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1981 Toyota Cressida, Most-Powerful Japanese Cars

1981 Toyota Cressida Wagon

Everything is relative. By 1981 standards, any car boasting 100 horsepower was doing pretty good. So good, in fact, that just seven Japanese-brand vehicles made that cut.

1977 Oldsmobile Toronado XSR, Most-Powerful American Cars

The Oldsmobile Toronado was the third most powerful American car of 1977. Note that the T-Top roof depicted in this brochure image never reached production.

Perhaps the easiest way to demonstrate the extent to which emissions equipment and low-octane unleaded fuel had impacted the power output of new-vehicle engines is to note the following:

1991 Firebird GTA, Most Powerful American Cars of 1991

1991 Pontiac Firebird GTA

We’ve looked at The Most-Powerful American Cars of 1980, and The Most-Powerful American Cars of 1986. Here we’ll skip ahead another half decade to 1991. Maybe we should say leap ahead. Compared to our top five 1986 cars, our 1991 most-muscular rides come in at an average 277 horsepower, a solid 58-horse bump. Credit improved fuel-injection systems, and a mighty (and seriously expensive) topline Corvette that shattered the 300-horsepower barrier.

1986 Ford Mustang SVO, Most-Powerful American Cars of 1986

With 205 horsepower on tap, the Ford Mustang SVO tied for 3rd place on our list of powerful cars.

What a difference a few years can make. We recently posted the “5 Most-Powerful American Cars of 1980,” a collection of rides boasting, on average, 199 horsepower. It’s worth noting that every vehicle on the list was carbureted. Jump ahead six model years…

2015 Jeep Cherokee, Most-Powerful Small Crossovers

With an available 271-horsepower V6, the 2015 Jeep Cherokee tops our list.

In the movie Scarface, explaining how things work in America, would-be drug kingpin Tony Montana explains, “You gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, you get the women.”

1980 Riviera S Type, Most-Powerful American Cars

With 185-horsepower on tap, the Buick Riviera S Type was the 3rd most-powerful American car of 1980.

American muscle got the short shrift in 1980. As a result of the Summer Olympics embargo of 1980, America’s strongest athletes didn’t compete in Moscow, leaving most of the medals to be claimed by the Russians.

2014 Volkswagen Passat V6, Most Powerful Sedans

With 280 horsepower on tap, the 2014 Volkswagen Passat V6 ranks as the 2nd-most powerful mainstream midsize sedan.

As the Sixties ended, Americans were busy stuffing huge engines into midsize cars. The result of that exercise was what we now fondly recall as the muscle-car era.

1980 Chrysler LeBaron

1980 Chrysler LeBaron

According to website Statista, light-truck sales—which include crossovers and SUVs—have risen from about 2 million in 1980 to almost 12 million last year. One needs only to look around to see that coupe and convertible sales have fallen to all-time lows, but it’s the humble sedan that I am most worried about.

Chevy Fuel Injection, Cars Ads Featuring Fuel Injection

1986 Chevrolet Pickup

By most accounts, the automotive period known as the Malaise Era lasted from 1973 until 1983. During that time, the performance of most new vehicles paled in comparison to the less-regulated cars of  just a few years earlier. Blame the government if you will, as low-lead gas, fuel-economy standards, and emissions regulations all took a serious toll on the horsepower output of most engines. I say most, because some cars suffered less than others. And there was one main reason for that relative immunity to the Malaise Era woes: fuel injection.

1982 Chevrolet Citation X-11, Fastest Cars of 1982

1982 Chevrolet Citation X-11

What makes a car fast? Generally, more power means more go, but back in 1982, power was hard to come by. Weight matters too, but not as much as you might think, at least for the cars tested by Consumer Guide back in 1982. Unlike previous “fastest” lists I’ve put together, I’ve included the final drive ratio for each car listed below.