, especially to buyers sensitive to the buy-in American theme common 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 postal trucks. The highest-rated engine was only good for 140 horsepower. However, Pontiac never wanted the focus to be on the power plant.
The main focus on the Fiero was the drivetrain itself. Stiff suspension, a mid-engine layout and Muncie 4-speed made the Fiero an absolute joy to drive. A 1984 Pontiac Fiero even had the honor of being the pace car for the Indianapolis 500. Over 300,000 cars were produced, so there’s no shortage of cars waiting to be parked in your driveway. If it were up to us, the Fiero would be making a comeback!
6 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Another G-Body car, this time from Chevrolet. The Monte Carlo began life as a personal luxury car, more along the lines of the Buick Riviera and the 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 comply with NASCAR homologation regulations, Chevrolet fitted aerodynamic body panels on the top-of-the-line SS model and used them as free advertising for their racing program. The SS came with the 305 cubic inch V8 and was only offered with a 3-speed automatic, which many consider to be the Achilles’ heel of an otherwise great car.
5 Chevrolet/GMC C/K1500 OBS
The OBS generation Chevy/GMC pickup may be known as the truck of the 1990s, but it first entered production in the 1980s. Chevrolet revolutionized the truck game with the 4th generation C/K, with sporty features. The look of the 4th generation OBS has set the tone for Chevrolet truck design to this day.
The 4th generation C/K was available with a range of engines, from gas-saving V6s, stump pulling diesels and even the legendary 454 cubic inch V8. Many are made with thousands of combinations of options, so there is an OBS to suit everyone’s needs.
4 Chevrolet S-10/GMC S-15
A few more trucks from Chevy and GMC, this time the little brothers of the 1500. The S10 and S15 were the first American-built mini trucks, Ford switched to an American design two years after GM. Dodge never built an American mini truck and imported Mitsubishi trucks in the 1980s.
SUV versions were produced, the S10 Blazer for Chevy and the Jimmy for GMC. A range of engines was offered, from the Iron Duke I4 to the bulletproof 4.3 Vortec V6. V8 swaps are also popular, a 350 Chevy engine will fire right in with little to no fuss. Some versions also came with rugged 4×4 systems, making the S10 and S15 the truck for both off-roaders and hot rodders. We would call these small trucks true American icons.
3 Chevrolet Corvette C4
After a break in 1983, the Corvette was back in 1984 with the 4th generation. A new design motif and new fuel-injected engines made the C4 a huge upgrade over its predecessor. The 1982 C3 Corvette would only make 200 horsepower compared to the 245 from the C4. By 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 how low the price. Depending on options, a C4 can reach 60 in under 6 seconds and reach a top speed of 151. Parts are cheap and the hood opens like a shell to give the 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 supplied with a 305 cubic inch high power V8 or the 350 cubic inch V8. The 350 would drive the car to a 6.7 second 0-60.
In addition to a bigger engine, the IROC-Z had bigger injectors, a stiffer suspension and enough decals to please Radwood fans for generations.
1 Buick GNX
The Buick GNX (Grand National Experimental) was the top-performing car in GM’s lineup until angry executives at Chevrolet demanded that the horsepower be reduced to protect Corvette sales. The Grand National started as a trim for the Buick Regal, giving the car a turbocharged 3.8L V6 and sporty look. The car’s pedigree grew as Buick started winning in NASCAR in the 1980s.
The rear-wheel drive Regal on which the GNX was based was due to be phased out in late 1987, so Buick decided to send the car away with a bang. Buick sent a regular Regal Grand National to McLaren for tuning, including a larger turbo, new injectors, larger intercooler, high-flow mufflers and an upgraded ECU. The final horsepower figures were around 300. The GNX clocked a 1/4 mile faster than both 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 1/4 mile was 12.7 seconds.