Sep
08
1981 Saab 900 Turbo

Reaching 60 mph in 9.7 seconds, the Saab 900 Turbo was the fifth fastest vehicle tested by Consumer Guide in 1981.

Here’s an eye-opening then-and-now comparison for you. The 1981 Lincoln lineup’s sole engine choice was Ford’s corporate 5.0-liter V8. In Lincoln trim, it produced a tepid 130 horsepower, and in the Town Car, it returned a leisurely 14.9 second 0-60 time. Fast-forward 35 years, and Lincoln’s largest sedan, the MKS, scoots to 60 mph in just over five seconds when equipped with the available 365-horsepower 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6.

Not every automaker struggled with performance back in the early Eighties, however. European brands, being early adopters of fuel injection and turbocharging, found themselves among the acceleration leaders of the era. Credit, too, the lighter weight of most German and Swedish cars relative to their American counterparts.

Presented here are the 10 fastest accelerating cars of 1981, as tested by Consumer Guide. As the Consumer Guide folks didn’t spend much time testing Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and higher-end Porsches, this list is decidedly mainstream.

Note that a couple of American cars muscled their way onto the list–both of them make use of low gearing, four-barrel carbs, and fairly modest curb weights.

Times presented below are 0-60 mph results. Specifics of the vehicle tested follow.

*As tested by Consumer Guide.

The 10 Slowest Cars of 1981

The Most-Powerful American Cars of 1977

 

Chevrolet Corvette: 8.1 Seconds

1981 Chevrolet Corvette

Chevrolet Corvette

Curb Weight: 3334 pounds

Horsepower: 190

Engine: “L81” 5.7-liter V8

Fuel Delivery: 4-barrel carburetor

Transmission: 4-speed manual

Final Drive Ratio: 2.72

Note: The L81 engine was the only mill offered in the 1981 Corvette.

 

Chevrolet Camaro Z28: 9.0 Seconds

Chevrolet Camaro Z-28

Chevrolet Camaro Z28

Curb Weight: 3600 pounds

Horsepower: 175

Engine: 5.7-liter V8

Fuel Delivery: 4-barrel carburetor

Transmission: 3-speed automatic

Final Drive Ratio: 3.42

Note: The available 4-speed manual came with a 3.08 rear axle. 

 

Mazda RX-7: 9.2 Seconds

1981 Mazda RX-7

Mazda RX-7

Curb Weight: 2345 pounds

Horsepower: 100

Engine: 1.1-liter two-rotor Wankel

Fuel Delivery: 4-barrel carburetor

Transmission: 5-speed manual 

Final Drive Ratio: 3.90

Note: Despite its low curb weight and modest horsepower, the 1981 RX-7 returned just 17.8 mpg in Consumer Guide testing.

 

BMW 528i: 9.4 Seconds

1981 BMW 528i

BMW 528i

Curb Weight: 3180 pounds

Horsepower: 169

Engine: 2.8-liter six

Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection

Transmission: 5-speed manual 

Final Drive Ratio: 3.45

Note: Consumer Guide referred to the 528i as stingy, praising their observed 27 mpg test results.

 

Saab 900 Turbo: 9.7 Seconds

1981 Saab 900 Turbo

Saab 900 Turbo

Curb Weight: 2785 pounds

Horsepower: 135

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four

Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection

Transmission: 5-speed manual 

Final Drive Ratio: 3.89

Note: Test vehicle was a coupe. A 900 sedan was also available.

The Most-Powerful American Cars of 1986

 

Porsche 924: 9.8 Seconds

1981 Porsche 924

Porsche 924

Curb Weight: 2623 pounds

Horsepower: 115

Engine: 2.0-liter four

Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection

Transmission: 5-speed manual 

Final Drive Ratio: 5.00

Note: Consumer Guide described the 924’s ride as “unyielding.”

 

Audi 5000 Turbo: 10.2 Seconds

1981 Audi 5000 Turbo

Audi 5000 Turbo

Curb Weight: 3042 pounds

Horsepower: 130

Engine: 2.1-liter five

Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection

Transmission: 3-speed automatic

Final Drive Ratio: 3.73

Note: Consumer Guide noted that the 5000 Turbo was “(S)low off the line, but at about 3000 rpm (the car) really takes off.”

 

Triumph TR8: 10.8 Seconds

1981 Triumph TR8

Triumph TR8

Curb Weight: 2655 pounds

Horsepower: 148

Engine: 3.5-liter V8

Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection

Transmission: 5-speed manual 

Final Drive Ratio: 3.08

Note: The TR8’s V8 engine was also found in the rare Rover 3500, a 4-door hatchback that was only offered in the U.S. for two model years.

 

Fiat X1/9: 10.9 Seconds

1981 Fiat X1/9

Fiat X1/9

Curb Weight: 2140 pounds

Horsepower: 75

Engine: 1.5-liter four

Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection

Transmission: 5-speed manual 

Final Drive Ratio: 4.07

Note: Quick and miserly, the X1/9 returned an even 30 mpg in Consumer Guide testing.

 

Buick Regal Sport Coupe: 11.0 Seconds (Tie)

1981 Buick Regal Sport Coupe

Buick Regal Sport Coupe

Curb Weight: 3353 pounds

Horsepower: 170

Engine: Turbocharged 3.8-liter V6

Fuel Delivery: 4-barrel

Transmission: 3-speed automatic

Final Drive Ratio: 2.73

Note: Consumer Guide noted that the Regal Sport Coupe’s turbo lag was, “(N)oticable, but not objectionable.”

 

Volkswagen Jetta: 11.0 Seconds (Tie)

 

1981 Volkswagen Jetta

Volkswagen Jetta

Curb Weight: 1892 pounds

Horsepower: 74

Engine: 1.7-liter four

Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection

Transmission: 5-speed manual 

Final Drive Ratio: 3.89

Note: Tested Jetta was a four-door sedan. A similar Volkswagen Rabbit hatchback returned an 11.2-second 0-60 time in Consumer Guide testing.

The Most-Powerful American Cars of 1991

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