Club PetrolBlog members have extraordinarily good taste. This is surprising, when you consider that they’ve signed up to the world’s least influential car blog. Before Christmas, the members were emailed with the promise of winning a model of a Volvo 740 Turbo in exchange for nominating their best cars of the 1980s. The list reads like the equivalent of the best Christmas selection box you ever had.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a distinct French flavour to the list, with the Citroën BX receiving a fair amount of love. There’s also a fantastic ode to the Vauxhall Cavalier courtesy of Kenny Smith. Some fine words from John Garland to explain his love of the BX and Ford Sierra. Even Alan Bradley of Motoring Podcast fame was spurred into penning a few lines to make up for his brevity when selecting his best car of the 1990s.
Without further ado, here are the best cars of the 1980s according to Club PetrolBlog members. The words are their own and the images are for illustrative purposes only.
“Its predecessor was not a bad car, but it always had a tough battle against the closest sales rival: the popular Ford Cortina. Vauxhall had a reputation in some circles as ‘rust buckets’, which had been held against the brand since the early 1960s.
“The Cortina had established itself as the default ‘family company car’. By the beginning of the decade, however, it was looking a bit tired and familiar, and radical plans for an aerodynamic successor were still some time away. Perhaps the General had sensed an opportunity.
“The new Cavalier was the same, but also different. It shared a lot in common with the smaller Astra. Its excellent front-wheel drive layout created more cabin space than it’s larger predecessor. Sprightly overhead cam engines that used maintenance-saving features like adjustment-free hydraulic tappets and, on some models, a clutch that could be changed quickly without removing the gearbox.
“Fleet managers had just found a new friend. There was a choice of two- and four-door saloons, and also a discreet five-door hatchback for those of that persuasion in 1981. An estate and even a convertible would eventually complete the set in the United Kingdom.
“It was an ideal family car for the weekend as well as a great motorway workhorse. A variation of General Motors J platform world car plan which would last nearly 25 years, and using 11 diverse manufacturer names including Opel, Chevrolet, Holden, Isuzu, Daewoo, Cadillac and even Toyota.
“There was also a distinct model range system for people who felt that such things mattered. Want something not quite basic? Have a Cavalier L. Want something that is not an L, but slightly better? Here is a GL. Luxury my friend? CD. Sporty Job? SR. And so on.
“Something else that helped the early success of the Cavalier was the Ford Sierra, which arrived in hatchback form, not with a nice boot to hide all the samples and bonus freebies. You got the feeling that Ford couldn’t make the Sapphire saloon fast enough.
“The Cavalier was a success for Vauxhall and its Luton plant, which also assembled left-hand drive Opel Ascona sister versions for sale in Europe for the first time. Vauxhall sold over 800,000 in a seven-year period as the Cavalier became commonplace on UK roads. Everyone from Barry in sales to Sun Hill C.I.D had one. Even today, as a useful everyday classic, it makes a lot of sense.”
“The first car that comes to mind isn’t particularly PetrolBloggy: the Porsche 924 S. Actually it was a 944 Turbo, but that isn’t exactly unsung, now is it? The 924 S though, with it’s sleeker design but with the ‘proper’ 2.5-litre 4-pot engine from the 944. I’ve never actually owned one (but did own the regular 924 2.0 and an early 944), but it’s a lighter, narrower, sleeker and essentially less obvious choice. Especially the Le Mans edition.”
“The Volvo 780. Exotic (because left-hand drive only), luxurious and just so damn stylish. Thanks Bertone. If I had lots of money resting in a Swiss bank account, I’d drive through the Alps to collect the loot in a 780. Wikipedia tells me Volvo put a diesel lump in a 780, which makes it the most PetrolBloggy version to have. Owning a 780 would give me an enormous sense of wellbeing.”
“For me the best car of the 1980s has to be French. Again! Although I did think about nominating the Alfa Romeo 164 or Renault Espace. However, I will choose the Renault 25, especially in Monaco-spec brown metallic and beige leather interior with a V6.
“Ex-Citroën designer Robert Opron penned the exterior design and combined typical 80s styling with that huge glass hatchback reminiscent of the Citroën SM. Marcello Gandini created a highly individual and contemporary interior – it could have been from a Citroën. It was just a wonderfully eccentric executive car as only a French car can be.”
“Another tough one for me as cars of the 1980s were even more scarce when I’ve been around, but if there is one thing you know about me, it’s that I love the 1980s. If I had a chance to jump in a time machine and travel back to 1975 with no return, I’d do it, in a heartbeat.
“No joke, I’ve given it lots of thought and even though I’d be completely lost I’d rather be in that time (I’d go to 1975 just to experience the 70s, why not?). I would go on and list what I like better than now, but I genuinely think that I like everything better:. Photos I see of a high street, a motorway, anywhere in the 80s – I just know I like it more than the same place in 2020, not because of the pandemic and how the world is, just in general.
“I work in the motor trade with brand new cars that haven’t even been registered, and I can safely say that I despise modern cars. They are completely soulless and mostly ugly, but the main reason is that every new car replaces an older car and older cars are the cars I like.”
