The Three Best American Muscle Cars of the 1980s

For many gear heads, the era of the true muscle car ended in the 1970s for a number of reasons. There was the oil crisis of 1973, which caused gas prices to skyrocket. Then there was an onslaught of environmental regulations that forced manufacturers to focus on fuel economy and neuter all of their once-great V8 engines. By the time the 1980s rolled around, a lot of people thought the muscle car was dead.

That turned out to not be entirely true though. We’re currently living through the second coming of the muscle car era with Ford, Chevy, and Dodge once again locked in a horsepower war. Though the muscle cars of the 1980s were very different in character than their predecessors, there were still some absolute gems that rolled out of Detroit throughout the decade. Here are three muscle cars from the 1980s that are every bit as classic as the muscle cars that preceded them.

1980 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo

1980 Pontiac Trans Am TurboWho could forget the iconic 1980 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo? It graced the screen in “Smokey and the Bandit 2” and looks every bit as striking as any muscle car from the early ’70s. Although the second generation Firebird Trans Am was available since 1970, the 1980 model added something special to the mix: a turbocharger.

The turbocharged 301 cubic inch V8 in the 1980 Trans Am churned out 210 horsepower and 345 lb-ft of torque. That doesn’t seem like much by today’s standards, but at the time it was a truly special engine. It bridged the gap between the brute big-block V8s of the ’70s and the high-tech turbocharged engines of the ’80s and ’90s. In a time when gearheads were mourning the lost of the big block due to environmental constraints, the Trans Am Turbo proved that there was in fact a replacement for displacement: forced induction.

1987 Buick Grand National GNX

In 1987, Buick teamed up with McLaren to produce the infamous Grand National GNX. Only 547 GNX models were ever produced and they were only available in jet black, making the GNX one of the most elusive and menacing muscle cars of the 1980s.

Every GNX began its life as a Buick Regal with the Grand National interior package. 547 of these models were then shipped off to McLaren to undergo some serious performance tuning. Upgrades included special rods and bearings, a strengthened valve train and, most importantly, a Garett turbocharger system. Buick underrated the GNX’s turbo V6 engine at a modest 245 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque. With all that extra oomph, the GNX was capable of running the quarter mile in 13.2 seconds at 104 miles per hour. Sprinting from 0 to 60 miles per hour took only 4.3 seconds, an impressive figure even by today’s standards.

1987 Ford Mustang GT

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about the 1987 Ford Mustang GT. Fox body Mustangs were mass produced from 1979 to 1993, and today they are generally the cheapest V8 Mustang in the used car market. However, the 1987 Mustang GT is special in one very significant way: it arguably saved the rear-wheel drive, V8 muscle car from extinction.

In the mid-1980s, Ford had plans to kill off the rear-wheel drive Mustang in favor of a sporty front-wheel drive coupe dubbed the Ford Probe. Mourning the potential loss of their beloved pony, tens of thousands of Mustang fans wrote letters to Ford, pleading with them to keep the car alive. Luckily, Ford caved in and continued production. The 1987 Ford Mustang GT retained its 302 cubic inch V8 as well as its rear-wheel drive platform, and the spirit of the muscle car lived to fight another day.

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