I’ve been told to “grow up” most of my life. About the time my folks gave up on me, my wife and daughter accepted the challenge of getting me to act my age. In deference to my family’s pet cause, I have decided to revisit my high-school years, this time reviewing those days through the clear (but squinty) eyes of a 50-year-old man.
Not too long ago, I posted “Eighth-Grade Lust: The 5 Coolest Cars of 1979.” With that effort I recalled the vehicles I found most exciting as a 13-year kid. Today, I will revisit those post-inflationary days not as a kid dying to get his driver’s license, but as a guy with a kid exactly that same age–a kid, by the way, who actually studies instead of doodling Trans Ams. Where did I go wrong?
Here I recall 1980, my first full year of high school. A big year for me, 1980 was the year I rode my bike to K-Mart to pick up Billy Joel’s Glass Houses on LP. It was also the year I gave up trying to woo a girl named Dawn, and I began joy riding in the family Valiant.
Turns out I thought most of these cars looked pretty good back then, they just weren’t especially “cool,” at least not to me. I would gladly own any one of these now, if I had the budget and garage space. Reviewing the list, I probably could have called it “The Best-Looking Non-Exotic Coupes of 1980,” but where’s the fun in that? How about you? What are your favorite rides of early Eighties? Be sure to leave a comment below and let us know.
Best-Looking Cars of 1980
I never grew out of respecting things that looked “tough,” and these battle-ready AMCs certainly fit that description. There’s an almost Soviet-vehicle, paramilitary quality to the Eagles that I find especially endearing. The shortish wheelbase and raised ride height give both the sedans and wagons an over-built, substantial quality that’s undeniable.
The 6-Series BMW isn’t only one of the best-looking cars of 1980, it’s one of the best-looking BMWs, ever. I don’t often consciously contemplate balance and proportion when checking out a car, but it’s impossible to ignore those aspects of this svelte coupe’s design. There is nothing about this car I would change.
The European model pictured here wears the slightly cleaner looking bumpers seen on Euro-spec editions of the 6; American versions wore the thicker “accordion-side” units that kludged things up a bit. The 633CSI would become the 635CSI for 1985, which along with more power brought an unfortunate collection of aero-look front-end and rocker-panel enhancements that worked against the simplicity of the 6’s core design.
It’s possible to seriously muck up the Mirada’s clean, strong lines, but I prefer the car sans padded vinyl roof. Mostly I’m drawn to this car’s simple silhouette and bold, low-chrome grille. The similar Chrysler Cordoba works for me, too, but It’s uncommon to see one without vinyl.
General Motors E-Bodies (Buick Riviera, Cadillac Eldorado, Oldsmobile Toronado)
Sorry, I wimped out of picking just one of these defiantly bold big coupes. My boss at the service station that I spent some years working at owned a Riviera, a dark blue sun-roofed gem that had my attention for years. Yet, the Eldorado and Toronado are also fabulous.
At a time when downsized cars often looked too downsized, these hefty-looking chariots strike me as brashly American, bending only gently to the whims of the wind tunnel. An unfortunate 1986 redesign would ruin these coupes for me—and based on sales, for everyone else, as well.
Mercedes-Benz W123 (280CE/300CD)
Full disclosure: I have every intention of one day owning one of these utterly perfect coupes. Mine will be red with a tan cabin, manual transmission, and the gas 6-cylinder engine (280CE). I’ve heard these cars described as stodgy, but I see them as perfect balance of German automotive stoicism, luxury, and sportiness. This fabulous car’s hardtop silhouette is especially beguiling.
You may recall the “Shape of Things to Come” television campaign for these cars. I recall thinking they looked cool as hell. Sadly, I also recall learning that the TR-7 was pretty slow and plagued by quality glitches. Still, looking back, the design holds up well. The TR-7 was a gutsy move by Triumph, representing a giant stylistic leap over the more tradition-bound TR-6 that it replaced. It’s a shame that this edgy sports car couldn’t save the storied British carmaker, which packed it in in 1984.
Best-Looking Cars of 1980