“Anyway, I digress (very good! – ed.). When I think of 80s cars, I think bold lines and amazing graphics. They were just so much more interesting and the best thing, they came in more colours than black, silver or grey. The decision for best car of the 1980s is difficult because there were so many great designs from every marque.
“I managed to whittle it down to two cars: the Citroën BX and the Ford Sierra. Not the BX GTI or the Sierra Cosworth, more like the BX TZD Break and the Sierra Ghia Estate. That’s another thing to know about me, when I’m choosing spec, I favour luxury and toys more than speed and handling. In the end, I chose the BX. Why? I’m not 100 per cent sure.
“My dad owned a Sierra 1.8 LX estate before I was even born and I was told stories of it running out of petrol on a holiday to France because the fuel gauge didn’t work, or the time the keys got locked inside while he was scraping the ice off the windscreen.
“It was replaced with a 1996 Mondeo 1.8 LX Estate and that was replaced with a 2002 2.0 LX Estate, so all of my childhood was with Ford LX estates, and they were great cars, they very rarely went wrong and if there was one thing I was taught about reliable cars when I was young, it that was French cars weren’t. My understanding now is that they were less reliable because how different they were to all other cars, many new technologies and designs were tried, and some, well, didn’t go to plan. But that just adds character, right?!
“I’ve never driven a Citroën BX. I’ve never sat in a Citroën BX. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Citroën BX in real life, but from what I’ve seen and discovered from the internet, it’s a car that really interests me, and one that I’d like to own if I ever find a time machine. And of course that ‘magic carpet’ ride quality. I can’t really think of any more justification other than that’s what I’d choose if I was around back then. I like any cars of the 80s, including those built by British Leyland.
“A few years ago I would’ve chosen the Sierra. Why? Because in the last couple of years I’ve discovered so many new people that have shown me more about old cars than I could’ve never found myself. People like Ian Seabrook of Hubnut, Matt from Furious Driving, and Chris Pollitt of Car & Classic and N2K. Who else… oh that’s right… er, I think it’s PetrolForum, or is it PetrolList? Of course you Gavin the PetrolMan himself! And an honourable mention to everyone part of weird car Twitter. You know who I mean.
“Hope you have enjoyed my incredibly rambling explanation of the best car of the 1980s: the Citroën BX TZD Turbo Break.”
“Best car of the 1980s? I’m sure nobody else will agree, but for me it’s a blend of French design, cutting edge technology and a surprising level of robustness, combined with all the practicality the get up and go family of the 1980s could ask for. No wonder Renault advertised it with the strapline: “it’s tough on the streets”. I give you my 80s icon: the Renault 11. Specifically in TXE Electronic version.
“Compared to its more mundane contemporaries, the Renault 11 was a revelation. Such things as a trip computer and remote central locking weren’t exactly common on the competition back then, but add a digital dashboard and a slightly unearthly robotic voice able to warn the shoulder-padded driver of a sudden loss of oil pressure or blown bulb, and you had something very special.
“I’ve always loved the Renault 11. They are a great looking car and an excellent modern classic. I’d happily make room for one now, although given their scarcity these days, that seems unlikely. Maybe I need another 80s icon to fire up his DeLorean and whisk us back to 1985. Then I can shuffle into my local Renault dealer and bag a new one. Maybe.”
“Sometime around 1985, my Dad turned up in a new car. Little did he know about the impact that the event would have on my car-obsessed brain. That metallic blue Citroën BX 19 TRD looked like a freaking spaceship, one that made the rest of Turin’s traffic look like… well, crap.
“I treasured each and every time dad fired up that car, while it was going up from its bump stops, high-pressure pump hissing and ticking. It gave the BX (at least to my young, impressionable mind) a sort of… animal, if not human, quality.
“As you might well imagine, in those days Turin’s traffic was mostly made of Fiats: Giugiaro’s Uno and Panda ruled the streets, but there were many Ritmo, Regata and older 131 models. The BX looked so different from all of them, cementing my love for avant-garde design, quirky engineering, and cars that did things differently.
“In later years my tastes matured (or did they?) and I grew to understand and appreciate the brilliance of the Uno, the Panda, and even the original Ritmo, but their sheer ubiquity in those days bored me.”
“As if all that wasn’t enough, my dad treated himself to another BX, around 1990: this time it was a silver 16GTI. Yes, 16: it was a special version for the Italian market, equipped with the 115hp engine also found in the Peugeot 205 GTI. As I was slightly older in 1990, I still have clear memories of family trips in that car, and boy all that vaguely sporting aura fitted the BX’s boxy style…
“In conclusion, I love the Citroën BX much more than advisable, and that will never change. The best car of the 1980s, by a country mile.”
“I expect the Renault Espace, Mercedes 190E, BMW E30 and the Peugeot 205 are going to be nominated here, although this is PetrolBlog so perhaps not.
“Anyway, I need to nominate the Ford Granada as the best car of the 1980s. A huge range of well built, practical, good looking hatchbacks, the Granada was the last properly viable non-premium executive car.
“Aspirational without causing offence, while still able to firmly reinforce a driver’s place in the pecking order, the Sierra’s big brother performed at every level from the taxi rank to the executive car park.
“It was bold for Ford to launch it as a large hatch. The saloon and very capable estate came much later and anyone struggling to fit their flat pack into a 5 Series or A6 today might think back to the massive family car their parents drove them to school in thirty years earlier. It wasn’t just the posh kids who enjoyed the ride. The car’s popularity and widespread availability made them accessible to less wealthy families in the used market, so everyone could get a taste of the high life. They were great tow cars too.
“I’ve been trying to work out what the nearest equivalent is these days, and there’s really very little to compare. The Skoda Superb shows that there’s still plenty of love and appreciation for this size format with a non premium badge.
“While the usual suspects mentioned above received, and continue to receive all the attention, cars like this got on with the business of ferrying people around in comfort so they could keep our economy on an even keel. I’m not sure that’s true today, even if the Superb is a great car.”
“My favourite car of the 80s is rather predictable I’m afraid. I’ll nominate the Audi ur Quattro. Supercar pace (at the time) from a four-seater coupe that was relatively affordable. Surefooted with four-wheel drive and comfortable enough to cross continents. Favourite fact: slower than a 1.0-litre Polo to 30mph, yet faster than a Porsche 911 to 100mph.
“As an alternative, I’ll add the Ford Sierra. I distinctly recall having a conversation with school friends about the new Ford ‘blob’ and how it wouldn’t sell. It was completely different from the Cortina (styling wise at least) and from a large conservative company like Ford, very brave. Just a shame you don’t see any around.”
“No surprises here: Peugeot 205 GTI. That said, I’ll add some more French loveliness, as it screams ‘80s!!!!’ from every pore: the Renault Fuego. Shamefully, I’ve yet to drive either.
“However, in the spirit of both PetrolBlog and my own family car history, there can be only one. And in its own weird way, I think I covet it more than either of the above. Even the Peugeot.
“A Mk1 Renault Espace Quadra and an endless supply of clutch pedals (ours snapped three times) ought to do me and six friends very nicely.”
“I have two 1980s cars that stand head and shoulders above the rest, but because I wanted to have a Christmas Motoring Podcast Special Edition about the Mercedes W124, I have to nominate the BMW E30 3 Series.
“To me, the E30 is a compact, handsome car that really forged BMW’s reputation for sports saloons by being the choice for those who were slightly too old or highly-paid for a Golf GTI. My father had many. Initially a three-door 320i as his company car in Saudi Arabia and then a series of 316i, 320i and 325i when he worked for a BMW dealership.
“The E30, in all its body styles, is a small car by today’s standards – closer in size and concept to the first-generation 1 Series Coupe than anything in today’s range. It’s a great looking car. Not fancy or showy but ‘just right’ handsome in a way that BMW simply aren’t any more. We had two-door, four-door and Touring models, only the convertible escaped our clutches.
“To my mind, the E30 still has the clearest, most logical dashboard of any car. There was a rechargeable torch in the glovebox, a small light in the key so you could find the lock in the dark and, still a novelty, a Check Panel where you could, er, check things by means of little red lights. I maintain that to this day, in certain lights, you can see the imprints of the toothbrush-like grey velour pattern in the backs of my thighs. They’re just visible through the third-degree burns previously inflicted by black MB-Tex on the same legs.
“So, yes, the E30 3 Series looks good, was clever and effective inside and people say good things about both the engines and the driving experience. As someone who’d like to experience one from the driver’s seat, it’s such a shame that so many have become drift wagons and that the scene tax is so high on the remaining good ones. Despite that, it’s still my best car of the 1980s.”
“Easy – the fabulous Citroën AX. ‘Fast, frugal and fun’ is how CAR magazine described it, but as a teenager, the fact that the front badge WASN’T IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BONNET was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. My first car was an AX. Happy times.”
“You wouldn’t expect me to nominate anything else, would you? While mine is a 1991, the best car of the 1980s is the S2 Citroën CX GTi Turbo 2.” Phwoar – nice car, mister – ed.
“You just had to pick the most difficult one didn’t you? There are so many answers and choices, I couldn’t possibly choose a favourite. Obviously the WR quattro has to come on top due to just how much it has influenced me. However when it comes to 1980s cars I desire, there are two choices really, the Isuzu Piazza Turbo and Subaru XT Turbo.
“Of these, I selected the Subaru as I don’t think it has had any airtime on PetrolBlog yet.
“I love this car as it is just so epically weird and left-field. It has an amazing spec, with hugely advanced features and I love the way it looks. Inside it’s like a jet fighter, with a proper cockpit. It has the all important 80s turbo with 4WD. It’s like the quattro, only more eccentric.
“I’ve been hankering after one of these for a long time, and along with the Piazza is my current target. These come up for sale more often than Piazzas, but the all-important manual gearbox eludes me.”
That’s it – the best cars of the 1980s according to Club PetrolBlog members. The prize draw for the Volvo 740 Turbo will be made on a future YouTube video, so make sure you like and subscribe (hey guys) to the rubbish channel. Please consider joining Club PetrolBlog, because it helps to keep the site running and gives you a fuzzy feeling of being part of something niche. Thank you.